WASHINGTON – Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders has added his name to a public letter against Israel's plans to annex parts of the West Bank. The letter, which is being spearheaded by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, calls to limit or withhold U.S. military aid to Israel should it follow through with the proposed annexation.
Sanders is one of a dozen Democratic lawmakers, and the only one from the Senate, to join the letter, which has drawn strong denunciation from AIPAC on Monday.
The letter is different in content and tone from a more moderate anti-annexation letter that was released earlier this month and signed by over 190 Democratic members of the House of Representatives. That letter explained opposition to annexation mostly through pro-Israeli arguments, and was signed by several high-ranking Democrats who are considered strong supporters of Israel and close allies of AIPAC, such as Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD).
The Ocasio-Cortez letter, which now also enjoys Sanders’ support, is much more critical of Israel, and warns explicitly that unilateral annexation would create an "apartheid" reality on the ground.
It also includes a direct call to set conditions on U.S. military aid to Israel so that "U.S. taxpayers are not supporting annexation in any way," an idea that Sanders has been promoting for more than a year, and that has been rejected by the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, who has called it “outrageous.”
The letter clearly says annexation would "entrench human rights violations against the Palestinian people," pointing it out as a consequence of larger Israeli policy. "American taxpayers shouldn't be enabling violations of human rights anywhere, and Israel should be no exception," a Congressional source involved in discussions over the letter told Haaretz.
AIPAC came out against the letter in a series of tweets that included praise for Biden and former President Barack Obama for their administration’s policy of increasing military aid to Israel. “The letter rejects President Obama’s security assistance commitment to Israel,” AIPAC wrote, adding that “Congress must continue to fully implement the Obama-Biden” policy on security aid to Israel.
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The decision by AIPAC to publicly give credit to Biden for the large amount of security aid to Israel, creates an interesting test for Prime Minister Netanyahu and Israel’s Ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, both of whom are seen by many pro-Israeli Democrats in Washington as openly supportive of President Trump’s re-election. It’s unclear if they will also acknowledge publicly Biden’s involvement in crafting the 2016 “memorandum of understanding” regarding the military aid.
Democratic Majority for Israel, an organization that is trying to strengthen support for Israel within the Democratic Party, also denounced the letter and is lobbying members of Congress against signing it. The organization called the letter “bad policy and bad politics”.
The Democratic Party has been united in recent weeks in expressing opposition to annexation, but the new letter shows that there are splits within the party on the question of what should be America’s response to such a step. The vast majority of Democrats are closer to the position staked out by Biden, who has denounced annexation but at the same time, rejected the calls to limit military aid to Israel. The group of lawmakers who signed the recent letter represent a more left-wing and critical approach that Sanders has been promoting over the past two years.
Meanwhile, the Dutch parliament adopted a motion on Tuesady calling on the government to “identify options of measures possibly to be taken should Israel proceed with annexation of Palestinian territory.”
This follows a similar motion passed on Friday by the Belgian parliament, which together with other proposals being advanced in several EU member states could affect the European stance on the issue.
Noa Landau contributed to this report