Lovin’ the engagement – UPDATE II


(Updates to add names and note the role of APN)

J Street is urging its followers to get their senators to sign onto the letter from U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) urging Hillary Clinton to ramp up her engagement in bringing about Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Clinton could always do more, I guess, but she’s already scoring high on the engage-o-meter: her first trip as secretary of state to the region barely a month into her job, a pledge of $900 million to help rebuild the Gaza Strip and reports that she’s scolding Israel for stinting in allowing humanitarian assistance into Gaza.

Anyway, J Street is casting this as a sign of the new times, suggesting that U.S. Rep. Bill Delahunt’s resolution praising the appointment of George Mitchell as an envoy – and itself emphasizing engagement – has spooked the pro-Israel establishment:

Momentum is building in Washington behind renewed US peace efforts in the Middle East.

On his second day in office, President Obama appointed George Mitchell, the broker of Northern Ireland peace to serve as his Special Envoy for Middle East Peace.

Then, 66 Members of the House of Representatives have signed onto a resolution endorsing Mitchell and the President’s vision for Middle East Peace – more than have endorsed any other pro-Israel, pro-peace Resolution in years.

Now, the Senate is ready to act.

With Secretary of State Hillary Clinton poised to fly to the Middle East in the coming days, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) is circulating a letter supporting Clinton’s trip and the President’s vision of a new era of engagement.

We’ve got until Friday at noon to ask other Senators to join – will you contact your Senators right now?

Not everyone is pleased of course with the newfound momentum for peace efforts. One prominent Jewish community leader said the new Special Envoy, George Mitchell, would be too "fair." Right-wing Christian Zionist Gary Bauer said Mitchell is too "even-handed."

But that didn’t stop J Street’s friends in Washington from showing their support.

The House Resolution praising the Mitchell appointment, introduced by Rep. Delahunt (D-MA), now has 65 cosponsors thanks in large part to the intense advocacy from people like you – we sent over 12,800 messages to our Representatives and made nearly 2,000 phone calls.

Now, we can help persuade the Senate to show its support for President Obama’s policy of Middle East engagement, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit, and Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell on the eve of their visit to the region.

Here’s an excerpt from Feinstein’s letter:

Last month, while announcing Senator Mitchell’s appointment as Special Middle East Peace Envoy, President Obama stated that “It will be the policy of my administration to actively and aggressively seek a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as Israel and its Arab neighbors.”
At that same ceremony, you expressed your own commitment to Israel-Palestinian peace, noting that Senator Mitchell’s mission will be to “lead our efforts to reinvigorate the process for achieving peace between Israel and its neighbors… [to] help us to develop an integrated strategy that defends the security of Israel, works to bring an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that will result in two states, living side by side in peace and security, and to achieve further agreements to promote peace and security between Israel and its Arab neighbors” and “to support the objectives that the President and I believe are critical and pressing in Gaza, to develop a program for humanitarian aid and eventual reconstruction, working with the Palestinian Authority and Israel on behalf of those objectives.”
We commend both you and President Obama for these statements and we urge you to use your upcoming visit to Israel and the West Bank to underscore your personal commitment, and that of President Obama, to Israel’s security and to achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace.  Both are vital U.S. national security interests that must not be neglected.  The continuing launching of rockets from Gaza into Israel, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and the ongoing challenge of formalizing an Israel-Hamas truce, underscore the importance of tenacious American leadership and engagement, now and in the future.

UPDATE II: Here are the 18 32 signatories so far: Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) , Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), David Vitter (R-La.), George Voinovich (R-Ohio.), Mark Begich (D-Ak.), Kit Bond (R-Mo.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Arlen Specter (R-Pa.)  Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), John Kerry (D-Mass.), Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) (MOT in boldface.)

So that’s almost a third of the Senate, including 6 of the Senate’s 13 self-identified Jews*, 8 Republicans (including a handful of conservative southerners), 6 members of the 17 member Foreign Relations committee, including its chair (Kerry.)

I should add that Americans for Peace Now also lobbied hard for the letter. From what I hear, AIPAC is nishteh here, nishteh there on this (and I say that cognizant of my Sephardi roots.)

Separately, the Israel Policy Forum is also lovin’ the engagement (although it too could use a little more). This release is from Wednesday:

Israel Policy Forum (IPF) welcomes reports that the United States will pledge $900 million in humanitarian aid for the Gaza Strip.

This aid, which needs to be channeled through the Palestinian Authority, NGOs and United Nations groups, “is an important step toward alleviating the humanitarian hardships in the Gaza Strip,” said Nick Bunzl, IPF’s Executive Director.  “We trust that Congress will recognize the importance of this initiative and approve the aid package without delay”

“Putting an end to weapons smuggling into Gaza and to the rocket attacks on Israel, as well as opening the border crossings to enable reconstruction to commence without bolstering Hamas, will be critical next steps,” he added. 

IPF also applauds President Obama’s reference in his address to Congress to his appointment of George Mitchell as Special Envoy “to seek progress toward a secure and lasting peace between Israel and her neighbors.”

“President Obama’s mention in his speech and the visits in the coming days by Mitchell and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton further signal that the White House is serious about pursuing peace and security in the region, and understands the critical importance of active American engagement,” Bunzl said.

*Ted Kaufman (D-Del.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) such tsuris you’re making for me!

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