Politics, security and corona discussed in virtual convention
Rep. Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, warned on Thursday that congressional support for Israel, traditionally a reliably bipartisan issue, might be fast eroding.
We’ve got strong support on both sides of the aisle, and Israel should not be political football or [part of] ‘gotcha politics.’ We have to work together
In an interview for the annual Jerusalem Post conference, Engel called on both parties to overcome their “problematic elements” and ensure Israel does not become a political question in the United States.
“We’ve got strong support on both sides of the aisle, and Israel should not be political football or [part of] ‘gotcha politics.’” he said. “We have to work together.”
Engel, who in June was defeated in the Democratic primary for New York’s 16th congressional district, also touched on the Abraham Accords recently signed between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, calling the agreements “wonderful” and adding: “I’ve waited for this my whole life.”
As to additional countries making peace, Engel predicted Saudi Arabia will “inevitably” come to the table as well, saying Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told him “personally that he wants to enhance his relationship” with Israel.
During his interview, the representative from New York also touched on the growing fears regarding Israel’s qualitative military edge (QME), which is said to be in danger after reports surfaced that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu assented to US President Donald Trump selling F-35 stealth fighter jets to the UAE as part of the peace deal. “I’m very concerned,” Engel told Jerusalem Post Editor-in-Chief Yaakov Katz. “I expressed my concerns to Netanyahu. Once you lose [QME], it’s a slippery slope.”
Obama[’s term in office] was marked sadly by consistent action undermining Israel. That only encouraged [Israel’s enemies]
Sen. Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, shared Engel’s fears regarding bipartisan support for Israel, saying, “It is clearly slipping.” He blamed the Democratic Party for failing to pass a resolution condemning anti-Semitic comments made by its own “far-left wing.”
Cruz called the Abraham Accords “historic,” saying that in the Middle East, “people respect strength,” a characteristic he claimed was displayed by Trump and not by former president Barack Obama. “Obama[’s term in office] was marked sadly by consistent action undermining Israel. That only encouraged” Israel’s enemies, the senator explained.
The only way out of this conflict is if every country has its own state
Also interviewed in the conference was Nickolay Mladenov, the United Nations special coordinator for the Middle East peace process.
Addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Mladenov advised caution, explaining that the agreements between Israel and the Gulf states could not solve everything. “The only way out of this conflict is if every country has its own state,” he said.
“The solution is in the hands of leadership on both sides,” Mladenov continued. “Ours is a world of broken mirrors – sometimes what you see is not what you get. We’ve been effective in reducing tensions [in the region] and I’m carefully optimistic, but it depends on the parties on the ground.”
Mladenov also commented on the threat of a coronavirus outbreak in the Gaza Strip, one of the most densely populated places on earth. “The consequences of that will be devastating,” he warned, adding that such an “onslaught has been prevented and delayed, but we are now seeing an increase in cases and also an increase in efforts around the world” to assist and prevent a catastrophe.
We have fought for a state for these people. … Palestinians should be angry at their own leadership; the only people who have failed them are their own leaders
US State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus, in her interview, said the recently signed normalization accords between Israel and Gulf nations were the “start of something big. It feels different this time. You can feel the excitement among young people [in the Middle East].”
As to the issue of the Palestinians being left out of the agreements, Ortagus explained: “We have fought for a state for these people. … Palestinians should be angry at their own leadership; the only people who have failed them are their own leaders.”
The winds of change are moving in our directions. I’m hopeful that in time the [PA] will come to the table
Avi Berkowitz, assistant to the president and special representative for international negotiations, detailed how the Abraham Accords came about, saying that while Arab leaders stressed to US negotiators that Palestinian statehood must be achieved, they refused “to allow [their] sovereign decision to be held back any longer” by Palestinian stonewalling.
“Unfortunately the Palestinians rejected it before the plan was even made public,” Berkowitz explained, noting that “ever since the president announced that he was going to move the [US] embassy to Jerusalem,” the Palestinian Authority has refused to engage with American peace overtures.
Still, Berkowitz remains optimistic. “The winds of change are moving in our directions,” he said. “I’m hopeful that in time the [PA] will come to the table. That’s a problem that needs to be resolved.”
[The Gulf states] told the Palestinians, ‘Enough. You don’t deserve a veto over progress in the region’
Opening the conference was US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who revealed that Israeli plans to annex territories in the West Bank, recently suspended as part of the Abraham Accords, may be held off for two years at least. The indefinite suspension of Netanyahu’s plan was necessary after Washington realized it would cause “too much friction” in the Middle East, Friedman explained, which would in turn hinder Washington’s ultimately successful attempts at brokering the Israel-UAE pact.
According to the ambassador, between five and 10 other countries are expected to join the UAE and Bahrain in normalizing relations with the Jewish state in the near future, in a move that would “overwhelm the Israel-Arab conflict” and put an end to hostilities in the region. “We’re talking with everybody,” he said.
Friedman stressed the role Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz played in bringing about the peace deal, saying that when Gulf nations saw bipartisan support in the Israeli government for the American plan, they were reassured the country “was serious about peace. So they told the Palestinians, ‘Enough. You don’t deserve a veto over progress in the region.’”
As for erosion in Israel’s military superiority in the region as a result of the pending US-UAE arms sale, Friedman claims he is not worried.
“Not at all [concerned]. [Israel’s QME] is a matter of [US] law since 2008, and a matter of policy longer than that,” the ambassador said. “There are many ways to skin this cat. This shouldn’t be a political issue, it’s … a military one.”