WASHINGTON — As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s start date for annexing parts of the West Bank nears, a growing list of Democrats is speaking out against the move and warning that it would severely weaken the prospects for peace.
Among those Democrats are eight US Senate candidates in battleground states who could remake Capitol Hill’s partisan balance should enough of them win in 2020.
In statements given to the liberal Mideast advocacy group J Street, those candidates each voiced staunch opposition to Israel’s proposed unilateral annexation of West Bank territory, starting on July 1.
The Democratic Senate hopefuls include John Hickenlooper of Colorado, Amy McGrath of Kentucky, and Jon Ossoff of Georgia, and others.
“I disagree with the decision to unilaterally annex land in the West Bank by July 2020,” said McGrath, who is challenging Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “This is not a wise ‘diplomatic step’ but rather an action that could permanently prevent the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.”
Their collective disapproval of Netanyahu’s plan to extend Israeli sovereignty to the settlements and Jordan Valley — the 30 percent of the West Bank allocated to Israel under the Trump peace plan — reflects the uniformity of Democratic opinion on the issue, whereas Republicans have been either silent or supportive.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and 28 of the 45 sitting Democratic senators have all spoken out against the plan in recent weeks.
Nineteen of them signed onto a letter last month to Netanyahu and his senior coalition partner, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, saying annexation “would have a clear impact on both Israel’s future and our vital bilateral and bipartisan relationship.”
In December, the Democratically controlled House of Representatives passed a resolution mostly along partisan lines opposing annexation and supporting a two-state solution.
The Senate candidates, whose statements were released Monday, said that Netanyahu’s proposition would damage the chances for an eventual two-state solution and put US interests and security at risk.
“Annexation would represent an abandonment of the peace process established in Oslo in 1993,” said Ossoff. “It would confirm the failure of contemporary Israeli and Palestinian political leaders to resolve these disputes diplomatically.
“It is clearer year by year that a new generation of Israeli and Palestinian leaders must emerge to chart a course that will ensure freedom, security, peace, and prosperity for all inhabitants of the region.”
Palestinian officials have complained that Democratic leaders have not taken a strong enough stance against Netanyahu’s annexation hopes.
In May, the Palestinian Authority’s envoy to the United Kingdom, Husam Zomlot, argued that Biden’s refusal to call for aid reductions to Israel effectively let the prime minister know that he could carry out his plan without fearing harsh repercussions.
“It’s nothing that would actually dissuade Netanyahu from going ahead with annexation,” Zomlot said.
Israel’s Washington envoy, Ron Dermer, has been pushing the Trump administration to give Israel the green light to move forward, fearing that Biden might block it if he’s elected, according to a Channel 13 report in May.
Under a coalition deal between Netanyahu and Defense Minister Gantz, Israel’s government can pursue annexation, backed by the US, starting July 1.
The Trump administration has indicated it will not oppose Israeli moves to annex lands that would become part of the country under its peace plan, which conditionally envisions a Palestinian state on the remaining roughly 70% of the West Bank, pocked with Israeli settlement panhandles and enclaves.
As the world braces for Jerusalem to potentially enact its plan next month, an increasing array of Democrats are letting it be known that the move would alienate their party from Israel
“As a strong supporter of Israel and the mother of a son in the U.S. Army, I am strongly in favor of a two-state solution that would provide peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians, and promote stability throughout the region,” said Teresa Greenfield, a candidate for the US Senate from Iowa. “I cannot support one-sided efforts to annex the West Bank that will only set us back from this critical goal.”