Former Israeli security officials thank Dem House members for opposing annexation

A group of 41 Israeli former senior security officials have sent a letter of appreciation to Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Brad Schneider (D-IL), Ted Deutch (D-FL) and David Price (D-NC), the authors of a letter signed by 191 House members and sent to Israeli leaders expressing opposition to annexation.

“We commend you on building such a broad coalition of Members of Congress to join you in signing this letter,” the Israeli officials wrote in a letter sent to congressional offices Monday and obtained by Jewish Insider. “We consider it a further manifestation of the broad-based support for the kind of Israel we have fought for on the battlefield and continue to strive for, one that is strong and safe, maintains a solid Jewish majority for generations to come, all while upholding the values of democracy and equality as enshrined in our Declaration of Independence.” 

The signatories include former Mossad chiefs Tamir Pardo, Danny Yatom and Shabtai Shavit; former Shin Bet heads Ami Ayalon and Yaakov Peri; former Deputy Defense Minister Efraim Sneh, and former top IDF officials. Many of the signatories sent a similar letter to Congress last year expressing appreciation for the passage of H. Res. 246, which affirmed “strong support for a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resulting in two states.”

The former officials indirectly referenced a letter sent by 12 progressive Democrats threatening to condition aid to Israel if the government moves forward with a plan to annex portions of the West Bank. “Any perceived erosion, however misconstrued, in these relations and in the ironclad U.S. commitment to the durability of security assistance risks undermining our deterrence,” they wrote in the letter.

Former Obama official: Netanyahu ‘playing with fire’ by ignoring congressional opposition to annexation

Former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy warned Israeli leaders not to ignore the objections to West Bank annexation plans raised by nearly 150 Democratic senators and members of Congress.

Flournoy, speaking during a panel discussion on the topic hosted by Israel Policy Forum, suggested that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is “playing with fire, not only in terms of fracturing the region and their relationships with Israel, but also fracturing American political support, which would be terrible and disastrous.” 

Flournoy — who served in the Obama administration from 2009-2012 —said she worries that if Israel moves ahead with annexation in the coming weeks, some Democratic lawmakers  may try to hold up the implementation of the 2016 Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S. and Israel and “decide to hold hostage our security assistance to Israel as a way of protesting Israel’s policies” in the West Bank.

“That may not be the most likely outcome, but it’s not unlikely either,” she suggested. Such attempts, Flournoy cautioned, would undermine long-standing bipartisan support “for critical pillars” of the security relationship with Israel. “That’s what really worries me,” she added.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro said on the webcast that “while there are voices in both parties that are sounding different notes, I still think there’s a large number of Republicans, as well as Democrats, who adhere to [the] principles that can help reestablish broad bipartisan consensus” on Israel and peace in the Middle East. “I am hopeful that is the case,” Shapiro added, “which gives us a lot to work with if there’s a new administration.”

House Dems gather signatures for letter against annexation

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.

Klobuchar and Smith join growing list of Democrats cautioning against annexation

Minnesota Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Tina Smith (D-MN) have joined more than two dozen Senate Democrats publicly warning Israeli leaders of the implications of efforts to unilaterally annex portions of the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that the government could start annexing territory as early as July 1.

In individual letters sent last month and made public over the weekend, both senators — Klobuchar addressed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Smith wrote to Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz — posited that annexation would undermine efforts to attain a two-state solution.

Twenty-eight senators have so far spoken out against the annexation proposal.

Last month, 19 Democratic senators sent a letter to Netanyahu and Gantz urging the Israeli leaders not to move forward with the effort. That 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) and Bob Casey (D-PA) sent individual communiques to Netanyahu and Gantz, similarly opposing the move, and Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) addressed the matter in individual letters to Pompeo. 

In addition, Sens. Mark Warner (D-VA) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) issued statements against annexation, and Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) indicated to Jewish Currents that instead of signing or authoring a letter on annexation, he would “communicate directly with [Israeli] Ambassador [Ron] Dermer and Israeli officials to express his concerns.” 

On Monday, eight Senate candidates in battleground states are expected to join the list expressing their strong opposition to such a move. In statements provided to J Street and shared with Jewish Insider, the candidates — Cal Cunningham (North Carolina), Sara Gideon (Maine), Teresa Greenfield (Iowa), Al Gross (Alaska), Jaime Harrison (South Carolina), MJ Hegar (Texas), John Hickenlooper (Colorado), Amy McGrath (Kentucky) and Jon Ossoff (Georgia) — emphasized that annexation would put the future of a two-state solution at risk. 

Read their statements in full here.

Earlier this month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) warned that unilateral annexation “puts the future [of peace] at risk and undermines our national security interest and decades of bipartisan policy.” Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden also came out against annexation, saying it “will choke off any hope for peace.”

“From the presidential nominee to the speaker of the House and from the Senate to the senatorial campaign trail, Democratic leaders have now made absolutely clear that they do not and cannot support unilateral annexation in the West Bank,” J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami told JI. “For annexation to move forward in the face of this overwhelming opposition would be incredibly harmful to the future of Israelis and Palestinians and to the US-Israel relationship.”

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