Statement On Israeli Settlements

Congressional Record

Mr. LEAHY.  Mr. President, I vividly recall the feeling of optimism that people in this country and around the world felt on that day in Washington in 1993 when Israeli Prime Minister Rabin and PLO Chairman Arafat signed the Oslo Accords. 

For those too young to remember, the Oslo process began as secret negotiations in Oslo, resulting in the recognition by the PLO of the State of Israel and the recognition by Israel of the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people for the purpose of direct negotiations between the two parties. 

The Oslo Accords marked the formal start of that process, which aimed at achieving a peace treaty based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, and at fulfilling the “right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.” 

The negotiations were to focus on resolving the key issues in dispute:  Israeli settlements, the status of Jerusalem, Israel’s military presence in and control over remaining territories after Israel's recognition of Palestinian autonomy, and the return of Palestinian refugees.  

It was hoped and believed that the signing of the Oslo Accords was the beginning of the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and of a process that would culminate in a two-state solution with secure borders for both Israel and a new Palestinian state.

Since then, virtually nothing has occurred as envisioned.  Prime Minister Rabin, a visionary leader who I knew and greatly respected, was assassinated by a Jewish extremist.  Over the years, time after time, the hopes and aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians have been dashed. 

Israelis have suffered countless deadly attacks by Hamas and by other Palestinian extremists.  The Palestinians have suffered countless humiliations and assassinations. 

But despite the many setbacks, missed opportunities, and failures of leadership on both sides, I have never felt that the Oslo process was a lost cause.  Until today.  Today I feel a greater sense of sorrow and discouragement about that once hopeful vision than I ever have before. 

On Monday, Secretary of State Pompeo announced that the Administration no longer considers Israeli settlements to be contrary to international law, thereby reversing a longstanding U.S. position that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal.  That position was based on adherence to international law and UN Security Council resolutions, and was embraced by both Democratic and Republican administrations.  

Upon learning of this change of position, I could not help but feel that it signified the demise of the Oslo Accords.  After so many similar reversals of U.S. positions by this White House on key issues that both sides had pledged would be resolved only through negotiations, it seems beyond dispute that President Trump never believed in a two-state solution. 

In fact, this White House has been consistently disingenuous about its intentions in the Middle East, all the time talking about wanting a political settlement but acting in ways that put it increasingly out of reach.  It was just a matter of time before they abandoned any pretext of supporting the principle that territorial disputes should be resolved through dialogue. 

Every step of the way, Administration officials have insisted on the myth that they are improving the prospects for peace, but three years later Israelis and Palestinians are farther from that goal than at any time since 1993.  The White House, with the support and encouragement of the U.S. Ambassador and the Secretary of State, has done whatever it could to ensure that the West Bank, home to nearly 3 million Palestinians, is occupied permanently or annexed by Israel. 

Without a change of leadership with the necessary vision and political courage in the United States and in Israel, the Palestinians will remain as second-class citizens, subjected to a lifetime of indignities and entitled to only limited rights.

I cannot help but wonder what my friend Prime Minister Rabin would be thinking today, and how he would react to this announcement.  I suspect he would be as disappointed as I am that his courageous act more than a quarter century ago, and the opportunity that act offered for lasting peace for both Israelis and Palestinians, has been so selfishly and recklessly squandered. 

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