GOP senator seeks clarity from Biden on Trump-era peace deals

GOP senator seeks clarity from Biden on Trump-era peace deals
© Greg Nash

Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) on Wednesday called on the White House to clarify its position on the Abraham Accords after press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiOvernight Health Care — FDA panel backs boosters for some, but not all White House to host global COVID-19 summit next week Overnight Defense & National Security: US-Australian sub deal causes rift with France MORE told reporters the agreements to normalize relations with Israel negotiated under the Trump administration were not significant.

Hagerty, in a letter to President BidenJoe BidenHouse Democrat threatens to vote against party's spending bill if HBCUs don't get more federal aid Overnight Defense & National Security — The Pentagon's deadly mistake Haitians stuck in Texas extend Biden's immigration woes MORE obtained first by The Hill, warned that Psaki's comments undermining the accords could further inflame tensions amid violence between Israel and Hamas that has escalated over the course of the last several days.

"The Abraham Accords have enjoyed strong support on both sides of the aisle in the United States, in many capitals in the Middle East and around the world," Hagerty wrote. "That is precisely why the White House Press Secretary’s caustic and partisan remarks about the Abraham Accords are so jarring. At a time when Israel is under attack from Palestinian terrorist elements, the White House Press Secretary’s comments, if not corrected, will embolden those who seek violence over peace."

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The Biden White House has repeatedly emphasized its focus on working behind the scenes to tamp down tensions. The strategy and burst of violence in the region has drawn criticism from conservatives, and Trump allies in particular, who pointed to the Abraham Accords as a significant achievement of the last administration.

The agreements normalized relations between Israel and several Arab countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco. Hagerty, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Japan during the Trump administration before running for his Senate seat, noted multiple Biden officials had expressed support for the accords, including national security adviser Jake SullivanJake SullivanSenators slow Biden with holds at Pentagon, State Overnight Defense & National Security: US-Australian sub deal causes rift with France France cancels DC gala in anger over Biden sub deal: report MORE and Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenOvernight Defense & National Security — The Pentagon's deadly mistake France pulls ambassadors to US, Australia in protest of submarine deal Republicans demanding Blinken impeachment are forgetting one thing — the Constitution MORE.

But Psaki, asked whether the accords showed the limits of achieving peace in the region without buy-in from Palestinian leaders, shrugged off the importance of the Trump-era agreements.

"Well, again, I would say that we are not following the same tactics of the prior administration. We — the president has reinstated humanitarian assistance and security assistance to the Palestinians. That's something that was stopped back in 2018, and we felt was not a constructive action by the prior administration," Psaki said.

"Aside from putting forward a peace proposal that was dead on arrival, we don't think they did anything constructive, really, to bring an end to the longstanding conflict in the Middle East," she added.

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Violence has broken out in the region again in recent weeks. The Israeli military has conducted hundreds of airstrikes against what it says are Hamas targets in Gaza over the past week. Hamas has fired more than 3,000 rockets at civilian targets in Israel. While Biden and many Republicans have defended Israel, saying it has a right to defend itself, the president has faced pressure from the left as hundreds of Palestinians are killed or injured by rocket fire, including children. 

Biden has held four calls with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE in recent days. The president on Wednesday morning told Netanyahu that he expects a “significant de-escalation” in the violence between Israel and Hamas by Wednesday to put the two sides "on the path to a ceasefire," according to a readout of the leaders' Wednesday morning call released by the White House.

Wednesday was the first time that Biden set a deadline on when he would like to see a reduction in the latest violence, which has persisted in the Middle East for more than a week and led to Israeli and Palestinian civilian deaths. Biden has previously expressed support for a cease-fire in the region, after officials stopped short of doing so publicly.