Visiting US lawmakers press Israel to explain Palestinian groups’ terror listing

Bipartisan group led by Sen. Coons says Jerusalem agreed to provide Congress more information; Jerusalem consulate, settlements also discussed with Israeli, Palestinian leaders

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) speaks to reporters in Jerusalem, November 10, 2021 (Lazar Berman, Times of Israel)
Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) speaks to reporters in Jerusalem, November 10, 2021 (Lazar Berman, Times of Israel)

A bipartisan, bicameral group of US lawmakers asked for clarification regarding Israel’s designation of six Palestinian civil society organizations as terrorist groups, said Senator Chris Coons (Democrat, Delaware) during a press conference in Jerusalem on Wednesday.

“It’s been offered, and it will be reviewable by members of Congress by about the time we return next week,” he said.

Last month, Israel said the six Palestinian human rights organizations were tied to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a secular, leftist political movement with an armed wing that has carried out deadly attacks against Israelis. Israel and Western countries consider the PFLP a terrorist organization.

But a confidential Israeli dossier detailing alleged links between the Palestinian human rights groups and the PFLP has failed to convince European countries to stop funding the groups.

Coons said that the issue of settlements came up in all of their meetings, but would not expand any further on what was said.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with the delegation on Tuesday.  In a tweet on Wednesday morning, Bennett acknowledged the “excellent meeting” with the bipartisan delegation.

Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) speaks to reporters in Jerusalem, November 10, 2021 (Lazar Berman, Times of Israel)

The delegation is slated to meet with Defense Minister Benny Gantz later Wednesday, and is then flying on to Germany.

The delegation — senators Coons, Jacky Rosen (Democrat-Nevada), Kirsten Gillibrand (Democrat-NY), Michael Bennet (Democrat-Colorado), Joni Ernst (Republican-Iowa),  Tammy Baldwin (Democrat-Wisconsin) and representatives Bruce Westerman (Republican-Arkansas) and Tom Malinowski (Democrat-New Jersey) — includes members of the most influential congressional committees, including intelligence, armed services, foreign relations, appropriations, and commerce.

The group met with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh earlier in the day in Ramallah.

“The issue of the consulate came up in each of our meetings,” said Coons, stressing that “it is important for the United States to continue to have an open dialogue with the Palestinian Authority.”

Shtayyeh was appreciative that the US is renewing support for UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, according to Coons.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh addressing a press conference in Ramallah on March 29, 2020. (Credit: Wafa)

Then-US president Donald Trump had cut funding for UNRWA in 2018. The agency provides assistance to more than five million Palestinians registered with it in the Palestinian territories, Jordan and Lebanon. Israel has long pushed for UNRWA’s closure, arguing that it helps perpetuate the conflict with the Palestinians since it confers refugee status upon descendants of those originally displaced around the time of Israel’s War of Independence.

The eight senators and congressmen stressed that both parties continue to back the Jewish state.

“Support for Israel remains bipartisan and strong in the United States Congress,” said Coons.

“Enhancing the bipartisan — and it must be bipartisan — support for the US-Israel relationship is of paramount importance, because Israel is a beacon of democracy around the world, it’s a strategic ally, it’s an important economic partner. It’s a progressive nation that supports women’s right, LGBTQ equality, and access to affordable health care for all its citizens,” said Rosen, a former synagogue president.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), center, speaks to reporters in Jerusalem along with a bipartisan groups of lawmakers, November 10, 2021 (Lazar Berman, Times of Israel)

Rosen also called on the US “to work to build on the success of the Abraham Accords, expanding the historic agreement to new countries in the Arab world, and with whom Israel can form new and productive economic and social partnerships and peaceful ties.”

Coons, the chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, emphasized that the Senate appropriations bill for fiscal year 2022 includes $3.3 billion for Israel, and $225 million in support for Palestinians. The bill also specifically calls for support for the Abraham Accords.

Coons stressed that Biden administration officials have consistently been fully supportive of expanding the Abraham Accords in their communication with the Senate.

Several members of the delegation addressed rising levels of antisemitism in the United States.

Rosen, the co-founder of the first-ever bipartisan task force to combat antisemitism, said, “We have to be sure that whether it’s in the halls of Congress, or whether it’s in our communities, we have to educate, illuminate, and begin to talk about these issues and bring people together.”

“We look forward to the confirmation of Deborah Lipstadt to be the special envoy,” she added.

“We have to combat it everywhere, it’s not just in the United States,” said Bennet, whose mother survived the Warsaw Ghetto. “We were in Brussels on the first day of this trip, and the issue of antisemitism came up in every single meeting.”

The lawmakers were clear in their firm backing for a future Palestinian state, with Coons calling the group “strong supporters of the two-state solution.”

“We must work to support a two-state solution in which the Israelis and Palestinians can live side by side in peace and security,” said Gillibrand.

The issue of Palestinian claims against Israel at the International Criminal Court in The Hague did not come up in any of the conversations with Israelis, Coons said.

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