NEAR EAST REPORT AIPAC'S BIWEEKLY ON AMERICAN MIDDLE EAST POLICY

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Senior House leaders from both parties asked President Obama to pledge to veto anti-Israel resolutions in the U.N. Security Council.
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Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), the House Majority Leader, and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the Democratic Whip, were two of the letter’s cosigners.

House Leaders to Obama: Pledge to Use
Veto in U.N.

Six senior members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to President Obama last month, asking him to pledge to veto any anti-Israel resolutions in the U.N. Security Council. The letter comes as the Palestinian Authority (PA) is working to introduce a Security Council resolution condemning Israel for housing construction in the West Bank and in some neighborhoods of Jerusalem.

The House leaders reaffirm the longstanding U.S. position that final-status issues such as settlements and Jerusalem should be negotiated between Israel and the PA and not be decided through U.N. decree. The letter also criticizes the PA for its ongoing efforts to avoid direct talks with Israel.

The signatories were Reps. Eric Cantor (R-VA), Majority Leader; Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Democratic Whip; Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), chair of the Committee on Foreign Affairs; Howard Berman (D-CA), ranking member on the Committee on Foreign Affairs; Steve Chabot (R-OH), chair-designate on the Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia; and Gary Ackerman (D-NY), ranking member-designate on the Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia.

The full letter is below:
January 27, 2011

The President
The White House
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

We write to you as Members of Congress steadfast in our support for the U.S.-Israel alliance and dedicated to advancing security and peace in the Middle East. We are deeply concerned about the Palestinian leadership’s decision to reject the difficult but vital responsibility of making peace with Israel through direct negotiations, and instead to advocate for anti-Israel measures by the United Nations Security Council and other international forums. We respectfully request that the United States oppose this Palestinian approach publicly and strongly, including through the use of our veto at the United Nations Security Council. The Palestinian Authority must be reminded that any path towards statehood must be negotiated between Israelis and Palestinians, not imposed.

Successive Israeli governments have proven Israel’s steadfast commitment to peace, including through making painful sacrifices towards that end. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton herself noted that the present Israeli government took an “unprecedented” step in pursuit of peace with its ten-month moratorium on Israeli housing construction in the West Bank. Furthermore, since the beginning of the current Israeli government, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for direct negotiations with the Palestinians anytime and anywhere, without preconditions.

For almost all of the past two years—and continuing to this very day—the Palestinian leadership has refused repeated U.S. and Israeli calls for direct negotiations. Even as Israel has made significant concessions to pursue peace, Palestinian leaders have hidden behind an unprecedented precondition to avoid coming to the table—namely, a demand that Israel first cease housing construction throughout the West Bank and in some areas of Jerusalem, Israel’s undivided capital.

Instead of negotiating directly with Israel to achieve a peaceful solution to the conflict, Palestinian leaders continue to seek to circumvent the negotiating process by advocating anti-Israel measures by the UN Security Council, UN General Assembly, and UN Human Rights Council. In fact, Palestinian leaders are currently seeking consideration of a Security Council resolution that would condemn Israel for the aforementioned housing construction and demand that Israel cease all such activity. Mr. President, the passage of this resolution would simply isolate Israel and embolden the Palestinians to focus on further such pyrrhic victories, immeasurably setting back prospects for achieving real peace.

Substantively, the resolution before the Security Council is without merit. Israel’s withdrawal of both its civilian population and its military from the Sinai in 1982 and from the Gaza Strip in 2005 are more than ample proof of Israel’s willingness to take difficult decisions and make painful sacrifices when it believes that doing so would ultimately lead to security and peace.

Moreover, given the repeated adoption of counter-productive, biased resolutions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by various UN institutions, additional UN action only serves to further undermine the peace process and would likewise be counter-productive. As Deputy U.S. Permanent Representative to the UN Rosemary A. DiCarlo said on January 19, 2011: “Permanent-status issues can be resolved only through negotiations between the parties—and not by recourse to the Security Council. We therefore consistently oppose attempts to take these issues to this Council and will continue to do so, because such action moves us no closer to the goal of a negotiated final settlement. Rather, we believe it would only complicate efforts to achieve that goal.”

Palestinian leaders’ resort to one-sided measures at international institutions, their pursuit of recognition from third parties for a non-existent state, and their spurning of direct talks, reinforce our concern as to whether they are ready or even willing to be a partner for security, peace, and mutual recognition with the democratic, Jewish State of Israel, with whom our nation shares a long-standing, close, and strong alliance based on our shared interests and values. Therefore, Mr. President, we respectfully request that the Administration—
  • continue and increase pressure on the Palestinian leadership to return, immediately and unconditionally, to direct negotiations with Israel;
  • continue and increase pressure on the Palestinian leadership to cease pursuing anti-Israel measures in international forums;
  • declare that Palestinian failure to take these steps would have significant negative consequences for United States policy towards the Palestinians; and
  • pledge in response to this letter to veto any UN Security Council resolution that criticizes Israel regarding final status issues.
Thank you, Mr. President, for your consideration of this request. We believe that these measures will pave the way to a return of direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians and a path towards a peaceful and secure resolution to this conflict.

Sincerely,

ERIC CANTOR
House Majority Leader

STENY H. HOYER
House Democratic Whip

ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN
Chairman
House Committee on Foreign Affairs

HOWARD L. BERMAN
Ranking Member
House Committee on Foreign Affairs

STEVE CHABOT
Chairman– designate
House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia

GARY L. ACKERMAN
Ranking Member–designate
House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia
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