Senate amendment seeks to ban use of US defense funding for Israeli annexation
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Senate amendment seeks to ban use of US defense funding for Israeli annexation

Leading Democratic senators, including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, support move; AIPAC opposes it, saying it will hamper Israel’s national security

Senator Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Senator Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Proposed legislation from a prominent Democratic senator would ban US defense assistance to Israel from being used to annex parts of the West Bank, or going to annexed areas.

The amendment to a funding bill introduced last week by Senator Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat and member of the foreign operations subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee, would not allow aid used to “deploy or support the deployment of United States defense articles, services or training to territories in the West Bank unilaterally annexed by Israel after July 1, 2020, or to facilitate the unilateral annexation of such territories.”

Other notable members of the Democratic caucus sponsoring the amendment include former presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

AIPAC is vigorously opposing the amendment.

“It’s dangerous to weaken Israel’s defenses, especially as it faces unprecedented threats,” the Israel lobby wrote Monday in a message to its activists. “An amendment in the Senate restricts where Israel can place lifesaving missile defense systems like Iron Dome.”

Defense Ministry and Rafael defense contractor test an upgraded version of the Iron Dome missile defense system in January 2020. (Defense Ministry)

Van Hollen in an online conversation last week with J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East lobby, said he was considering such an amendment as a means of expressing displeasure with plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to annex parts of the West Bank while not touching Israel’s overall defense assistance, which amounts to $3.8 billion a year.

A number of progressive Democrats in the House and Senate have said they want to reduce or eliminate aid to Israel if it goes ahead with annexation.

The US-Israel relationship “will continue to be unbreakable in the sense the United States will always stand up for the security of the state of Israel,” Van Hollen told J Street. “There is a difference between ‘We’re not going to provide assistance if there is annexation’ and saying ‘The dollars of the United States cannot go toward unilateral annexation.’ It’s important to draw the line with respect to those dollars being used to advance unilateral annexation.

J Street came out this week in favor of the Van Hollen amendment.

Netanyahu has embraced the Trump administration peace plan, unveiled in January 2020, which has been entirely rejected by the Palestinians.

The prime minister has been pushing to move ahead with a key aspect of the plan that allows Israel to extend sovereignty to its settlements in the West Bank, and the Jordan Valley, together comprising about 30 percent of the West Bank territory. Under the US plan, the remaining 70% would be allocated to the Palestinians for a future state.

Though Netanyahu had set July 1 as a target date to unilaterally apply sovereignty, he has refrained from taking steps amid wide opposition in the international community and even Washington, and among his political allies.

Peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians have been moribund since 2014.

In a counter to the Trump plan, the Palestinians last month presented their own proposal and offered to restart direct negotiations on the basis of an Israeli withdrawal to pre-1967 lines, with minor border adjustments.

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