A group of 20 Democrat senators sent a letter to U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday to express support for a Saudi-Israeli peace deal, but also to raise concerns regarding the potential shaping agreement.
The senators, led by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), shared with the president what they consider to be “the parameters of any potential proposal that aligns with U.S. security goals and advances your stated goals for long term peace, stability and justice in the region.”
The Biden administration would need to go through the Senate to approve certain aspects of the deal, such as a U.S. defense alliance with Saudi Arabia, and potentially with Israel too. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu previously stated that if normalization talks with Riyadh would progress, the Biden administration would receive support from Israel in the effort to secure the two-thirds needed in the Senate vote.
In the letter, the senators said they are “concerned” about two demands that the Saudis have reportedly made in exchange for peace with Israel.
“Historically, security guarantees through defense treaties have only been provided to the closest of U.S. allies: democracies that share our interests and our values,” the senators wrote. "Further, the U.S. has long refrained from committing our nation to treaty-backed security guarantees in the volatile Middle East, a region rife with conflict.”
The senators underscored that it would take a “high degree of proof” to show that such a defense treaty aligns with U.S. interests. They mentioned Saudi Arabia’s poor human rights record, aggressive foreign policy and involvement in the bloody war in Yemen.
Additionally, the senators raised their reservations about Saudi Arabia’s second demand from the United States – to help the kingdom develop a civilian nuclear program.
“While we should seriously consider whether it is in U.S. interests to help Saudi Arabia develop a domestic nuclear program, we should always maintain the high bar of the ‘gold standard’ 123 Agreement and insist on adherence to the Additional Protocol,” they wrote.
Under such, any nuclear deals between the U.S. and foreign nations require a commitment to nine nonproliferation criteria.
“The provision of more advanced weaponry to Saudi Arabia should be done with careful deliberation to ensure that such equipment only be used for truly defensive purposes and does not contribute to a regional arms race,” they added.
The senators also urged the Biden administration to guarantee that the trilateral agreement would preserve the option of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
They stressed that the agreement should include a “commitment by Israel not to annex any or all of the West Bank; to halt settlement construction and expansion; to dismantle illegal outposts (including those that have been retroactively “legalized”); and to allow the natural growth of Palestinian towns, cities and population centers and the ability to travel without interference between and among contiguous Palestinian areas.”
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who signed the letter, told reporters on Wednesday that he believes this “may be the last chance to salvage the possibility of a two-state solution.”
"There’s a version of this agreement that’s good for the United States, and there’s a version that could run contrary to our security interests in the region,” added Sen. Murphy.
The letter to Biden was signed by Senators Murphy and Van Hollen (D-Md.) along with Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), U.S. Senator Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), John Fetterman (D-Pa.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
Tal Heinrich is a senior correspondent for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS. She is currently based in New York City. Tal also provides reports and analysis for Israeli Hebrew media Channel 14 News.