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J Street backs alternative House letter on Mideast

WASHINGTON (JTA) — J Street is backing a bipartisan congressional letter to the president urging "strong American leadership" to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab conflict.

The letter, which is being circulated in the U.S. House of Representatives to gather signatures, is authored by Reps. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Charles Boustany (R-La.) and Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.). It appears to be an alternative to House and Senate letters backed by AIPAC that also are being circulated on the Hill.

J Street sent an alert to its supporters on Wednesday urging them to contact their members of Congress about signing the missive.

The Cohen-Boustany-Carnahan letter states that "America best serves our historic friendship with Israel when it is actively working to de-escalate conflict and advance peace, and that our relationships throughout the Arab and Muslim world will be strengthened through a negotiated agreement that ends the conflict."

It adds that "Israelis and Palestinians have not been able to achieve peace on their own, and we therefore share your belief that American leadership is essential to achieving meaningful progress. Left to themselves, the parties have been unable to make the necessary progress toward ending the conflict, and an American helping hand is now needed to bridge those gaps."

The AIPAC-backed House letter urges the president to make "every effort" to achieve peace in the Middle East, but emphasizes that "the parties themselves must negotiate the details of any agreement" and that the United States must insist on an "absolute Palestinian commitment" to end violence and terror.

It also states that the United States needs to "work closely and privately together" with Israel "both on areas of agreement and especially on areas of disagreement."

The AIPAC-backed letter was spearheaded in the House by Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Minority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), and in the Senate by Sens. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) and John Thune (R-S.D.).

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