Sen. Schumer’s Israel-Gaza Speech

What follows is an abridged version of US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s speech outlining steps toward peace for both Israel and the Palestinians. He spoke from the heart as the highest ranking Jew to ever serve in US elected office:

. . . . We love Israel in our bones. What Israel has meant to my generation, within living memory of the Holocaust, is impossible to measure. The flowering of the Jewish people in the desert from the ashes of the Holocaust, and the fulfillment of the dream of a Jewish homeland — after nearly two thousand years of praying and waiting — represents one of the most heartfelt causes of my life.

And unlike some younger Americans, I remember how hard it was to achieve that dream. I remember clutching my transistor radio to my ear in James Madison High School in 1967 during the Six Day War wondering if Israel would be pushed into the sea.

If the events of the last few months have made anything clear, it is that Israel is surrounded by vicious enemies, and there are many people around the world who excuse and even support their aims to expel and kill Jews living in their hard-won land of refuge. . . .

After five months of suffering on both sides of this conflict, our thinking must turn — urgently — to how we can achieve lasting peace, and ensure prosperity and security for both the Jewish people and the Palestinian people in the Middle East. I believe that to achieve that lasting peace — which we so long for — Israel must make some significant course corrections, which I will outline in this speech. . . .

Many of my family members were killed by Nazis in the Holocaust. October 7 and the shameless response to support that terrorist attack by some in America and around the globe have awakened the deepest fears of the Jewish people — that our annihilation remains a possibility. Today, over 130 hostages remain captive in Gaza. I am anguished by the plight of so many hostages still being trapped deep inside Hamas’s network of tunnels. I pray for them, and for their families, who have inspired me with their tenacious advocacy to ensure their loved ones are not forgotten. . . .

Gaza’s Humanitarian Catastrophe

My heart also breaks at the loss of so many civilian lives in Gaza. I am anguished that the Israeli war campaign has killed so many innocent Palestinians. I know that my fellow Jewish Americans feel this same anguish when they see the images of dead and starving children and destroyed homes.

Gaza is experiencing a humanitarian catastrophe — entire families wiped out, whole neighborhoods reduced to rubble, mass displacement, children suffering. We should not let the complexities of this conflict stop us from stating the plain truth: Palestinian civilians do not deserve to suffer for the sins of Hamas, and Israel has a moral obligation to do better. The United States has an obligation to do better. I believe the United States must provide robust humanitarian aid to Gaza, and pressure the Israelis to let more of it get through to the people who need it.

Jewish people throughout the centuries have empathized with those who are suffering and who are oppressed because we have known so much of that ourselves. As the Torah teaches us, every human life is precious, every single innocent life lost whether Israeli or Palestinian, is a tragedy as the Scripture says, “destroys an entire world.”

What horrifies so many Jews especially is our sense that Israel is falling short of upholding these distinctly Jewish values that we hold so dear. We must be better than our enemies, lest we become them.

Israel has a fundamental right to defend itself, but as I have said from the beginning of this war — how it exercises that right matters. Israel must prioritize the protection of civilian casualties when identifying military targets. I have repeatedly called upon the Israeli government to do so.

Hamas’s Role

But it also must be said that Israel is by no means the only one responsible for the immense civilian toll. To blame only Israel for the deaths of Palestinians is unfair, one-sided, and often deliberately manipulative — and it ignores Hamas’s role in this conflict. Hamas has knowingly invited an immense civilian toll during this war. Their goal on October 7 was to provoke a tough response from Israel by killing as many Jews as possible in the most vicious manner possible — by raping women, executing babies, desecrating bodies, brutalizing whole communities.

Since then, Hamas has heartlessly hidden behind their fellow Palestinians by turning hospitals into command centers, and refugee camps into missile-launching sites. It is well documented that Hamas soldiers use innocent Gazans as human shields. The leaders of Hamas, many of whom live lives of luxury in places far away from the poverty and misfortune of Gaza, do not care one iota about the Palestinians for whom they claim to nobly fight.

It bothers me deeply that most media outlets covering this war, and many protesters opposing it, have placed the blame for civilian casualties entirely on Israel. All too often, in the media and at protests, it is never noted that Hamas has gone to great lengths to make themselves inseparable from the civilian population of Gaza by using Palestinians as human shields. . . .

Given that Hamas launched their attacks on October 7 to provoke Israel, given that Hamas sought the ensuing civilian toll in Gaza, given that Hamas wanted both Israelis and Arabs to be at each other’s throats, tensions on both sides have dramatically intensified. And now, as a result of these inflamed tensions in both the Israeli and Palestinian communities, people on all sides of this war are turning away from a two-state solution — including Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who in recent weeks has said out loud repeatedly what many have long suspected by outright rejecting the idea of Palestinian statehood and sovereignty.

For a Negotiated Two-State Solution

As the highest-ranking Jewish elected official in our government, and as a staunch defender of Israel, I rise today to say unequivocally: This is a grave mistake. For Israel. For Palestinians. For the region and the world. The only real and sustainable solution to this decades-old conflict is a negotiated two-state solution — a demilitarized Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel in equal measures of peace, security, prosperity, dignity, and mutual recognition.

Both Jews and Palestinians have long historic claims to this land. Contrary to the unfounded,absurd, and offensive claims by some that the Jewish people are “colonizers” in their ancestral homeland, Jewish people have lived in the Holy Land continuously for more than three millennia, 3000 years. For centuries, Jews have made aliyah and gone to the land of Israel to live and settle. For centuries, at Passover, Jews at every corner of the globe have prayed, “Next year in Jerusalem.”

A Jewish homeland in Israel is no twentieth-century contrivance. Israel is our historic home. A home for people oppressed for centuries.

Now the Palestinians, too, have lived on the land for generations, and in past centuries, they have formed their own distinct culture, identity, cuisine, and literature. The idea espoused by some that “There is no such thing as Palestinians” is inaccurate, offensive, unhelpful. The only just solution to this predicament is one in which each people can flourish in their own state side-by-side.

But for a two-state solution to work over the long term, it has to include real and meaningful compromises by both sides. For example, too many Israelis who say they want a two-state solution don’t acknowledge how the amount and extent of expanding settlements renders ’s that a virtual impossibility.

And too many Palestinians who say they want a two-state solution don’t acknowledge how their insistence on an unequivocal “right of return” is a fatal impediment to progress. Both ways of thinking are impeding the peace process. . . .

Why One State Won’t Work

I can understand the idealism that inspires so many young people in particular to support a one-state solution. Why can’t we all live side-by-side and house-by-house in peace?

I count at least two reasons why this wouldn’t work, and why it is unacceptable to most Jewish people. First, this combined state could take an extreme turn politically, putting Jewish Israelis in peril. This state would be a majority-Palestinian, and in the past, some Palestinians have voted to empower groups like Hamas, which seeks to eradicate the Jewish people.

It is longstanding American policy to support democracy overseas, but in this hypothetical single state, democracy could cost Israeli Jews their safety if extremists were to take control of this new state of affairs to ultimately achieve their true aim: the violent expulsion of Jews from the Holy Land. . . .

Second, and even more important, the Jewish people have a right to their own state. It is so troubling to me that many people, especially on the left, seem to acknowledge and even celebrate this right to statehood for every group but the Jews. If a national homeland for all peoples of the world has been the driving goal of the anticolonial movement of the last century, then why are only Jews seemingly penalized for this aspiration? Jews have a human right to their own state just as any other people do, Palestinians included. . . .

[T]he bitter reality is that a single state controlled by Israel . . . guarantees certain war forever, and further isolation of the Jewish community in the world to the extent that its future would be jeopardized. . . . If Israel were to not only maintain the status quo, but to go beyond that and tighten its control over Gaza and the West Bank, as some in the current Netanyahu administration have suggested — in effect creating a de facto single state — then what reasonable expectation can we have that Hamas and their allies will lay down their arms? It would mean constant war.

On top of that, Israel moving closer to a single state entirely under its control would further rupture its relationship with the rest of the world, including the United States. Support for Israel has declined worldwide in the last few months, and this trend will only get worse if the Israeli government continues to follow its current path. . . . But in order to achieve a two-state solution, the reality is that things must change.

Hamas: First of Four Obstacles to Peace

Right now, there are four – four – major obstacles standing in the way of two states, and until they are removed from the equation, there will never be peace in Israel and Gaza and the West Bank. Those four major obstacles are: Hamas, and the Palestinians who support and tolerate their evil ways, Radical right-wing Israelis in government and society, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. . . .

The first major obstacle to peace is Hamas, and the Palestinians who support and tolerate their evil ways. Hamas is for the destruction of Israel, and in past decades, it has undermined any hope for peace at every turn. It was Hamas who began its vicious campaign of suicide bombings against innocent Israelis to derail the nascent peace process in Oslo. It was Hamas who assassinated more moderate Palestinian political representatives in Gaza in 2007. It is Hamas who has held Gaza under repressive, undemocratic rule for close to two decades.

. . . . A permanent ceasefire, effective immediately, would only allow Hamas to regroup and launch further attacks on Israeli civilians. There can never be a two-state solution if Hamas has any significant power.

However, a temporary ceasefire, such as President Biden has proposed, which would allow for the return of hostages and humanitarian relief for suffering Palestinians, is quite different, and is something Isupport. But any proposal that leaves Hamas with meaningful power is unacceptable to me and most Israelis. . . .

Smotrich, Ben-Gvir and Abbas

The second major obstacle to peace is radical right-wing Israelis in government and society. The worst examples of this radicalism are Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and Ministry of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir. . . . There is a nastiness to what Ministers Smotrich and Ben-Gvir believe and how they use their positions of authority and influence; an eagerness to inflame and provoke that is profoundly irresponsible and self-destructive.

In my conversations with Israeli leaders, I have urged them to do more to clamp down on the unacceptable vigilante settler violence in the West Bank, and I have supported the Biden administration’s efforts to impose consequences for extremist settler violence. . . . While not equivalent, extremist Palestinians and extremist Israelis seek the same goal: from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, they aim to push the other from the land.

Ministers Smotrich and Ben-Gvir may not say they want to kill all Palestinians outright, but they are clear in their desire to displace them from their homes and replace them with Israeli settlers. This is also abhorrent. As long as these two hold their positions of power, peace will be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.

The third major obstacle to peace is the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, who is beholden to his narrow political interests, to the detriment of both the West Bank and Gaza. Over the years, President Abbas has evaded the democratic process, declining to hold future elections for over a decade and failing to empower future leadership. Despite his long tenure leading the Palestinian Authority, he has achieved few of his self-proclaimed goals. The Palestinian Authority remains corrupt and continues to incite instability through the martyr payment system. Palestinians are no more prosperous, no safer, and no freer than they were when Abbas first took power. As a result, President Abbas has lost the trust of the Palestinian people. . . .


The fourth major obstacle to peace is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has all too frequently bowed to the demands of extremists like Ministers Smotrich and Ben-Gvir, and the settlers in the West Bank. . . . I also believe Prime Minister Netanyahu has lost his way by allowing his political survival to take the precedence over the best interests of Israel. He has put himself in coalition with far-right extremists like Ministers Smotrich and Ben-Gvir, and as a result, he has been too willing to tolerate the civilian toll in Gaza, which is pushing support for Israel worldwide to historic lows. Israel cannot survive if it becomes a pariah.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has also weakened Israel’s political and moral fabric through his attempts to co-opt the judiciary. And he has shown zero interest in doing the courageous and visionary work required to pave the way for peace, even before this present conflict. . . .

Nobody expects Prime Minister Netanyahu to do the things that must be done to break the cycle of violence, to preserve Israel’s credibility on the world stage, and to work towards a two-state solution. If he were to disavow Ministers Smotrich and Ben-Gvir, and kick them out of his governing coalition, thatwould be a real meaningful step forward. But regrettably, there is no reason to believe Prime Minister Netanyahu would do that. He won’t disavow Ministers Smotrich and Ben-Gvir and their calls for Israelis to drive Palestinians out of Gaza and the West Bank. He won’t commit to a military operation in Rafah that prioritizes protecting civilian life. He won’t engage responsibly in discussions about a “day-after” plan for Gaza, and a longer-term pathway to peace. . . .

Once Hamas is deprived of power, the Palestinians will be much freer to choose a government they want and deserve. With the prospect of a real two-state solution on the table, and for the first time, genuine statehood for the Palestinian people, I believe they will be far more likely to support more mainstream leaders committed to peace.

I think the same is true of the Israeli people. Call me an optimist, but I believe that if the Israeli public is presented with a path to a two-state solution that offers a chance at lasting peace and coexistence, then most mainstream Israelis will moderate their views and support it. . . . All sides must reject “From the river to the sea” thinking — and I believe they will if the prospects for peace and a two-state solution are real. . . .

Middle Eastern powers like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan, other mainstream Arab states can have immense power and influence with the Palestinians. Working with the United States, they must responsibly deploy their clout, their money, and their diplomacy to support a new demilitarized Palestinian State that rejects terror and violence.

. . . . On the Israeli side, the U.S. government should demand that Israel conduct itself with a future two-state solution in mind. We should not be forced into a position of unequivocally supporting the actions of an Israeli government that includes bigots who reject the idea of a Palestinian state. . . .

As a democracy, Israel has the right to choose its own leaders, and we should let the chips fall where they may. But the important thing is that Israelis are given a choice. There needs to be a fresh debate about the future of Israel after October 7. In my opinion, that is best accomplished by holding an election.

Now if Prime Minister Netanyahu’s current coalition remains in power after the war begins to wind down, and continues to pursue dangerous and inflammatory policies that test existing U.S. standards for assistance, then the United States will have no choice but to play a more active role in shaping Israeli policy by using our leverage to change present course.

The United States’ bond with Israel is unbreakable, but if extremists continue to unduly influence Israeli policy, then the Administration should use the tools at its disposal to make sure our support for Israel is aligned with our broader goal of achieving long-term peace and stability in the region. . . .

Click for Sen. Schumer’s entire speech online.