Scoop: Senators back away from threatening Israel with end of bipartisan support

watering down

Sens. Van Hollen, Murphy and Kaine have updated the language of their letter warning against annexation

J. Scott Applewhite

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., left, joined at right by Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., responds to reporters following a briefing on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) are now pushing a revised, watered-down letter to Senate offices after circulating an initial draft — obtained by JI and published below — warning that annexation of the West Bank would end bipartisan support for Israel.

The original letter, addressed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Knesset Speaker Benny Gantz, warned the Israeli leaders that “If you move forward with unilateral annexation, we could not support that action and would sadly conclude that Israel no longer values the bipartisan support that Congress has provided it for decades.” 

The latest version of the letter, obtained by JI, reads: “If you move forward with unilateral annexation, we could not support that action. This is consistent with long-standing American policy opposing unilateral actions by either party to the conflict. Pursuit of a viable, negotiated two state solution is essential to ensuring our shared democratic values and lasting bipartisan support for Israel in Congress.”

The original draft also charged that annexation would “threaten” the commitment to Israel’s security and the shared values between the two countries. In the new version, “threaten” was changed to “undermine.” The updated draft of the letter also replaced “Palestinian Authority” with “Palestinians.”

In another change, the original draft stated that “a negotiated agreement would likely erode the strong support among the American people for the unwavering security assistance” from the United States. The new language changes “unwavering security assistance… from the U.S.” to “special relationship… with the U.S.”

As of Thursday, the original draft had garnered 10 senators as signatories, including authors Van Hollen, Kaine and Murphy, a Hill source informed JI. The initial draft was also pushed by J Street, which circulated a petition last Monday to its Maryland-based members pushing Van Hollen’s senior senator, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), to sign onto the letter.  

On Tuesday, Cardin indicated to Jewish Insider that he would not sign the original letter and said “I don’t think it is helpful for us to sow dissension in the United States as it relates to the support for Israel.”

Read the full text below with the updated language from the prior draft.

Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu and Deputy Prime Minister Speaker Gantz,

As American lawmakers who have long supported strong U.S.-Israel ties and a just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we write to express our grave concern with provisions in the recently concluded government agreement to consider unilateral annexation of Palestinian territory as early as this July. Such an action would mark a dramatic reversal of decades of shared understandings between the United States, Israel, the Palestinian Authority Palestinians and the international community, and would have a clear impact on severe ramifications for both Israel’s future and our vital bilateral and bipartisan relationship.

A deep commitment to Israel’s security and a shared set of democratic values are foundational elements of the close relationship between our countries – and annexation would threaten undermine both. Annexation would betray our shared democratic values by denying Palestinians’ right to self-determination in a viable, sovereign, independent and contiguous state. It would likely bring an end to Palestinian security cooperation with Israel, directly threatening the security of the Israeli people, and would endanger Israel’s crucial peace agreement with Jordan.

On the world stage, unilateral annexation will be met with deep concern from our mutual allies and partners, including Jordan and Egypt, and nearly universally viewed as a violation of international law. The formalization of a fragmented and disconnected array of Palestinian islets surrounded by Israeli territory would be rejected by the international community as both unequal and undemocratic. And most concerning, a unilateral annexation outside of a negotiated agreement would likely erode the strong support among the American people for the unwavering security assistance special relationship and diplomatic partnership from with the United States that Israel currently enjoys.

We hope you view this relationship as the strategic asset it is for both of our countries. As friends and supporters of Israel, we caution you against taking unilateral steps that would fray our unique bonds, imperil Israel’s future and place out of reach the prospect of a lasting peace. If you move forward with unilateral annexation, we could not support that action and would sadly conclude that Israel no longer values the bipartisan support that Congress has provided it for decades. This is consistent with long-standing American policy opposing unilateral actions by either party to the conflict. Pursuit of a viable, negotiated two state solution is essential to ensuring our shared democratic values and lasting bipartisan support for Israel in Congress.

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