WASHINGTON, D.C. — Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-District 14) is among three members of Congress leading a call to address extremist settler violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, according to a Friday release.
Swalwell, along with Reps. Jamie Raskin of Maryland and Susan Wild of Pennsylvania, sent a letter, signed by 55 other members of Congress, urging Secretary of State Antony Blinken to address the escalating settler violence in and around the West Bank, which it states is threatening a two-state solution.
“While the world has been focused on Gaza, the situation in the West Bank has also deteriorated rapidly since October 7,” the letter states. “Your leadership in realizing a two-state solution is critical and your attention to the crisis in the West Bank is necessary during this conflict. We cannot allow extremist settlers to use this crisis as an opportunity to expand illegal settlements in the West Bank.”
On Oct. 7, militants broke through the fence around Gaza, entering towns in Israel where they killed and captured Israeli soldiers and civilians, along with launching thousands of rockets. An estimated 1,200 Israelis were killed. Since then, Israel has waged a campaign of collective punishment against the people of Gaza, killing more than 11,000 Palestinians and displacing an additional 1.5 million.
Violence against Palestinians in the West Bank has also reached new heights, with Israeli forces and settlers arresting, torturing, humiliating and killing men, women and children. Extremist settlers envision expanding Israel into not just Palestinian territory but also neighboring states’ territories.
The letter expresses support for the U.S.’s relationship with Israel, which includes supplying the state with $3.8 billion in military aid every year, and condemns the attack on Oct. 7. The letter presses Blinken to take urgent action to secure the release of the hostages, address the humanitarian crisis and prevent future attacks, while also encouraging the Israeli government to uphold the rule of law and protect civilians. The letter calls for strengthening the Palestinian Authority, particularly through financial support, in order “to stabilize the West Bank.”
“A robust and empowered PA is essential for creating an environment conducive to peace negotiations and social progress,” the letter states. “We appreciate your diplomatic initiatives to address this issue, as well as the vital coordination that is being done by the United States Security Coordinator for Israel and the PA. We urge continued efforts to strengthen the PA’s effectiveness, which is vital for the realization of peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians.”
The letter is dated Thursday, Nov. 16, the same day that Blinken had a call with Israeli War Cabinet member Minister Benny Gantz. They talked about increasing the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza, ways to stop the conflict from spreading further and ways to free the hostages. Blinken emphasized the immediate need to reduce tensions in the West Bank, specifically by addressing the growing violence caused by extremist settlers while reaffirming the U.S.’s dedication to promoting a two-state solution.
In 1967, the United Nations passed Resolution 242, calling on Israel to withdraw from the territory it was occupying in order to lay the groundwork for a two-state solution. However, Israel has repeatedly expanded illegal settlements in Palestinian territory instead.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the only Palestinian member of Congress, was notably missing from the signatories, as well as Rep. Ro Khanna (D-District 17).
Swalwell has not signed onto a separate resolution calling for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, led by Tlaib and Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri.
The full text of the letter is below:
Dear Secretary Blinken,
As strong supporters of the United States-Israel relationship, we watched in horror on October 7 as Hamas mounted a vicious terror attack against Israel, murdering more than 1,400 Israelis. We thank you for your leadership during this difficult time. The conversations you have had with leaders in the Middle East are critical for helping to secure the release of hostages and for addressing the dire and deepening humanitarian crisis. It will also address Israel’s need to ensure that atrocities like those perpetrated by Hamas on October 7 never occur again.
As you continue to engage with our partners and allies in the region, we urge you to always protect the possibility of achieving our ultimate goal – a two-state solution where Israelis and Palestinians live side by side in peace, mutual security, and prosperity. While the world has been focused on Gaza, the situation in the West Bank has also deteriorated rapidly since October 7. Your leadership in realizing a two-state solution is critical and your attention to the crisis in the West Bank is necessary during this conflict.
As National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan rightly stated, it is the responsibility of the Israeli government to “rein in” extremist settlers in the West Bank. We agree with him that “it is totally unacceptable to have extremist settler violence against innocent people in the West Bank.”
Since the Israel-Hamas War began, there has been a growing number of documented incidents in which settlers attack nearby Palestinian communities, at times escorted by Israeli soldiers. According to recent reports, in the month following the October 7 terror attack, multiple Palestinians deaths by Israeli security forces and settlers occurred in the West Bank. More than 1,100 adults and children were forcibly driven from their homes following settler violence. These actions are a serious violation of basic human rights and endanger the possibility of a two-state solution.
Recent reports from October 28 draw our attention to a disturbing episode in which settlers, accompanied by Israel Defense Forces personnel, attacked residents in the Palestinian community of Susya in the South Hebron Hills. It is our understanding that settlers also threatened the village with an ultimatum to evacuate within 24 hours or face further violence and intimidation. We are profoundly concerned that the forced displacement of Susya would further embolden violent settler attacks and intimidation against the surrounding Palestinian communities. With several of the undersigned members on this letter having seen firsthand the extraordinary levels of deprivation and other challenges faced by the people of Susya, we are particularly disturbed by these developments.
Therefore, we urge you to immediately and strongly convey to the Israeli government its responsibility to uphold the rule of law in the West Bank and protect all civilians under its jurisdiction, while holding perpetrators of vigilante attacks and intimidation to account. The destabilizing consequences of vigilantism and lawless displacement of Palestinians in the West Bank threaten to expand the current war to another dangerous front.
We cannot allow extremist settlers to use this crisis as an opportunity to expand illegal settlements in the West Bank. We echo President Biden’s concern that attacks by “extremist settlers” amount to “pouring gasoline” on the already raging fires in the region.
Instead, it is vital that the United States make every effort to stabilize the West Bank by strengthening the Palestinian Authority (PA). A robust and empowered PA is essential for creating an environment conducive to peace negotiations and social progress. We appreciate your diplomatic initiatives to address this issue, as well as the vital coordination that is being done by the United States Security Coordinator for Israel and the PA. We urge continued efforts to strengthen the PA’s effectiveness, which is vital for the realization of peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians.
As you noted in your testimony to the Senate Appropriations Committee on October 31, the PA is operating under significant resource constraints. Your advocacy for releasing tax revenues underscores the importance of providing the PA with the necessary financial resources needed to stabilize the West Bank. By strengthening the PA, we can enhance its ability to uphold the rule of law, protect civilians, and deter extremist elements in the West Bank.
As the President said on October 19, “the decisions we make today are going to determine the future for decades to come.” Our decisions must keep the meaningful prospects of a two-state solution alive. The prevailing atmosphere of violence and lawlessness in the West Bank undermines the potential for a successful two-state outcome.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter.