12 U.S. Lawmakers Call on Biden to Change Approach Toward Israel, Palestinians

In letter to Blinken, Democratic members of congress urge White House to condemn Israels home demolitions and settlement construction, demand it vaccinate Palestinians

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
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Three of the signatories Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley, this week
Congresswomen Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley. Jeremy Slevin, Omar's communications chief, criticizes the vilification of his boss.Credit: Drew Angerer / AFP
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels

WASHINGTON – Twelve Democratic members of Congress wrote U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday, calling on Joe Biden’s administration to engage with them to create “U.S. policy that supports the human rights and dignity of the Palestinian people.”

The letter, co-authored by Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Mark Pocan, was the first organized action by the progressive, pro-Palestinian flank of the party since the beginning of the Biden administration two months ago. Tlaib wrote on Twitter that she was proud to join the other signatories in the call for the State Department “to ground its engagement on Palestine and Israel in international law and human rights” and to reverse “the damage done” by former President Donald Trump.

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The lawmakers – including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Ayanna Pressley – wrote that they “look forward to establishing a new, mutually productive relationship... that results in U.S. policy that supports the human rights and dignity of the Palestinian people.” Omar recently questioned Blinken during a House Foreign Affairs Committee on whether the Biden administration would revoke sanctions on International Criminal Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda over her support for an investigation into alleged war crimes in the Palestinian territories, which Blinken said was still under review.

The lawmakers said they were “deeply dismayed by your immediate predecessor’s unwillingness to engage with us about our concerns related to U.S. policy toward Israel and Palestine,” asking Blinken to respond to letters on housing demolitions, humanitarian aid and West Bank annexation to better inform their legislative and policy oversight functions. They also called on the administration to officially rescind the Trump administration’s peace plan and make clear that no part of it will constitute the basis for any future U.S.-backed plan.

The lawmakers asked Blinken to probe Israel’s use of U.S. equipment in housing demolitions in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in violation of U.S. law, urging “effective and timely diplomatic action to end this policy” and for the White House to oppose all forms of “ongoing, de facto annexation” including “settler colonialism in any form – including Israel’s settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.”

They also called on Blinken to ensure that Israel will provide COVID-19 vaccines “to all Palestinians living under military occupation, including to the approximately 2 million Palestinians living in the besieged Gaza Strip.” Israel has begun vaccinating the more than 100,000 Palestinians with permits to work inside Israel or in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, but it has resisted international calls for it to assume responsibility for a wider campaign to vaccinate Palestinians.Israel’s Health Ministry said this week that Palestinians living in Israel without legal residency – a group thought to number in the thousands – will also be allowed to be vaccinated.

The other lawmakers to sign the letter are Reps. Andre Carson, Raul Grijalva, Hank Johnson, Betty McCollum, James McGovern, Marie Newman and Chellie Pingree.

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