Conflict in the Middle East

Today, more than ever before, there is an urgency to relieve tensions in the Middle East and dismantle existing terrorist networks. In order to do so, the U.S. must address two aspects of the Middle East peace process—the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, and the conflict between Israel and the Arab world.

When Rep. Eshoo came to Congress in the wake of the first Gulf War, the 1993 Oslo Accords offered a promise for peace in the region. She supported President Clinton’s unflagging efforts to broker a lasting and workable peace agreement between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat. Although the Accords made strides in the peace process, Rep. Eshoo was deeply disappointed and frustrated when Chairman Arafat walked away from the Camp David negotiations in 2000, just as a viable solution appeared to be within reach.

This event dealt a significant blow to the peace process and the backslide resulting from it. There was insufficient American engagement during the years of the Bush Administration which exacerbated one of the world’s most challenging diplomatic problems. Rep. Eshoo agreed with the 2003 Road Map for Peace in principle, including its requirement that the Palestinian Authority renounce violence and significantly reform its government, and Israel instituting a settlement freeze.

The 2006 victory of Hamas, a group considered to be a terrorist organization by both Israel and the United States, in the Palestinian parliamentary elections has also proved to be a significant setback. In 2007, Hamas won control of the Gaza Strip in an intra-Palestinian battle, dividing the Palestinian territories into separate and conflicting political blocs. In response, Israel and Egypt closed the border crossings into Gaza, while Hamas used the area to fire rockets and mortars at Israel. The conflict escalated between Israel and Hamas through 2008, resulting in Israeli airstrikes in Gaza.

The five-year old blockade of Gaza demonstrates the intersection of the two conflicts—Israel and Palestine, and Israel and the Muslim world. At the end of May 2010, a Turkish aid flotilla came into a conflict with Israeli forces, resulting in the deaths of several of the passengers on the flotilla and injury to the Israelis, and increased tensions between Israel and Turkey. In June, 2010, Iran announced it would to send an aid ship to Gaza, but decided against it after they realized that doing so would exacerbate tensions in the region.

Beyond the geopolitical implications, there are human rights issues at stake in the conflict as well. For example, Egypt and Israel’s continuing blockade of Gaza, in the absence of a comprehensive peace agreement, has taken a severe toll on the people of that area.

Resolving the conflict between Israel and Palestine will also help alleviate tension between Israel and the Arab world which dates back to the creation of Israel in 1948. Rep. Eshoo respects the dedication of President Carter, Menachim Begin, and Anwar Sadat for the Camp David Accords which normalized relations between Israel and Egypt in 1979. Early in Rep. Eshoo’s Congressional career, Israel and Jordan signed a peace agreement in 1994, making it the second country in the Middle East to normalize relations with Israel.

Resolving the conflict in the Middle East has been and continues to be a top U.S. diplomatic priority. When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited with President Obama in July 2010, both reaffirmed their commitment to the peace process, recognizing that direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority must begin in 2013, even before an agreement is reached on settlements.

After assuming office in January, 2013, Secretary of State John Kerry made the Israel-Palestine conflict a top priority. After six trips to the Middle East during his first six months in office, Secretary Kerry announced the resumption of peace talks between the two nations. These talks would be based on 1967 borders with land swaps, taking into account current realities in the West Bank.