The Hill: Top Democrat leads bipartisan trip to Middle East

THE HILL, LAURA KELLY

The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee is leading a bipartisan delegation to the Middle East, where the group of 10 lawmakers will meet with the new Israeli government in an attempt to ease its relations with the Palestinian Authority.

Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), in his first overseas trip since becoming chairman this year, said in a statement Monday that the goal of the trip is to bolster “diplomatic relationships with the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, as well as conduct oversight of U.S. programming in the region.”

He said the delegation also aims to better understand Iranian provocations in the region and build on the Abraham Accords, the normalization agreements between Israel and majority-Arab and -Muslim countries.

The Biden administration restarted communications with the Palestinian Authority that were severed under former President Trump, and is providing approximately $235 million in humanitarian assistance to Palestinians and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the primary aid group for Palestinian refugees.

But at least $50 million in economic assistance to Palestinians is being blocked by Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who is calling on the State Department to provide further information to verify that the delivery of assistance complies with federal laws.

The Middle East trip comes amid fraught tensions between Israelis and Palestinians following an 11-day military conflict in May between Israel and Hamas, the U.S.-designated terrorist organization that controls the Gaza Strip.

Israel is under the new leadership of Prime Minister Nafatali Bennett, leader of the right-wing conservative Yamina party who is also part of a broad coalition of centrist and Arab parties which united last month to oust former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“The trip will allow members to explore the challenges posed by the recent outbreak of violence in Gaza; assess Israel’s current security needs; and evaluate the Biden Administration’s attempts to restart assistance to the Palestinian people,” Meeks said in announcing the congressional delegation (CODEL).

“The CODEL hopes to familiarize itself with the new Israeli government and engage with local partners on the ground who are working to improve the lives of both Palestinians and Israelis,” he added.

Other lawmakers on the trip include members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, such as Reps. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Andy Barr (R-Ky.), Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.), Kathy Manning (D-N.C.), Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.) and Brad Schneider (D-Ill).

Rep. French Hill (R-Ark.), a member of the House Financial Services Committee, is also joining the delegation.

The delegation will also travel to Qatar, where lawmakers will meet government officials to discuss regional security threats, economic interests and efforts to build upon the Abraham Accords.

The delegation will visit the Al Udeid Air Base, home of U.S. central command in the Middle East, where members will assess the Iranian threat and the U.S. regional security posture and meet with deployed U.S. military personnel.

Meeks said the delegation will discuss Israel and Qatar’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic at a time when cases are rising amid the spread of the delta variant. Israel recently reimposed an indoor mask mandate as coronavirus cases rise in the country despite a successful vaccination campaign.

“The COVID-19 pandemic remains a concern of the delegation and precautions will be taken to protect participants and our hosts. The status of COVID response in Israel, Qatar, and the region will be addressed,” Meeks said.

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