Senate Democrats urge 'bold' US push on Palestinian state

Senator Tom Carper (left), who is pushing for movement on a Palestinian state, speaks to President Joe Biden at a graduation ceremony at the University of Delaware on May 28, 2022 (Mandel NGAN)
Senator Tom Carper (left), who is pushing for movement on a Palestinian state, speaks to President Joe Biden at a graduation ceremony at the University of Delaware on May 28, 2022 (Mandel NGAN)

More than a third of the US Senate's Democrats called on President Joe Biden's administration Wednesday to take "bold" action toward establishing a Palestinian state, in the latest pushback against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The letter to Biden comes days after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the country's highest-ranking Jewish elected leader and longtime advocate for Israel, sent shock waves with a speech criticizing Netanyahu's conduct of the Gaza war and urging new Israeli elections.

Nineteen Democratic senators led by Tom Carper, a longtime ally of Biden from his home state of Delaware, wrote that the Middle East crisis had "reached an inflection point" that required US leadership beyond past "facilitation" of Israeli-Palestinian talks.

"As such, we request the Biden administration promptly establish a bold, public framework outlining the steps necessary" to establish a Palestinian state over both the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the senators wrote.

They said an independent Palestinian state would be "non-militarized" -- terminology embraced by former president Bill Clinton in his peace push two decades ago -- and would recognize Israel while renouncing Hamas, whose bloody October 7 attack in Israel triggered the massive military operation.

The senators called for a "regional peace initiative" that would integrate Israel -- an allusion to ongoing attempts to persuade Saudi Arabia to offer normalization with Israel, the focus of the latest visit to the kingdom by Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Biden and Blinken have repeatedly voiced support for a two-state solution but did little to advance it before the war, aware that Netanyahu and his hard-right government are firmly against the idea.

Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving prime minister, has built close relations with the rival Republicans, whose presumptive nominee to challenge Biden in November, Donald Trump, staunchly backed Israeli positions during his time as president.

The Israeli leader meanwhile addressed the minority Senate Republicans via video link Wednesday, giving a presentation on the military operation and taking questions.

"I made it clear to him that it's not the business of the United States to be giving a democratic ally advice about when to have an election or what kind of military campaign they may be conducting," Republican leader Mitch McConnell told reporters afterwards.

McConnell, who has been repeatedly critical of Schumer's intervention, said the proposal for the appearance had come from Netanyahu, who wanted "to speak to all Senate Republicans."

- House speaker embraces Netanyahu -

House Speaker Mike Johnson, the top elected US Republican, said he spoke with Netanyahu at length by telephone earlier in the day and expressed "strong disagreement" with Schumer.

Netanyahu in a CNN interview on Sunday called the speech "totally inappropriate," saying Israel was not a "banana republic."

Schumer was asked in a separate news conference about media reports that Netanyahu had also asked to address Democrats but was turned down.

"When you make these issues partisan, you hurt the cause of Israel," Schumer said, without directly confirming the reporting.

"I gave this speech out of a real love for Israel and, if you read the speech, we called only for there to be an election after the hostilities had declined, after Hamas was defeated," he added.

Schumer's name was not on the Democratic senators' letter but he voiced support for a two-state solution in his speech.

Hamas militants killed around 1,160 people, mostly civilians, on October 7 in the deadliest attack ever inside Israel, according to Israeli official figures.

Israel afterward vowed to eradicate Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. Nearly 32,000 people, mostly civilians, have died, according to the Gaza health ministry, and the United Nations has warned of imminent famine in the territory.