Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), called on Israel and the Palestinians to de-escalate ongoing violence, days after returning from a trip to the Middle East.
"Israeli and Palestinian leaders need to commit to a path of de-escalation," Murphy told reporters Monday, addressing the rising violence in Jerusalem, which has included scuffles between Palestinians and Israeli police, protests and rocket attacks from Gaza.
"This constant ratcheting up of violence may serve political interests, but it could lead to chaos that is ultimately going to get a lot of people killed," Murphy continued. "Hamas needs to stop rocket attacks but Israel needs to stop the forcible eviction of Palestinians from their homes," he added, referencing the potential eviction of dozens of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.
The Connecticut senator said he believes that the Biden administration is committed to pursuing peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, but said the U.S. is waiting to forcefully engage on the issue until the ongoing coalition negotiations in Israel and Palestinian elections, which have been postponed indefinitely, have been settled.
"But we are saddled with the here and now," Murphy said. "Our focus today needs to be on convincing both sides to take steps towards de-escalation. A tit-for-tat, one side responding to the other's escalation with more escalation, is not the path forward here. And we've got to be delivering that message to both sides."
During his confirmation hearing earlier this year, Secretary of State Tony Blinken appeared more pessimistic about the prospects for peace in the region under the Biden administration, saying "[a two-state solution] seems more distant than it's ever been, at least since Oslo" and indicated that the U.S.'s current priority is not on an overarching peace deal.
Murphy also recently signed onto an as-yet unreleased letter from Democratic senators to President Joe Biden calling on him to reopen the Palestine Liberation Organization mission in Washington, D.C., and the U.S. consulate in East Jerusalem.
Murphy, who leads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, also discussed his trip to Qatar, Oman and Jordan and other recent regional developments, including nuclear negotiations with Iran.
Murphy, a vocal supporter of reentering the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran, said that he came away from the trip "more convinced than before… that it's important for us to get back into the deal."
The Connecticut senator reiterated his previous support for withdrawing the Trump administration's "maximum pressure" sanctions as part of a re-entry into the 2015 deal.
"Some in Washington may draw issue with the Iranians wanting Trump's sanctions lifted that did not exist prior to the signing of the JCPOA," he said. "I don't think it's unreasonable for the Iranians to be asking, for instance, for the Biden administration, to take a look at the personal sanctions on the Supreme Leader, the foreign minister, or the sanctions on the [Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps]."
Those sanctions, Murphy added "got the United States nothing. Iran's behavior didn't get better… Iran's behavior got worse."
Murphy also told reporters he believes the approaching Iranian elections, scheduled for next month, are increasingly becoming an obstacle to JCPOA re-entry negotiations.
"My advice to the Biden team has been to be flexible and noble but be consistent," he said. "What we need to do is get back to the deal's original terms."
Murphy framed the JCPOA as a lynchpin for peace throughout the region, including between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which have been holding Iraqi-faciliated talks.
"As encouraging as it is that the Iranians and the Saudis are talking, it's hard to imagine that those discussions would bear fruit if the United States continues to be engaged in Trump's maximum pressure campaign," Murphy said, adding, "I think it'd be a mistake to believe that the JCPOA and the future of Yemen are disconnected."
The Connecticut senator claimed that the Gulf nations also generally support a return to the nuclear deal to facilitate intra-regional talks.
"We've heard fairly consistently from countries in the Gulf that they would welcome a return to the Iran deal because they see it as necessary to continue these early talks of a new regional security architecture," Murphy said.
U.S. allies in the region have expressed concerns in recent weeks about Washington's current approach to re-entering the JCPOA.