Congress pressing on against statehood bid


WASHINGTON (JTA) — Lawmakers in the U.S. Congress continued to try to head off Palestinian statehood recognition at the United Nations.

The Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives, including minority leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and whip Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), joined 56 other House Democrats signed on to a Sept. 15 letter to 40 European heads of state asking them to oppose plans by the Palestinian Authority to secure statehood recognition through the Security Council or enhanced status through the General Assembly. Palestinians are likely to win a majority of the General Assembly’s support, but the absence of European votes will diminish the moral authority of such a vote.

"It is our strong belief that such unilateral action would have devastating consequences for the peace process and the Palestinians themselves," the letter says. "Accordingly, we urge you in the strongest terms not to support this effort."

House Republicans have introduced legislation that would cut off assistance to the Palestinian Authority and to nations that vote for statehood this week as the General Assembly opens its latest session Tuesday.

On Monday, a bipartisan slate of 14 U.S. senators urged President Obama to reaffirm America’s friendship with Israel at the United Nations this week, citing the statehood bid as well as attacks on the Turkish government and in Egypt.

"We are deeply disappointed that [Palestinian Authority] President Mahmoud Abbas appears determined to scorn your persistent efforts to persuade him to return to the negotiating table with Israel and instead seek unilateral diplomatic action in New York that will only set back the prospects for peace," said the letter sent Monday and spearheaded by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.). "We are also troubled by the anti-Israeli rhetoric that Turkish Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan has displayed in recent weeks in the wake of the Palmer Report, which is harmful to Turkey’s reputation in the United States, especially when coupled with its reluctance to take any meaningful actions in response to the brutal crackdown in Syria."

The Palmer Report for the United Nations on Israel’s deadly 2010 raid on a Turkish-flagged ship aiming to break Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip found fault with both Israel and Turkey. 

"Lastly, the attack on the Israeli Embassy in Cairo earlier this month by a mob was profoundly unsettling," the letter said. "We commend your immediate and direct engagement with Egyptian authorities to save the lives of the six trapped Embassy personnel."

The senators urge Obama, who is due to speak Wednesday at the U.N., "to reaffirm and explain America’s determination to stand by Israel at this difficult hour."

In a separate Sept. 13 letter to Abbas, Cardin and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) warn that the Palestinians stand to lose U.S. funding if he presses ahead.

"Efforts to circumvent the legitimate negotiation process are likely to fail and may well cause consequences in regards to U.S. policy and foreign aid," the letter said. House appropriators have delivered similar warnings.

Another bipartisan Senate letter to Obama spearheaded by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) urged the president to make clear to Erdogan that his turning on Israel will generate consequences for U.S.-Turkey relations.

"We ask you to outline Turkey’s eroding support in Congress with Prime Minister Erdogan at the earliest opportunity and how its current ill-advised policy toward the State of Israel will also negatively reflect on U.S.-Turkish relations and Turkey’s role in the future of NATO," said the letter sent Monday to Obama by Kirk and six others.

Turkey has expelled Israel’s ambassador since the Palmer Report was published earlier this month, and has suspended military and trade ties.

Reuters reported that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met Monday with her Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoglu, and urged him to "keep the door open" to ties with Israel. 

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