August 13, 2014
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and top New York lawmakers departed for Israel on Tuesday night to express support for that country in the Gaza conflict, but not before receiving an unexpected, and not entirely welcome, invitation: to visit territories that Palestinians regard as part of their future state, including East Jerusalem.
No time, the governor said. No thanks, his fellow travelers said.
Mr. Cuomo and the legislative leaders kicked off what they called their unity mission to the Jewish state with a news conference at Kennedy International Airport, an Israeli flag, flanked by the flags of the United States and the State of New York, behind them.
“Our message is simple and is clear,” the governor said. “We stand with Israel, and we support Israel’s right to defend itself in this conflict.”
Mr. Cuomo spoke just hours after the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations sent Mr. Cuomo’s office a letter calling on him and his delegation to broaden their itinerary.
In the letter, made available to The New York Times, the ambassador, Riyad H. Mansour, said Mr. Cuomo and his entourage were invited to “meet with our leadership, hear our people’s stories and formulate your opinions on the basis of experience of all sides of the conflict, not just one side.”
Asked about the ambassador’s invitation, Mr. Cuomo said he had not had a chance to read the letter and added that his trip was to be both brief in duration and crammed with events.
“There’s not a lot of flexibility in this trip,” the governor said, adding later, when pressed on the question: “We’re not planning any other trip in the future right now. This one was enough planning.”
One of the State Senate leaders, Dean G. Skelos, a Long Island Republican, addressed the invitation more pointedly.
“Why would I want to go there and give any credibility to Hamas?” Mr. Skelos asked, referring to the militant Islamist movement that dominates Gaza.
Asked if he agreed with Mr. Skelos’s position, Mr. Cuomo did not answer the question directly, saying, “This trip is to show solidarity with Israel, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Also accompanying Mr. Cuomo are the Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat who is an Orthodox Jew, and Jeffrey D. Klein, a Bronx Democrat, and the other leader of the State Senate, who noted that he was the grandson of Holocaust survivors.
Mr. Cuomo was tentatively scheduled to meet with the Israeli president, Reuven Rivlin, and the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, then visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
The itinerary also entailed meetings with Israelis affected by the conflict in the Gaza Strip, the congested Mediterranean enclave of 1.7 million Palestinians.
Israeli leaders have sought to justify their actions as a reasonable response by any country with hostile forces on its borders. But the casualties and damage in Gaza dwarf those on the Israeli side, where three civilians and 64 soldiers have been killed, and a growing number of critics, including Israel’s European allies and United Nations officials, have accused Israel of using disproportionate force to achieve its objectives.
Hamas has demanded that Israel honor pledges to loosen severe economic constraints on Gaza as a condition for reaching a long-term settlement. The Israelis have demanded that Hamas and its affiliates disarm. The antagonists are engaged in indirect talks, brokered by Egypt.
Ambassador Mansour, who has accused Israel of crimes against humanity and war crimes over the Gaza assaults, said Governor Cuomo should understand how Palestinians viewed their lives under Israeli occupation that dates back decades.
He expressed concern that the visit “to express solidarity only with Israel will encourage their belief that their illegal behavior is justified.”