National Security

Top House Republicans Back Netanyahu as He Pushes to Annex West Bank Territory

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A delegation of congressional Republicans wrote to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday to express its support for the Israeli leader's decision to annex portions of Palestinian territory in the West Bank, saying Israel has the right to execute any policy it sees as integral to its security.

One-hundred-sixteen Republicans led by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) and other senior lawmakers told Netanyahu that they fully support Israel's move, which would see the country take over several contested territories long-controlled by the Palestinians. Netanyahu is reportedly seeking to take this step early next month.

"We are aware of and deeply concerned by threats being expressed by some to retaliate against Israel as it makes decisions to ensure defensible borders," the lawmakers wrote, according to a copy of the letter obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. "It is shortsighted to threaten relations with Israel, a long-time friend and critical ally that shares our democratic values."

Democratic lawmakers are frustrated by the decision to send the letter. They recently warned Israel that such a move would fray the historically close ties between the United States and Israel. Congressional Republicans, however, flatly reject this view.

The letter highlights a growing partisan schism in Washington over the Israeli government's policies under Netanyahu. While the Trump administration and its Republican allies in Congress have been a reliable partner for the conservative Israeli prime minister, Democrats have become increasingly frustrated over moves they see as damaging to the peace process and U.S. relations with the Jewish state.

The GOP lawmakers expressed in their letter support for the Trump administration's recently unveiled Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, which has inflamed tensions in the region and has been rejected by the Palestinian leadership.

"We assure you that we will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel and oppose any effort to apply pressure," the lawmakers wrote.

The White House has not publicly commented on the annexation plan yet and is likely waiting to see how Netanyahu proceeds in the coming days.

Democratic leaders in Congress, including pro-Israel stalwarts like Sens. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) and Ben Cardin (D., Md.), informed Netanyahu and his government last week that they are opposed to the annexation plan, which they view as dangerous to regional stability and the likelihood of peace talks. A separate missive signed by at least 120 congressional Democrats communicated similar concerns. This letter was opposed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, America's most prominent pro-Israel organization.

Netanyahu's annexation plan has also been met with anger by leading liberal Israeli politicians, including former foreign affairs minister Tzipi Livni, who described the plan as "one of the most fateful decisions in its modern history."

Netanyahu's Republican supporters maintain that the annexation of the territories will greatly improve Israel's security as it faces down continued Palestinian terror attacks along its borders. An Israeli presence in these areas is likely to create a buffer zone by which the country can thwart terrorist factions.

In addition to McCarthy, the letter was signed by Republican Whip Steve Scalise (R., La.), Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R., Wyo.), Foreign Affairs Committee Republican leader Michael McCaul (R., Texas), and Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R., Wash.), Lee Zeldin (R., N.Y.), and David Kustoff (R., Tenn.).

The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), a pro-Israel GOP advocacy group, was instrumental in ensuring the letter received broad support, a senior congressional aide told the Free Beacon.

"Without question, House Republicans recognize the importance of standing with Israel and the Israeli government, which is why members believed that sending this letter was an important thing to do," the aide said. "The RJC was instrumental in making it happen. From helping on the ground level to expanding the coalition of members who ultimately signed, their involvement cannot be understated."

Update June 23, 9:55 a.m.: This post has been updated with comment from RJC.