Four progressive congresswomen circulate letter threatening to condition aid to Israel over annexation

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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) at SXSW 2019.

Four Democratic members of Congress are said to be circulating a letter among their House colleagues warning of the political implications that could result from Israel’s planned annexation of portions of the West Bank.

The letter, a copy of which was obtained by Jewish Insider, is addressed to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and is being circulated by Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Betty McCollum (D-MN). The letter suggests that annexation, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said could begin as soon as this week, would “lay the groundwork for Israel becoming an apartheid state.”

The progressive congresswomen also warn the State Department that if Israel’s makes the move, they will “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, as well as the policies and practices that sustain and enable them.”

In a rare preemptive statement on Twitter — presumably directed at other members of the Democratic caucus — AIPAC said it “opposes the letter” because it “explicitly threatens the U.S.-Israel relationship in ways that would damage American interests, risk the security of Israel & make a two-state solution less likely.”  

UPDATED on 06-30-20: Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), André Carson (D-IN), Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), Bobby Rush (D-IL), Jesús “Chuy” Garcia (D-IL), and Danny Davis (D-IL), as well as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), have added their signatures to the letter.

Read the full text of the draft letter below: 

The Honorable Mike Pompeo

Secretary of State

U.S. Department of State

2201 C Street NW Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Pompeo:

We write to you to express our deep concern over the planned annexation of occupied Palestinian territory by the government of Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said annexation could begin as early as July 1, 2020. Should the Israeli government move forward with these plans, they would actively harm prospects for a future in which all Israelis and Palestinians can live with full equality, human rights and dignity, and would lay the groundwork for Israel becoming an apartheid state, as your predecessor John Kerry warned in 2014. We call on you to take all necessary action available to reverse course on this proposal, which will deeply harm U.S. relations with Israel and Palestinians for decades to come. While the full scope and the details of the plan are not yet public, Palestinians have overwhelmingly rejected the idea of annexation and were not at the table for discussions leading to this point, having understandably refused to participate in a process that is not grounded in a recognition of their national rights under international law.

Leading human rights experts warn that annexing parts of the West Bank will perpetuate and entrench human rights violations against Palestinians including limitations on freedom of movement, mass expropriation of privately-owned Palestinian land, further expansion of illegal settlements, continued demolitions of Palestinian homes, and a loss of Palestinian control over their natural resources. Furthermore, Israel has stated it will not grant citizenship to Palestinians living in annexed territory, paving the path toward an apartheid system. Indeed, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967 has stated that it would “crystalize a 21st century apartheid, leaving in its wake the demise of the Palestinians’ right to self-determination.”

Of further concern, the Israeli government’s stated intention to annex the West Bank is a clear violation of international law. Annexation is prohibited by Article 2(4) of the UN Charter and is a prohibited act of aggression under Article 47 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, of which Israel is a party. Forty-seven of the independent Special Procedures mandates appointed by the Human Rights Council at the United Nations reaffirm this. Further, already existing Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, amount to a war crime under Article 8(2)(b)(viii) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court because Israel, as the Occupying Power, is prohibited from transferring, either directly or indirectly, parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.

Annexation is notably prohibited because it incites armed conflict, political and economic instability, systematic human rights abuses, and, most importantly, legitimizes the erasure of identity. The situation is no different here, nor has it been. Acre by acre de facto annexation since 1967 for the purpose of new Israeli settlements is a blatant attempt to suppress Palestinian identity and nationhood.

The U.S. should work to build a future in which all Palestinians and Israelis live under full equality by upholding a foreign policy that centers human rights and dignity for all people. We therefore call on you to use a combination of pressure and incentives to stop Israel’s plans to illegally annex the West Bank, which would ensure a worsening of the situation for all Palestinians and Israelis.

Unilateral annexation in the West Bank would alienate U.S. lawmakers and citizens. We cannot support an undemocratic system in which Israel would permanently rule over a Palestinian people denied self-determination or equal rights. Should the Israeli 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, as well as the policies and practices that sustain and enable them.

We must remain committed to a future in which all Israelis and Palestinians live with full rights, dignity, and democracy. This means ensuring that we do not support or engage in any acts that actively harm Israelis and Palestinians, or this future. 

Thank you for your consideration of this request.

This post was updated.

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