trip talk

Visiting Israel, Gottheimer says Abraham Accords have led to ‘huge sea change’ in region

A congressional group is meeting with leaders in Israel this week, including Lapid, Bennett and Netanyahu

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Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) speaks on Iran negotiations at a news conference on Capitol Hill, April 06, 2022, in Washington, D.C.

The Abraham Accords have prompted a “huge sea change” in Israel and the region, Rep. Josh Gottheimer, who is currently leading a congressional trip to Israel, told Jewish Insider on Thursday.

“The people we met both in the business community, those involved in negotiating the Abraham Accords, all of the leaders we talked to — I think there’s such a great excitement about regional cooperation [on] security and economic issues,” he said. He also predicted that the Palestinians’ lack of participation in the Accords could “put a lot of pressure” on the Palestinian Authority.

Gottheimer last traveled to Israel prior to the pandemic, well before the new normalization agreements. President Joe Biden’s upcoming visit to Israel in mid-July has been accompanied by talk of further normalization efforts.

This week’s visit comes amid a Knesset vote to officially dissolve Israel’s year-old coalition government. In the days before the government’s dissolution, the lawmakers met with both Naftali Bennett, who stepped down as prime minister on Thursday, and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who succeeded Bennett. The delegation also met with former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh, Ra’am party leader Mansour Abbas, U.S. Ambassador Tom Nides and other Israeli officials.

The primary areas of discussion, according to Gottheimer, have included the Abraham Accords, Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and U.S. aid to Israel.

“From concerns about Iran, to the benefits of the Abraham Accords, to obviously the importance of our relationship, to Ukraine, the message delivered was remarkably consistent,” Gottheimer said.

The trip was organized by the AIPAC-affiliated American Israel Education Foundation, also includes Reps. Fred Upton (R-MI), Mike Turner (R-OH), Jake Auchincloss (D-MA), Ron Kind (D-WI), Don Bacon (R-NE) and Donald Norcross (D-NJ).

Gottheimer said that questions related to the ability of Lapid’s caretaker government to execute on major priorities and move forward on issues of importance came up “in all of our conversations.” 

The New Jersey legislator said that his “broad takeaway” was that, on some issues that are “critically important” — like the Abraham Accords, regional cooperation and Ukraine — “you get a sense that there’s enough agreement between the parties to keep work moving forward,” he continued.

Gottheimer recently led a congressional letter that urged an “independent” investigation of the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, and called on the Palestinian Authority to surrender the bullet that killed her. He said that, in meetings with Palestinian Authority officials, they indicated that they would be willing to turn over the bullet to independent investigators, but not to the Israelis.

Pressed on who might be able to conduct such an independent investigation, Gottheimer said it “really has to be a country like the United States that has to conduct it. Both sides could submit their evidence, and as I’ve said all along, there should be accountability.”

Gottheimer’s support for a potential U.S.-led investigation brings him closer to groups of Democratic lawmakers who have in recent weeks called for the FBI and State Department to investigate Abu Akleh’s death. The State Department has thus far ruled out a U.S.-led investigation.

The New Jersey congressman said that he did not hear a “satisfying answer” from the Palestinian Authority regarding its ongoing payments to the families of terrorists who attack Israelis.