House Democrats Draft Letter Addressed to Netanyahu Warning Against West Bank Annexation

Lawmakers who are long-time supporters of Israel and its ties with the U.S. say they are now worried about the prospect of unilateral steps

Amir Tibon
Amir Tibon
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The US Capitol is seen in Washington, DC, May 27, 2020.
The US Capitol is seen in Washington, DC, May 27, 2020.Credit: SAUL LOEB / AFP
Amir Tibon
Amir Tibon

WASHINGTON — After a majority of Democratic senators expressed opposition to Israeli plans to annex settlements in the occupied West Bank, Democrats in the House of Representatives are now drafting a letter warning the Israeli government of the consequences of annexation.

The letter is being circulated by four Democratic lawmakers, who usually represent different viewpoints within the party regarding Israel: Reps. Ted Deutch of Florida, Brad Schneider of Illinois, Jan Schakowsky of Illinois and David Price of North Carolina. While Deutch and Schneider are considered close to AIPAC, Shackowsky and Price tend to lean closer to JStreet, which is more critical of the Israeli government on issues related to settlements and the occupation.

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The purpose of their joint letter is to try and create a broad consensus within the party on the issue of annexation. The lawmakers sent a draft of their letter to all Democratic members of Congress on Monday, asking for their signatures on it. The letter is addressed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi.

The issue of annexation has also created a disagreement within the Israeli government and among these three politicians. Netanyahu has stated that he wants to annex each and every settlement, assuming he can get a green light from Gantz and Ashkenazi for such a move; while Gantz and Ashkenazi, both retired generals and former chiefs of staff of the Israeli amy, oppose such widespread annexation and prefer limiting the scope to specific settlements in areas close to the 1967 borders.

The House Democrats’ letter does not distinguish between these different plans, and instead focuses on how annexation could harm Israel’s relationships with Jordan and other Arab countries, as well as Israel’s standing in Europe. They also noted that both Republican and Democratic administrations over the years have opposed Israeli annexation and supported negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians with the aim of reaching a two-state solution.

The Democrats wrote that the letter comes from lawmakers who are long-time supporters of Israel and of the U.S.-Israel relationship, but are now worried about the prospect of unilateral steps, and therefore urge Netanyahu and his cabinet to reconsider any plans to move ahead with annexation.

Apart from senators and House members, the most significant opposition to annexation within the Democratic Party comes from former Vice President Joe Biden, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, who has said that annexation is an extreme idea that he will not support if elected president. Biden also said that he supports Israel and will not join calls from other Democrats to put new conditions on military aid to Israel, but that he has always opposed settlements and that his position on this issue is well known to Netanyahu.

While Democratic opposition to annexation is growing, the Republican Jewish Coalition is planning a lobbying effort to ensure support for annexation moves. The challenge for Republicans, however, is that the Trump administration’s full position on the subject is not yet clear.

The ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, wants Israel to immediately annex all the settlements, but that position isn’t necessarily shared by the White House, and particularly by Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser.