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Senators urged not to sign letter on Mideast

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WASHINGTON (JTA) — Americans for Peace Now is urging U.S. senators not to sign a letter encouraging the Arab world to normalize ties with Israel because it does not mention efforts to halt Israeli settlements.

The bipartisan letter to President Obama, circulated by Sens. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and James Risch (R-Idaho) and backed by the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, is "unhelpful" because it "seems to make a straightforward and reasonable demand for the Arab world to normalize relations with Israel," but "the subtext of the letter directly contradicts and undermines the efforts" of the Obama administration "to promote Middle East peace."

The Senate letter notes that "over the past few months Israel has taken concrete measures to reaffirm its commitment to advancing the peace process," and notes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s backing of the two-state solution and the removal of roadblocks and other measures to "improve the daily lives of Palestinians."

But "the Bayh/Risch letter conspicuously ignores Israel’s continued refusal to stop settlement activity" and "never even once mentions the word ‘settlements,’ " states the Americans for Peace Now letter. "It sends a message that signers consider settlements more important than peace."

The Bayh-Risch letter asks Obama what steps he is encouraging Arab states to take to "demonstrate their commitment to the peace process," and suggests examples such as meeting openly with Israeli officials or opening trade relations with the Jewish state, as well as ending "official propaganda campaigns which demonize Israel and Jews."

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