Sanders moves to block arms sale to Israel over Gaza conflict
▶ Watch Video: Biden phone call with Netanyahu puts pressure on Israel to work toward Hamas cease-fire
Washington — Senator Bernie Sanders introduced a resolution Thursday to block a planned $735 million sale of precision-guided weapons to Israel, as hostilities continue between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Sanders’ resolution comes after President Biden urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a call on Wednesday to “de-escalate” the conflict.
“At a moment when U.S.-made bombs are devastating Gaza, and killing women and children, we cannot simply let another huge arms sale go through without even a congressional debate,” Sanders said in a statement. “I believe that the United States must help lead the way to a peaceful and prosperous future for both Israelis and Palestinians. We need to take a hard look at whether the sale of these weapons is actually helping do that, or whether it is simply fueling conflict.”
The resolution seeks to halt the planned sale of Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs) and small diameter bombs. A similar resolution was introduced in the House by Democratic Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Mark Pocan and Rashida Tlaib on Wednesday.
The resolution is privileged, meaning that Sanders could call it to the floor for a vote without having to vote to advance the legislation first. It would require a simple majority to pass, although it is unclear whether the resolution would receive sufficient support from Democrats to be approved.
However, if it did pass and Mr. Biden vetoed the resolution, a two-thirds majority vote in both houses of Congress would be needed to override the veto. Former President Donald Trump previously vetoed three resolutions to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and there was not enough support in Congress to override these vetoes.
Mr. Biden is facing pressure from a growing number of congressional Democrats to take a harder line with Israel, arguing that the president is not doing enough to denounce human rights abuses against Palestinians. More than 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli airstrikes since the beginning of the conflict, including dozens of children, and at least 12 Israelis have been killed by Hamas rockets.
In an op-ed in The New York Times last week, Sanders argued that the U.S. should do more to support the Palestinian people instead of being “apologists for the right-wing Netanyahu government and its undemocratic and racist behavior.”
“We must change course and adopt an evenhanded approach, one that upholds and strengthens international law regarding the protection of civilians, as well as existing U.S. law holding that the provision of U.S. military aid must not enable human rights abuses,” Sanders wrote.
Mr. Biden told Netanyahu in a call Wednesday that he “expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire” in the conflict in Gaza, the White House said. In a statement responding to this request, Netanyahu thanked Mr. Biden for his support, but said he is “determined to continue this operation until its objective is achieved: to restore quiet and security to you, citizens of Israel.”
Republicans have argued that Mr. Biden is not doing enough to stand with Israel, a longtime ally of the U.S., in the face of continued aggression from Hamas. GOP Senator Rick Scott introduced a resolution this week to reaffirm U.S. support for Israel. In a press conference on Wednesday, several Republican senators slammed Mr. Biden for not doing more to stand with Israel as Hamas sends a barrage of rockets into the country, most of which are intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system.
“Israel has the right to defend themselves. They are our allies. We are not going to abandon them to this type of violence. They have the right to defend themselves,” GOP Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith said during the press conference Wednesday. “President Joe Biden leads to stand up and firmly express his commitment to Israel.”
Sanders introduced a different resolution on Wednesday in response to Scott’s resolution, calling for an immediate ceasefire between the Israel Defense Forces and Hamas.
Hamas laid out its terms for a ceasefire on Wednesday, with officials saying it would stop firing rockets only if Israel met two conditions: Israeli forces and police must never enter the al-Aqsa mosque, and Palestinians living in a disputed neighborhood in east Jerusalem must not be evicted by Jewish settlers.
The Israeli military would not comment on a potential ceasefire on Wednesday. On Sunday, Netanyahu told “Face the Nation” that Israel would do “whatever it takes” to degrade Hamas’ ability to fire rockets into Israeli territory and signaled that the operation could be lengthy.
Haley Ott and Imtiaz Taib contributed to this report.