WASHINGTON — A public letter opposing Israel's plan to annex settlements in the occupied West Bank is gaining strong momentum among Democrats in Congress, despite opposition to it from influential pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC. Attracting close to 90 signatures so far, sources on Capitol Hill say as many as 200 Democratic elected officials could end up adding their names to it.
The letter is being circulated by four House Democrats, including lawmakers Ted Deutch and Brad Schneider, who are considered strong supporters of Israel and allies of AIPAC. In drafting the letter, the pair joined forces with Jan Schakowsky and David Price, who usually sit further to the left than Deutch and Schneider on issues related to Israel. The goal, therefore, was to word the letter such that it could unite the vast majority of Democrats.
AIPAC has been lobbying against the letter in recent days. A spokesperson for the organization told Haaretz: “We have not taken a position on annexation. However, we do not support this letter. It publicly criticizes Israel for potentially deciding upon a policy that would only be adopted with the approval of the U.S. government, it fails to reaffirm America's full commitment to Israel's security assistance, and it focuses only on what it sees as inappropriate Israeli behavior, while failing to note that Palestinian leaders have been unwilling to return to the negotiating table for nearly a decade.”
Despite AIPAC’s opposition, the letter is already gaining a great deal of support among House Democrats, including from members who usually align themselves with the group. One notable lawmaker who has already signed the letter is House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. Usually a supporter of Israel, Hoyer has worked with AIPAC's educational arm to organize delegations of freshmen House members to visit Israel.
Meanwhile, another AIPAC ally, Nita Lowey, and Brad Sherman, a veteran lawmaker, who is considered one of the most hawkish supporters of Israel in the Democratic party, both gave their support.
Just as significantly, at least five “frontline” lawmakers have signed the letter, a source who is involved in internal party discussions about the letter told Haaretz. “Frontline” Democrats are members of the House who represent very competitive districts that were held by Republicans prior to the 2018 midterm elections, but were “flipped” into Democratic control by moderate candidates.
Jewish lawmaker Elissa Slotkin, and Tom Malinowski, who served as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor in the Obama administration, as well as Adam Schiff, Jerry Nadler, Jason Crow and Cheri Bustos all added their signatures in opposition of annexation.
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Opposition to unilateral annexation is also continuing to grow among Democrats in the Senate. More than 60 percent of Democratic senators have already expressed concerns about the prospect of such a move, most of them in letters addressed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz. The latest senator to release an anti-annexation statement is Kamala Harris, a former presidential contender and one of the leading candidates to become Joe Biden’s vice-presidential running mate in this year’s election.
Harris said that “While the prospects for a two-state solution in the near-term appear dim, I believe that peace between Israelis and Palestinians is possible only through direct negotiations and an agreement that results in two states for two peoples.”
“As the United States has repeatedly made clear, unilateral moves by either party, such as annexation, put a negotiated peace further out of reach," she added. "Both Israel and the Palestinians must avoid unilateral moves in order to preserve prospects for an eventual peace.”