Letter Could Shift Senate Approach to Palestinian Authority

September 10, 2014

J Street Director of Government Affairs Dylan Williams released the following statement today concerning the sign-on letter being circulated by Senators Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-PA) and Kelly A. Ayotte (R-NH):

J Street welcomes the sign-on letter being circulated by Senators Casey and Ayotte offering to work with Secretary Kerry "to create the conditions that will allow Israelis and Palestinians to move closer to peace."

We share the letter's stated objectives and applaud the advance in Senate policy that it would represent in terms of how the United States and Israel should deal with the Palestinian government as currently constituted. In particular, we appreciate the letter's insistence that the United States "support efforts to enable the Palestinian Authority to exercise real power in Gaza."

Those efforts will likely require more than just maintaining current levels of US assistance benefiting Palestinians. They will require additional funds to further train Palestinian security forces and, with the help of the international community, equip the Palestinian Authority to fully meet the financial burdens of governing the Gaza Strip once again. With regard to the devastation in Gaza, we also echo the letter authors' affirmation that they "fully support the urgent provision of humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza."

J Street also commends the letter's emphasis on a negotiated end to the underlying Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a US foreign policy priority. We agree that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas should continue talks at the negotiating table with the Government of Israel, and urge the Israeli government to also engage in talks notwithstanding previous statements that it will not negotiate with Abbas as long as the Palestinian reconciliation agreement remains in effect.

We also share the letter's opposition to "harmful steps" in international fora. We urge legislators to welcome constructive steps that could be taken in the international arena, such as (for example) a US-led effort in the UN Security Council to put forward a public outline of the parameters on which a two-state solution could be agreed – including borders based on pre-1967 lines with swaps, a Palestinian capital in Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, mutual recognition and guarantees for the security of both states – and a diplomatic process to achieve it within a set period of time.

Lastly, J Street would suggest that Senators urge both sides, not just the Palestinians, to refrain from unilateral actions that clearly undermine the prospects for a return to negotiations. For example, the letter omits any mention of the recent Israeli government decision to seize almost 1,000 acres of land in the West Bank to build a massive new settlement. Indeed, as a senior US official involved in the latest negotiations said after their collapse, "There are a lot of reasons for the peace effort's failure, but people in Israel shouldn't ignore the bitter truth – the primary sabotage came from the settlements."

We encourage members of the Senate to join their colleagues in signing this pro-Israel, pro-peace letter.