House Dems gather signatures for letter against annexation

In Addition

Sen. Kamala Harris tells Trump that such a move calls into question Israel's 'commitment to shared values of democracy and self-determination'

Perry Bindelglass

A group of Democratic House members are collecting signatures for a letter cautioning Israeli leaders against unilaterally annexing portions of the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that the government could begin annexing territory as early as July 1, though efforts to finalize a plan have stalled in recent days.

The letter, authored by Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Brad Schneider (D-IL), Ted Deutch (D-FL) and David Price (D-NC), and shared with Jewish Insider, warns Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz that annexation is likely to jeopardize Israel’s warming ties with Gulf states, put Jordan’s security at risk and complicate Israel’s relationships in European countries and around the world. “We do not see how any of these acute risks serve the long-term interest of a strong, secure Israel,” the Democratic lawmakers write. 

The letter was distributed to members of the Demcoratic caucus on Monday. JTA first reported the content of the letter. 

Earlier this month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) warned that unilateral Israeli annexation “puts the future [of peace] at risk and undermines our national security interest and decades of bipartisan policy.”

A similar letter from Democratic Senators garnered 19 signatures. The text of the letter, which was updated several times before being sent, cautioned the new Israeli government that “unilateral annexation puts both Israel’s security and democracy at risk” and “would have a clear impact on Israel’s future and our vital bilateral and bipartisan relationship.” Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Bob Casey (D-PA) and Tina Smith (D-MN) sent individual communiques to Netanyahu and Gantz, similarly opposing the move. Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) addressed the matter in individual letters to Pompeo. 

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) sent a letter echoing those sentiments to President Donald Trump on Tuesday. “In recent months, your Administration appears to have given a green light to unilateral annexation, despite the risks to peace and Israel’s security and democracy,” the California senator wrote. Harris suggested that annexation “not only risks Israel’s security, but would also call into question this Israeli Government’s commitment to shared values of democracy and self-determination.” 

In the House letter, the lawmakers implore the Israeli government, “as committed partners in supporting and protecting the special U.S.-Israel relationship,” to “reconsider” annexation plans before the target date. “We have consistently endorsed the pursuit of a negotiated peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians resulting in two states for two peoples and a brighter future for the Israeli people and the Palestinian people. In that vein, we write today to express our deep concern that the push for unilateral annexation of territory in the West Bank after July 1st will make these goals harder to achieve,” the letter reads. 

Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY) told JI in a recent interview that she would be open to signing such a letter. “While I do not generally believe that strict red lines aid the overriding effort towards a two-state solution, I do believe that there are some issues that have become so politically polarized that they risk politicizing the overall U.S.-Israeli relationship to the detriment of both nations,” Clarke explained. 

Below is the full letter: 

To:

Prime Minister Netanyahu

Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Gantz

Foreign Minister Ashkenazi

We write as American lawmakers who are long-time supporters, based on our shared democratic values and strategic interests, of Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship. We firmly believe in, and advocate for, a strong and secure Jewish and democratic State of Israel, a state able to build upon current peace treaties and expand cooperation with regional players and the international community. We have consistently endorsed the pursuit of a negotiated peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians resulting in two states for two peoples and a brighter future for the Israeli people and the Palestinian people. In that vein, we write today to express our deep concern that the push for unilateral annexation of territory in the West Bank after July 1st will make these goals harder to achieve.

Longstanding, bipartisan U.S. foreign policy supports direct negotiations to achieve a viable two-state solution that addresses the aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians, and their desire for long-term security and a just, sustainable peace. This position was twice reconfirmed by the U.S. House of Representatives last year. Our fear is that unilateral actions, taken by either side, will push the parties further from negotiations and the possibility of a final, negotiated agreement.  

We remain steadfast in our belief that pursuing two states for two peoples is essential to ensuring a secure, Jewish, democratic Israel able to live side-by-side, in peace and mutual recognition, with an independent, viable, de-militarized Palestinian state.

Unilateral annexation would likely jeopardize Israel’s significant progress on normalization with Arab states at a time when closer cooperation can contribute to countering shared threats.  Unilateral annexation risks insecurity in Jordan, with serious ancillary risks to Israel. Finally, unilateral annexation could create serious problems for Israel with its European friends and other partners around the world. We do not see how any of these acute risks serve the long-term interest of a strong, secure Israel.

As committed partners in supporting and protecting the special U.S.-Israel relationship, we express our deep concern with the stated intention to move ahead with any unilateral annexation of West Bank territory, and we urge your government to reconsider plans to do so.

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