WASHINGTON — More than half of the Democratic senators currently in office havespoken out in recent weeks against Israeli annexation of settlements in the West Bank. Together with the opposition to annexation expressed by former Vice President Joe Biden, the senators’ statements on the subject show that annexation could harm Israel’s standing with Democratic politicians and voters.
As of Monday, at least 28 of the 47 Democrats in the Senate have expressed their opposition to annexation, most of them by sending letters on the subject to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz. A Democratic source in the Senate told Haaretz that more lawmakers are expected to make similar statements against annexation in the coming days.
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Out of the 28 senators who have so far expressed opposition to annexation, 19 did so in a joint letter to Netanyahu and Gantz last month, which was led by Senators Tim Kaine, Chris Murphy and Chris Van Hollen. The letter was also signed by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, the runner-up in this year’s Democratic presidential nomination contest, and Elizabeth Warren, Tammy Baldwin and Tammy Duckworth, both of whom have been mentioned recently as potential running mates for Biden.
Following the letter, nine other senators released their own statements and letters raising concerns over annexation. Democratic lawmaker Michael Bennett sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in which he wrote that “Unilateral annexation of the West Bank by Israel outside the confines of negotiations will diminish future prospects for such talks and could potentially destabilize the region further, undermining U.S. and Israeli security interests.”
Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey, who represents one of the most competitive and important “swing” states, also sent a letter to Netanyahu and Gantz in which he wrote that “Unilateral annexation of the West Bank will not only eliminate the possibility of a two state solution, but may result in erosion of regional and international arrangements that guarantee Israel’s safety and security.”
New Hampshire lawmaker Maggie Hassan, whose state’s election was decided by less than a 1 percent margin in both the presidential and Senate races in 2016, sent a letter to Pompeo, in which she cautioned: “Israel has a right and an obligation to secure its borders, but annexing key territories without bilateral communication and support will only serve to increase the animosity of extremist actors like Hamas and decrease the willingness of Palestinian groups to come to the negotiating table.” She added that “such actions undermine decades of shared understandings between Israeli, Palestinian, American, and international officials.”
Another U.S. politician who is often mentioned as a potential vice presidential candidate for Biden, Amy Klobuchar, wrote to Pompeo in late May that “Preserving the prospects for a lasting peace agreement is critical to the interests of both the United States and Israel. It is for this reason that I urge the administration to oppose measures that could jeopardize those prospects.” Such measures would include unilateral annexation by Israel, she added.
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Mark Warner, the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, took to Twitter to express his view on annexation, writing last month: “I say this as a strong supporter of Israel: Israel should not unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank. It could threaten the security of Israel and the region and hurt the potential for peace with the Palestinians.”
No Democratic lawmaker has so far expressed support for annexation or encouraged Israel to go ahead with it, but one senator, Ben Cardin, said last month that he does not want to publicly contradict Israel’s government on this issue. Cardin is considered close to AIPAC, the influential pro-Israel lobby group, which also released a statement arguing that annexation should not impact the U.S.-Israel relationship.
While there is a clear majority in the Democratic Party against annexation, that doesn’t mean that all Democrats agree on what the party’s response should be if Israel will indeed move ahead with it. Sanders and other left-wing Democrats have called to put conditions and limitations on U.S. military aid to Israel, particularly if the country will unilaterally annex settlements. Biden and other centrist Democrats oppose this idea, with Biden having even called it “outrageous” and expressing pride in the fact that the Obama administration, in which he was vice president, gave Israel more security aid than any previous administration.
On the Republican side, meanwhile, most senators have not publicly commented on annexation, as they wait to see what will be the official position of the Trump administration on the subject. Trump’s ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, is pushing Israel to unilaterally and immediately annex all the settlements in the West Bank, but it’s not clear if the White House ‒ particularly the president's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner ‒ shares this position. Earlier this year, Kushner pulled the break on Netanyahu and Friedman’s plan to move ahead with annexation before Israel’s March 2 election.
One Republican senator who hinted at support for immediate annexation is Ted Cruz, who shared an opinion piece on annexation on Twitter by Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s previous Middle East envoy. “Israel is an ally and a sovereign nation entitled to make this decision for itself," Cruz wrote in the tweet. "Far too many in America have been presumptuous in trying to dictate the terms of peace to them.”
The Republican Jewish Coalition announced last week in a statement that it is starting a campaign to get more Republicans to publicly express support for annexation. The organization explained that “we will be making a major lobbying effort to encourage Republicans to express their support for the government of Israel and to support Israel’s extending sovereignty over parts of Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley.”