WASHINGTON – Three Republican members of Congress spoke at the launch of a new Congressional caucus supporting Israel on Thursday in Washington. The new group, named the Congressional Israel Victory Caucus, aims to shift United States policy toward the goal of “defeating” the Palestinians without either creating a Palestinian state or giving Palestinians civil rights.
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The new caucus – an initiative of the Middle East Forum, a right-wing think tank based in Philadelphia – consists exclusively of members of the Republican Party, at least as of now. The caucus is opposed to diplomatic negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, putting it far to the right of the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, which is currently aiming at restarting the peace process ahead of Trump’s expected visit to Israel in May.
The two co-chairmen of the new caucus, Republican representatives Bill Johnson from Ohio and Ron Desantis from Florida, spoke at the event launching the caucus, which was in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill.
The congressmen said that Palestinians liked living under Israeli military control in the West Bank. Another speaker, the Middle East Forum’s president Daniel Pipes, said that Palestinians will be better off if they accept Israel’s victory and give up on statehood, independence or equal rights. “Palestinian defeat is what leads to Palestinian normality,” Pipes said.
Desantis said he assumes Trump will eventually move the U.S.Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, perhaps even during his upcoming visit to Israel next month. Trump promised to move the embassy during the election campaign, but has stopped referring to the issue since he entered the White House. The last administration official to speak on the embassy move was Vice President Mike Pence, who said last month that Trump was “seriously considering” it.
Trump is scheduled to meet next week with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the White House. Abbas was attacked during the event on Thursday by a number of speakers, who accused him of rejecting peace and supporting violence. Trump, however, conveyed a message to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in March, through his friend Alan Dershowitz, that he believes a deal with Abbas is possible.
In response to the launch of the caucus, the left-wing group J Street said “this caucus is trying to mainstream a hateful ideology that can only lead to endless conflict – which would spell disaster for Israelis and Palestinians alike. Right now, with so much uncertainty surrounding US policy in the region, leaders in Washington and in the American Jewish community need to challenge and sideline the dangerous ideas of this extreme fringe.”