Senate Democrats call for conditions on US aid to Israel two months into war with Hamas

By Isaac M December 7, 2023

Senate Democrats expressed openness to adding conditions to aid to Israel as its war with Hamas enters its second month.

Democratic senators spoke to The Independent the day after Republicans blocked a vote on a $110.5bn supplemental bill that would have included aid not just to Israel but also to Ukraine and to assist with enforcement on the US-Mexico border.

But as the war carries on after a humanitarian pause that included the freeing of some hostages to Israel in exchange for allowing aid to come into Gaza broke down, a number of Democratic senators have said there should be stipulations for aid to Israel to achieve peace with Palestinians.

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont sent a letter to his colleagues on 5 December condemning a $10bn appropriation of aid to Israel, criticising the actions of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

“No, I do not think we should be appropriating $10.1bn for the right-wing, extremist Netanyahu government to continue its current military strategy,” Mr Sanders wrote. “What the Netanyahu government is doing is immoral, it is in violation of international law, and the United States should not be complicit in those actions.”

Mr Sanders, who is Jewish and lived on a kibbutz in Israel, has received criticism from some progressives for not supporting a ceasefire. On Wednesday, he joined Republicans in blocking the supplemental legislation because of his concerns about the Israeli government.

“I think you are beginning to see more and more members of the Senate expressing concerns about a blank check for Netanyahu is right-wing extremist government and their really horrific military policies,” he told The Independent.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, told The Independent she supports aid that “moves towards a two-state solution instead of away from it.”

On Wednesday, Ms Warren delivered a speech about the war with Hamas calling for the release of all hostages, as well as the indiscriminate bombing of Israel, but also for both parties to move toward a two-state solution.

“Palestinians are not Hamas, and they should not be punished for Hamas’ terrorism,” Ms Warren said.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu and his right-wing war cabinet have created a humanitarian catastrophe, killing thousands of Palestinian civilians and risking a wider conflict in the Middle East,” she continued.

In addition, Sen Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, as well as Sens Brian Schatz of Hawaii and Dick Durbin of Illinois, who became the first senator to call for a ceasefire, included an amendment in the National Defense Authorization Act, and released their amendment to the supplemental aid package that would require any country that receives aid to comply with international humanitarian law and the law of armed conflict.

“I would be in favour of conditional support for any country that receives military assistance from the United States,” Mr Durbin, the Senate Majority Whip, told The Independent.

Meanwhile, Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the Biden administration has been “very effective” in its conversations with Israel.

“We are very concerned about Palestinians, and we are very concerned about all the different issues,” Mr Cardin told The Independent. “I think the Biden administration’s had impact on Israel’s calculations and decision making, which is good. That’s how allies should work.”

Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia said that the humanitarian conditions in Gaza needed to be addressed.

“From a human rights point of view and for Israel’s own security, the manner in which this war has prosecuted matters,” Mr Warnock told The Independent.

Mr Schatz of Hawaii told The Independent that all aid to foreign countries comes with conditions and that all federal dollars have reporting requirements.

“And so, ‘conditioning,’ has become like some sort of incantation and part of what they do. But there’s no doubt about us that ever gets spent without any conditions,” he said. “And so the question is, how is this statute going to be?”

Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin said that her focus is on the southern border, but that “military aid to US allies ought to be aligned with our values.”

Ms Baldwin previously joined 33 fellow Senators in calling for humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank in the weeks following Hamas’ 7 October attack on Israel.

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