Thanks to Ocasio-Cortez, Congress could finally hold Israel accountable

Thanks to Ocasio-Cortez, Congress could finally hold Israel accountable
5 min read
30 Jun, 2020
Comment: Rep. Ocasio-Cortez is showing real leadership by firmly grounding her opposition to Israeli annexation in Palestinian human and national rights, writes Josh Ruebner.
AOC's letter to Pompeo opposing annexation was signed by Tlaib, Sanders, Omar and others [Getty]
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to move forward with plans to illegally annex additional swaths of the militarily occupied Palestinian West Bank as soon as Wednesday, with the backing and coordination of the Trump administration and the complicitly of most Republicans in Congress.

Trump signaled his support for unilateral Israeli annexation of as much of 30 percent of the West Bank outside the framework of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations when he released his so-called "Peace to Prosperity" plan in January.

Despite the Trump administration's seal of approval for Israeli annexation, US and Israeli officials reportedly are struggling to find common ground in their approach to the modalities. 

Last week, the White House held high-level meetings to determine the US position, with US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, a staunch supporter of Israel's colonisation of Palestinian land, arguing for immediate, maximal annexation, while senior adviser Jared Kushner proposed a more cautious approach.

These splits within the Trump administration are mirrored in Israeli politics, with Netanyahu pushing a more aggressive line and Defense Minister Benny Gantz reportedly urging annexation be implemented "responsibly", according to a source in his Blue and White Party.

Whatever the eventual contours of annexation are agreed to by the Trump administration and Israel, without the input of the Palestinian side - whose land will be formally stripped from them - a majority of Republicans in Congress will wholeheartedly endorse it. 

It is unsurprising that members of the party of white supremacy in the United States would similarly back Israeli apartheid

Last week, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and six Republican colleagues, sent Trump a letter advocating Israeli annexation, which Cruz euphemistically referred to as "extend[ing] Israeli civil law into some of its [sic] territories." For Cruz, this is solely a "sovereign decision of our Israeli allies" in which Palestinians have no say. 

By arguing for Israeli sovereignty over occupied Palestinian territory without providing Palestinians therein with rights under Israeli civil law, Cruz is favouring Israel's separate-and-unequal rule over the Palestinian people in perpetuity. It is unsurprising that members of the party of white supremacy in the United States would similarly back Israeli apartheid.

A similar letter was sent last week to Netanyahu by a majority of GOP Representatives, including its leadership team of Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), and Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R-WY).

Although most Republicans are unabashedly backing Israel's illegal annexation, most Democrats are offering only tepid disapproval. In May, Democratic senators watered down a letter opposing annexation by removing any mention of potential adverse consequences for Israel if it proceeded.

A graphic put out by the White House as part of its 'Peace to Prosperity' plan [White House]

Last week, almost all members of the Democratic caucus in the House sent Netanyahu, Gantz, and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi a letter outlining their case that Israeli annexation would be detrimental to Israel's interests of "normalisation with Arab states," and would risk "insecurity in Jordan" and "problems for Israel with its European friends."

There was no word of Palestinian rights, with only a perfunctory nod toward the eventual establishment of a "de-militarised Palestinian state". The framing of Israeli annexation as inimical to Israel's interests came as no shock as three of the four Representatives who led the letter - Reps. Ted Deutsch (D-FL), Brad Schneider (D-IL), and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) - are strong supporters of Israel.

One bright spot in this otherwise bleak landscape is a strongly-worded letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo circulated by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), and signed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Reps. Betty McCollum (D-MN), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Andre Carson (D-IN), Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), Bobby Rush (D-IL), Chuy García (D-IL), and Danny Davis(D-IL), which firmly grounds opposition to Israeli annexation in terms of Palestinian human and national rights.

According to the letter, Israeli annexation would "perpetuate and entrench human rights violations against the Palestinian people, 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."

In addition to situating annexation within the framework of Palestinian rights, the letter is also notable for its references to international law, which are almost always lacking in US policy discussions of Israeli-Palestinian issues.

Ocasio-Cortez demonstrates the kind of leadership which is urgently needed to impose tangible costs on Israel

Calling annexation a "clear violation of international law," the lawmakers refer to Israel's colonisation of Palestinian land as a "war crime" as defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), signaling potential congressional support for the ICC's current investigation of the subject.

Most importantly, in uncategorically opposing an "undemocratic system in which Israel would permanently rule over a Palestinian people denied self-determination or equal rights," these Members of Congress promise to pursue tangible legislative consequences for Israel's actions.

They vow to condition future US funding to Israel by "withholding of funds for the offshore 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." 

Off-shore procurement is a benefit unique to Israel which allows it to spend approximately one-quarter of its US funding on its own domestic weapons industry. Although President Barack Obama phased out off-shore procurement in a 10-year memorandum of understanding signed in 2016, the subsidy still amounts to a substantial $800 million allocation this fiscal year. 

Ocasio-Cortez's promise to pursue halting off-shore procurement for Israel should it annex Palestinian land is a meaningful step, and demonstrates the kind of leadership which is urgently needed to impose tangible costs on Israel for continuing to violate Palestinian human rights.

Josh Ruebner is Senior Principal at Progress Up Consulting and is the author of Israel: Democracy or Apartheid State? and Shattered Hopes: Obama's Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace.

Follow him on Twitter: @joshruebner

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.