June 29, 2011

STATEMENT ON RESOLUTION REAFFIRMING U.S. COMMITMENT TO DIRECT ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATIONS

Last night S. 185, a resolution that was cosponsored by about 90% of the Senate, passed the Senate by unanimous consent. And I'm very grateful to my colleagues for their help in developing this resolution. This resolution expresses the strong support of the United States for our closest ally in the Middle East, Israel. I was joined in this effort by my good friend, Senator Susan Collins from Maine. The two of us worked together to draft this resolution and we are grateful that so many of our colleagues joined us in the process and that it's now passed the United States Senate by a unanimous vote.

This resolution first and foremost expresses our strong support for Israel, recognizing these are extremely challenging times.  It expresses our support for peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and recognizes that the only way that we're going to be able to move forward on the peace process is through direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. And that's the only way that we can resolve these long-standing issues in order to achieve peace in that region.

The resolution also reaffirms our opposition to the inclusion of Hamas in any Palestinian unity government unless it is willing to accept peace with Israel and renounce violence. You cannot negotiate with someone sworn to bring about your destruction. Therefore, Hamas’s inclusion in a Palestinian government is a non-starter for any possibility for peace.

Any unilateral attempt by the United Nations to establish a Palestinian state is detrimental to any final peace agreement. A permanent and peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can only be achieved through direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Any Palestinian effort to gain recognition of a state outside of direct negotiations demonstrates their lack of a good faith commitment to a peace negotiation. The Senate is now firmly on record that this kind of action would be directly counterproductive to peace. If the Palestinians pursue this, it may well have implications for the continued U.S. participation with the Palestinians.

Israel has always been willing to come to the peace table for direct negotiations. Frankly, it's been the Palestinians who have been dragging their feet for many months, refusing to have direct negotiations between the parties, which is the only way that anything can be accomplished. Lasting peace can only come through direct negotiations that settle all outstanding issues to the satisfaction of both sides. Obviously, there's going to be give-and-take. There has to be give and take. There's got to be mutual respect and security and that requires active participation in peace talks.

The two sides can achieve a peace agreement only when they acknowledge each other’s right to exist. That's pretty fundamental. This is particularly critical now for the Palestinians and their unity government that includes Hamas. Unless Hamas fully renounces violence and acknowledges Israel’s right to exist, it cannot be a partner in peace, and their inclusion in the Palestinian unity government is a major obstacle. As Prime Minister Netanyahu stated so well in his speech before the joint session of Congress in May, and I quote the Prime Minister of Israel, "I will accept a Palestinian state. It is time for president Abbas" -- the head of the Palestinians -- "to stand before his people and say, 'I will accept a Jewish state.'”

It is clear that it is in the interest of all parties that there be two states, the Jewish State of Israel and an independent Palestinian state, living side-by-side with secure borders and peace. So, let me just again acknowledge what Prime Minister Netanyahu said: Israel is prepared to acknowledge a Palestinian state.  It’s time for the Palestinians to acknowledge a Jewish state.

Difficult negotiations need to take place. There are critical issues such as security, power, and water concerns, as well as larger issues of historical, religious, and territorial matters that still must be decided and that must take place through direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. This is precisely why it's so important to discuss, negotiate, and ultimately resolve these issues rather than taking unilateral action that would leave them unsettled and unsustainable. The real lasting peace will only occur at the peace table, and I’m grateful that the Senate has strongly and unanimously gone on record to affirm this approach.

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