The New Annexation Battle: AIPAC vs. AOC

Organization lobbying Congress against letter calling for conditions to be placed on U.S. military aid to Israel if it unilaterally annexes parts of the West Bank

Amir Tibon
Amir Tibon
Benjamin Netanyahu speaks on a video from Israel to the 2019 AIPAC policy conference, March 26, 2019.
Benjamin Netanyahu speaks on a video from Israel to the 2019 AIPAC policy conference, March 26, 2019.Credit: AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana
Amir Tibon
Amir Tibon

WASHINGTON – The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is lobbying members of Congress against a new letter opposing unilateral Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank that is being promoted by four progressive Democratic congresswomen. The letter, spearheaded by New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is more critical of Israel than previous anti-annexation letters signed by Democratic lawmakers.

According to AIPAC, the letter – which is still being drafted and has not been finalized – contains a direct call for the U.S. government to place conditions and limitations on the continuation of U.S. military aid to Israel if its government goes through with unilateral annexation. An early draft of the letter indeed contains such language.

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The draft states that should Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government "move forward with the planned annexation with this administration’s acquiescence, we will work to ensure non-recognition as well as pursue conditions on the $3.8 billion in U.S. military funding to Israel, including human rights conditions and withholding funds for the off-shore procurement of Israeli weapons equal to or exceeding the amount the Israeli government spends annually to fund settlements.”

Apart from Ocasio-Cortez, the letter has also been signed by Reps. Betty McCollum of Minnesota, Pramila Jayapal of Washington, and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. It is expected to gain support mostly from left-wing Democrats in the House and perhaps a handful of Democrats in the Senate. The majority of elected Democrats oppose the idea of withholding or reducing U.S. military aid to Israel, as does the party's presumptive nominee for president, former Vice President Joe Biden.

AIPAC reacted to the letter by emphasizing that the current levels of military aid to Israel were set by the Barack Obama administration, in which Biden was vice president. “The letter rejects President Obama’s security assistance commitment to Israel,” AIPAC wrote on its official Twitter account. “Congress must continue to fully implement the Obama-Biden” understanding on security aid to Israel, the organization added.

The decision by AIPAC to publicly give credit to Biden for the large amount of security aid to Israel creates a something of a test for Netanyahu and Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, both of whom are seen by many pro-Israel Democrats in Washington as openly supportive of President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign. It’s unclear if they will also publicly acknowledge Biden’s involvement in crafting the 2016 memorandum of understanding on the military aid.

AIPAC also opposed an earlier anti-annexation letter that won the support of more than 190 Democrats in the House of Representatives, but did so much less publicly. That letter, which contained a more centrist and pro-Israeli argument against annexation, was eventually signed by many Democratic lawmakers considered allies of AIPAC and strong supporters of Israel.

In addition to the strong opposition among House Democrats, more than 30 Democrats in the Senate have also spoken out against unilateral Israeli annexation. This includes Democrats with strong pro-Israeli views such as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and the ranking Democratic member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Bob Menendez, who is also considered a close ally of AIPAC.

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