Many in Congress have little confidence that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will return to the negotiating table anytime soon.
“There will be no peace process for a long time,” said Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, “because of Hamas being part of the Palestinian government.”
Pessimism is pervasive among both Republicans and Democrats.
“I’m skeptical that you will see an enduring peace before the Palestinians demonstrate a greater ability to govern themselves,” said Democratic Rep. Steve Israel of New York. “Despite our efforts to assist them, they now decided to form a unity government that is now firing rockets upon innocent civilians in Israel.”
Republican Rep. Tom Price of Georgia said he expects nothing to happen without the U.S. calling on Abbas to denounce Hamas and participate in the peace process. “This is what the world looks like when the U.S. refuses to lead,” he said.
Israel and Gaza are under steady rocket fire following the murders of three Israeli teens — including one with dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship — and the slaying of a Palestinian teen in apparent retaliation.
Israel has pointed the finger at Hamas — which the U.S. considers a terrorist organization — but has been unable to prove culpability.
The U.S. has largely stayed out of the conflict. In an op-ed published in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, President Obama wrote that “peace is possible” and that the U.S. will assist in a two-state solution when “the political will exists to recommit to serious negotiations.”
Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California said including Hamas in the Palestinian unity government “may have been the last straw” for Israel.
“I’m not sure where things go from here,” Schiff said. “This is such a horrendous situation, and I’m sure equally painful for Israelis and Palestinians — particularly how it started with the deaths of these four teenagers — and I think it’s going to take a lot for the Israelis and Palestinians to recover.”
Statements from both Middle East leaders on Thursday were uncompromising. Netanyahu said that a cease-fire is “not even on the agenda,” while Abbas called Israel’s strikes in Gaza “genocide.”
Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida visited Israel last week to meet with the families of the Israeli teenagers. He also spent time with Netanyahu.
“If President Abbas is really committed to peace, then President Abbas should, rather than making outrageous claims about Israel’s defensive actions “¦ step up and be clear about what Hamas is doing and should make clear to the world that his government is not supportive,” Deutch said.
“I’m supportive of a two-state solution,” he added, “but when one of the parties is under constant attack from terrorists and that terrorist group is part of the Palestinian government that wants to engage in negotiations, we shouldn’t expect Israel to want to start talking about peace.”
Republican Rep. Steve Stivers of Ohio said it’s unlikely either party will come to the table unless the U.S. or another ally encourages them to do so.
“It’s not going to solve itself without somebody inserting themselves,” Stivers said, “and America — I don’t want us to be the policeman of the world, but I sure don’t mind us refereeing a fight if we can stop it.”
Sen. Claire McCaskill said it’s possible the violence will escalate to a breaking point where the leaders have to sit down and talk it out.
“You can look at it two ways,” the Missouri Democrat said. “One, things are going to have to calm down before the peace process can begin again. On the other hand, the violence and the stress that this takes on the people living in the country, I would think, would urge political leaders to find peace.”
Negotiations don’t always work, though, McCaskill said. “Frankly, I think everybody should acknowledge one thing,” she said. “If the peace process in Israel were easy, it would have happened decades ago.”