In a notable test Tuesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders forced his colleagues to decide whether to investigate human rights abuses in the Israel-Hamas conflict, a step toward potentially limiting military aid American to Israel as its devastating attacks on Gaza have continued for 100 days.
Senators overwhelmingly rejected the initiative, the first of its kind to rely on a decades-old law that would require the US State Department to produce, within 30 days, a report on whether the Israeli siege on Gaza violates human rights and international agreements. If the administration fails to do so, U.S. military aid to Israel, undoubtedly long assured, could be quickly cut off.
But the roll-call vote begins to reveal the deep unease among U.S. lawmakers over Israel’s continuation of the war against Hamas. With no apparent end to the bombing, Israeli attacks on Palestinians, an attempt to eliminate Hamas leaders, are seen by some as disproportionate to the initial terrorist attack on Israel.
A total of 11 senators joined Sanders in the procedural vote, mostly Democrats from all parties, while 72 opposed him.
“In my opinion, Israel has the absolute right to defend itself against the barbaric terrorist attack by Hamas on October 7, there is no doubt about it,” Sanders told the AP in an interview Monday before the vote.
“But what Israel does not have the right to do – use US military assistance – it does not have the right to go to war against the entire Palestinian people,” Sanders said. independent from Vermont. “And in my opinion, that’s what happened.”
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The White House has rejected Sanders’ approach as “unworkable” as President Joe Biden’s administration seeks a transition with Israel and struggles to secure support at home and abroad against a violent reaction against the scenes of destruction in Gaza.
Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, has proposed introducing the measure, arguing that it is “counterproductive” and would make it more difficult for the United States to prevent an escalation of the conflict in expansion.
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“We do not believe this resolution is the right way to resolve these issues. And we don’t think it’s the right time. This is frankly unworkable,” John Kirby of the White House National Security Council said in a statement.
“The Israelis have indicated that they are preparing to reduce the intensity of their operations. And we believe the transition will be helpful both in terms of reducing civilian casualties and increasing humanitarian assistance,” Kirby said.
With repeated overtures to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, including shuttle diplomacy last week by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the Biden administration is pushing Israel to change the intensity of the battle. The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry says around 24,000 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, have been killed and the bombings have destroyed most homes, displacing almost all of its 2.3 million inhabitants in a humanitarian catastrophe.
The Senate action comes as Biden’s request for an additional $106 billion in national security aid for Israel as well as Ukraine and other military needs has stalled. Congressional Republicans are pushing through sweeping policy changes to stop the flow of immigration to the U.S.-Mexico border.
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Of this additional aid package, more than $14 billion would go to Israel, including $10 billion in U.S. military aid, as that country retaliates against Hamas following the October 7 surprise attack, one of the deadliest attacks ever seen. According to Israel, some 1,200 people were killed and 250 taken hostage, many of whom remain detained.
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Several key Democratic senators have expressed discomfort with Israel’s offensive in Gaza, insisting that the Biden administration must do more to push the Netanyahu government to reduce civilian casualties and improve living conditions for Palestinians in Gaza .
To go further, Sanders had already announced his refusal to support more military aid to Israel in the context of the conflict.
“Now is the time for the United States Senate to act,” Sanders said before the vote, which he said was “just the beginning” of his efforts to limit the ravages of war.
As the vote approaches, Sanders said, what he is trying to do is unprecedented in procedure and essentially in practice.
“Congress has historically supported Israel in general, and this begins to call into question the nature of the military campaign. » said Sanders.
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The resolution is drawn from the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, which was amended after the Nixon era, allowing Congress to oversee U.S. military assistance abroad. It requires that any weapons or military aid be used in accordance with international human rights agreements.
If the resolution were to be approved, it would have required the State Department to produce a report of its findings within 30 days or risk having the aid cut off.
Although it is not at all certain that U.S. aid to Israel would actually be cut off, since Congress could take steps to ensure that it would not be cut off, this threat was great enough that many senators, including Democrats who have expressed concerns about the bombing of Gaza and the humanitarian crisis, have indicated they would not be willing to support the measure.
Senate Republicans have been nearly unanimous in their support for Israel, even as they block Biden’s broader national security agenda due to divisions within the Republican Party over aid to Ukraine in its fight against Israel. Russian invasion.
Discussions on integrating U.S.-Mexico border security provisions into the national security assistance package are moving slowly, but no rapid progress is expected as Republicans push for tighter restrictions on migrants than Democrats are willing to impose, particularly for immigrants seeking asylum in the United States.
Associated Press writer Ellen Knickmeyer contributed to this report.