Americans for Peace Now is urging U.S. senators to not sign a letter to the president backing his efforts to encourage Arab states to normalize relations with Israel, because the letter doesn’t mention the administration’s efforts to halt Israeli settlements.
APN says the bipartisan letter, circulated by Sens. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and James Risch (R-Idaho) and backed by AIPAC, is "unhelpful" because it "seems to make a straightforward and reasonable demand for the Arab world to normalize relations with Israel," but "the subtext of the letter directly contradicts and undermines the efforts" of the Obama administration "to promote Middle East peace."
"The Bayh/Risch letter conspicuously ignores Israel’s continued refusal to stop settlement activity" and "never even once mentions the word ‘settlements,’" states the APN letter. "It sends a message that signers consider settlements more important that peace."
The Bayh-Risch letter notes 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."
The letter then asks Obama "what steps you are urging Arab states to take and what your expectations are from Arab states in the coming weeks and months."
(AIPAC is also backing a House letter in the same vein, but to Saudi King Abdullah. Circulated by Reps.
Howard Berman and Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) and Ed Royce (D-Calif.), it asks the king to take a "strong leadership role" and make a "dramatic gesture toward Israel.")
Both the APN letter and the Bayh-Risch letter are after the jump:[[READMORE]]
First, the Bayh-Risch letter:
Dear Mr. President:
We write in support of your efforts to encourage Arab states to normalize relations with the State of Israel. In your June 4th address to the Muslim world, you highlighted the key role that Arab states can play in furthering the peace process and called on them to openly recognize Israel’s legitimacy. Secretary Clinton underscored these remarks when she stated that Arab countries “have a responsibility to support the Palestinian Authority with words and deeds, to take steps to improve relations with Israel and to prepare their publics to embrace peace and accept Israel’s place in the region.” We applaud these comments and agree with you and Secretary Clinton that Arab states must do more to end their isolation of Israel.
Over the past few months Israel has taken concrete measures to reaffirm its commitment to advancing the peace process. Notably, Prime Minister Netanyahu has publically expressed support for the two-state solution and called for the immediate resumption of peace negotiations. We have also been encouraged by Israeli efforts to improve the daily lives of Palestinians, through measures such as removing roadblocks, assisting with economic development in the West Bank, and supporting the training of professional Palestinian Authority security personnel. These actions have demonstrated that Israel is willing to back up its words with concrete actions, even in the face of continuing threats to its security.
We encourage Arab leaders to take similar tangible steps to demonstrate their commitment to the peace process. 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.
Given these facts, we would like to understand what steps you are urging Arab states to take and what your expectations are from Arab states in the coming weeks and months. We also hope that you will continue to press Arab leaders to consider dramatic gestures toward Israel similar to those taken previously by brave leaders like King Hussein of Jordan and Anwar El-Sadat of Egypt. Such gestures would send a powerful signal that Arab nations are committed to the peace process and could help usher in a new era of peace and security in the Middle East.
And the APN missive:
Dear XXXX ,
Late last week a Dear Colleague from Senators Evan Bayh (D-IN) and James Risch (R-ID) began circulating in the Senate, related to the Obama Administration’s efforts to promote Middle East peace. APN urges members of the Senate to refrain from signing this letter unless/until it is amended to reflect the real steps needed to achieve peace that President Obama has asked Israel to take.
On its face, the letter seems to make a straightforward and reasonable demand for the Arab world to normalize relations with Israel. As strong supporters of Israel who believe that Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab peace are critical to the viability and prosperity of the state of Israel, we would like to see this happen, and see a day when Israelis and Arabs can travel freely throughout the region and enjoy normal, good relations.
The subtext of the letter, however, directly contradicts and undermines the efforts of President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Special Middle East Envoy George Mitchell to promote Middle East peace.
President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and Special Envoy Mitchell are investing a huge amount of energy and political capital in trying to create a dynamic with Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab states, asking all to take tangible steps that can create confidence in the peace process and help build momentum toward Middle East peace. This is a promising effort — one that holds out real hope for achieving Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab peace and, along with it, real normalization of Arab-Israeli relations.
They are pressing Arab states to demonstrate good faith by taking a range of steps toward normalization of relations with Israel, in the context of meaningful steps taken by Israel toward peace. This is an effort that Congress should support.
They are pressing the Palestinians to improve and expand on the positive actions already taken on security, to act forcefully against incitement, and to refrain from any action that would make meaningful negotiations less likely. This is an effort that Congress should support.
With respect to Israel, as everyone knows, they are pressing on one main issue: for Israel to stop settlement activity. This position is consistent with longstanding US policy and with promises Israel has made, repeatedly, to past US administrations. It is also consistent with Israel’s own best interests: settlements represent an economic, political and security liability for Israel. Settlements also erode the confidence, even among Israel’s friends and supporters, that Israel is truly interested in peace, and make the eventual resolution of the conflict more difficult and more costly for Israel to carry out. This effort to get Israel to stop settlement activity is something Congress should also support.
The Bayh/Risch letter conspicuously ignores Israel’s continued refusal to stop settlement activity and its recent decision to “up the ante” by approving a highly controversial settlement project in the heart of a Palestinian neighborhood of East Jerusalem – a project that has been on hold for more than 20 years.
Indeed, the Bayh/Risch letter never once even mentions the word “settlements.”
President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and Special Envoy Mitchell are right to be pressing Arab states to match positive Israeli steps with positive steps of their own, and it is right for Congress to echo this message. But this letter sends a different message altogether: that signers of the letter do not support President Obama in his efforts to achieve peace for Israel and bring security, stability, and normalcy to the region. It sends a message that signers consider settlements more important than peace.
We look forward with longing to the day when there is real peace and full normalization of relations between Israel and the entire Arab world. We strongly believe that the Obama Administration’s approach offers the best opportunity to achieve this goal.
We urge all Senators to support President Obama in his efforts, and to refrain from signing this unhelpful letter, unless and until it is amended to also reflect the real steps needed to achieve peace that President Obama has asked Israel to take.
Director of Policy and Government Relations