87 lawmakers sign on to J Street-backed letter

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Eighty-seven House members signed a J Street-backed letter to President Obama calling for "strong American leadership" to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The letter, which was seen as an alternative to an AIPAC-backed letter that received 329 signatures from U.S. House of Representatives members last week, 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 letter also calls for "strong consideration" to be given to "pursuing a regional, comprehensive approach to resolving the conflict, such as the Arab Peace Initiative."

The AIPAC-backed letter urged the president to make "every effort" to achieve peace in the Middle East, but emphasized that "the parties themselves must negotiate the details of any agreement."

Forty-one signatories to the J Street-backed letter, including its three authors — Reps. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Charles Boustany (R-La.) and Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.) — also signed the AIPAC missive even though the two letters take opposite positions on the key issue of U.S. involvement. That includes five Jewish members.

Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.) was the only one of the 31-member Jewish caucus to sign only the J Street letter, while Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) wrote his own letter to the president.

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