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191 House Democrats warn against Netanyahu’s annexation plans

Letter signed by some of the most pro-Israel members of Congress says move would hurt Israel’s relationships and damage the chances for peace

House Judiciary Committee member Rep. Ted Deutch, Democrat of Florida, questions FBI Director Christopher Wray during a House Judiciary hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, December 7, 2017, on Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
House Judiciary Committee member Rep. Ted Deutch, Democrat of Florida, questions FBI Director Christopher Wray during a House Judiciary hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, December 7, 2017, on Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

WASHINGTON — Nearly 200 Democratic House members penned an open letter to the Israeli leadership Thursday, warning against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to start annexing parts of the West Bank with the Trump administration’s backing as early as July 1.

Addressed to Netanyahu, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, the letter implores Jerusalem to halt its plan, saying it would erode the possibility of a two-state solution and damage Israel’s ties with America.

“As committed partners in supporting and protecting the special US-Israel relationship,” the missive said, “we express our deep concern with the stated intention to move ahead with any unilateral annexation of West Bank territory, and we urge your government to reconsider plans to do so.”

The letter was orchestrated by Florida Congressman Ted Deutch and Illinois Congressman Brad Schneider, two of the most staunch pro-Israel members of Congress, who rarely criticize the Jewish state.

It was signed by a number of powerful and prominent House Democrats, including House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler, Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin. Not a single Republican joined them.

The lawmakers said that annexing any part of the West Bank would put to a halt to the progress Israel has made in improving ties with its neighbors, who share a common threat in Iran, and pose a security risk for Israel and Jordan should a violent outbreak erupt in response, as experts have warned.

A view of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement in the West Bank, January 28, 2020. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

“Unilateral annexation would likely jeopardize Israel’s significant progress on normalization with Arab states at a time when closer cooperation can contribute to countering shared threats,” the legislators warned. “Unilateral annexation risks insecurity in Jordan, with serious ancillary risks to Israel.”

Last week, Jordan’s King Abdullah II held a series of teleconferences with members of Congress lobbying them to try and block the move, saying it would spur increased instability in the region and strengthen Hamas, the terror group that rules the Gaza Strip and opposes Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party.

The House members also said that “unilateral annexation could create serious problems for Israel with its European friends and other partners around the world. We do not see how any of these acute risks serve the long-term interest of a strong, secure Israel.”

Netanyahu has vowed to begin next week to extend Israeli sovereignty to the roughly 30 percent of the West Bank allocated to Israel under Trump’s Israel-Palestinian proposal, which includes all 132 settlements and the entire Jordan Valley, though of late other, smaller steps have reportedly been under consideration.

Wearing a mask, White House adviser Jared Kushner leaves after US President Donald Trump spoke about the coronavirus during a press briefing in the Rose Garden of the White House, May 11, 2020, in Washington. (AP/Alex Brandon)

White House officials began discussions Tuesday on the administration’s position on annexation, a US official and a person familiar with the deliberations told Reuters.

The White House deliberations reportedly included senior adviser Jared Kushner, national security adviser Robert O’Brien, Middle East envoy Avi Berkowitz and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, the US official said.

Kellyanne Conway, a top adviser to Trump, said Wednesday that the US president would have a “big announcement” soon about Israel’s planned annexation moves.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also commented on the situation, telling reporters Jerusalem was free to enact the policies it wishes.

His remarks came just moments after the United Nations and the Arab League called for Israel to abandon its plans and warned of dangerous consequences if the move goes ahead.

“Decisions about Israelis extending sovereignty to those places are decisions for the Israelis to make,” he said.

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