Rep. Jan Schakowsky

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) speaks to guests at an event held to celebrate Pride Month at the Center on Halstead, a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community center, on June 7, 2021 in Chicago. (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

70+ House Dems Call On Biden to Acknowledge Israeli Settlements Are Illegal

"We believe the first step for the United States must be to urgently restore American policy positions conducive to the prospects for peace."

A new letter from a group of over 70 congressional Democrats calls on President Joe Biden to reverse the Trump administration's "abandonment" of longstanding U.S. policy toward Israel and recognize the West Bank and Gaza as occupied and formally declare settlements illegal under international law.

Referring to Israel's latest bombing campaign against Gaza and attacks against Palestinians resisting expulsion from their homes, the lawmakers wrote (pdf) that the "outbreak of violence was a painful reminder that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has no military solution and can only be resolved through diplomacy and a negotiated two-state solution that guarantees the civil and political rights, safety, and self-determination of both peoples."

To further that effort and "align United States policy with your call for supporting our ally Israel and ensuring equal measures of freedom, dignity, security, and prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians," the letter lays out eight specific recommendations for Biden. They include a formal withdrawal of the "peace plan" led by former President Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner that "paved the way for possible unilateral annexation of territory," the lawmakers wrote. Biden must also follow through on his promise to reopen the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem.

The letter (pdf), dated Wednesday, was led by Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), and Peter Welch (D-Vt.). Other signatories include House Appropriations Committee chair Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and House Budget Committee chair John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), as well as more progressive lawmakers including Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.).

Additional steps the president must take, as noted in the letter, are:

  • Make clear that the United States considers settlements to be inconsistent with international law by reissuing relevant State Department and U.S. customs guidance to that effect;
  • Strongly oppose the forced expulsion via eviction of Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem and throughout Palestinian territory;
  • Ensure that all relevant official U.S. documents and communications once again consistently refer to the status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip as occupied, and;
  • Ensure that all remaining congressionally appropriated aid to the Palestinians is disbursed without undue delay, following all applicable U.S. laws and vetting standards for recipients and implementing organizations.

"While there are additional steps that both parties to the conflict can and must take to preserve the possibility of one day reaching a two-state solution," the lawmakers added, "we believe the first step for the United States must be to urgently restore American policy positions conducive to the prospects for peace."

The letter was welcomed by pro-Israel U.S. lobby group J Street.

According to J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami, it "sends a critical message to the Biden administration that it can and should do much more to help undo the damage caused by former president Trump and to stop the ongoing deterioration of the Israeli-Palestinian situation."

The Biden administration must "do everything in its power to rebuild productive ties with the Palestinian leadership," he said, "and to make absolutely clear that the U.S. will not stand for illegal settlement expansion, de facto annexation, and displacement."

Ben-Ami further pointed to the current political moment in Israel in light of the new government of right-wing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

"With a new government taking office in Israel," he said, "the U.S. has a critical opportunity to demonstrate publicly that our support for a lasting two-state solution is more than just lip service."

The lawmakers' letter came a month after over 500 former staffers of Biden's 2020 campaign released an open letter that called on Biden to "hold Israel accountable for its actions" in its latest bombardment of Gaza and "lay the groundwork for justice and lasting peace."

The United Nations, meanwhile, continues to express concern about the "very fragile" ceasefire declared last month.

Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland said Thursday that he was "deeply troubled" by Israel's ongoing settlement expansion.

"Israeli settlements constitute a flagrant violation of United Nations resolutions and international law," he said. "They are a major obstacle to the achievement of a two-state solution and a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace."

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