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Congress & the Middle East: House Letter Supporting Israel's Quest for Peace

(June 27, 2008)

In June 2008, 268 members of the House of Representatives signed a letter to President Bush reinforcing the key principles America should stand by as it works to help Israel achieve peace. The letter reiterated Israel’s right to self-defense, called on the U.S. to stand strongly with Israel at the U.N. and urged the president to press the Arab states to do more to support Israeli-Palestinian talks. The letter was authored by Reps. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Howard Berman (D-CA) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL). The Senate also sent a similar letter signed by 77 members.

Dear Mr. President,

We commend you for your leadership in promoting peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. The State of Israel has much to celebrate - and be proud of - in the sixty years since it was established. Yet tragically, in those six deades, Israel has yet to enjoy one day of real peace. We wish you the best of luck in your efforts, and genuinely hope they will lead to positive results.

We are, however, deeply concerned about recent negative developments in the area. The first is the situation in Gaza. As you know so well, ISraelis living along the border with Gaza have been bombarded with unprovoked rocket fire virtually every day since Israel withdrew from Gaza in August, 200. Palestinian terrorists have fired over 4,000 rockets and mortars from Gaza into southern Israel during that period, terrorizing the populatin of Sderot and otherborder towns. They have killed over a dozen innocent Israeli, and have injured or traumatized thousands more. Living a normal life in these towns has become imposible. Such deadly threats to ISraeli civilians on a daily bass are unjustifiable and intolerable.

Compounding this problem, Hamas, which took over Gaza in an illegal coup last year and remains committed to Israel's destruction, has been rapidly improving the training and equipping of its forces. Aied by Iranian funding and support, Hamas has been reportedly smuggling longer-range and more destructive rockets, anti-tank missiles, anti-aircraft missles and other sophisticated weapons in Gaza, while Hamas personalle reportedly have been actively training in Iranian camps. Such a rapid military buildup is a growing military threat to Israel and increasingly threatens Israeli civilians. At the same time, Hamas is expanding its inventory of longer range Katyusha rockets that are able to reach larger cities like Ashkelon, with a population of a quarter of a million. While you were in Israel celebrating its 60th anniversary, a Katyusha rocket from Gaza struck a mall n Ashkelon, wounding 90 civilians, including several civilian infrastructure used to provide humanitarian assistance such as food and fuel, and using innocent Palestinians as human shields by carrying out their rocket and other attacks from Palestinian civilian population centers.

While Israel and Hamas have agreed to a period of calm in Gaza, itis very fragile. Just six days after this period began, on June 24, Islamic Jihad terrorists fired a barrage of rockets into Israel; Hamas neither prevented nor condemned this action.

Israel has demonstrated enormous restraint in the face of this constant provocation. Few countries in the world would have tolerated such risks to their populations. Nevertheless, Israel, like an other nation, has the right - and the obligation - to defend her citizens from external threats. As Israel struggles to deal with the growing challenges from Gaza, it becomes all the more important for us to continue to support openly and publicly Israel's right to self defense. We paricularly urge you to continue to stand by Israel at the United Nations - where too many countries refuse to acknowledge Israel's right to act in her own self defense - and to veto any one-sided U.N. resolution.

Finally, we must express our deepest diappointment at the inaequate response of most of the Arab world to the efforts of Israel and the Palestinians to reach a negotiated agreement. We had anticipated more from ntions which claim that reaching such an agreement is one of their top priorities. We find ihard to comphrehend why those Arab states that are flush with oil revenues cannot provide meaninful finnacial assistance to the Palestinian Authority. Instead, they offered onl meager pledges at last year's donors' conference, and most of those have yet to be met. Suaid Arabia, which thanks to oul revenues had a budget SUPRLUS in 2007 of $47.6 billion, has provided a paltry $61.6 million to the Palestinian Authority. That is not a serious commitment to this process. Furthermore, most Arab states have done virtually nothing to advance the type of public political support Palestinian leads will need in order to make the necessary compromises for peace. We must make it clear to our Arab friends that this process cannot succeed without their active financial, moral and political support, and that they bear a large responsibility for its success - or failure.

Mr. President, we know you face many challeneges in the Middle East and elswhere over the next few months. We urge you to continue your efforts to advance the Israel/Palestinian negotiation, to support Israel's right to self defense against the growing threats from Gaza, and demand that the Arab states do far more to support those negotiations. We look forward to working with you to advance these critical objectives.


[To see the signatories, click here.]

Sources: AIPAC