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US House delegation heads to Middle East seeking to improve Israel-PA ties

Gregory Meeks, Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, leading 10-person bipartisan delegation that aims to bolster 'diplomatic relationships' in region
Gregory Meeks (left), House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, next to Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (centre), and head of US embassy in Jerusalem, Michael Ratney, on 5 July at US embassy in Jerusalem (Credit: US embassy Twitter)

A bipartisan delegation led by the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee will meet with Israel's new government in an attempt to ease its relationship with the Palestinian Authority. 

Representative Gregory Meeks, in a statement on Monday, said he will lead a group of 10 lawmakers on a trip that seeks to bolster "diplomatic relationships with the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, as well as conduct oversight of US programming in the region". 

"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.  

While ties between the US and the PA were severed during the Trump administration, US President Joe Biden has worked to restart diplomacy, approving around $235m in humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians and the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA). 

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The delegation also hopes to familiarise itself with the new Israeli government, which took over last month, and "engage with local partners on the ground who are working to improve the lives of both Palestinians and Israelis".

Israel's new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, leads the far-right Yamina party, which was pivotal in ousting former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving leader who was in office for a total of 15 years. 

Democratic Representatives Ted Deutch; David Cicilline; Abigail Spanberger; Sara Jacobs; Kathy Manning; and Brad Schneider will be attending the trip, as will Republicans Andy Barr, Nicole Malliotakis and French Hill. 

The lawmakers also hope to build onto the normalisation deals between Israel and several Arab or Muslim-majority countries that have taken place during the past year. 

Meeks, already in Israel, marked the 245th anniversary of the United States' founding at the US embassy in Jerusalem on Monday. 

"We're not here because of politics, we're here because of values... we share the same values, so that is an unbreakable bond," Meeks said. 

'Issues of mutual concern'

The delegation will then head to Qatar to "address issues of mutual concern" between the US and Doha, including regional security threats and economic interests. It also aims to better understand "Iranian provocations in the region" and the US's "regional security posture", Meeks said. 

In May, Qatar announced plans to provide $500m in aid for Gaza's reconstruction after Israel's devastating 11-day air campaign. But the US has been concerned over how it plans to ensure the funds are not received by the Hamas movement, which governs the Gaza Strip but is considered to be a terrorist organisation in the US. 

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During the trip, lawmakers will visit Al Udeid Air Base, home of US central command in the Middle East (Centcom), where members will meet with deployed US military personnel.

Meeks said the delegation will discuss Israel and Qatar's response to the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the global rise in cases caused by the fast-spreading delta variant. 

Israel recently reimposed its indoor mask mandate and travel restrictions as coronavirus cases rise rapidly 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.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee did not provide dates or an exact itinerary for the trip. 

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