Congressional Democrats offer subdued praise on Abraham Accords

on the hill

Sen. Chris Coons said 'the normalization of relations with any country in the region and Israel is a positive step forward'

Andrew Hart

Capitol Hill

Senate and House Democrats offered mixed reactions to Tuesday’s signing of the Abraham Accords between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and the recent normalization agreement between Israel and Bahrain. While some legislators praised the deals as making progress towards peace in the region, others expressed concerns about the long-term implications.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) — a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who some see as a potential pick for secretary of state should Joe Biden be elected in November — told JI the deal is “a big step forward” and “a very positive thing.”

“Broadly speaking, the normalization of relations with any country in the region and Israel is a positive step forward,” Coons said, adding, “I hope you have the Netanyahu-Gantz administration” — referring to the unity government formed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz following elections in April — “dedicate some time and effort to a real path forward for a Palestinian state, for a two-state solution.”

Coons was skeptical of the Trump administration’s broader foreign policy approach, and said he believes Iran’s increasing aggressiveness following the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal was a major driving force of the accords. “I think it happened exactly because — it’s a long story — but there were as many steps forward as back,” he said.

Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL), who attended the signing ceremony at the White House, expressed a similar sentiment, calling the agreements “historic,” and saying he hopes “it is a harbinger of things to come.” 

But while Schneider credited the administration for its success in negotiating the deal, he tempered his praise, noting that other threats to Israel’s security — including Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran’s nuclear program — have grown during President Donald Trump’s tenure.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) applauded the agreements. “I hope that these first steps are followed by further efforts to normalize relations within the region and to work toward a two-state solution that will ensure a lasting and secure peace,” she said in a statement to JI. “As a steadfast ally to Israel, I stand ready to assist in these efforts along with my colleagues in the Senate in any way that I can.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who signed a letter criticizing the Israeli government’s potential plans to annex portions of the West Bank, also praised the UAE deal. “I’m always glad to see steps toward peace,” she said.

But Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who signed the same letter, appeared more critical of the Trump administration’s Middle East policy approach.

“While Israel’s official annexation of the occupied territories has been delayed, the only reason it was ever considered in the first place is Trump’s completely one-sided approach to this conflict,” a spokesperson for Sanders told JI.

Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) — the current vice chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and one of several members jockeying to succeed Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) as chair of the powerful body — said in a statement to JI that he welcomed the deal, but was also generally pessimistic about the broader circumstances surrounding it.

“Despite the Trump administration’s rhetoric, Middle East peace is still elusive,” he wrote. “This agreement is not a substitute for a two-state solution that both advances Israel’s security and respects the rights of the Palestinian people.” 

Castro expressed concerns about the Trump administration’s openness to selling weaponry, including F-35 fighter jets, to the UAE.

“These sales would be particularly troublesome in light of the UAE’s record of human rights abuses in Yemen and have serious implications for regional stability,” he said in a statement to JI. “The Trump administration appears [to] be more interested in an arms deal than a peace deal.”

Engel, who also attended Tuesday’s ceremony, appeared enthusiastic about the peace deals. The HFAC chairman introduced a resolution on Tuesday, co-sponsored by Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), praising the agreements.

The resolution repeatedly mentions the need to preserve Israel’s qualitative military edge and also emphasizes the House’s support for the suspension of Israeli annexation activities — a step McCaul had previously supported.

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