newsU.S.-Israel Relations

Netanyahu, Israeli right, Hamas, Abbas ‘the four obstacles to peace,’ Schumer says

Schumer drew sharp criticism from Republicans and from Jewish organizations for saying that Netanyahu should be voted out of office.

Senate Majority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). Credit: Ron Adar/Shutterstock.
Senate Majority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). Credit: Ron Adar/Shutterstock.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) identified Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and “radical right-wing Israelis,” alongside Hamas and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, as “the four obstacles to peace” between Israelis and Palestinians.

In a Thursday speech on the Senate floor that Schumer described as a “major address” on a possible two-state solution, the senator labeled Israeli cabinet members “bigots” and “extremists” and called for new elections in Israel.

“Five months into this conflict, it is clear that Israelis need to take stock of the situation and ask, ‘Must we change course?’” Schumer said. “I believe a new election is the only way to allow for a healthy and open decision-making process about the future of Israel, at a time when so many Israelis have lost their confidence in the vision and direction of their government.”

Schumer cited as particular obstacles to peace the inclusion in the governing coalition of Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israeli finance and national security minister, respectively, and both representing religious Zionist parties.

“There’s a nastiness to what ministers Smotrich and Ben-Gvir believe and how they use their positions of authority and influence, and eagerness to inflame and provoke, that is profoundly irresponsible and self-destructive,” Schumer said.

‘It is unhelpful’

Schumer, who is Jewish, noted that he was speaking out as a senator and on behalf of “mainstream Jewish Americans” to represent their views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He implied that Washington should condition or cut off aid to Israel unless a new government is formed.

“If Prime Minister Netanyahu’s current coalition remains in power after the war begins to wind down and continues to pursue dangerous and inflammatory policies that test existing U.S. standards for assistance, then the United States will have no choice but to play a more active role in shaping Israeli policy by using our leverage to change the present course,” he said.

“If extremists continue to unduly influence Israeli policy, then the administration should use the tools at its disposal to make sure our support for Israel is aligned with our broader goal of achieving long-term peace and stability in the region,” he added. “I believe this would make a lasting two two-state solution more likely.”

The Biden administration imposed sanctions on Thursday on three Israelis that it accuses of “extremist settler violence,” and of seeking to “undermine the national security and foreign-policy objectives of the United States, including the viability of a two-state solution.”

Schumer said that “extremist” Israelis and Palestinians, “while not equivalent,” seek the same goal of driving each other out of the land of Israel. He also called on Abbas to step down.

Without mentioning Schumer by name, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Herzog said after the speech that it was “counterproductive” to comment on Israel’s domestic affairs.

“Israel is a sovereign democracy,” Herzog wrote. “It is unhelpful, all the more so as Israel is at war against the genocidal terror organization Hamas, to comment on the domestic political scene of a democratic ally.”

Republicans also rejected Schumer’s speech as inappropriate interference in Israel’s affairs.

“The primary ‘obstacles to peace’ in Israel’s region are genocidal terrorists and corrupt Palestinian Authority leaders who repeatedly reject peace deals,” wrote Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). “Foreign observers who cannot keep this straight ought to refrain from interfering in the democracy of a sovereign ally.”

Republican Jewish Coalition CEO Matt Brooks said Schumer had “crossed a real red line.”

“Senator Schumer has frequently described himself as the so-called ‘shomer,’ or guardian, of the Jewish people,” Brooks stated. “Let there be no doubt that his remarks today were a ‘shanda,’ a disgrace.”

Asked about Schumer’s speech on a call with journalists, John Kirby, White House national security communications advisor, said that the Biden administration was given advance notice of his remarks but declined to endorse the call for a new election.

“We’re going to stay focused on making sure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself while doing everything that they can to avoid civilian casualties,” Kirby said.

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