WASHINGTON – The American Israel Public Affairs Committee told its supporters this week that Israeli annexation of settlements in the West Bank should not lead to a change in relations with the United States, despite expressing a rhetorical commitment to the two-state solution.
The letter said that “some have proposed reducing our ties with Israel because they object to the potential decision by Israel’s leaders to extend Israeli sovereignty to parts of the West Bank. Doing anything to weaken this vital relationship would be a mistake.”
This paragraph refers to warnings by Sen. Bernie Sanders and other Democratic elected officials that annexation should be answered by limiting or withholding U.S. military aid to Israel.
The U.S. provides Israel with $3.8 billion annually in military aid, according to a memorandum of understanding between the two countries signed in 2016 by the administration of Barack Obama. At the time the MoU was signed, there was no talk of annexation by Israel.
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“Despite the increasingly close ties between the two allies, it is inevitable that there will be areas of political or policy disagreement between leaders on both sides – as there are between America and all our allies,” the letter read. It also said that a strong U.S.-Israel relationship benefits both countries and can help achieve peace between Israel and its neighbors.
AIPAC is the most influential lobby group working to ensure support for Israel in the United States, particularly in Congress. In recent years, it has been fighting hard to maintain a sense of bipartisan consensus regarding support for Israel, amid growing divisions in American politics and intense political cooperation between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Donald Trump to promote their own electoral needs at the expense of bipartisan agreements.
So far, the organization has not taken an official stance on the issue of annexation, but the letter – including the use of semantics preferred by the religious right wing in Israel, calling the controversial move “applying sovereignty” – indicates that if Netanyahu and Trump will indeed move forward on widespread annexation, AIPAC will support it.
AIPAC officially supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Annexation of all West Bank settlements, which is the goal that Netanyahu and Trump’s ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, is publically promoting, will make a two-state solution impossible to implement, and create a one-state reality on the ground.
The group did not explain in the letter how a two-state solution is compatible with annexation of all the settlements.
The debate on how the United States should respond to annexation has also caused tensions among two groups on the center-left in recent days. J Street, which strongly opposes annexation, supported an early draft of a letter circulated among Democratic senators, which stated that annexation will cause serious damage to the U.S.-Israel relationship.
The Democratic Majority for Israel, an organization that was founded last year and is trying to promote support for Israel within the Democratic Party, came out against the letter, claiming that while it is legitimate to oppose annexation, it should not lead to new conditions or restrictions on military aid to Israel.
The organization explained in a letter to supporters that it is adopting the positions expressed by former Vice President Joe Biden, who is the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee in this year’s general election. Biden has expressed opposition to annexation several time, but has also called the idea of limiting U.S. aid to Israel “outrageous” and wrong.
J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami wrote that he was “shocked to see the Democratic Majority for Israel emailing this false attack against senators working to protect the US-Israel relationship. Nowhere does the senate letter threaten aid.”
He added that if the organization truly opposes annexation, as it claims to do, “it should retract and join us in backing this letter today.”
Democratic Majority for Israel replied to Ben Ami by saying that the letter implied conditioning aid to Israel, and that the organization was not attacking any Senators, but was asking to make changes to the language of the letter.