July 28, 2021

Congress: 73 Democrats urge Biden to reverse Trump’s pro-Israel measures

JTA – Letter signed by 73 Democrats in the US House of Representatives, a number of whom hold senior positions, urges President Joe Biden to take a number of steps to reverse what they call “abandonment by the Trump administration of the long-standing bipartisan US policy “on Israeli-Palestinian relations.

The letter sent on Wednesday asks, among other things, for Joe Biden to firmly view Israeli settlements as “illegal” and the West Bank as “occupied,” two things the Trump administration has said it no longer wants to do.

“Make it clear that the United States considers the settlements to be incompatible with international law, by re-issuing the relevant US State Department and Customs guidelines to this effect,” the letter said.

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It also insists that all “relevant US official documents and communications” “again systematically refer to the status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip as occupied”.

Among the signatories of the letter are seven committee chairs, including representatives Rosa De Lauro of Connecticut, who heads the powerful Credit Committee, and John Yarmuth of Kentucky, who heads the Budget committee, as well as the Deputy Chair of the Budget Committee. House Representative Katherine Clarke of Massachusetts.

Seven Jewish Democrats signed the letter, including Representative Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, who initiated it. The others are Reps Alan Lowenthal from California, Andy Levin from Michigan, Sara Jacobs from California, John Yarmuth from Kentucky, Steve Cohen from Tennessee and Jamie Raskin from Maryland.

Donald Trump turned decades of US policy in the region upside down by paving the way for Israel’s annexation of parts of the West Bank, recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights and relocating the US embassy. United in Jerusalem.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (right) visits the Golan Heights alongside Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi aboard a Blackhawk helicopter, November 19, 2020 (Courtesy)

Officials in the Biden administration have been reluctant to openly criticize Israel, wary of the tensions that beset the Obama administration when its officials publicly called out to Jerusalem over policy differences.

Mr. Biden preferred to keep his differences with Israel behind closed doors. During the conflict with Gaza last month, he vigorously rejected calls from the party’s left to pressure Israel to end the conflict.

In a vague but meaningful line, the letter asks Biden to “systematically” condemn in public statements any “specific action that violates the rights of either party or compromises prospects for peace.” Speaking openly of differences is a practice that Israeli leaders and the mainstream pro-Israel community categorically reject.

But Biden is in favor of some of the letter’s eight specific recommendations, including resuming sending aid to the Palestinians and reopening a separate consulate in Jerusalem for relations with the Palestinians.

The letter also calls on Mr. Biden to abandon Mr. Trump’s peace plan, which calls for Israel’s annexation of parts of the West Bank. She further calls on him to pressure Israel to end the planned eviction of Palestinian families from a neighborhood in East Jerusalem – which has helped to create an unstable environment at the root of the violent conflict in Israel. last month between Israel and Gaza.

The document reflects growing calls among Democrats to take a tougher stance with Israel.

JStreet, a liberal Jewish political group with an interest in the Middle East, welcomed the letter, noting that it had been signed by a third of the Democratic parliamentary group. Jeremy Ben-Ami, chairman of JStreet, said in a statement that “it is the responsibility of the Biden administration to do everything in its power to rebuild productive ties with the Palestinian leadership and to make it very clear that the United States will not tolerate illegal settlement expansion, annexation de facto and population displacement ”.

The letter was sent at a time when Israel’s new government, led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, seeks to repair relations with the Democrats, which had eroded under former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

US President Donald Trump smiles at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) after signing the formal proclamation recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights in the diplomatic reception hall of the White House in Washington on 25 March 2019 (photo credit: AP Photo / Susan Walsh)

American policy on the legality of settlements under international law has evolved with the presidents. Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter insisted on what they considered the settlements illegal, while Ronald Reagan said he did not think the settlements were illegal. Subsequent administrations began to view settlements as illegal again, but mostly only when officials were called upon to clarify their position.

Three of six members of the Progressive Representative Group who openly criticized Israel in Congress last month also signed: Representatives Ilhan Omar from Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley from Massachusetts and Jamaal Bowman from New York.

Representatives Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Cori Bush of Missouri did not sign the letter. Indeed, the missive emphasizes support for the two-state solution, which Tlaib rejects, favoring a binational state.