Congressional letters urge Obama on incitement

WASHINGTON (JTA) – Three congressional letters to the Obama administration urged pressure on the Palestinian Authority to curb incitement.

The letters were prompted by the March 11 murder of five members of a family in the Jewish West Bank settlement of Itamar.

One letter, initiated by Reps. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.) and Steve Austria (R-Ohio), garnered a bipartisan slate of 46 signatures, most of them from members of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee and the foreign operations subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee.

Sent to President Obama on March 31, the letter asks him to demand that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas return to peace talks with Israel and "eliminate all vestiges of incitement coming from his government, Palestinian entities, or officials.”

J Street, the liberal pro-Israel lobby, lobbied against the Rothman-Austria letter, saying it lacked balance.

Twenty-seven U.S. senators signed on to a similar bipartisan letter sent March 30 to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The Republican Study Committee, the conservative caucus within the House GOP majority, also sent a letter to Clinton on March 28. The letter, with 49 signatures, accuses the Obama administration of emphasizing its opposition to Israeli settlement expansion at the expense of criticizing the Palestinians for not addressing incitement.

"Instead of strongly and unequivocally urging the Palestinian leadership to stop anti-Israel incitement and glorification of terror and to return to direct negotiations with Israel, the administration has persisted in publicly criticizing certain Israeli housing construction activities," the letter said.

The Obama administration, while critical of Israeli settlement building, also has urged the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table and criticized incitement while noting some strides the Palestinian Authority has made in the area. 

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