AIPAC, J Street-backed letters urge Obama on Israel defense, peace

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Three congressional letters urged President Obama to reaffirm the strength of the U.S.-Israel relationship on his Middle East trip, one emphasizing renewed peace talks and two stressing the need to defend Israel in difficult times.

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A Senate letter backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, initiated by Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) garnered 78 signatures from Republicans and Democrats.

It said Obama should warn Palestinian interlocutors that attempts to seek statehood recognition outside the parameters of negotiations would have consequences.

“You should make clear that the pathway for peace is through unconditional direct negotiations between both the Israelis and Palestinians and that the United States vigorously opposes any Palestinian efforts to circumvent direct negotiations,” it said.

The J Street-backed Senate letter, initiated by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) garnered 25 signatures — all Democrats — and said “You will find strong support in the Senate for a sustained, U.S. diplomatic initiative to help both parties conclude an agreement.”

AIPAC had no position on the Feinstein letter, an official of the organization said. J Street similarly had no position on the Cardin-Collins letter, its spokeswoman, Jessica Rosenblum, said. There was some overlap between the two letters.

The AIPAC-backed letter in the U.S. House of Representatives was initiated by the leaders of each party’s pro-Israel caucuses and garnered over 100 signatures from both sides of the aisle.

It emphasized the purported Iran threat and encouraged direct talks between Israel and its Arab interlocutors and maintaining assistance for Israel’s defense.

“With looming threats from throughout the region, we welcome the opportunity for you to restate America’s commitment to preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon,” it said. “We share your hope of finding a negotiated solution to Iran’s nuclear program, but also your clear statements that all options are and must remain on the table.”

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