Israel imposed a blockade of Gaza’s sea and land borders after Hamas seized control in 2007.
More than 300 US lawmakers, in a letter, have called on Washington to continue aid to Israel without conditions or reduction, a week after progressive Democratic legislators proposed a bill seeking to regulate American assistance in an effort to stop human rights abuse against Palestinians.
The letter addressed to the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, Rosa DeLauro, and signed by 328 lawmakers, urged Democrats and Republicans to fully fund the $3.8bn in annual security assistance to Israel that was authorised in 2016 as part of a 10-year memorandum of understanding between then-President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The move comes amid efforts by progressive Democrats to seek Israeli accountability for the treatment of Palestinians, including the detention of Palestinian children in the occupied West Bank.
The letter said, with aid being necessary for Israel to defend itself from “persistent threats”, “reducing funding or adding conditions on security assistance would be detrimental to Israel’s ability to defend itself against all threats”.
It cited a suspected Iranian attack on an Israeli-owned ship in the Gulf of Oman in February and anti-tank missiles launched by Lebanon’s Hezbollah against an Israeli military vehicle in 2019.
“American security assistance to Israel helps counter these threats, and our rock-solid security partnership serves as a deterrent against even more significant attacks on our shared interests,” said the letter.
It also highlighted that Israel provides the US with “unique intelligence information and advanced defensive weapons systems”. It added that US aid to Israel will help promote regional stability and address common challenges from Iran and its proxies in the Middle East.
“Our aid to Israel is a vital and cost-effective expenditure which advances important US national security interests in a highly challenging region,” the lawmakers from the Republican and Democratic parties wrote.
“For decades, Presidents of both parties have understood the strategic importance of providing Israel with security assistance,” they continued.
The statement was led by Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Ted Deutsch, the Democratic chair of the subcommittee on the Middle East.
While McCaul and Deutch acknowledged that some decisions made by the Israeli government might be problematic, they highlighted President Joe Biden’s commitment to providing security assistance without conditions.
“As President Biden has stated, ‘I’m not going to place conditions for the security assistance given the serious threats that Israel is facing, and this would be, I think, irresponsible'”, the letter said.
During his presidential campaign, Biden categorically ruled out conditioning aid to Israel. He dismissed as “bizarre” the proposal by Bernie Sanders to withhold US military aid from Israel if the government there does not moderate its treatment of Palestinians.
Earlier this week, top US Senators Elizabeth Warren and Sanders called for imposing conditions on American military aid to Israel, and for assistance to be used to pressure against moves that undermine peace.
Their calls came days after US Congresswoman Betty McCollum introduced a bill calling for the prohibition of US taxpayers’ money from being used in human rights violations against Palestinians and from funding the annexation or demolition of Palestinian homes.
The developments also follow the Biden administration’s announcement earlier this month of plans to resume funding for the United Nations agency that supports Palestinian refugees.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US would provide $150m in humanitarian assistance to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which has faced a dire financial situation since former US President Donald Trump cut the US assistance in 2018.
UNRWA provides aid and other services, including healthcare and education, to about 5.7 million Palestinian refugees in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, Lebanon, and Jordan.
The US has always been a staunch defender of Israel, but Trump took the relationship to new heights – and had a very close relationship with Netanyahu, Israel’s longstanding right-wing prime minister.
The Trump administration recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017 and moved the US embassy there. Trump also recognised settlements – considered illegal according to international law.
Jerusalem remains at the heart of the decades-long Middle East conflict, with the Palestinian Authority (PA) insisting that East Jerusalem – illegally occupied by Israel since 1967 – should serve as the capital of a Palestinian state.