Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) brought thousands of activists to their feet several times during his remarks this morning at AIPAC’s annual policy conference. The senator touched on several areas of foreign policy concerns. These included U.S. foreign aid to Egypt, Palestinian statehood, confronting Iran’s nuclear program, and Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state.
Both Egypt and Israel have honored their commitments to peace ever since agreeing to the Camp David Accords in 1978. This agreement resulted in Israel retuning the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt, amongst other mutual concessions. Throughout the following 35 years, the U.S. provided assistance, both humanitarian and military, to Egypt. President Hosni Mubarak remained a reliable partner to this agreement during his 30 year hold on power.
The Arab Spring of 2011 brought a quick end to Mubarak’s reign. Many perceived the uprising as democratic. However, the first Egyptian elections following the revolution resulted in the Muslim Brotherhood, with Mohammed Morsi at its helm, winning control of the government. The harsh ideology of this organization regarding the modern Jewish state proves troublesome. Yet, the U.S. recently gifted state-of-the art fighter jets and Abrams tanks to Egypt.
Menendez stated this morning that “aid to Egypt cannot be without strings attached.” He stressed that the bottom line is Egypt honoring its peace treaty with Israel. The senator’s concerns are justified. If Egypt were to renege on its obligations under the Camp David accords, the very weapons we are gifting to Egypt could be used against our erstwhile ally Israel.
Senator Menendez also proclaimed his strong opposition to the Palestinian Authority (PA) obtaining statehood status unilaterally through the United Nations. Although both Israeli leadership and the PA leadership agree in principle to a Palestinian state existing side by side with Israel, many issues remain unresolved. This includes borders, security measures, and settlement issues. Menendez called the PA’s recent actions at the United Nations to obtain statehood status “grandstanding” and stated that such actions “fundamentally jeopardized” their relationship with the U.S. The senator reiterated his support for a two-state solution premised on an agreement first being reached between Israel and the PA.
After discussing foreign aid to Egypt and Palestinian statehood, Menendez turned his focus on Iran, warning that the “greatest threat to Israel’s security is Iran ... we cannot, we must not, and we will not stand for a [nuclear capable Iran]. Period.” The senator relayed his concern that nuclear weapons capability would embolden Iran to take more aggressive actions against Israel and the U.S.
The senator unequivocally made clear that the U.S. rejects “policy options designed simply to contain a nuclear armed Iran. Containment is not option … Any policy built around the containment of a nuclear armed Iran is unacceptable.”
This seemed to directly counter the initial confirmation hearing remarks by the new Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel that this country does not have a policy on “containment.”
Senator Menendez made it clear that the policy of the U.S. is one of prevention and not containment.
Menendez sparked the greatest audience reaction when he discussed the legitimacy of the Jewish state. He argued that the Holocaust is not the justification for Israel’s existence. Israel’s political reality goes back to “King David … and Sarah … The argument for Israel has been made by history … There can be no denying the Jewish people’s right to live in peace in a homeland where they’ve had a connection for thousands of years.” As someone who is Jewish, the acknowledgment of this historical right indeed brought tears to my eyes.
Sen. Menendez's varied remarks this morning illustrated the importance of making national security and foreign policy a nonpartisan issue. The enemies of this nation oppose our system of constitutional government, individual liberties, and freedom of conscience regardless of party identification.