Top Democrat on House Appropriations says U.S. needs to look at ‘guardrails’ on aid to Israel

Rep. Rosa DeLauro said restrictions should be considered ‘in the same way that I think about guardrails around any funding that goes to UNRWA’

Nathan Posner/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) speaks during a press conference following a caucus meeting in Washington D.C., on January 10, 2023.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), the ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, said that the U.S. should consider placing additional restrictions on aid to Israel after a recent trip to Israel and the West Bank.

“We need to take a look at guardrails,” DeLauro told Jewish Insider on Friday, “in the same way that I think about guardrails around any funding that goes to UNRWA… I think one has to look at guardrails.”

She said she didn’t have a specific proposal for what that might entail, “but we’re reaching the point where we have to take a look at that.”

DeLauro, who is currently in talks with House and Senate leaders over 2024 government funding levels, also said that aid for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) should continue, with “guardrails about their vetting process,” describing UNRWA as the only agency with the infrastructure to deliver aid to Palestinians both in Gaza and around the region.

“Let’s correct what’s wrong,” DeLauro, who traveled to Israel with J Street last month, said. “But I think that we can have the appropriations process move forward and continue with funding for UNRWA but with guardrails and reform around their process.”

She did not suggest any desire to modify the Senate-passed supplemental bill to provide aid to UNRWA through that mechanism; the Senate bill specifically forbids any aid to the U.N. agency. She urged House Republicans to bring the bill forward for a vote.

DeLauro and the other lawmakers who participated in the J Street-sponsored trip — Reps. Mark Takano (D-CA), Salud Carbajal (D-CA), Madeleine Dean (D-PA), Sean Casten (D-IL) and Becca Balint (D-VT) — issued a joint statement on Friday accusing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of “moving toward the total destruction of Gaza and has demonstrated an utter disregard for Palestinian lives,” and of pursuing “a permanent occupation of Gaza,” despite his public pushback.

DeLauro echoed that message in speaking to JI, saying that “we are witnessing the total destruction of Gaza and the unbelievable loss of civilian lives. We cannot sit by and do nothing.”

“My fear is one of the things Prime Minister Netanyahu is doing is isolating Israel and putting Israel at greater risk,” she continued

She emphasized, however, “that doesn’t make it any less stark for me, what happened [on Oct. 7]. I condemn Hamas.” She said “Hamas has got to be defeated militarily, it cannot be any part of a day after,” and described the “inhumanity, the barbarism” of the Hamas attack as “unspeakable.”

The trip included conversations with hostage families and Israelis displaced from their homes along the border, a visit to the site of the Nova music festival massacre and meetings with Israeli leaders. Lawmakers also visited the West Bank, meeting with Palestinians forced out of their villages by settler violence and Palestinian Authority leaders.

Both sides, DeLauro argued, are experiencing “a great loss of a sense of security, a sense of hope, just lost on all sides.”

The joint statement outlined a plan for Gaza and ultimately a two-state solution, beginning with an immediate six-week minimum pause in fighting with the release of all remaining hostages, an increase in aid to Gaza and resumed commercial traffic into the enclave, continued UNRWA funding and a “radically different plan” for displaced Palestinians from Rafah. 

The lawmakers also called for the U.S. to “[expand] the use” of sanctions on Israeli settlers involved in violence.

DeLauro — whose delegation did not travel to Gaza — said she did not find credible Israel’s assertions that delays in aid are primarily due to the inability of organizations inside Gaza to dispense it rapidly enough. She argued that the failure to ensure greater humanitarian aid is hurting Israel as well.

“The hopes, the dream of Israel and what it stands for, those values, are being torn asunder because of not allowing this humanitarian assistance to flow through,” she told JI.

The J Street delegation members called for “reforming the Palestinian Authority’s prisoners’ payments program” — otherwise known as martyr payments — so that the U.S. can resume aid to the PA in line with the Taylor Force Act, in addition to new PA elections.

DeLauro described herself as “pleasantly encouraged” by her conversation with PA officials, citing the PA cabinet’s decision to resign and an apparent willingness from the officials with whom the delegation met to pursue reforms.

The former Appropriations chair said she observed new energy behind and increased discussion of a two-state solution during her visit, as compared to a previous visit two years ago, “from everyone except the Israeli government.”

She called Israel’s push for “buffer zones” between Israel and the population of Gaza after the war untenable, given Egypt’s opposition and because they would shrink the territory of Gaza.

The plan released by DeLauro and other other lawmakers additionally calls for stronger regional cooperation with the U.S to combat Iran and its proxy groups and militias, security assurances for Israel as part of any two-state solution and Israeli participation in planning for a Palestinian state.

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