Wasserman Schultz, lawmakers back peace talks now

WASHINGTON (JTA) — A bipartisan delegation of  U.S. Congress members said Palestinian Authority strides in transparent government and security created the basis for immediate peacemaking.

"I was really incredibly impressed with the progress when we went to Ramallah that has occurred within the Palestinian Authority," said U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), a deputy whip, in a conference call Jan. 7 toward the end of the group’s Middle East tour. "The economic and security progress that has gone on there has made it a lot more likely and puts the Palestinian Authority in a position where they are a more prepared negotiating partner."

The trip took place on the eve of a visit to the region by George Mitchell, President Obama’s top Middle East negotiator, aimed at accelerating talks. And in Washington, during meetings with the Egyptian and Jordanian foreign ministers last Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called for an immediate resumption of talks.

Wasserman Schultz said hesitating on talks played into the hands of Hamas, the terrorist group ruling the Gaza Strip.

"The more time that goes on without those negotiations and without progress taking place, the more Hamas is strengthened," she said.

Other members of the group, which included Reps. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), Jim Matheson (D-Utah), Adrian Smith (R-Neb.), Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.), Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), backed Wasserman Schultz’s assessment.

PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad "really has made consistent and clear strides cleaning up the government and introducing infrastructure that will help the West Bank be a successful state," Lummis said.

The sole note of dissent came from Weiner, who in a separate call with reporters immediately after the group’s call ended agreed that Fayyad had done much to end corruption, but suggested that appropriators should still threaten to withhold aid to the Palestinian Authority if it did not agree to enter talks on terms set by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"There’s no doubt that under Fayyad there’s less corruption," Weiner said, "but if the Netanyahu administration says it wants to have talks our position as an ally of Israel should be not to provide" the Palestinian Authority with funds.

Wasserman Schultz said her impression was that the Palestinians were ready to resume talks without preconditions, as long as it was done quietly.

"The conversations we had on both sides left me with the impression that there are ways to begin negotiations and to prepare for more significant negotiations without those lines in the sand," she said.

Wasserman Schultz also said that her Palestinian interlocutors discounted the prospect of a unity government with Hamas.

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