(JTA) – Four Jewish House Democrats known for their ties to AIPAC warned Israel not to annex West Bank territory days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s election-eve pledge to do that. The statement by Reps. Eliot Engel and Nita Lowey, both D-N.Y., Ted Deutch, D-Fla. and Brad Schneider, D-Ill., did not name Netanyahu, but alluded to his pledge that he would extend Israeli law to Jewish settlements in the West Bank – even those in remote areas that would diminish the prospects of a contiguous Palestinian state. “As strong, life-long supporters of Israel, a U.S.-Israel relationship rooted in our shared values, and the two-state solution, we are greatly concerned by the possibility of Israel taking unilateral steps to annex the West Bank,” the statement released April 12 said.
The statement appeared to defer to one of Netanyahu’s talking points, that Israel maintains overall security control of the West Bank even after the establishment of a Palestinian state. “Every one of Israel’s frontiers plays an important role in its security, and Israel’s ability to guard itself from threats is non-negotiable,” it said. “We hope that any security measures are implemented within the context of preserving the eventual possibility of a two-state solution.”
The four blamed the failure to achieve peace on the Palestinians. “Palestinian leadership has been unwilling to accept any reasonable peace proposal or even to negotiate seriously toward a solution. To paraphrase Abba Eban, the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. And instead of negotiating, they have pursued unilateral statehood through the United Nations. Our fear is that such unilateral steps – whether from Israelis or Palestinians – would push the parties farther from a final, negotiated settlement.”
Despite the caveats, the statement is a shot across the bow from the four, who routinely attend AIPAC conferences and have split with the party in the past to favor AIPAC positions, including in 2015 when each of them opposed the Iran nuclear deal. Three of the four hold senior positions in the House caucus: Engel chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee, Lowey chairs the Appropriations Committee and Deutch chairs the Middle East subcommittee.
CAP: Reps. Nita Lowey and Eliot Engel of New York speak to AIPAC’s annual policy conference on March 25, 2019. (AIPAC)