A really big name has signed on to the Bayh-Risch letter: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.)
Reid’s name is listed on AIPAC’s website as one of the 41 senators who have thus far signed the missive to the president, which backs his effort to encourage Arab states to normalize relations with Israel. Reid’s office has confirmed that he will sign the letter.
The signature of Reid would be particularly significant because Capitol Hill leaders often don’t sign on to such letters. For instance, Reid didn’t sign on to the AIPAC-backed letter in May laying out "key principles" for an Arab-Israeli peace because, said a spokesperson at the time, "as Majority Leader he generally does not sign on to sign-on letters."
Americans for Peace Now and other left-wing pro-Israel groups — including Brit Tzedek v’Shalom and J Street — have made a major issue of the letter, being circulated by Sens. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and James Risch, (R-Idaho). They are calling on senators not to sign it unless it is amended to include mention of steps that all the parties in the Middle East need to take towards peace — especially Israel’s need to stop settlement construction.
"The subtext of the letter directly contradicts and undermines the efforts" of the Obama administration "to promote Middle East peace," stated APN, and "sends a message that the signers consider settlements more important than peace."
The Bayh-Risch letter says that "over the past few months Israel has taken concrete measures to reaffirm its commitment to advancing the peace process," such as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu backing a two-state solution and the removal of roadblocks and other measures to "improve the daily lives of Palestinians."
"We encourage Arab leaders to take similar tangible steps to demonstrate their commitment to the peace process," write the senators. "Such steps could include ending the Arab League boycott of Israel, meeting openly with Israeli officials, establishing open trade relations with Israel, issuing visas to Israeli citizens, and inviting Israelis to participate in academic and professional conferences and sporting events. We also believe that Arab states must immediately and permanently end official propaganda campaigns which demonize Israel and Jews."
An AIPAC-backed letter to Saudi King Abdullah calling on him to take a "strong leadership role" in the peace process garnered 224 House signatures last week.
UPDATE: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also has signed on to the letter, which is now up to 59 signatures.