On Monday, more than 60 House Democrats signed a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo requesting that he address Israel’s use of U.S.-made equipment in its demolition of Palestinian homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The initiative was spearheaded by Reps. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Anna Eshoo (D-Calif), and Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) and was supported by a veritable who’s who of progressive House Democrats.
“U.S.-supplied military equipment to Israel should only be used for legitimate self-defense against the very real security threats Israel faces,” Khanna said. “Such military equipment should not be used to turn Palestinian homes into rubble, displace families, and tear apart communities. I look forward to the State Department providing the information necessary to ensure that U.S.-supplied military equipment in the West Bank is not being used in this destructive practice.” Read more at Responsible Statecraft
Last week, I explained some of the mechanics of U.S. aid to Israel and why a president would find it difficult to use aid as leverage against Israel. I also explained why the traditional theoretical targets of leveraging aid—settlements and a two-state solution—were no longer relevant and their futility meant supporters of the Israeli right would be delighted to see those targets in the center of a fierce debate over U.S. aid.
Those ideas raised other questions. While my original focus was U.S. military aid to Israel, what about loan guarantees? Might that be a more fruitful path to pursue? Does a president’s relative inability to use military aid as leverage mean it is a dead issue, or might there be other avenues? Is it pointless to even discuss U.S. military aid to Israel? These are some of the questions raised in response to my article, and they lead to some important answers.
Not so long ago, a presidential candidate showing any hint that she would consider reducing aid to Israel was considered political suicide. Those days are over. This week, both Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg said they would consider using aid to Israel as leverage to get Israel to stop building settlements. The response has been almost total silence from Israel’s supporters in the United States.
The lack of response is somewhat surprising. While polls indicate that Americans support the idea that Israel’s disregard for Palestinian rights should impact the aid it gets from the United States, the numbers don’t indicate a sea change in public opinion. Many polls over the years reflected the willingness of the American public to use aid to press Israel to make concessions it did not want to make.
I suspect the reason there has been so little reaction to Warren’s and Buttigieg’s statements is indifference. It isn’t that pro-Israel groups which see any gains for Palestinian rights as a dangerous loss for Israel don’t care if the U.S. cuts aid to Israel. Rather, they see no danger of it happening any time soon, regardless of the outcome of the 2020 election. In many ways, seeing the United States continuing to quibble over settlement expansion and grasping on to an increasingly ephemeral two-state solution serves right-wing Israeli interests very well. Read more at LobeLog
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) has drawn some criticism from the left for avoiding the topic of Israel-Palestine. It’s actually a wise decision on her part. It was obvious during her campaign that she is not well-versed on the issue. N ew members of Congress ought to avoid this dangerous minefield of an issue unless they are very clear about what they want to say and how they want to say it.
But AOC may be learning. Earlier this week, she was asked if she favored reducing aid to Israel and she replied that it is “…certainly on the table. I think it’s something that can be discussed.”
Reducing aid to Israel is perhaps the highest voltage third rail in Beltway politics. But in a marker of how much things have changed in Washington—as well as how far they still have to go—the reactions to AOC’s statement have been far less animated than usual. The Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA) issued a condescending but relatively mild statement, telling AOC to consult with three mainstream Democratic leaders—all prominent Jewish members with strong pro-Israel records—on the “correct” U.S. policy. “US-Israel ties must supersede politics,” the statement concluded. Surprisingly, the JDCA did not condemn AOC’s statement, despite its tired implication that support for Israel must be unconditional, unquestioned, and independent of any considerations except what is best for Israel. Read more at LobeLog
On Wednesday Israel and the United States finally signed a new Memorandum of Understanding(MOU), committing the United States to provide Israel with $38 billion in military aid over the ten years spanning 2019-2028. The sum includes $5 billion for missile defense, which Israel had previously had to lobby Congress for each year for a $200 million per year increase in basic aid. The MOU makes some changes to the system by which the US provides aid to Israel, and was also unusually difficult to negotiate. Here are five takeaways: Read more at Facts On The Ground, An FMEP Blog