WASHINGTON - Three of the most senior, pro-Israel senators in the Democratic Party joined the growing list of elected Democrats opposing Israeli plans for West Bank annexation on Friday.
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Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, together with Senators Bob Menendez and Ben Cardin – the party’s top representatives in the Foreign Relations Committee – released a joint statement against unilateral Israeli annexation of West Bank territories.
The statement, first published by journalist Jacob Kornbluh in Jewish Insider, is the latest indication that annexation could cause a major rift between the Democratic Party and the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Schumer, Menendez and Cardin are considered hawks on Israel-related policy, and all three voted against the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and denounced former U.S. President Barack Obama's policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
For the three lawmakers to jointly speak out against Israel is rare, and demonstrates a consensus against annexation within the Democratic Party. Their statement was released just as AIPAC, the leading pro-Israeli lobby group, is trying to convince Democratic lawmakers not to sign a letter warning Israel against annexation.
Several Democrats in the House of Representatives who are also considered close to AIPAC, including Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, have already signed the anti-annexation letter.
Schumer, Menendez and Cardin wrote that “As strong and dedicated supporters of the U.S.-Israel relationship, we are compelled to express opposition to the proposed unilateral annexation of territory in the West Bank.”
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They added that “Real diplomacy via direct negotiations, while an arduous road, is the only path for a durable peace. For that reason it has consistently been the long-standing, bipartisan policy in Congress to oppose unilateral action by either side. Unilateral annexation runs counter to those longstanding policies and could undermine regional stability and broader U.S. national security interests in the region.”
They concluded by explaining that “We are committed to sustaining a U.S.-Israel relationship based on shared democratic values and our important security assistance partnership. We are also committed to continuing to engage Israelis and Palestinians to find ways to live together with peace, freedom, security and dignity and achieve a two-state solution.“
Menendez, Cardin and Schumer are regular speakers at AIPAC’s annual conference in Washington. Schumer told the conference crowd last year that the reason Israel doesn’t have peace is because the Palestinians don’t believe in the Torah. Menendez hinted in an appearance before AIPAC in 2017 that he was indicted in corruption charges because of his principled opposition to the Iran nuclear deal.
Backed by U.S. President Donald Trump, Netanyahu has set the target date of July 1 for annexation of West Bank territories. However, as the date approaches, there is increasing international pressure against the move, along with internal disputes with settlement leaders and within Netanyahu's government. As reported in Haaretz on Wednesday, there is not yet a final map of which territories will be annexed, and Israel may end up declaring it a merely "symbolic" gesture.