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Israel annexation: Proposed legislation would ban US aid from funding plan

A dozen US senators introduce amendment to Pentagon budget that would prohibit use of military assistance to Israel to facilitate annexation
Israeli security forces chase Palestinians protesting against plan to annex parts of occupied West Bank, near Ramallah on 1 July (AFP)
By Ali Harb in Washington

A group of 12 US Senators proposed on Thursday legislation that would ensure American military aid to Israel would not be used to fund Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's annexation plans in the latest effort in Congress to oppose the looming Israeli move.

The legislators proposed an amendment to the US defence budget for 2021 that would prohibit the use of American funds "to deploy defense articles, services or training" in annexed territories in the West Bank or to facilitate their annexation.

Chris Van Hollen introduced the proposal, which was backed by key Democrats, including Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, Tim Kaine, Chris Murphy, Tammy Baldwin, Jeff Merkley and Patrick Leahy as well as independent progressive leader Bernie Sanders.

Van Hollen slammed annexation in a 38-minute speech on the Senate floor on Thursday, detailing how Israel's plans would end the prospects of the two-state solution and harm US interests in the region.

"It will harm our national security interests and credibility by undermining the fundamental principles of international law that we, the United States, have championed since the end of World War Two," Van Hollen said of Israel's plan for unilateral annexation.

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International law

Israel receives $3.8bn in US aid each year, in accordance with a memorandum of understanding signed by then President Barack Obama in 2016. 

Thursday's amendment comes two days after 13 progressive US legislators, including Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo vowing to impose conditions on US assistance to Israel if it proceeds with its annexation plans. 

Netanyahu's government had set a 1 July deadline to start the process of annexing parts of the West Bank, but by Thursday evening it had not made any announcements on the matter amid global outrage. 

Israel captured the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in the 1967 war. Since then, it has maintained military control and built settlements in the territory in violation of international law that prohibits occupying powers from transferring their civilian population to occupied areas.

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On Thursday, Van Hollen said if Washington accepts the anticipated Israeli move, the US would lose credibility in defending a global order based on international law. 

"It is well established that one country cannot take territory gained from another in war," he said.

The senator, a Maryland Democrat, cited a "raft of angry statements" against Russia's annexation of Crimea.

"The whole reason to abide by a rules-based system is to say not only 'no' to your adversaries; you must also say 'no' to your friends. Otherwise, it's not a rules-based system at all; it's a global jungle," Van Hollen said.

He stressed that he supports US military aid to Israel, but one of the goals of the aid is to secure a two-state solution, which would be all but impossible after annexation.

"I do not believe that the United States government and the United States taxpayer should be aiding and abetting Prime Minister Netanyahu's plan to unilaterally annex the West Bank," the senator added. "The American government and the American taxpayer must not facilitate or finance such a process."

Pentagon budget and Israel

Still, the amendment has a long road ahead to become law, even if it is approved by the Republican-controlled Senate. 

Each year, both the Senate and the House of Representatives pass their own versions of the Pentagon budget - known as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The leaders of select committees in both chambers then negotiate a unified draft bill.

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Both parties try to jam as many amendments and legislative priorities as possible into the law, sometimes unrelated to military matters, because the NDAA is a so-called must-pass bill. The final bill usually passes with overwhelming bipartisan support with caveats that not all of its backers agree on.

But the proposal demonstrates a growing concern over annexation plans in Congress - a branch of the US government that is normally unquestioning in its support of Israel.

"The US must remain steadfast in its support for a two-state solution, which is the world’s best hope to preserve Israel’s Jewish and democratic nature, while also fulfilling the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination," Senator Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, said in a statement on Thursday. 

"This amendment is a critical reaffirmation of America’s historical commitment to supporting that vision, and would ensure that American taxpayer dollars are not wasted on a dangerous West Bank annexation that would cripple the path towards peace and undermine Israel’s long-term stability and security."

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