As the United Nations prepared to debate the Palestinian Authority’s bid for statehood, members of New Jersey’s congressional delegation were quick to condemn the move as an impediment to peace with Israel.
A New Jersey Jewish News survey of legislators found bipartisan opposition to the declaration, but some disagreement on whether the United States should withdraw some $500 million in foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority.
Speaking at a Sept. 20 press conference, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) said that “assuming that [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas moves forward with his unrealistic plan to seek a UN resolution, I will be obliged to re-examine all U.S. funding provided to his government.” Menendez added that senators “will have no choice but to re-evaluate the priority of U.S. taxpayer contributions to the Palestinian Authority.”
Rep. Chris Smith (R-Dist. 4) told NJJN via e-mail that “it is highly reprehensible and contemptible that [Abbas] of the Palestinian Authority has persisted in formally requesting full United Nations membership for the Palestinians despite the many indications that this would seriously undermine the achievement of a meaningful and durable peace with Israel…. If the UN caves in to Abbas’ ploy, the U.S. must — as President George H.W. Bush threatened to do years ago — deny funding to any UN entity that grants membership to or upgrades the status of the PA.”
“There must be consequences to these recent actions in the UN,” wrote Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Dist. 7) in an e-mail to NJJN. “As a result I would call for a careful review of U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority and whether the PLO should be allowed to continue operating an office in Washington,” he stated.
The Obama administration has resisted calls to withhold aid. In August, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told visiting U.S. lawmakers that a cutoff in aid to the Palestinians was not in Israel’s security interests.
While NJ Rep. Rush Holt (D-Dist. 12) said “a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood will harm, not help, the peace process,” he rejected the notion of suspending aid to the PA.
“No,” he wrote in an e-mail to NJJN. “The government of Israel has not called for a cutoff in aid to the Palestinian Authority — a commendable act of restraint by Israel. As Prime Minister Netanyahu has said, the primary focus should be on getting the Palestinians to resume immediate, direct negotiations toward a final peace settlement.”
Many of the state’s federal legislators, while quick to condemn the unilateral diplomatic move by the PA, took no immediate stand on a possible halt to American aid.
“President Obama is taking a tough stance, and should be applauded for vowing to veto any Palestinian statehood resolution in the Security Council, if necessary,” Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) told NJJN in an e-mail. “The President recognizes that the real path to peace will have to come through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, not through the UN.”
Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-Dist. 11) also issued a statement. “I applaud the Obama administration’s commitment to veto any UN resolution that includes a unilateral declaration of statehood that could short-circuit a genuine and lasting two-state solution,” he wrote. “Congress is not inclined to sit idly by as the Palestinians refuse to renounce terrorism and recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli state.”
“A unilateral declaration made by the Palestinians does nothing to foster a lasting and meaningful peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-Dist. 8) in a Sept. 14 press release. “I firmly believe that peace can only be negotiated directly between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”
Rep. Albio Sires (D-Dist. 13) criticized the Palestinian leadership in a Sept. 21 speech on the House floor.
“While there are obstacles to achieving a lasting and peaceful two-state solution, the PA’s attempt to seek recognition at the UN demonstrates that they are not truly interested in achieving peace…,” said Sires. “This action violates the letter and spirit of the Oslo accords and deals a significant blow to future negotiations.”
In a Sept. 23 e-mail, Rep. Scott Garrett (R-Dist. 5) said he objected to what he called “the Palestinian Authority’s blatant attempt to ignore its past agreements and treaties with Israel by seeking a unilateral declaration of statehood at the UN today.”
“Recognition in any way by the UN will only embolden the Palestinians to avoid the negotiating table and circumvent direct talks with Israel. I urge the UN to reject the resolution so that both nations can work productively toward peace,” said Garrett.
Members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobbying group, reached out to lawmakers across Capitol Hill ahead of the UN session. The American Israel Education Foundation, a charitable organization affiliated with AIPAC, sponsored a talk by Danny Reisner, the former head of the International Law Branch of the Israel Defense Forces’ Legal Division, to some 40 congressional staffers on Sept. 15.