19 Senate Dems urge Biden to publicize framework for establishing Palestinian state

Lawmakers say conflict has reached ‘inflection point,’ call for ‘regional peace initiative’ and ‘non-militarized’ Palestinian state in latest rejection of Netanyahu’s position

File: A pro-Palestinian demonstrator waves a Palestinian flag near the White House during the "March on Washington for Gaza" in Washington, DC, on January 13, 2024. (ROBERTO SCHMIDT / AFP)
File: A pro-Palestinian demonstrator waves a Palestinian flag near the White House during the "March on Washington for Gaza" in Washington, DC, on January 13, 2024. (ROBERTO SCHMIDT / AFP)

More than a third of the US Senate’s Democrats called on President Joe Biden’s administration Wednesday to take “bold” action toward establishing a Palestinian state, in the latest pushback against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The letter to Biden came days after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the country’s highest-ranking Jewish elected leader and a longtime advocate for Israel, sent shockwaves with a speech criticizing Netanyahu’s conduct in the Israel-Hamas war and urging new elections.

Nineteen Democratic senators led by Tom Carper, a longtime ally of Biden from his home state of Delaware, wrote that the Middle East crisis had “reached an inflection point” that required US leadership beyond past “facilitation” of Israeli-Palestinian talks.

“As such, we request the Biden administration promptly establish a bold, public framework outlining the steps necessary” to establish a Palestinian state over both the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the senators wrote.

They said an independent Palestinian state would be “non-militarized” — terminology embraced by former US president Bill Clinton in his peace push two decades ago — and would recognize Israel while renouncing Hamas, whose bloody October 7 onslaught in Israel triggered the massive military operation.

The senators called for a “regional peace initiative” that would integrate Israel — an allusion to ongoing attempts to persuade Saudi Arabia to offer normalization with Israel, the focus of the latest visit to the kingdom by Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

File: Sen. Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat, celebrates receiving the Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s Lifetime Hero Award during a Capitol Hill reception, March 6, 2024 in Washington, DC. (Kevin Wolf/AP Images for Boys & Girls Clubs of America)

Biden and Blinken have repeatedly voiced support for a two-state solution but did little to advance it before the war, aware that Netanyahu and his hard-right government are firmly against the idea.

Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, has built close relations with the rival Republicans, whose presumptive nominee to challenge Biden in November, Donald Trump, staunchly backed Israeli positions during his time as president.

The Israeli leader meanwhile addressed the minority Senate Republicans via video link Wednesday, giving a presentation on the military operation and taking questions.

“I made it clear to him that it’s not the business of the United States to be giving a democratic ally advice about when to have an election or what kind of military campaign they may be conducting,” Republican leader Mitch McConnell told reporters afterward.

McConnell, who has been repeatedly critical of Schumer’s intervention, said the proposal for the appearance had come from Netanyahu, who wanted “to speak to all Senate Republicans.”

House speaker embraces Netanyahu

House Speaker Mike Johnson, the top elected US Republican, said he spoke with Netanyahu at length by telephone earlier in the day and expressed “strong disagreement” with Schumer.

Netanyahu in a CNN interview on Sunday called Schumer’s speech “totally inappropriate,” saying Israel was not a “banana republic.”

Schumer was asked in a separate news conference on Wednesday about media reports that Netanyahu had also asked to address Democrats but was turned down.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, talks with reporters to discuss efforts to pass the final set of spending bills to avoid a partial government shutdown, at the Capitol in Washington, DC, March 20, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

“When you make these issues partisan, you hurt the cause of Israel,” Schumer said, without directly confirming the reporting.

“I gave this speech out of a real love for Israel and, if you read the speech, we called only for there to be an election after the hostilities had declined after Hamas was defeated,” he added.

Schumer’s name was not on the Democratic senators’ letter but he voiced support for a two-state solution in his speech.

The war was triggered on October 7 when some 3,000 terrorists stormed the border with Israel and unleashed an unprecedented attack on the country’s southern communities, killing some 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and taking 253 hostages to Gaza, where more than half remain.

The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry says 31,923 people have been killed in Gaza since the beginning of Israel’s military campaign.

These figures cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza, including as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires. The IDF says it has killed over 13,000 operatives in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7. The IDF says 246 soldiers have been killed fighting in Gaza.

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