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Republican senators vow to delay Biden nominees over 'anti-Israel' policies

Senators link Biden administration's decision to suspend transfer of funds for research projects in occupied West Bank to BDS movement
Senator Ted Cruz speaks during business hearing of Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on 11 May 2023 (AFP)

Fourteen Republican US senators said they would work to delay confirmation of State Department officials unless the Biden administration reverses its “antisemitic boycott of Israel”.

“It is untenable for State Department officials to continue testifying to Congress that they support the US-Israel relationship and then – once out of view – to push policies designed to undermine that relationship,” lawmakers that include Republican Senators Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio, James Risch, Tom Cotton, and Ted Cruz wrote Tuesday in a letter addressed to US President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The lawmakers zeroed in on the Biden administration's decision last month to suspend the transfer of funds for research, science or technology projects taking place in the occupied West Bank.

The move reversed a Trump-era policy decision in late 2020, which allowed US taxpayer funding to be used for science and technology projects in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank for the first time since 1967.

The lawmakers said the agreement to withhold funding to the occupied West Bank had been reached “decades ago” against the backdrop of “unique regional conditions”, and accused the Biden administration of reversing the Trump decision away from public and congressional scrutiny.

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A State Department spokesperson previously told Axios, which first reported the move, the US had circulated foreign policy guidance to US agencies, advising that engaging in bilateral scientific and technological cooperation with Israel in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights was inconsistent with decades-long US foreign policy.

Senators' threat

In their letter, the lawmakers referred to the occupied West Bank by their Hebrew names, Judea and Samaria. Israel has occupied the region - the envisioned future home of a Palestinian state - since capturing it from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war.

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The lawmakers warned that “any effort to deepen American policies that discriminate between territories Israel controlled before and after June 1967 will risk a full rupture in my/our ability to engage the Department of State on these issues”.

The senators' threat to hold up nominees could hinder the Biden administration’s foreign policy because the Democratic Party holds a thin majority in the Senate. The post of US ambassador to Israel will itself be vacant later this summer after US ambassador to Israel Tom Nides leaves. 

The lawmakers sought to equate the Biden administration's move with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a Palestinian-led nonviolent initiative that seeks to challenge Israel's occupation of the West Bank through economic, cultural and academic boycotts similar to those employed against apartheid-era South Africa.

The movement has gained supporters in the US, but also opponents, with 36 states introducing anti-BDS laws or executive orders, according to the legal advocacy group, Palestine Legal

“The American people and Congress broadly and deeply oppose boycott efforts against Israel, which have been repeatedly defined in US law as efforts to limit commercial with persons doing business in any territories controlled by Israel,” the lawmakers said.

Two-state solution vanishing

The Biden administration has listed the two-state solution in the Israel-Palestine conflict as a priority in its foreign policy strategy. Most previous US administrations have all voiced support for a two-state solution.

Analysts, however, have warned that a two-state solution has become increasingly unviable because of Israel’s construction of illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Nearly 700,000 Israeli settlers live in more than 250 settlements and outposts across the West Bank and East Jerusalem in violation of international law.

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Israeli violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank has also heightened over the past few months, culminating in an Israeli military operation in the city of Jenin that killed 12 Palestinians and left scores of others wounded.

In a report released on Monday, the UN special rapporteur on the Palestinian territories said the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories has turned the West Bank into an open-air prison for Palestinians.

The Republicans' warning, and charge that the Biden administration is opposed to Israel, underlines just how much sway Israel maintains in Washington.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently said that "America has provided Israel with moral and political backing”, adding that "Security cooperation [with the US] has never been better, intelligence sharing has never been deeper."

Although the Biden administration has snubbed far-right members of Netanyahu’s government and has refused to extend a White House invite to the Israeli leader, it has generally backed it in the occupied West Bank.

Experts, including former senior US officials, have told MEE that the Biden administration has refused to draw any red lines against Israel’s increasing use of sophisticated weaponry in military operations in the occupied West Bank.

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