On the eve of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that will ultimately have to
discuss security guarantees for Israel, US Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer
(D-Maryland) told The Jerusalem Post that the deployment of US troops anywhere in
the West Bank was very unlikely.
Hoyer, who led a delegation of 36
Democratic congressmen to Israel over the past week, said during an interview on
Thursday that the issue was not raised in meetings the congressional group held
either with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu or with PLO negotiator Saeb
“I would doubt that the prime minister, the Palestinians or the
United States are contemplating the deployment of US troops on the ground,”
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has said repeatedly that a
long-term Israeli security presence would be necessary in the Jordan Valley
following a peace accord with the Palestinians.
The Palestinians have
said this was a non-starter, but that they would be willing to entertain the
notion of international troops, an idea Israel has rejected.
States has clearly indicated it is prepared to play a significant role,” Hoyer
“But I don’t want to say at this juncture that I think that
contemplates the deployment of US troops on the ground in the West
The congressman said one of the major problems with deploying US
troops would be that they themselves would become the targets of terrorist
This did not mean, Hoyer clarified, that the US would not be
willing to play a role in the security issue, but that such a role was likely to
stop well short of committing troops.
Hoyer, the second-ranking Democrat
in the House of Representatives, left Israel on Sunday with the Democratic
delegation, just as a large Republican delegation of 26 congressmen was
arriving. The Republican group, which includes 25 of the 34 freshman Republican
congressmen, will be lead by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor
Both groups were sponsored by the American Israel Education
Foundation, a charitable organization affiliated with the American Israel Public
During a press conference last week, Hoyer repeated
what US Secretary of State John Kerry said when he announced the renewal of
talks, that both sides made difficult sacrifices to come to the negotiation
table. Hoyer acknowledged that the release of Palestinian terrorists was a
difficult Israeli sacrifice, and said that from the Palestinian position their
sacrifice was a willingness to enter the negotiations without a settlement
“Their position has been for a number of years that they would
not do anything if the issue of settlements was not dealt with,” he said. “And
of course that was not dealt with – there was no pledge [of a settlement
Asked why he thought Kerry focused so intensively
on the Israeli-Palestinian track, at a time when Egypt and Syria were both
burning, Hoyer acknowledged that this was one area in the Middle East where the
US would be able to be proactive, rather than just reactive. US objectives in
Syria and Egypt, he indicated, were “not as clear as here.”
objectives of restarting talks was a very clear objective, and not politically
controversial in America at all,” he said. “I think it was therefore a
relatively easy decision to make, and if we could get this done, it is in the
interests of all parties: Israel, the Palestinians and the United
Hoyer said that the US can “walk and chew gum at the same time,”
and that Washington was simultaneously able to concentrate on developments in
Syria and Egypt, and on the Israeli-Palestinian track.
Hoyer, a staunch
Israeli supporter who has served in Congress since 1981, dismissed the notion
that support for Israel was slipping in the Democratic Party, saying that the
recent House vote for more stringent sanctions against Iran, which passed by a
vote of 400 to 20, was an indication that the support remains strong. The vote
included 178 Democrats for, and 17 against.
“There is a very strong, very
large consensus in the Democratic caucus that Israel’s security and safety is of
critical importance to the United States and to America’s security,” he
Hoyer said that what was important about the Iran sanctions
resolution, beyond the language that called for targeting Iran’s oil industry,
was the massive support it received on both sides of the aisle.
have 400 plus members in a body of 435, asserting support for Israel and its
security, that sends a very powerful message of unity, particularly in a
Congress that has difficulty achieving unity,” he said.
The “unusual and
unprecedented” bipartisan support for Israel rivals only that of the bipartisan
support for American military veterans, he said.
Asked, however, whether
the incident at last year’s Democratic National Convention – where a boilerplate
clause referring to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was originally left off the
platform – was not an indication of changing winds inside the party, Hoyer said
the incident did not represent the position of the Democrats in Congress or the
Once the leadership focused on the issue, he said, it was
He denied that the ruckus surrounding the incident
on the convention floor in Charlotte, North Carolina, indicated Israel was
losing support among the party’s faithful.
Hoyer pointed again to the
Iran sanctions, and said that when 180 members of the party – from the most
conservative areas to those representing the most liberal districts – vote for a
resolution perceived as a very important for Israel, “then you understand there
is a large consensus of support.”
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