Senate letter calling for PA return to Gaza has AIPAC backing

Ron Kampeas

WASHINGTON (JTA) — A bipartisan Senate letter backing U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority toward returning it to power in the Gaza Strip has the backing of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Sens. Robert Casey (D-Pa.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), both considered close to AIPAC, initiated the letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry now circulating among senators for signatories and an official of the lobby on Wednesday confirmed to JTA that AIPAC supports the letter.

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The letter and AIPAC’s backing for it signal a sharp change from before the latest Israel-Hamas war in Gaza over the summer, when AIPAC backed congressional measures that would have penalized the Palestinian Authority in the wake of its agreement to work with Hamas toward elections.

“We must enable efforts to enable the Palestinian Authority to exercise real power in Gaza,” it says.

“Real peace between Israelis and Palestinians will require a Palestinian partner that controls the West Bank and Gaza, is focused on economic development in both areas, and will accept Gaza’s demilitarization,” says the letter which Ayotte and Casey plan to send Sept. 18 after garnering additional signatures. “We must start this process now.”

Notably, while the letter says that Hamas “has no interest in peace with Israel,” it does not call for the dismantling of the new government backed by Hamas and the P.A., something Israel and the pro-Israel community had repeatedly called for before the war.

It also calls for urgent humanitarian assistance to Gaza, with measures taken to keep such assistance out of the hands of Hamas.

The letter calls on Kerry to keep the Palestinians from taking “further harmful steps” in U.N. and U.N.-affiliated bodies that would target Israel for its Gaza war actions and urges the P.A.’s return to peace negotiations, which collapsed in April in part because of Palestinian complaints over Israeli settlement expansion.

Also backing the letter is J Street, a Jewish Middle East policy group that backs an assertive U.S. role in Middle East peace-making.

A J Street statement said the group “commends the letter’s emphasis on a negotiated end to the underlying Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a U.S. foreign policy priority.”