May 20, 2024

Some Senate Democrats are mulling different methods for pressuring Israel to abandon its planned invasion of Rafah as part of its effort to eliminate Hamas, including blocking arms sales to the country if they go ahead. The lawmakers cite humanitarian concerns as their reason for pressuring President Joe Biden to do more to rein in Israel.

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Congressional action to block U.S. arms sales to Israel is “certainly something that’s on the table” if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launches a large-scale invasion of Rafah, a top senator said Tuesday.

The remarks by Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) come amid pressure from Democrats for President Joe Biden to take a tougher tack in his rift with Netanyahu over Israel’s strategy in Gaza. Netanyahu said in an interview published Sunday that he intends to press ahead with a Rafah invasion in defiance of Biden’s warning that such an offensive would be a “red line.”

“And so if the president’s gonna say something’s a red line, it’s essential the president have an accountability structure,” Van Hollen said in an interview, adding that Netanyahu’s comments show “why it’s all the more important that if we’re going to mean what we say, it’s very important to have … accountability.”

Van Hollen said this would not apply to defensive weapons the U.S. provides Israel, such as Iron Dome.

Netanyahu has remained undeterred in the face of growing calls for Israel to abandon its effort to eradicate the Hamas threat in Gaza. Over the weekend he told an interviewer, regarding Rafah: “We’ll go there. We’re not going to leave them. You know, I have a red line. You know what the red line is? That October 7 doesn’t happen again. Never happens again.”

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Anti-Israel Democrats and the United Nations claim that humanitarian conditions in Gaza are quite dire, but Israeli defense officials dispute that characterization:

“The food shortage and use of the word ‘hunger’ have been exaggerated,” a senior Israeli defense official told me on Thursday during a briefing. “There is no hunger in Gaza,” he said, explaining that most of the food that Israel has been sending into the Strip has “immediately been taken by Hamas terrorists, who then sell some of the supplies for ten times more than what it’s worth.”

The official further noted that “Every family has enough food to survive…We have been supplying them with aid as well as the US, but unfortunately, it wasn’t distributed to the citizens themselves.”

Van Hollen is one of seven Senate Democrats who sent a letter to Biden on Monday claiming that military aid to Israel is in violation of the Foreign Assistance Act, which prohibits military support to any nation that impedes the delivery of humanitarian aid. Israel denies blocking the delivery of any humanitarian aid to Gaza. 

A group of Senate Democrats led by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) are demanding President Biden comply with the Foreign Assistance Act and cut off military aid to Israel.

The senators argued in a Monday letter to Biden that Section 620I of the Foreign Assistance Act requires the Biden administration halt the sale and transfer of weapons to Israel if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government continues to block U.S. humanitarian assistance to Gaza.

“The United States should not provide military assistance to any country that interferes with U.S. humanitarian assistance,” they wrote, noting the language of the statute would still allow the United States to provide missile defense systems and supplies, such as the Iron Dome, to protect Israeli civilians from rocket attacks.

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Ultra-progressive Democrats in both chambers of Congress have been trying to figure out how to influence U.S. foreign policy to go against Israel, and with the pending invasion of Rafah, they’re sure to increase those efforts.


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Biden Admin Wants to See Israel’s ‘Credible and Implementable’ Plan to Protect Civilians in Rafah – Why?

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