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Leading progressive US senators call for conditioning aid to Israel

Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders say Washington should use aid as leverage to push for peace between Israelis and Palestinians
Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders during a Democratic presidential debate, 25 February 2020 (AFP/File photo)
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Washington

Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, two leading progressive US senators, have called for imposing conditions on American military aid to Israel, mirroring the growing willingness in the Democratic Party to question Washington's relationship with the Israeli government. 

Speaking separately on Monday to J Street, an advocacy group that describes itself as pro-Israel and pro-peace, the senators called for protecting the human rights of Palestinians.

"If we're serious about arresting settlement expansion and helping move the parties toward a two-state solution, then it would be irresponsible not to consider all of the tools we have at our disposal," said Warren, a Massachusetts progressive who sought the US presidency last year.

"One of those is restricting military aid from being used in the occupied territories. By continuing to provide military aid without restriction, we provide no incentive for Israel to adjust course."

Warren had voiced commitment for Israel's security, but her call for restrictions on the $3.8bn annual US assistance comes amid growing calls in the left-wing of the Democratic party for using the aid as leverage to end Israeli abuses against Palestinians.

'The American people do not want to see that money being used to support policies that violate human rights'

- Bernie Sanders

Sanders, who also ran for president in 2020, was more forceful in his statement about conditioning US assistance to Israel. He noted that the Israeli government receives an "enormous amount" of funds from Washington. 

The senator called for the assistance to be used to pressure the parties against moves that undermine peace.

"In terms of aid to Israel - in my view - the American people do not want to see that money being used to support policies that violate human rights and that treat the Palestinian people as second class human beings," Sanders said.

The senators' comments come days after Congresswoman Betty McCollum, backed by 13 House progressives, introduced a bill that would prohibit US aid from being used to fund human rights abuses against Palestinians, including the detention of children and home demolitions.

President Joe Biden has categorically ruled out conditioning or redistricting aid to Israel, dismissing the idea proposed by Sanders during the presidential campaign as "bizarre".

As president, Biden's top aides have regularly asserted that US support for Israel is ironclad.

Denouncing the occupation

Earlier this month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told his Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi, according to the State Department, that Washington believes "Israelis and Palestinians should enjoy equal measures of freedom, security, prosperity, and democracy."

The Biden administration has also moved to restore humanitarian assistance to Palestinians suspended under former President Donald Trump.

Still, Biden has been reluctant to criticise Israel publicly over its policies against Palestinians - let alone condition aid.

Both Sanders and Warren denounced the occupation on Monday.

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Sanders said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was working towards a one-state reality where Israel controls all the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, while Palestinians are kept in a "disconnected series of districts".

"I am here to say that that is not an acceptable outcome," the senator said. "We must be willing to proclaim loudly and clearly: The occupation must end."

He said Washington should help broker an agreement "that ends the occupation that began in 1967, and enables the self-determination, security and equality of both peoples".

For her part, Warren said US policy should advance the interests of both the Palestinians and Israelis.

"The United States cannot stand for security, human rights, and dignity and, at the same moment, turn a blind eye to the suffering of Palestinians under Israeli occupation," she said. 

"Palestinians deserve to live in freedom and prosperity."

Warren also described Israel's policies of settlement expansion in the West Bank as "de facto annexation". 

The Israeli government had shelved plans to formally annex large parts of the West Bank last year after striking a normalisation deal with the United Arab Emirates.

"The Netanyahu government may have put aside formal annexation for now, but the continued growth of these settlements and the destruction of Palestinian homes amounts to de facto annexation," Warren said on Monday.