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Biden urged to condition aid to Israel and relocate embassy: Advocacy groups

Joe Biden has pledged to maintain unconditional military funding to Israel and keep US embassy in Jerusalem
Biden has repeatedly pledged to never place conditions on annual $3.8bn military assistance to Israel (Reuters)
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Washington

A coalition of more than 50 organisations is urging Joe Biden to change Washington's policies in the Middle East by placing conditions on aid to Israel and moving the US embassy from Jerusalem.

In the latest call challenging the presumptive Democratic nominee's pro-Israel policies, anti-war, faith-based, left-wing and Palestine solidarity groups called on Biden to be an honest broker in the conflict.

"Providing Israel's government with unlimited diplomatic protection and massive military financing has enabled the country to entrench its occupation, expand its illegal settlements, impose a 13-year-long siege and wage three wars against Gaza, pass laws that officially deny equal rights to Israeli citizens who are not Jewish, all under the veneer of peacemaking," the letter read.

Addressed primarily to the Biden campaign but to President Donald Trump as well, it calls for "explicit opposition to Israel's occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem" from both presidential candidates. 

It was signed by dozens of groups, including Code Pink, Council on American-Islamic Relations, American Friends Service Committee and Jewish Voice for Peace Action.

List of demands

The statement enumerates a list of demands that it says "many American voters, including many Jewish voters, young voters, and voters of color are looking for".

That includes "support for conditioning US military funding to Israel on an end to Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights and adherence to all relevant US laws, including the Arms Export Control Act and the Leahy Law," which bans military assistance to human rights violators.

It also calls for support for Congresswoman Betty McCollum's bill that prohibits US funds from contributing to the imprisonment of Palestinian children and for promising to move the US embassy back to Tel Aviv from Jerusalem.

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Since taking office early in 2017, Trump has embarked on a series of pro-Israel moves that have further diminished Palestinians' hopes of a viable state and solidified Israel's occupation and territorial expansion in the region.

The US president has moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, recognised Israel's sovereignty over the Syrian Golan Heights, cut funding to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) and released a plan that would allow Israel to annex large parts of the West Bank. 

His administration has also declared that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are not necessarily illegal, in contradiction with a 2016 UN Security Council resolution that called them a "flagrant violation of international law".

Still, despite a deep hostility between Democrats and the Republican president on most issues, the Biden campaign has pledged to maintain US support for Israel. 

While Biden has verbally denounced the looming annexation of parts of the West Bank, he and his campaign have repeatedly pledged to never condition the annual $3.8bn military assistance to Israel. 

The former vice president has also vowed to keep the US embassy in Jerusalem, saying that he did not agree with the Trump move, "but now that it's done" he wouldn't reverse it.

'Racist' remarks

Biden's campaign also drew the ire of Palestine rights activists when it released a statement condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement for what it called "letting Palestinians off the hook for their choices".

That sentence, which has been described as "racist" by Palestinian rights advocates, was removed without explanation or apology from Biden's website last month.

That wasn't the only time the Biden campaign has been accused of racism. Last month, top Biden aide Tony Blinken repeated an anti-Arab trope during a virtual meeting with a pro-Israel Democratic group.

"In the category of 'Never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity,' I think a reminder to Palestinians... that they can and should do better and deserve better and that requires leadership, leadership to make clear the reality of the Jewish state, leadership to make clear the need to end incitement and violence, leadership to bring people along for the prospect of negotiating," Blinken said at the time.

He was invoking the controversial words of the late Israeli diplomat Abba Eban - "The Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity."

"Biden's campaign is so beholden to AIPAC that they have adopted racist tropes to define Palestinians, the same tropes used to justify apartheid policies," Abed Ayoub, the legal director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, told MEE at the time, referring to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a lobbying group that presses for US support for Israel.

Anti-war groups have called on Biden in the past to rethink US foreign policy, including military aid to Israel, but his campaign has continued with its pro-Israel advocacy.