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Israel-Palestine war: More US lawmakers support limiting aid to Israel after Netanyahu rejects Palestinian state

Chris Van Hollen became the latest US senator to call for a Gaza ceasefire and has put forth an amendment to condition aid to Israel
Palestinian families fleeing the city of Khan Younis on the coastal road leading to Rafah, on 22 January 2024 (AFP)

More US senators are signing an amendment that could condition military aid to Israel amid growing calls for a ceasefire in Gaza after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flatly rejected creating a Palestinian state.

Five Democratic Senators, including Tina Smith; Raphael Warnock; Laphonza Butler; Tammy Baldwin; and Jon Ossoff, announced on Friday they would back an amendment introduced by Senator Chris Van Hollen requiring countries that receive US weapons to use them in accordance with humanitarian and US law. 

The addition of five new senators brings the total backing Van Hollen’s amendment to 18, more than a third of the Senate Democratic caucus.

On Sunday, Van Hollen became the latest US Senator to call for a ceasefire in the war.

“You have Prime Minister Netanyahu again directly and publicly rebuffing the president of the United States,” Van Hollen said in an interview.

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“It is time we have a ceasefire….Biden needs to go big and bold. He needs to put forward the vision of a two-state solution." 

The Biden administration and Israel have been at odds over a post-war plan for Gaza since fighting erupted after the Hamas-led 7 October attack on southern Israel. Those differences have been awkwardly amplified, with Netanyahu publicly opposing the Biden administration’s call for steps to create a Palestinian state. 

“I shall not compromise on full Israeli security control of the entire area west of Jordan River - and that is irreconcilable with a Palestinian state,” Netanyahu said in a post on social media on Saturday.

But the growing support for Van Hollen’s bill shows how Netanyahu’s opposition is starting to cost Israel's allies within the Democratic Party.

Is Israel shedding Democratic allies?

The backing of lawmakers such as Tammy Baldwin is notable because she is generally aligned with the progressive camp of the Democratic Party, supporting the Iranian nuclear deal but at the same time opposing the Palestinian-led Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement and consistently backing military aid to Israel.

“I am pleased to see growing momentum behind our effort to ensure that American taxpayer dollars are used by our partners in a manner that aligns with our values and our interests,” Van Hollen said in a statement.

Other lawmakers, such as Georgia’s Raphael Warnock, joined early bipartisan measures after the Hamas-led 7 October attack that killed over 1,100 people and saw hundreds taken as captives, expressing support for Israel’s right to defend itself and backing the emergency resupply of weapons systems to Israel.

Israel is rejecting the US roadmap for a post-war Gaza as the death toll in the besieged enclave continues to rise.

In the last 24 hours, the Palestinian health ministry said Israel had conducted 20 attacks across the besieged enclave. The total number of Palestinians killed now stands at 25,295 - mainly women and children - with at least 63,000 wounded.

100 days of war in Gaza: Biden fails to achieve basic policy goals
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Despite criticising the mounting civilian death toll, the administration has done little to rein in the Israeli offensive, which Biden himself described as “indiscriminate”. 

Analysts and former senior US officials told Middle East Eye the administration continues to prioritise the degradation of Hamas, even as it increasingly questions how effective the Israeli offensive has been, disputing the number of casualties.

But efforts to put limits on the US’s military support in the Senate have so far failed to yield tangible results. 

Last week, the US Senate voted by an overwhelming margin of 72 to 11 to reject a resolution introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders that would have required the State Department to report to Congress any evidence of human rights violations by Israel in Gaza.

The Sander’s amendment invoked a code in the decades-old US foreign aid law which would have immediately frozen US military aid to Israel if the report was not produced in 30 days.

Van Hollen’s amendment also calls for the administration to report within 30 days whether recipients of US weapons are using them in accordance with US end-use monitoring, along with US and international law.

It also requires the president to report on how users of US weapons are mitigating harm to civilians and whether they are cooperating with US efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to civilians.

Van Hollen has staunchly criticised Israel for what he says is its lack of cooperation with the administration to provide more humanitarian assistance to Gaza and limit civilian casualties.

But the amendment allows the president to issue a waiver not to press the recipients of US weapons to cooperate on humanitarian assistance if it is deemed in the interests of US national security.

The amendment would also not apply to air defence systems or “other systems that the president determines will be used for strictly defensive purposes”.

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