WASHINGTON, Dec. 18 (JTA) — One day after President Clinton joined three former secretaries of state in criticizing Israel’s settlement policies, the two top Republican foreign policy members of Congress expressed solidarity with the Jewish state. In a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House International Relations Committee, wrote Netanyahu: “We would not presume to advise you on specific steps to take, or to refrain from taking, in your pursuit of a just and lasting peace.” Helms and Gilman acknowledged that “there has been some excited discussion in the United States about Israel and its commitment to the peace process in the Middle East.” The letter, dated Dec. 17, was released Wednesday. Congressional aides say the chairmen intended the letter as a veiled criticism of Clinton, who had attacked Israeli settlements as “absolutely” an obstacle to peace. “There are voices who insist that it is incumbent upon the State of Israel to make all the sacrifices for peace. Do not count us among such people,” Helms and Gilman wrote, These aides said the letter was also aimed at former Secretaries of State James Baker, Lawrence Eagleburger and George Shultz who, along with other former U.S. officials, criticized Netanyahu in a letter this week. “Your continued negotiations on the question of Hebron are a testament to Israel’s willingness to work towards a viable agreement with the Palestinians, particularly in light of exhortations to terrorism against Israel from Gaza and Damascus,” Helms and Gilman wrote. “Rest assured, Mr. Prime Minister, that we will continue to do all we can to support peace in the Middle East, as well as the security of the State of Israel and all its people.”
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