trip talk

Wasserman Schultz emphasizes need for dialogue, downplays U.S.-Israel tensions after weeklong trip

Asked about Israel’s approach to future governance in Gaza and a two-state solution, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said that Israel’s focus remains on the Hamas security challenge

Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) speaks during a press conference on new legislation to support Holocaust education nationwide at the U.S. Capitol Building on January 27, 2023, in Washington, D.C.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), returning from a weeklong visit to Israel, downplayed the tensions between the U.S. and Israeli governments while emphasizing the need for strong and continued communication between the two nations. 

She met, along with other Democratic House members, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials last week amid a public diplomatic blowup over the U.S.’ decision not to veto a cease-fire resolution in the United Nations Security Council and Israel’s likely incursion into the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

Wasserman Schultz visited Israel alongside Reps. Kathy Manning (D-NC), Norma Torres (D-CA) and Marilyn Strickland (D-WA), joining for part of the visit with another group that included Reps. Brad Schneider (D-IL), Jim Costa (D-CA), Juan Vargas (D-CA) and Valerie Foushee (D-NC). 

She said that the lawmakers had encouraged Netanyahu to reschedule meetings between high-level advisers and the Biden administration about Israel’s plans for Rafah, which Netanyahu had canceled in response to the U.N. vote. Netanyahu announced plans to reschedule the meetings soon after speaking with the members of Congress. The officials, Minister of Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer and National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi, spoke by video conference on Monday with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.

“We communicated… to the prime minister, there needs to be understanding and active listening to one another about the necessity of making sure not only that the threat of Hamas is destroyed, but at the same time that process is underway, that care is being taken to clear civilians, which Israel is absolutely committed to,” she said in an interview with Jewish Insider on Monday.

Wasserman Schultz characterized the diplomatic tensions as a desire for “clarifying” plans. She pointed to the administration’s recent moves to approve significant additional military aid to Israel as evidence that the relationship remains strong.

Asked about Israel’s approach to future governance in Gaza and a two-state solution — another point of friction with the Biden administration — Wasserman Schultz said that Israel’s focus remains on the security challenges posed by Hamas.

“What they’re focused on in the near term and medium term, is what they should be,” she said. “They have to make sure that they have the threat eradicated so that they can make sure that they restore the safety and security of their people, that their people can move back to the places that they live, that reservists can go back to their daily life and that the safety and security of everyday Israelis can be restored.”

A two-state solution and future governance in Gaza is “understandably so, not a front-burner, active conversation right now.”

She offered a similar response when asked about the prospects for regional normalization.

Wasserman Schultz said Israel is also giving consideration to “making sure that there is a process that will eventually lead to an appropriate governance structure that is not toxic to an entity living next to a peaceful, sovereign nation like Israel,” and said that Israeli leaders do have a plan for completing and winding down the war in Gaza.

The Florida congresswoman emphasized repeatedly the ongoing impact that Oct. 7 and its aftermath have had on Israel — ”the kind of threat that Israel is dealing with really can’t be overstated,” she said.

“The feeling of security and stability and safety for Israelis right now has been shattered, dramatically impacted,” she continued. “When you talk to normal Israelis, it’s clear that having a sense of security in their everyday life is an absolute prerequisite for progress in resolving the conflict.”

Subscribe now to
the Daily Kickoff

The politics and business news you need to stay up to date, delivered each morning in a must-read newsletter.