Senators Warn Pentagon Against Downgrading US Palestinian Post

Senators Warn Pentagon Against Downgrading US Palestinian Post palestinian protesters wave the national flag as they shout slogans at israeli soldiers Palestinian protesters wave the national flag as they shout slogans at Israeli soldiers during a demonstration against the decision by Israel to expropriate 400 hectares (988 acres) of land near the West Bank village of Wadi Fukin on Sept. 26, 2014. (MUSA AL-SHAER/AFP via Getty)

By Sandy Fitzgerald | Friday, 17 June 2022 07:59 AM

A group of senators is warning the Pentagon that plans to downgrade the post requirements for the official in charge of coordinating Israel and the Palestinian Authority could undermine U.S. national security and risk the peace and stability between Israel and the West Bank.

Three dozen senators signed a bipartisan letter Thursday, led by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., urging that the post continue to be held by a three-star general, not a colonel, reports Axios.

The post was created in 2005 to meet the United States' commitments that had been determined through the Middle East Roadmap for Peace. The three-star general rank allows the person holding the position to have access to military and civilian officials in Washington, D.C., Jerusalem, and Ramallah.

Lt. Gen Michael Fenzel, the current U.S. security coordinator at the post, has said he agrees that downgrading the rank of the person in charge would harm its mission.

The senators' letter comes after reports that the Pentagon is considering the rank reduction in connection with a plan laid out by Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to reduce the numbers of generals and admirals through the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act.

Axios reports that the Trump administration had determined that many of the cuts needed to come from the ranks of the top officials posted in bases and positions worldwide. Under the plan, the ranks of U.S. military attached in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates would be downgraded as well.

In their letter, addressed to U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, the senators said that "downgrading this position would undermine critical security programs and degrade communications between Israelis and Palestinians, which the USSC facilitates," and that "such a downgrade would also risk fracturing the U.S.-led international coalition committed to strengthening security and stability in Israel and the West Bank.”

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., wrote a separate letter to Austin on Thursday, commenting that "downgrading the USSC’s rank will weaken the USSC's mission and imperil US security interests in the Middle East."

Meanwhile, both Secretary of State Tony Blinken and U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides have spoken out against the plan, as has the Israeli Defense Ministry, all sharing concerns that the decision could hurt coordination between Israeli and Palestinian officials while hurting security cooperation between the United States and the Palestinians.

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