WASHINGTON — Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders joined four House Democrats on Tuesday in calling for the United States to cut or withhold aid from Israel if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu carries out his plan to annex parts of the West Bank or enacts policies to facilitate an eventual annexation, according to a source familiar with the matter.
A new letter to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urges the reductions to the $3.8 billion in annual American assistance to Israel if Jerusalem moves to unilaterally extend its sovereignty to West Bank territory.
The letter was orchestrated by the progressive powerhouse Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and has thus far also been signed by Michigan Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, Washington state Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal and Minnesota Congresseoman Betty McCollum.
Sanders’s signature adds new weight to the missive as Ocasio-Cortez continues to circulate it among liberal lawmakers on Capitol Hill, in an effort to gain more supporters.
“Should the Israeli government move forward with the planned annexation with this administration’s acquiescence, we will work to ensure non-recognition as well as pursue conditions on the $3.8 billion in U.S. military funding to Israel, including human rights conditions and withholding funds for the off-shore procurement of Israeli weapons equal to or exceeding the amount the Israeli government spends annually to fund settlements, as well as the policies and practices that sustain and enable them,” a draft of the letter says, according to a copy obtained by Jewish Insider.
The current level of US military assistance to the Jewish state was solidified in a 2016 memorandum of understanding between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government — roughly $38 billion over 10 years.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) launched a campaign against the letter Tuesday, tweeting that it “explicitly threatens the US-Israel relationship in ways that would damage American interests, risk the security of Israel & make a two-state solution less likely.”
AIPAC opposes the letter being circulated by @RepAOC—cosigned by @RepJayapal, @RepRashida & @BettyMcCollum04—which explicitly threatens the U.S.-Israel relationship in ways that would damage American interests, risk the security of Israel & make a two-state solution less likely.
— AIPAC (@AIPAC) June 29, 2020
While the powerful pro-Israel lobby has eschewed taking a public position on annexation, it has told members of Congress that it has no objection to them criticizing Netanyahu’s plans, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. At the same time, it has implored legislators not to demand any changes to the US-Israel relationship even if Israel moves forward with the proposal.
Netanyahu has said he plans to launch the process to annex parts of the West Bank as early as July 1, potentially applying Israeli law to all of the settlements and the entire Jordan Valley, the roughly 30 percent of the West Bank allocated to Israel under the Trump plan, which theoretically envisions a Palestinian state in the remaining territory with land swaps.
Netanyahu’s coalition partner Defense Minister Benny Gantz has registered his opposition to moving so soon.
The prospect of Israel annexing any parts of the West Bank has drawn international warnings and condemnation. Jordan’s King Abdullah II has said it would create a “massive conflict” in the Mideast and held a series of teleconferences with Congressional leaders two weeks ago urging them to block the move.
A number of other Arab and European leaders, as well as former Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiators and experts, have warned that annexation could severely cripple the possibility of a two-state solution.
Most Democrats have voiced opposition to annexation but have stopped short of calling for aid cuts if Israel goes through with the action.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a plethora of other prominent and powerful Democrats in both the House and Senate have spoken out against the plan, saying it would hurt US and Israeli interests and undercut efforts for a peace agreement.
On Thursday, 191 Democratic House members sent Netanyahu a letter imploring him to halt his plans. That followed a similar letter from 19 Senate Democrats to the premier and Gantz in May, which was watered down after pressure from pro-Israel advocates and hawkish Democrats to avoid the implication that US military assistance could be impacted.
Republicans have taken a decidedly different approach.
Last week, a majority of GOP House members sent a letter to Netanyahu saying they stood behind his proposal to annex West Bank territory.
“Israel has the right to make sovereign decisions independent of outside pressure,” the legislators wrote, offering “support for you as you make such decisions in your capacity as Israel’s democratically-elected prime minister.”
Other leading Republicans, such as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Utah Senator Mitt Romney, have stayed silent.