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Engel Remarks on Challenges to Israeli-Palestine Peace

ENGEL REMARKS ON CHALLENGES TO ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN PEACE

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WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today made the following remarks on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process at the full Committee hearing:

“Thank you Mr. Chairman for calling this morning’s hearing.  The threats facing Israel and the challenges to reaching a two-state solution are growing every day, and I’m glad the Committee is focusing on this. 

“I want to thank all our witnesses as well.  Welcome to the Foreign Affairs Committee. We’re grateful for your time and your expertise. 

“I especially want to welcome, welcome back former Congressman Robert Wexler, who spent many hours on this side of the dais on the Foreign Affairs Committee sitting next to me.  It’s good to see you, have you back Robert.  And thanks to our other witnesses as well.  Thank you for joining us. 

“Before I start with my statement, I want to offer my condolences to the family of Hallel Yaffa Ariel.  She was the young Israeli girl, 13-years-old, who was stabbed to death in her own bedroom by a 17-year-old Palestinian boy.  It’s just hard to fathom. 

“But that’s what we end up with after years and years of incitement to violence.  The Chairman and I have talked about this ad nauseum with the Palestinian leadership.

“Everyone will hear us, you cannot have incitement and expect to have peace.  Young people in classrooms taught to hate; a group of people regarded as less than human.  This doesn’t solve any problems.  It creates new ones, like this disgrace of this poor girl. 

“Of course, when the Palestinian leadership—whether it be the PLO or the Palestinian Authority—sends money to convicted terrorists and their families, it’s no wonder that individuals, individuals are incentivized to commit acts of violence.  This culture of incitement must end.

“It is absolutely outrageous to pay cold blooded killers and call them martyrs.  It’s just disgraceful at a time when U.S. money is, is going to the Palestinian Authority.  For them to, to do this just makes you scratch your head.  It’s not acceptable, and it is not tolerable, and it won’t be tolerated. 

“Of course, the culture of incitement needs to end because the loss, loss of innocent life is unacceptable.  And it must end because violence and terrorism will never lead to a two-state solution.

“I have repeatedly said to the Palestinians they will never achieve their state on the backs of terrorism.  Just plain and simple.  I believe they are entitled to their state in a two state solution, but they will never get it if they think terrorism is the way to go.

“In my view, a two-state solution is the only way for Israel to remain both a Jewish state and a democracy.  But right now, a number of roadblocks are keeping that solution out of reach.

“First, Israel faces threats on every border.  Some of Israel’s enemies possess incredibly sophisticated missile systems.  Others are lone-wolf terrorists carrying forward the recent wave of violence we’ve seen. 

“With this feeling of being under siege, the Israeli public’s confidence in a peaceful solution continues to erode.  What else would you expect?  The idea of living side-by-side with their Arab neighbors seems like a remote possibility.  And this is precisely what the violent extremists want.

“At the same time Israel faces mounting threats to its physical security, there’s a growing effort to undermine Israel’s legitimacy.  The so-called BDS, boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement—shameful and disgraceful in my opinion—pushes Israel to make unilateral concessions outside of direct negotiations with the Palestinians.  The BDS movement is totally at odds with a negotiated two-state solution, which in my opinion should remain our focus.

“So how do we resume progress toward that goal?

“Frankly, I think gatherings like the Paris peace talks last month are an unhelpful distraction.  Because neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians were involved.  How can powers come together and think they’ll come up with a solution without the two parties at the table?  It just doesn’t make sense. 

“The only way to have peace and settle the Palestinian situation is face-to-face talks between the Israelis and Palestinians.  There can be no imposition of a peace plan from the outside.

“The U.N. is a farce; Israel cannot get a fair hearing at the U.N. Why should Israel submit itself to such things?  Direct negotiations between the parties, and the Palestinians have to understand they have to make concessions. 

“I point out to people that in the past couple of decades, there were two times that a two state solution seemed like a possibility in terms of an agreement. 

“Once in 2001 with Yasser Arafat and then in 2008 with Mahmoud Abbas.  Ehud Barak was prime minister of Israel and then Ehud Olmert was prime minister of Israel.  The Israelis said yes, they were willing to make painful concessions.  And at the end, ultimately the Palestinians said no and backed out because they talk about right of return and all kinds of other roadblocks.

“If there are two states and there’s a two state solution, Palestinians get the right of return to the Palestinian state.  Not to the Israeli state, not to the Jewish state.  And if the Palestinians want peace, they certainly haven’t demonstrated it, demonstrated it in my opinion at all. 

“We know what the unresolved issues are: borders, security, refugees, Jerusalem, and a mutual recognition of the end of the conflict.  That would require the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a state for the Jewish people, with equal rights for all its citizens.  And I believe the Palestinians’ refusal to do this is one of the main reasons there is no Palestinian state today.

“We also know what the pitfalls are of resuming talks.  Every time there’s a new initiative, expectations soar.  And each time the talks fall apart, things seem to crash a little harder. 

“That outcome leads to violence.  Extremists find a louder voice.  And people on both sides suffer.  And it’s interesting every time it seems like there might be some kind of an agreement, you have violent terrorism to try to destroy it.  Because the terrorists don’t want peace.  They want to keep the pot stirring.

“Just look in Gaza, where Hamas has tightened its grip over the last decade.  And let’s remember that Hamas is a terrorist organization.  Reconstruction is slowly progressing.  Israel has expanded the fishing perimeter in the Mediterranean, granted thousands of work permits, and improved access to telecom technology. 

“What has Hamas done?  Rebuilt its terror tunnel network.  And the Chairman and I were there in those tunnels and so we saw first-hand what Hamas builds.  And periodically fired rockets and missiles into Israel, terrorizing innocent people, forcing them to run for their lives to the nearest shelter. 

“In this context, I want to voice my support for a new long-term memorandum of understanding, an MoU, between the U.S. and Israel.  We want to stop this horrific violence.  But as long as Israel faces these threats, we need to stand with them and help ensure their defense and security. 

“I urge the administration to bend over backwards to negotiate an MoU with Israel that will let Israel keep its qualitative military edge and strengthen Israel against all these threats that it faces from terrorists.

“So I’ll wrap up by saying there aren’t any easy answers.  And to our witnesses: we’re glad to have your voices in the mix.  I look forward to your testimony. 

“Again, as the Chairman said, I agree with what he said.  It is just outrageous to pay cold blooded killers who murder innocent civilians and call them martyrs.  I cannot think of anything more disgusting, so I look forward to the testimony of our witnesses.  And I yield back.”