Press Arabs on Israel: Senators Tell Obama

Seventy one US Senators are asking President Barack Obama to continue pressures on Arab countries into normalizing relations with Israel, a demand dismissed as counterproductive by pro-peace Jewish organizations.

“We hope that you will continue to press Arab leaders to consider dramatic gestures toward Israel," the senators wrote in a letter to Obama.

The Obama administration has been mounting pressures on Arab countries to normalize relations with Israel to help advance the stalled peace process.

Obama wrote private letters to several Arab leaders asking for "confidence-building measures” towards Israel.

George Mitchell, his Mideast peace envoy, said last week they got “a very good response, a desire to act,” from some Arab countries in response to these demands.

"We would like to understand what steps you are urging Arab states to take and what your expectations are from Arab states in the coming weeks and months," the senators wrote.

The administration is reportedly pushing for a package of measures ranging from opening Arab commercial offices in Israel to allowing Israel’s flag-carrier El Al over-fly fights in Arab countries.

The letter, drafted by Republican Senator James Risch and Democratic Senator Evan Bayh and signed by 71 of the Senate’s 100 members, went even further.

"We encourage Arab leaders to take tangible steps to demonstrate their commitment to the peace process," it reads.

"Such steps could include ending the Arab League boycott of Israel, meeting openly with Israeli officials, establishing open trade relations with Israel, issuing visas to Israeli citizens and inviting Israelis to participate in academic and professional conferences and sporting events.”

The Saudi-sponsored Arab peace initiative, first tabled in 2002, offers Israel full normalization of ties in exchange for withdrawal from occupied Arab lands and the establishment of a Palestinian state with Al-Quds as its capital.

Israel has repeatedly snubbed the Arab overture.


The Senator’s demand drew rebuke from US pro-peace Jewish organizations.

"The subtext of the letter directly contradicts and undermines the efforts to promote Middle East peace," the Americans for Peace Now (APN) said.

"[It] sends a message that the signers consider settlements more important than peace."

Other opponents of the letter include left-wing pro-Israel groups such as Brit Tzedek v’Shalom and J Street.

Only six out of the 13 Jewish Senators signed the letter.

They want the text modified to include steps that all parties in the Middle East need to take towards peace, including a freeze on settlement construction.

Under the internationally-backed roadmap, Israel must freeze all settlement activities in the occupied West Bank and Al-Quds.

The international community considers all Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land illegal.

Hawkish Netanyahu has spurned several Obama calls to freeze settlement building to give peace a chance.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Monday described a Middle East peace deal as illusion, ruling out such prospects for years to come.


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