Declaring “there was no daylight” between the United States and Israel, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) called for a cutoff of support and aid to the Palestinian Authority if it does not renounce violence toward Israel, and said, “No option should be taken off the table” in curtailing the nuclear aspirations of Iran.
In a forceful keynote address frequently interrupted by applause, Menendez, a member of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, spoke during the Southern NJ Region of Hadassah’s spring conference May 15 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Monroe.
Menendez said the recent “unholy pact” creating a unity government between the Fatah party of PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas — recognized by both Israel and the United States as a terrorist organization — may have dealt “a fatal blow” to reaching a peace agreement.
Among the aspects of the new partnership that trouble him, he said, is the goal the PA and Hamas say they share “of a state with its capital in Jerusalem, which is clearly not acceptable.”
Hamas, meanwhile, “openly advocates for jihad against Israel and the Jewish people and breeds hatred of the Jewish people in its youth,” said Menendez.
He issued a call for “the Palestinian Authority, its government, and its members” to renounce violence and commit to requirements previously laid out by the United States.
On May 6, Menendez authored a letter to President Barack Obama, which 28 colleagues cosponsored, in which he said the U.S. government should stand by its refusal to work with any Palestinian government that includes Hamas unless it meets all previously agreed upon principles for peace. Any deviation should be met with rebuke, including suspension of aid, the letter stated.
The senator said that despite Abbas’ statements, he remains a partner in the peace process, although Menendez is unconvinced of his sincerity. That distrust was reinforced by “Nakba” demonstrations earlier that morning, in which thousands of protesters from Lebanon, Syria, and Gaza rioted and forcibly stormed across Israel’s borders.
Menendez pointed out the organizers of Nakba, a day of protest coinciding with the anniversary of Israel’s birth, have linked their protests to a “third Intifada” against the Jewish state.
Egypt is likewise sending mixed signals. Menendez said that if its new government does not make a continuing commitment to honoring peace agreements with Israel, the United States should rethink the $1.5 billion in aid it gives Egypt.
‘Partners for life’
The senator also called on the United States to toughen enforcement of sanctions against Iran, saying its nuclear ambitions threaten both America and Israel. The Comprehensive Iran Sanctions and Divestment Act was signed into law last year by Obama, but loopholes have prevented strict enforcement, he said.
In particular, Menendez questioned why no banks, including overseas institutions, have been penalized for supporting Iran’s petroleum sector.
Menendez also explained why he was the only Democrat to vote against the Obama administration’s recent nominee for the Treasury Department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial crimes. He said he wasn’t satisfied with nominee David Cohen’s answers on how he would strengthen sanctions against Iran during his hearing before the Senate banking committee. The committee approved Cohen 18-4 on May 12.
“I do not believe in a sanctions law that is a toothless tiger,” said Menendez. “I voted no to send a statement we are looking for enforcement, not coalescence.”
The more than 100 Hadassah delegates in attendance represented 40 chapters from Middlesex County and points south.
“I would like to believe that Hadassah’s slogan, ‘Partners with Israel for life,’ is the slogan of the United States,” said the senator to loud applause. “While the sands of change may be shifting around, the relationship between the U.S. and Israel remains rock solid.”