Rep. Omar will travel to Israel, Palestinian territories

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) said she’ll be traveling to Israel and the Palestinian Territories in a few weeks, calling it an opportunity to learn more about the situation on the ground, “occupation,” and best ways forward on a two-state solution.

“I am going in a couple of weeks and so I’ll learn more,” Omar told Jewish Insider on Wednesday. “But truly, everything that I hear points to both sides feeling like there is still an occupation.” 

When asked where she will visit the Congresswoman replied “both,” seemingly referencing Israel and the West Bank, and directed questions about logistics to her office. 

Omar spoke with JI following a markup on the House Foreign Affairs Committee which discussed a number of Israel related bills, and where she expressed her support for a resolution affirming U.S. support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“We must really address that [occupation] and make sure that as we push forth a two-state solution, that we acknowledge that and fight any attempts to stall this process and make sure that there is an opportunity for both sides to fully recognize each other’s dignity and to live peacefully.”

At least five bills related to Israel passed through the HFAC committee on Wednesday, including Reps. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) and Karen Bass’s (D-CA) resolution supporting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Rep. Brad Schneider’s (D-IL) resolution opposing the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel. 

Omar said she supports the two-state solution resolution but opposed the anti-BDS measure.

“If we are going to condemn violent means of resisting the occupation, we cannot also condemn nonviolent means,” Omar said during the committee mark up, and referenced her recently introduced resolution with Reps. John Lewis (D-GA) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) that documents the history and constitutional right of Americans to boycott. 

“Well, she’s entitled to her opinion,” said Schneider, who authored the resolution, regarding his colleague from Minnesota. “I’ve been very clear. BDS is hateful, BDS oppose two states, BDS is antisemitic at its core. That’s why it’s important to speak out.”

Rep. Dean Phillips: AOC’s concentration camp comments a ‘mistake’

Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) said border detention facilities for migrants and asylum seekers illegally crossing the border are “not” concentration camps and that conflating the two is a mistake.

His comments come in response to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) repeatedly describing the border detention camps as “concentration camps.”

“I think it was a very, very poor choice of words. I know her and I respect her and I don’t believe that her intent was to conflate German concentration camps from the Holocaust with the border camps,” Phillips said in an interview with Jewish Insider on Friday. “I think it was a mistake on her part and I do not think in her heart that it was her intention.”

The Minnesota congressman is Jewish and said that his great-grandparents fled pogroms and antisemitism in eastern Europe. Earlier this month, Phillips traveled to McAllen, Texas with Republican colleagues to see the border camps and their conditions.

“I went to these facilities just two weeks ago with five of my Republican colleagues, to see for myself. And the conditions were, to me, horrifying, an opinion shared by my colleagues. But these are not concentration camps. Any conflation of the two is an injustice, frankly, to the people who are in those facilities right now.”

On Sunday, Ocasio-Cortez defended her comments calling the border detention facilities “concentration camps,” linking to an article on Twitter by ABC News citing the detention centers being described as “torture facilities.”

“Remember when the Bush administration bullied media into using their devised term ‘enhanced interrogation’ instead of the accurate term ‘torture?’” the New York lawmaker tweeted. “Well, waterboarding was torture. And these are concentration camps. Journalism should be about the truth. And this is the truth.”

Lee Zeldin challenges Hezbollah, targets aid to Lebanon

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, will introduce a bill this week conditioning military aid to Lebanon in an effort to combat Hezbollah’s influence in the country.

What’s going on: Zeldin, who is ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, is introducing the “Countering Hezbollah in Lebanon’s Military Act of 2019,” which applies conditions to 20 percent of American military assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF). To comply, it must show that the government and military are working to limit Hezbollah’s role in the Lebanese army, with the U.S. secretaries of state and defense expected to “actively engage” in discussions to keep officials from the terrorist organization out of key leadership roles in the military.

The legislation cites the known extent of Hezbollah’s influence in the LAF but also the LAF’s efforts to disarm the terrorist organization along the border with Israel. A national security waiver in included to provide flexibility in extenuating circumstances.

Why it matters: The U.S. has provided at least $2.29 billion in military assistance to the LAF since 2005, calling the country’s military the “sole, legitimate defender of Lebanon.” The legislation, however, is a rebuke of Hezbollah’s influence in the country and aggression towards Israel. At least six cross-border tunnels from Southern Lebanon into Israel were discovered by the Israeli Defense Forces, with the U.N. peacekeepers confirming at least three.

The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) said the tunnels violate the 2006 ceasefire agreement between Lebanon and Israel, and said it took the matter to the Lebanese government.

What’s next: It’s unclear if the legislation will attract any Democratic co-sponsors, which would push along the bill in the Democrat-controlled House.

Ilhan Omar to join Black-Jewish Caucus

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) will join the newly formed bipartisan, Congressional Black-Jewish Caucus, her spokesman Jeremy Slevin confirmed to Jewish Insider on Thursday.

The caucus was first announced this week by Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-MI) with House Jewish members Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and Lee Zeldin (R-NY).

Other founding co-chairs include Reps. John Lewis (D-GA), Will Hurd (R-TX) and Chair of the Democratic Caucus Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY).

Rep. Omar earlier offered her support for the cause, posting on Twitter, “Last month [Rep. Jan Schakwosky (D-IL)] and I joined together to talk about the common threat of white nationalism faced by the Muslim, Black and Jewish-Americans. Glad to see colleagues follow through on working on things that unite us and not divide us,” while sharing a tweet from Rep. Wasserman Schultz announcing the caucus.

Yet Rep. Omar, who has frequently clashed with Rep. Zeldin, later tweeted support for statements by Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour, who called Rep. Zeldin “anti-Arab, anti-Palestinian bigot.”

“Just to be clear, my endorsement of the caucus and willingness to unite our communities against the threats of White supremacy isn’t an endorsement of Zeldin’s bigotry!” Rep. Omar posted on Twitter. “Linda’s point still remains valid but my hope here is that Zeldin can learn and grow.”

Tamara Cofman Wittes: Jordanians key in any Mideast peace plan

Stability in Jordan is key to stability in the region as the Trump Administration pursues its plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, Tamara Cofman Wittes of the Brookings Institution said on Tuesday, on a conference call from Tel Aviv.

“The survival of Jordan to me is pretty core to the survival of the Middle East,” Cofman Wittes said. The call was set up to discuss possible fallout if Israel were to annex of parts of the West Bank, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments on the matter during the election in April.

“The King [of Jordan] is already in a very delicate position… a majority of the Jordanian population is Palestinian. If we’re going to see significant, mass mobilization in the wake of an annexation move anywhere in the Arab world, you’re going to see it first in Jordan,” Cofman Wittes said. “I think that given the existing domestic challenges, it just adds this much more fuel to the fire.”

Ms. Cofman Wittes landed in Tel Aviv following a week of travel in the Hashemite Kingdom. She warned Tuesday that Jordanian frustrations are high. The citizenry’s anger over domestic issues — lack of jobs, crumbling infrastructure, poor healthcare and education – could be set off if they feel abandoned by their government and if the King is perceived to be supporting U.S. policy toward Israel and against Palestinian national aspirations.

Jordan maintains a “cool” peace with Israel and has oversight of the Temple Mount, the Muslim Holy Sites of Haram al-Sharif and Al-aqsa Mosque, and it’s unclear what the country’s role would be in any proposed peace plan by President Trump’s Middle East peace team of Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt. The two advisors are expected to visit Jordan this week to discuss the Bahrain summit with the King.

Cofman Wittes said that the King faces an impossible choice. He can accept the terms of the Americans and “sell out” the political and national interests of the Palestinians and potentially receive large investment. Or, he could maintain a delicate stability in his country by acting in the national consensus of the population.

“What is a head of government supposed to do in that circumstance?” Cofman Wittes asked. “He cannot sell out his national interest, even for the highest price – is basically saying, ‘Yes, I am prepared to destabilize my own rule, my own life-span in power for the sake of whatever check you say you’re going to write to me or you say whatever pledge you say the Gulf is going to give to me.’ I just don’t think that’s a deal any King of Jordan is going to go for.”

Members of Congress react to Kushner’s Bahrain summit

House representatives are skeptical of an upcoming U.S.-led  “workshop” to enhance the Palestinian economy, the first part of the Trump Administration’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan. They express rare agreement across party lines, yet with partisan reasoning.

While the summit is expected to take place in Manama, Bahrain at the end of June, Palestinian business leaders and entrepreneurs, for the most part, have publicly refused to participate.

“I think it just exposes how feckless the Trump and Kushner approach to Middle East peace is,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, tells Jewish Insider, further ticking off a list of policy changes he believes have weakened American bargaining power in negotiations – the embassy move; defunding the Palestinian Authority and humanitarian assistance; recognizing the Golan Heights and staying silent on calls by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to annex parts of the West Bank.

“And frankly, if Kushner was sincere, Trump has pulled the rug out from underneath him. He has nothing, what leverage do we have left with the Palestinians?” Rep. Connolly asked.

Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Eliot Engel (D-NY) sounded frustrated over the lack of details and engagement from the Middle East Peace team. “I don’t really know that much about it other than I’ve heard about it, I don’t know any of the details about it,” he told JI. “Mr. Kushner hasn’t called me, or anyone from the administration hasn’t called me about it. So, I hesitate to speak on something that I really don’t know what they’re doing specifically.”

Rep. John Curtis (R-UT), member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, explains to JI that he doesn’t “have a strong opinion other than I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with dual tracks… if we could sometimes compromise in limited areas, it helps you in areas that are more difficult.”

Rep. Ron Wright (R-TX), also a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, began by telling JI he is a strong supporter of Israel and the Jewish people.

“I don’t want to judge it before it’s happened,” he said, about the summit. “Just put me down as highly skeptical, you know, in terms of whether anything really good would come from it.”

He went on to put much of the blame for lack of a negotiated solution on Palestinian actions.

“I want to be fair about this and, again not prejudge things too much. But the situation with the Palestinian people has gone on for so long and it seems that Israel is the only one who has given up anything over the years and I just – I question whether the Palestinian people even want peace, because it’s there and its been there a long time.”

Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa, and International Terrorism, expressed optimism at the effort to focus on improving lives but tells JI that he’s trying to get more details about the summit.

“I’m actually trying to get some more information, what it is that they’re going to be doing there, how those conversations are going to take place before I offer much thought,” he said. “But obviously, to the extent that there’s an opportunity in any sense to focus on improving lives in the region, that’s something we should always consider.”

Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) expressed optimism and called the Administration’s strategy “innovative” and a “fresh approach.” In an email to JI, he wrote: “Recent presidents approached the issue of peace in the Middle East the same way: attempting to solve issues like the status of ‘right of return,’ defining borders, and the status of Jerusalem. This has failed every time. The administration’s innovative, fresh approach could be a crucial first step towards a successful peace deal in the region.”

Rep. Tlaib: My ancestors ‘had been wiped out… in the name of trying to create a safe haven for Jews’

Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) pushed for a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, on the Yahoo News Skullduggery podcast Friday, with Michael Isikoff and Dan Klaidman. She offered her view that, “in the name of trying to create a safe haven for Jews,” Palestinians “lost their land and some lost their lives, their livelihood, their human dignity, their existence in many ways had been wiped out.”  

Below is a transcript of the conversation lightly edited for clarity.

Michael Isikoff: You’re the first Palestinian-American woman to serve in Congress and you are organizing a trip to the West Bank during the summer recess, I believe. First of all, how many members do you have who have agreed to go and what do you want to show them? I think you’re grandmother lives in the West Bank…

Rashida Tlaib: Yeah, Humpty Dumpty Institute is organizing the trip. I am going to be on the trip. I am eager to be part of the trip and being able to engage Palestinians, what I call community members without titles. I’m hoping that we engage also, Israelis, again, not government officials, not appointees, but actual people that live day to day with increasing inequality.

Dan Klaidman: You wouldn’t meet with  any Israeli government officials or members of parliament, the Knesset?

RT: Palestinian or Israeli, I think we want to actually look at the human impact. When I think about a town hall, you know, you don’t get elected officials — you want to talk to the people. That’s what I’m hoping this trip is a massive town hall where we talk to a woman that is working in integration of schools. I want to talk to the other organization that literally is about entrepreneurship but between Israelis and Palestinians.

I grew up in a city that is the most beautiful, blackest city in the country, the city of Detroit and every corner is a reminder of the civil rights movement. I saw what oppression and equality looks like, I saw that separate but equal doesn’t work. And so for me, I want my colleagues to see a side that they can relate to, that they can see that this is not about choosing sides, but choosing values, if you start with that, then you might actually be able to look at this in a lens that is really, truly fair.

DK: So congresswoman, you’ve created something of a stir by coming out in favor of a one-state solution, Israel and Palestine, and I think you may be the only Democrat who’s publicly supported a one-state solution, what is your vision for a one-state solution that meets both Palestinian and Israeli-Jewish national aspirations. 

RT: Absolutely. Let me tell you, I mean, for me, just two weeks ago or so, we celebrated, but just took a moment I think in our country to remember the Holocaust. There’s kind of a calming feeling, I always tell folks, when I think of the Holocaust and the tragedy of the Holocaust and the fact that it was my ancestors, Palestinians who lost their land and some lost their lives, their livelihood, their human dignity, their existence in some ways had been wiped out.. all of it was in the name of trying to create a safe haven for Jews, post the Holocaust, post the tragedy and horrific persecution of Jews across the world at that time. And, I love the fact that it was my ancestors that provided that, right? In many ways. But they did it in a way that took their human dignity away, right? And it was forced on them. And so, when I think about a one-state, I think about the fact, why can’t we do it in a better way where — and I don’t want people to do it in the name of Judaism, just like I don’t want people to use Islam in that way — it has to be done in the way of values around equality and around the fact that you shouldn’t oppress others so that you can feel free and safe. Why can’t we all be free and safe together?

DK: But a one-state solution, with the right of return, just the math suggests that Jews would become a minority in that state…

RT: But Dan, it’s not up to us to decide what it looks like. Just like, when I have my African-American teachers taught me about neighborhoods they couldn’t live in, taught me about places they couldn’t work, but it’s important to understand that separate but equal didn’t work here, right, and then we have to allow the self-determination to happen there, but for me that’s the lens I bring to it, but I’m not a leader there.

DK: But isn’t it giving up, to say we’re just going to — the idea of two-state solution with two independent states that are sovereign and independent and free, aren’t you giving that up, that dream?

RT: But I didn’t give it up, I didn’t give it up. Netanyahu and his party gave it up and the Israeli government gave it up.

DK: It’s not worth fighting for anymore?

RT: It’s not for me to decide, it’s the will of the people. If Netanyahu got up tomorrow morning and decides, you know what I’m going to take down the walls. I’m not going to expand the settlements, enough is enough, I really want to push toward a two-state solution. He has every power, every power to do that. And then people might, like myself and others will truly believe in that. But uprooting people all over again, to say that that’s going to — because do you understand, when you look at the landscape, just map it out, it is almost, absolutely impossible with how he has proceeded to divide, how he’s proceeded to dissect and segregate communities — that is impossible for me to see a two-state solution without more people being hurt.

MI: The Palestinian Authority itself still, at least rhetorically, supports a two-state solution. Hamas does not. How do you distinguish your position from Hamas?

RT: Well, I don’t come from a place of violence, I come from a place of love and equality and justice. You know for many of these organizations, it’s about power struggle. But that’s why it’s important in this trip that we talk to real people that are living it every day. Not the people in power that obviously want to continue to fight and they may feel in their own right that it’s justified. And you hear them and you can see the sincerity from those that have supported the kind of approach that Netanyahu’s taken towards Palestinians and vice versa. I can hear this type of tension — the thing is I’m one person that grew up in a black community, that saw what inequality and oppression looks like. To me, that’s how I was raised. And now I’m a Palestinian-American congress member and you’re telling me to wipe that out and change it, and look at it from a different lens, and how can I do that? How can I say to my grandmother in her face, that she doesn’t deserve human dignity, that she is less than, because she’s not of Jewish faith. She was born a different ethnictity, a different faith, whatever it is that people want to label her as, and I keep saying to people, how is that not wrong? How is that we’re not saying to ourselves, when are we going to create a place that is Fsafe for everybody in the State of Israel and the Palestinian Occupied Territories. I just really think it’s important for people to understand that I can’t dissect, or completely take that lens off when I look at the two lines and the different color license plates and the fact that Palestinians can’t get on the same bus as Israelis, it’s ridiculous.

DK: There are extremists on both sides, who also are in favor of a one-state solution, which would be expelling the Arabs or expelling the Jews, so aren’t you playing with fire by supporting a one-state solution?

RT: No, I’m coming from a place of love for equality and justice, I truly am. I want a safe haven of Jews. Who doesn’t want to be safe? I’m humbled by the fact that it was ancestors that had to suffer for that to happen. But I will not turn my back and allow others to hijack and say it’s an extremist approach — because they’re coming from a place of whatever it is, division, inequality. But you know, if you look at Netanyahu, he is the first person to come out and support President Trump’s wall. That is not the kind of leadership — when I look at people pushing back and saying ‘What about this?’ and I said, until I actually see people moving towards, moving towards desegregating, moving towards those kind of type of oppression and making people feel less than, then maybe they would have some sort of credibility with somebody like myself, that grew up in Detroit where we can smell it from far away that, no, you don’t want to look at my grandmother in the eye, Netanyahu, and say, you are equal to me, you are as human as I am to you and yes you deserve to die with human dignity.

Rep. Susan Wild is old school in the new Congress

It’s been over a year and a half since Representative Susan Wild started her journey representing Pennsylvania’s 7th district — the Lehigh Valley — in the halls of Congress. She calls the pace of her new job, “fast and furious.”

The long-time civil litigator had been looking for an opportunity to make a bigger difference in people’s lives, more than the one she could in the courtroom. When the Republican incumbent of her district, Charlie Dent, announced his resignation in May 2018, she found her opening.

“I would not have run against [Rep. Dent] if he decided to stay in. He was a good congressman, very strong on Israel issues, but just in general was well-liked in our district,” she said. “But when he announced [his resignation], I very quickly decided that this was a time for me to take the skills that I had developed as lawyer and bring them to this venue.”

“I feel very fortunate to be here. It’s been an exhausting but exhilarating ride,” she said during an afternoon interview in her office in early April.

That ride includes winning two elections, flipping a Republican district, becoming the first woman to represent that district and joining the largest female freshman class in the history of the U.S. Congress. The former Allentown City Solicitor first ran to fill the vacant seat in Pennsylvania’s 15th district and, in the second election, for the new 116th Congress — based on the redrawn lines that now make up the 7th district.  

Though small in stature, Rep. Wild makes herself heard. Recently she made headlines for standing up to a Republican colleague for “mansplaining” during debate on the House floor. In an effort to remove certain text from a bill, Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL) accused the congresswoman of not understanding her own legislation. “I didn’t realize while I was on the floor that he was speaking in such a way that it could be construed as being condescending,” she said. “I was really focused on making sure my position on the legislation was set forth, and that’s based on my training as a lawyer.”

Looking at the next two years, Rep. Wild says she’s focused on how issues affect the every-day lives of Americans. At 61-years-old, she’s looking to have the most immediate impact on the greatest number of people – using her training as a lawyer to identify ambiguity in the law, to correct it with clarity, and to ensure Congress achieves what it needs to. “I want to do the most ‘good’ I can, for the most people I can, and that’s why I’m here,” she tells me.

Since January, Rep. Wild has authored at least five pieces of legislation – on taxes, healthcare, voting rights and defense – and has co-sponsored over 150 bills and resolutions.

Her committee assignments reflect her focus in this Congress – she’s a member of the House Committee on Education and Labor and holds a seat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, where she’s vice-chair of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations.

“I believe that we have to have a broad view of the world, we have to think globally, we have to understand the interrelationship between the United States, both friendly and unfriendly,” she tells me.

We sit in her office on the sixth floor of the Longworth office building. The historic, marble-interior structure was built in the 1930’s to accommodate for the expanding number of representatives, named for the House Speaker that authorized its construction, Nicholas Longworth of Ohio.

Rep. Wild has an office mascot, her grey and white mini-poodle called Zoe. “We call her the chief morale officer,” Rep. Wild says with a smile during our interview.

A dose of cuteness and comfort felt necessary in that particular moment. Earlier that day, the House passed a controversial Yemen War Powers resolution, overcoming attempts by Republicans to complicate the bill by introducing a last minute amendment on Israel. Rep. Wild, who is Jewish, said she became “very emotional” about the Republican effort to manipulate Democratic support of Israel to block a separate bill. “It’s really very upsetting to me that [Israel] is being used [that way],” she said.

Born in 1957 on the Wiesbaden Air Force Base in Germany to a Quaker mother and Methodist father, Rep. Wild spent her adolescent years in West Los Angeles, California, raised among a predominantly Jewish community. “I felt like an honorary member of the tribe for a long time,” she said matter-of-factly. “Eventually, [I] made that more formal.”

Her son and daughter were born and raised in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, and reared in the Jewish community. Rep. Wild underwent conversion to Judaism, but said it only occurred after seeing her son’s early excitement for his bar mitzvah.  

“I had felt as though I was Jewish even before that — that was just the way I lived my life.” Despite being surrounded by the Jewish community, she wanted to deepen her knowledge and understanding. “So I just embarked on a process of studying and learning over the time where my son was also studying and learning but learning different things – I didn’t have to learn a torah portion and all of that,” she confides.

She first traveled to Israel in July 2008, which she describes as a “wonderful, eye-opening, educational experience,” joined by her two children and their Jewish Federation. Security and safety for her own family was at the top of her mind on this trip, particularly because of her young children. But, “when we got there — and I had spent less than a day there – I felt a sense of unbelievable security and safety in a way that I don’t know that we always match in this country,” she explains.

Issues surrounding Israel and American Jews have dominated discourse over the past few months in the 116th Congress. At times, it’s been partisan: Republicans have seized on the perception that Democrats are divided over support for Israel by focusing on comments by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) — who criticized U.S. support for Israel as based on financial incentive and accused American supporters of Israel as having “allegiance to a foreign country.”

“I find it upsetting that they [Republicans] continually are using Israel and our relationship with Israel as a basis for [Motions to Recommit] and amendments because I have not seen any sign of division in the Democratic caucus about support for Israel,” she says. “But, I think that’s what they’re trying to create an appearance of division.”

“I think it’s really important for people who are not Jewish to understand that those of us who are, view Israel, very much, through the same prism that we view the United States,” Rep. Wild said. “I’m an American, I consider myself to be a patriotic American. It doesn’t mean that I always agree with what our lawmakers or what our administration does.”

“It’s one of the beauties of a democracy, and Israel — of course — is also a democracy. I think that it’s important for people to understand that we don’t just stand in lockstep [on] all matters Israel, all matters [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, or whomever the prime minister might be at the time, but rather that we view these things through a prism of critical thinking and reconcile issues within our own core values.”

Laura Kelly is the Capitol Hill reporter for Jewish Insider. Follow her @HelloLauraKelly

House Republicans urge Trump to end Iranian oil waivers

Iranian oil exports must end, Congressional Republicans urged in a letter to President Trump on Friday, ahead of a May deadline to renew oil waivers.

House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R-WY), joined by 34 other members, argues that the Administration’s campaign of maximum pressure on Iran must include bringing Iranian exports to zero.

“Cutting Iran’s oil exports to zero remains a key, and as yet unfulfilled, part of your Administration’s maximum pressure campaign,” the group of House Republicans wrote in the letter. “Forcing Iran off of its oil money would leave the country’s leaders with a choice: they can either finance their own malicious terror schemes abroad or they can support the Iranian people at home.”

At least eight countries benefit from the U.S. waivers which allow them to continue purchasing Iranian oil, though the waivers do come with instructions to reduce the amount imported. On May 2, the Administration must decide whether to allow China, India, Greece, Italy, Taiwan, Turkey and South Korea to continue to import Iranian oil. Japan, which received a waiver, has stopped importing Iranian oil.

“Tehran benefits from these oil exceptions… These exceptions make it easier for Iran to fund terrorism that threatens not only the Untied States but our allies, including Israel,” the letter continued.

The letter by House Republicans echoes statements by GOP Senators, among them, Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Tom Cotton (R-AK), who have called for the Administration to end the waiver program when it expires in May.

Earlier this week, GOP senators also pushed for the Administration to end waivers for Iran’s civilian nuclear program, writing in a letter to President Trump that the civilian program is likely a front for Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

“The Trump administration should end all implementation of the deal, including the nuclear and oil waivers the State Department has been issuing, and Senator Cruz will use all options available to him to push the administration to do so,” Billy Gribbin, a spokesman for Sen. Cruz, told Bloomberg News.

Last month, the State Department told House GOP members it weighs ending waivers for Iranian oil purchases with efforts by countries to bring their own imports to zero and preserving global oil prices, in a letter shared with Jewish Insider. Yet this cautious approach is in opposition to more hard-line positions taken by White House National Security Advisor John Bolton, who has argued for an end to the waivers, Bloomberg News reported.  

The letter released on Friday only featured signatures from House Republicans. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), a signatory to Friday’s letter, told Jewish Insider on April 3 that he supported the Administration’s procedure to help countries end dependence on Iranian oil but that it may take longer than the May 2 deadline. “I’ve had many conversations with the State Department and I understand the strategy in what they’re trying to accomplish,” he said. “Different countries are on different timelines… some countries are at zero, other countries have now gotten to zero, other countries are getting to zero and they’ve shown that they are on a pathway to zero.”

Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ), told Jewish Insider earlier this month, that he’d support renewing waivers to purchase Iranian oil. “I don’t think we should cut off all waivers. I was opposed to leaving the Iran agreement, so the rest of that flows from that starting point,” he said.

Laura Kelly is the Capitol Hill reporter for Jewish Insider. Follow her @HelloLauraKelly

House Dems: Israeli efforts to annex West Bank will kill two-state solution

Israeli efforts to annex the West Bank will kill the two-state solution and jeopardize chances of a negotiated settlement between Israelis and Palestinians, leading House Democrats said in a statement Friday morning.

Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Eliot Engel (D-NY), Chair of the House Committee on Appropriations Nita Lowey (D-NY), Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa, and International Terrorism, and Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) expressed great concern for the possibility of Israel taking unilateral steps towards exerting sovereignty over the West Bank.

“As strong, life-long supporters of Israel, a U.S.-Israel relationship rooted in our shared values, and the two-state solution, we are greatly concerned by the possibility of Israel taking unilateral steps to annex the West Bank,” the Democrats said in the letter. They reiterated long-standing U.S. policy of “two states for two peoples, negotiated directly by the two sides with mutually agreed upon land swaps…”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in his bid for re-election this week, suggested the possibility of unilaterally annexing parts of the West Bank.

It is unclear whether the U.S. proposed-peace plan led by Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt is to include a pathway for a two-state solution. While details on the plan are tightly under seal, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in multiple appearances before the House and Senate this month, refused to endorse the two-state solution and instead called it an “old set of ideas not worth retreading.”

Leading Jewish groups also expressed concern over abandonment of the two-state solution. In a letter spearheaded by the Israel Policy Forum, signatories urged President Trump to “pledge that any peace initiative your administration proposes will be based upon the principle of a negotiated two-state solution… and that you declare that the United States will not support any Israeli proposals to annex the West Bank, in whole or in part.” Organizations that signed the letter include the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbinical Assembly and United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

Reps. Engel, Lowey, Deutch and Schneider, also said that Palestinian leadership has been “unwilling to accept any reasonable peace proposal” and condemned them for unilateral moves at the United Nations.

“Our fear is that such unilateral steps – whether from Israelis or Palestinians – would push the parties farther from a final, negotiated settlement.”

Laura Kelly is the Capitol Hill reporter for Jewish Insider. Follow her @HelloLauraKelly

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