WASHINGTON — As senators submitted a bipartisan resolution in support of Israel’s right to defend its citizens in the face of rocket attacks, a key Democratic senator hosted Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer and Defense Attaché Major General Yaacob Ayish Thursday for a briefing on the ongoing IDF operations against terror targets in Gaza.
Dermer and Ayish briefed members of US Senate’s Foreign Relations, Armed Services and Intelligence Committees on Operation Protective Edge at the invitation of Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs.
Kaine, who is considered a progressive Democrat and is on J Street’s list of endorsed candidates, wrote in a statement after the briefing that “the deteriorating situation in Gaza is one of grave concern.”
“I support Israel’s right to defend itself against unprovoked rocket attacks launched by Hamas and other terrorist organizations,” he continued. “I grieve for the Israeli and Palestinian citizens – especially the young – who live and die under constant security threats.”
Kaine added his voice to increasing Congressional criticism of the Hamas-Fatah unity government, asserting that “the decision by [Palestinian Authority] President [Mahmoud] Abbas to pursue a unity government with Hamas was almost certainly destined to reach this moment. For those of us who care about finding a two state solution – a secure state of Israel living peacefully side by side with an independent Palestine – the recent actions by Hamas demonstrate that it has not changed its fundamental denial of Israel’s right to exist. No peace is possible with such a partner.”
The senator called for Hamas to cease the rocket attacks, which he described as “unprovoked” and called for Abbas “to recognize that Hamas will not seek peace” and to “separate the Palestinian Authority from this terrorist organization.”
Kaine was one of only 12 senators who did not sign on to a June letter describing the Palestinian government as a “serious setback to efforts to achieve peace” and calling on President Barack Obama to suspend assistance to the PA until “we have confidence that this new government is in full compliance with the restrictions contained in current law” and to “continue to impress on President Abbas the need for him to cease any alliance with terrorist organizations such as Hamas and to return to the negotiating table with Israel.”
In April, he released a statement on the planned unity deal in which he said that the announcement of the reconciliation deal “brought an understandable reaction from Israel, questioning how it can be expected to negotiate a peace deal with a Palestinian partner that is working with a terrorist organization opposing recognition of Israel.”
In that statement, Kaine did not explicitly condemn the agreement itself or call for its immediate termination.
Echoing a position similar to that of the Obama administration, he advocated waiting to see whether “the reconciliation with Hamas leads to a degradation in Palestinian pledges to live peacefully with Israel.”
If there is to be an independent Palestine, it must speak with one voice in affirming Israel’s right to exist, its intent to live peacefully with its neighbor, and its commitment to previous agreements. Israel could hardly live securely with an agreement accepted by only a portion of the Palestinian people and leadership. So now the question of Palestinian intent will be posed in a much more direct way,” he wrote.
Kaine was a co-sponsor of a Senate resolution “expressing support for the State of Israel as it defends itself against unprovoked attacks from the Hamas terrorist organization” that was introduced Thursday by Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
According to a statement issued by the senators, the resolution reaffirms the United States’ support for Israel’s right to defend its citizens and ensure the survival of the State of Israel; condemns the unprovoked rocket fire at Israel; calls on Hamas to immediately cease all rocket and other attacks against Israel; and calls on Abbas to dissolve the unity governing arrangement with Hamas and condemn the attacks on Israel.
“I believe the Senate will speak with one voice in condemning the actions of the terrorist organization Hamas and standing by America’s best friend in the region, the State of Israel,” Graham said, arguing that “there is no moral equivalency between the self-defense actions of Israel and the barbaric actions of Hamas.”
Menendez and Schumer, like Kaine, emphasized that the rocket attacks demonstrated that the Palestinian unity government was untenable.
“Hamas is a terrorist organization that rejects a two-state solution and celebrates the kidnapping and murder of innocent civilians; it cannot be a partner in a Palestinian unity government,” said Menendez.
“This resolution supports Israel as it protects itself in a manner that values the safety of Palestinian civilians even as its own civilians face indiscriminate attacks from terrorists,” Schumer explained, calling on Abbas “to do the right thing and break ties with Hamas.”