Hagel Declined to Sign Schumer Letter in 2007 Asking Arab Allies to Recognize Israel

Hagel Declined to Sign Schumer Letter in 2007 Asking Arab Allies to Recognize Israel

Former Sen. Chuck Hagel declined to sign a letter circulated by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in 2007 calling upon then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to press Arab allies of the U.S. to recognize Israel’s right to exist “and not use such recognition as a bargaining chip for future Israeli concessions.” 

Seventy-nine Senators eventually signed the letter, which was sponsored by Schumer and by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

The Schumer-Graham letter “concerning the Responsibilities of Friendly Arab States” has not, apparently, been cited yet in the debate over Hagel’s potential confirmation as Secretary of Defense. The letter also calls upon Arab allies to “take meaningful steps” to assist the Palestinian Authority, to stop supporting terror groups, to end the Arab states’ boycott of Israel, and to push Hamas to recognize Israel and past peace agreements.

The most charitable explanation for Hagel’s refusal to sign might be that the letter differs from the terms of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which Hagel has praised, and which offered Israel recognition in exchange for full withdrawal to its 1967 borders. 

Hagel has also claimed he did not sign such letters unless they were directed to the President, but he failed to join 96 Senators in a critical pro-Israel letter to President Bill Clinton in 2000.

Among the minority of Senators who declined to sign the Schumer-Graham letter were members of both parties, including Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO), both of whom have declared they will vote for Hagel’s confirmation. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who is regarded as pro-Israel but voted “present” on the motion to end debate on Hagel’s confirmation on Feb. 14, also declined to sign the Schumer-Graham letter.

Then-Sens. Joe Biden (D-DE), Hillary Clinton (D-NY), and Barack Obama (D-IL) all signed the Schumer-Graham letter.

The full text of the letter, as cited in the Journal of Palestine Studies Vol. 37, No. 2 (Winter 2008), pp. 197-198, follows:

Dear Secretary Rice,

As you step up American diplomatic actions and prepare for a future international meeting on the Arab-Israeli conflict, we believe it is essential that other key players in the Middle East also step up and meet their responsibilities. The success of such a meeting, and ultimately the peace process itself, will depend on the cooperation we receive from the larger Arab world, particularly from those Arab states with close relations with the United States who have not yet signed agreements with Israel. Your ongoing efforts to work with Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas are critical, but so is the support these efforts receive from those Arab countries.

We know that in the past, the lack of sufficient support from some of these Arab states has made it difficult to reach earlier agreements. We also know that, for many years, many of these countries have been insisting on greater involvement by the administration in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Now that you and the administration are indeed more actively engaged in Middle East diplomacy on an ongoing basis, we also believe that these Arab states should step forward with concrete, positive actions to promote peace and stability in the region.

In particular, you should press friendly Arab countries that have not yet done so, to:

1. Participate in the upcoming international meeting and be a full partner of the United States in advancing regional peace;

2. Take visible, meaningful steps in the financial, diplomatic, and political arena to help Palestinian President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad govern effectively and meet their obligations to fight terror;

3. Stop support for terrorist groups and cease all anti-Israel and anti-Jewish incitement;

4. Recognize Israel’s right to exist and not use such recognition as a bargaining chip for future Israeli concessions;

5. End the Arab League economic boycott of Israel in all of its forms; and

6. Pressure Hamas to recognize Israel, reject terror, and accept prior agreements, and isolate Hamas until it takes such steps.

We are encouraged that you are working hard to advance the cause of peace in the Middle East. The governments of Israel and the Palestinians are also working as best they can toward that goal. However, without a sincere commitment from our allies in the Middle East to be partners in this effort, peace in the region will remain elusive.

We appreciate your attention to this critical matter.


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