update deskU.S.-Israel Relations

Netanyahu meets with 24 Democratic Congress members

“We will do everything we can to protect ourselves from Iran,” said the premier.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hosts U.S. lawmakers in Jerusalem, Aug. 7, 2023. Photo by Haim Tzach/GPO.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hosts U.S. lawmakers in Jerusalem, Aug. 7, 2023. Photo by Haim Tzach/GPO.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday welcomed a delegation of 24 Democrats from the U.S. House of Representatives to his Jerusalem office.

House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York and previous House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland are leading the trip to Israel this week to discuss the Iranian threat and judicial reform, among other topics.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to a delegation of Democrats from the U.S. House of Representatives in Jerusalem, Aug. 7, 2023. Photo by Haim Tzach/GPO.

Netanyahu set forth Israel’s position regarding a possible Iranian nuclear agreement for the Congress members.

“The most important thing is to create a credible military threat to Iran, and the second thing is to exploit it if all else fails,” the premier said. “We do not want a world where Iran can threaten New York, Washington, Los Angeles or anywhere in between with nuclear weapons.

“We certainly don’t want a world where they can destroy Israel, which they call a ‘one-bomb state,’ an abominable statement in itself, but it explains where Iran is. We will do everything we can, with or without an agreement, to protect ourselves,” Netanyahu said.

AIPAC President Michael Tuchin also attended the meeting. This week’s trip is being organized by the American Israel Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization affiliated with AIPAC. It is the second such trip to the Jewish state by a Democratic delegation during the 118th Congress, according to a press release from Hoyer’s office.

The delegation will meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials and activists and also talk about the prospects for a two-state solution, combating terrorism and the development of the Abraham Accords.

Netanyahu also discussed the prospects of adding Saudi Arabia to the Abraham Accords, once again saying that an “economic peace” with Riyadh would constitute a “quantum leap.”

“In Saudi-Israeli peace there is an element of physical infrastructure that already exists, but politics is blocking it,” the prime minister said.

He thanked the Democrats for their fight against antisemitism and the false accusation that Israel is an “apartheid state” and for supporting Israel’s security. Netanyahu also personally thanked U.S. President Joe Biden for his administration’s efforts “to expand the circle of peace.”

Ahead of the trip, Jeffries said that the Israel visit would allow for House Democrats to “reaffirm our commitment to the special relationship between the United States and Israel, one anchored in our shared democratic values and mutual geopolitical interests.”

U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Aug. 7, 2023. Photo by Haim Tzach/GPO.

“We will learn ways Congress can continue strengthening this alliance and enable peace and stability between Israel and its neighbors. As we listen and learn, we reiterate our ironclad commitment to the safety and security of Israel and to the existence of Israel as a prosperous and Jewish, democratic state,” the congressman continued.

Jeffries led a delegation of 12 congressional Democrats to Israel in April. The congressman met with Netanyahu during that trip.

Netanyahu thanked Jeffries and the other legislators, emphasizing “the importance of the relationship between Israel and the United States.”

The premier also discussed with them “the need to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, the Abraham Accords and the opportunities for expanding the circle of peace with additional countries.”

In February, Netanyahu met with a Republican Senate delegation led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Republicans hold the majority in the House after last November’s election, while Democrats retained control of the Senate. President Biden is also a Democrat.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) delivered an address to the Knesset in May during his first overseas trip as speaker.

During the speech, McCarthy reaffirmed America’s commitment that “Iran will never acquire nuclear weapons.”

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