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March 17, 2023 2:48 pm

Democratic Senators Mull Legislation Conditioning US Aid to Israel


avatar by Andrew Bernard

Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) speaks after the senate voted on a resolution ending US military support for the war in Yemen on Capitol Hill in Washington, US, December 13, 2018. Photo: REUTERS/Joshua Roberts.

US Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) on Thursday said that he believes the US should condition aid to Israel based on the country’s support for a two-state solution.

“I worry that we are at a moment in which we are watching a future Palestinian state be obliterated by the pace of settlements, by the legalization of outposts,” Murphy said in an interview with CNN’s Becky Anderson. “And I think the United States needs to draw a harder line with this government. If we’re going to continue to be in the business of supporting the Israeli government, they have to be in the continued business of a future Palestinian state. And that does not seem to be the policy of this government right now. So whether it’s conditionality of aid to Israel, whether it’s conditionality of visits to the United States, we have got to send a message that this assault on the two–state solution, in particular, is very bad for the US-Israel relationship in the long run.”

In December, the US provided some $3.3 billion in security assistance to Israel and an additional $500 million for cooperative missile defense programs like Iron Dome. Israel is the largest regular recipient of annual US aid, and under the 2016 memorandum of understanding between the two countries, Israel will continue to receive $3.8 billion from the US each year until 2028.

While that money is spent by Israel largely on buying US-made arms, including the F-35, and on defensive systems like Iron Dome, making that aid conditional on Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians has become a rallying cry of the progressive wing of the Democratic party.

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Speaking in 2019 during the Democratic presidential primaries, then-candidate Joe Biden said it would be “absolutely outrageous” and a “gigantic mistake” to condition US aid to Israel on policy choices regarding the Palestinians. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), however, said during the race that “everything is on the table” if Israel appeared to be retreating from the two-state solution, while Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) made it his position that military aid to Israel should be conditioned on Israeli humanitarian assistance to Gaza.

Sanders, however, said on Face the Nation on Feb. 19, that he was now considering introducing legislation conditioning US aid on Israel’s Palestinian policies.

“I am very worried about what Netanyahu is doing and some of his allies in government and what may happen to the Palestinian people,” Sanders said. “And let me tell you something, I haven’t said this publicly, but I think the United States gives billions of dollars in aid to Israel, and I think we’ve got to put some strings attached to that and say you cannot run a racist government. You cannot turn your back on a two-state solution. You cannot demean the Palestinian people there. You just can’t do it and then come to America and ask for money.”

Sanders added that he was “embarrassed” by the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and also accused AIPAC and other pro-Israel groups of trying to destroy the American progressive movement by supporting pro-Israel candidates in Democratic primaries.

Democratic primaries have become a key battleground for campaign spending by pro-Israel groups like AIPAC and Democratic Majority for Israel as they try to shore up Democratic support for Israel in Congress against the party’s increasingly hostile left flank.

The proposals to condition aid come amid a period of heightened tension between the Biden administration and the Netanyahu-led Israeli government. Israeli media report that Netanyahu has instructed his ministers not to visit Washington until he has received an invitation to visit the White House. US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides said in an interview in February that Israel should “pump the brakes” on its judicial reform package, prompting Israeli Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli to say that Nides should “mind [his] own business.”

That conflicted attitude towards Israel now increasingly extends to the Democratic party electorate. The polling organization Gallup on Thursday found that for the first time Democrats are more sympathetic to Palestinians than Israelis.

“It’s clear that the presidential and Congressional wings of the party remain strongly pro-Israel even as we all struggle with some specific policies of the current Israeli government,” DMFI President Mark Mellman told The Algemeiner. “But it’s no secret that support for Israel is fraying among some key constituencies.”

Senators Sanders and Murphy did not immediately respond to The Algemeiner’s request for comment.

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