Israel has lost its most powerful Democratic supporter in Congress, and many wonder whether an increasingly left-wing Democratic Party will still stand with the Jewish state in the future.
Enter Gregory Meeks, a 12-term congressman out of New York’s 5th district, representing southwest Nassau and southeast Queens. Meeks will be taking the helm of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman, which was previously chaired by Eliot Engel, a pro-Israel stalwart and Iran hawk who lost to Jamaal Bowman in a primary in July.
Meeks is generally regarded as an establishment Democrat with a pro-Israel bent. Eliot Engel he isn’t, but considering the direction of the party – illustrated perhaps by Bowman joining “The Squad” of hard-left Democrats, several of whom openly support the boycott of Israel – Meeks’ election to the chair has been celebrated in most pro-Israel circles.
Still, Meeks ruffled feathers over the summer when he told the Times of Israel, “Annexation is anathema to a two-state solution, and America cannot be used by its proponents to justify a pro-annexation position or policy. On the contrary, the United States must be explicit in our opposition by applying pressure against Netanyahu should he annex territory, including leveraging U.S. aid.”
Meeks reversed course two weeks later, telling the American Jewish Committee, “We know the extreme importance in the region to make sure that Israel has the right to defend itself, and the dollars that we give Israel to defend itself [are] absolute and unequivocal.”
So, where does Meeks really stand?
“Let’s be clear: the MOU [memorandum of understanding with Israel] that the Obama administration entered into is non-negotiable. None of that money can be taken off the table. Israel has the right to defend itself and that money is non-negotiable,” Meeks told The Jewish Press.
But Meeks wants to see more negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Some in the Democratic foreign policy apparatus dismissed the recent normalization successes between Israel and the Arab world, but Meeks called them milestones and says he hopes they will lead to an Israel-PA agreement.
“I wondered for the longest time,” Meeks said, “why the Arab world didn’t recognize Israel’s existence, and that emboldened the Palestinians not to come to the table. Now, with the Abraham Accords, it’s my hope that Arab nations will push the Palestinians to negotiate so that we can have a two-state solution and peace in the Middle East. The recent developments should help us get to the next level.”
Meeks believes the two-state solution can still work, though he was vague about how Israel’s security could be guaranteed under such an arrangement or why a two-state solution is the only endgame the U.S. should pursue. “We came close to peace in the Clinton administration. The Palestinians walked away. But we need to keep trying,” he said.
The PA currently pays salaries to terrorists (or their families) who kill and maim Israelis. This pay-for-slay scheme led in 2018 to the passage of the Taylor Force Act, which calls for stopping American economic aid to the PA until its ceases paying these stipends. The PA is reportedly prepared to amend its policy and pay terrorists’ salaries based on financial need rather than length of the prison sentence in an attempt to circumvent the Taylor Force Act and reestablish relations with the U.S. under a Joe Biden administration.
Said Meeks, though, “[T]hey will need to offer more than that.”
Unlike Engel, Meeks is a proponent of returning to the Iran nuclear deal. “We should have never pulled out,” he said, “and we’ve got to go back to where we were. Iran needs to go back into compliance, and that’s the beginning of negotiations – not the end. We didn’t make ourselves safer by pulling out. We had more knowledge of what was going on with their nuclear program on the ground than we ever had. I traveled and asked our allies whether Iran was violating the deal, and they said no.
He added, “Now, I’m not foolish, either. We know of a number of things outside of the agreement that Iran was doing. Looking at ballistic missiles, sponsoring terrorism – so we have other avenues like sanctions to prevent that from happening….
“We can do more than one thing at a time. But, the focus of the JCPOA [the Iran deal] was a nuclear weapon, and we can focus on that while also preventing Iranian actions elsewhere.”
While he supports the Abraham Accords, Meeks said he opposes American arms sales to the United Arab Emirates. “We agreed to give Israel a qualitative military advantage in the region, and that means having the best weapons,” Meeks said.
When it was pointed out to him that Israel agreed to the UAE arms sales, Meeks replied, “But what happens if something goes wrong in one of the Arab states? Then, they have the weapons already and they would have the QME [qualitative military edge] or a level playing field. I don’t have the certainty of knowing what happens tomorrow. I’ve seen before where a new government takes over and they use the weapons for nefarious purposes.”
He then added, “I don’t have to worry about that with Israel.”