Senate letters on Mideast trip compete for Obama’s attention

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Two separate Senate letters counsel President Obama to make Israeli-Palestinian peace a priority during his visit to the region.

Both initiatives, including one that places the burden on the Palestinians, are circulating among senators ahead of Obama’s arrival in Israel on Wednesday.

A letter initiated by Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) urges Obama in his meeting with Palestinian leaders to "make clear that the pathway for peace is through unconditional direct negotiations between both the Israelis and Palestinians."

It says Obama should remind the Palestinians of consequences to the U.S.-Palestinian relationship should they continue efforts to seek statehood recognition outside the framework of talks and should they take Israel to international court.

It also says the Palestinian Authority must renounce Hamas until it recognizes Israel and abandons terrorism.

NORPAC, a New Jersey-based pro-Israel political action committee, is urging its activists to tell their senators to back the Cardin-Collins letter.

Another letter, initiated by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), also urges Obama to reaffirm his commitment to Israel’s security and the U.S.-Israel relationship, but expresses support for any U.S. initiative that encourages both parties to come to the table.

"It is essential for you to reaffirm on your upcoming trip that finding a pathway to peace remains a priority for your administration," the Feinstein letter says. "You will find strong support in the Senate for a sustained, U.S. diplomatic initiative to help both parties conclude an agreement."

The letters were first reported last Friday in Americans for Peace Now’s weekly legislative roundup.

Separately in Congress last week, Reps. Susan Davis (D-Calif.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Pete Roskam (R-Ill.) introduced a bipartisan bill with another 60 co-sponsors to raise additional funding for Iron Dome, the anti-missile system that Israel credits with repelling most Hamas rockets aimed for population centers during last November’s Gaza Strip war.

In the Senate, a range of amendments from both Republican and Democratic senators to a military funding bill would attach conditions to assistance for Egypt, including setting aside some funds for promoting democracy and making sure that Egypt is abiding by its peace accords and securing its border with Israel.

The Obama administration does not want to touch the $1.8 billion Egypt receives in annual assistance, noting that its president, Mohamed Morsi, has abided by the peace agreement and was instrumental in brokering an end to the Gaza war.

On March 14, a number of officials from pro-Israel and Jewish-affiliated groups, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Alliance for Middle East Peace and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, testified against cuts to foreign assistance that would devolve from the across-the-board sequester that kicked in this month.

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