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Some Want Israel to Limit Dea 12/04 07:08


   WASHINGTON (AP) -- As a cease-fire ticked down last week and Israel prepared 
to resume its round-the-clock airstrikes, Sen. Bernie Sanders and a robust 
group of Democratic senators had a message for their president: They were done 
"asking nicely" for Israel to do more to reduce civilian casualties in Gaza.

   Lawmakers warned President Joe Biden's national security team that planned 
U.S. aid to Israel must be met with assurances of concrete steps from Israeli 
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's hard-right government.

   "The truth is that if asking nicely worked, we wouldn't be in the position 
we are today," Sanders said in a floor speech. It was time for the United 
States to use its "substantial leverage" with its ally, the Vermont senator 

   "And we all know what that leverage is," he said, adding, "the blank-check 
approach must end."

   With Biden's request for a nearly $106 billion aid package for Ukraine, 
Israel and other national security needs hanging in the balance, the senators' 
tougher line on Israel has gotten the White House's attention, and that of 

   Lawmakers of both major political parties for decades have embraced the U.S. 
role as Israel's top protector, and it's all but inconceivable that they would 
vote down the wartime aid. The Democratic lawmakers are adamant that's not 
their intent, as strong supporters of Israel's right of self-defense against 
Hamas. But just the fact that Democratic lawmakers are making that link signals 
the fractures in Congress amid the daily scenes of suffering among besieged 
Palestinian civilians.

   Sanders and the Democratic senators involved say they are firm in their 
stand that Israel's military must adopt substantive measures to lessen civilian 
deaths in Gaza as part of receiving the supplemental's $14.3 billion in U.S. 
aid for Israel's war.

   The warning from friendly Democrats is a complication for the White House as 
it faces what had already been a challenging task of getting the supplemental 
aid bill through Congress. Some Republicans are balking at the part of the bill 
that provides funding for Ukraine's war against Russia, and the funding for 
Israel was supposed to be the easy part.

   The demand is a warning of more trouble ahead for an Israeli government 
that's often at odds with the U.S. in its treatment of Palestinians.

   "There's a big difference between asking and getting a commitment" from 
Netanyahu's government on a plan to reduce civilian casualties and improve 
living conditions in Gaza, Maryland Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen told The 
Associated Press. Van Hollen has been one of the key senators huddling with 
administration officials on the demands.

   "So our goal is to achieve results," Van Hollen said. "And not just set 

   Following the senators' warning, the Biden administration has upped its own 
demands to Israel since late last week, insisting publicly for the first time 
that Israeli leaders not just hear out U.S. demands to ease civilian suffering 
in Gaza, but agree to them.

   Over the weekend, as an end to the cease-fire brought the return of Israeli 
bombardment and Hamas rocket strikes, the Israeli military said it had begun 
using one measure directed by the Biden administration: an online map of Gaza 
neighborhoods to tell civilians which crowded streets, neighborhoods and 
communities to evacuate before an Israeli attack.

   Heavy bombardment followed the evacuation orders, and Palestinians in the 
Gaza Strip said they were running out of places to go in the sealed-off 
territory. Many of its 2.3 million people are crammed into the south after 
Israel ordered civilians to leave the north in the early days of the war, which 
was sparked by the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack in Israel that killed about 1,200 
people, mostly civilians.

   The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says more than 15,500 Palestinians 
have been killed, with 70% of them women and children.

   On social media, Sanders repeated his call for an end to blank checks for 
Israel as Israeli forces returned to heavy bombing after the cease-fire.

   While Secretary of State Antony Blinken said more measures were coming 
besides the online map, it wasn't clear if any would lessen civilian deaths or 
satisfy administration and lawmaker demands.

   Israel is the top recipient of U.S. military aid over time.

   Trying to attach strings to U.S. aid to Israel isn't unheard of, for 
Congress or for U.S. presidents. Ronald Reagan, for instance, repeatedly 
suspended or threatened suspensions of fighter jet deliveries to Israel over 
its military incursions in the region in the 1980s. This time, though, is 
notable since it is being discussed in a Democratic-controlled Senate.

   National security adviser Jake Sullivan and other White House officials 
huddled with the Senate Democrats over the warning. Israeli diplomats and 
military officials also rushed to stem such a move, hosting lawmakers for 
repeated viewings of video of Hamas atrocities on Oct. 7 to make the case for 
the U.S. military aid.

   Netanyahu's coalition has weathered calls in the past from advocacy groups 
and individual lawmakers. Objections concerned Palestinian civilian deaths in 
past Israeli wars against Hamas.

   Biden from the start adopted what came to be called his "bear-hug" approach 
to the Israeli leader -- embracing him publicly, and saving any U.S. appeals 
for changed behavior for private discussions. But when Biden told reporters on 
Nov. 24 he thought conditioning military aid to Israel was a "worthwhile 
thought," it helped the proposal gain traction among administration-friendly 
Democratic senators.

   Sanders and the Democrats haven't specified what form the conditions could 
take, as talks continue. Several Democratic senators contend no additional law 
is necessary. They say existing U.S. law already mandates that countries 
receiving U.S. military aid heed human rights concerns.

   Some Senate Democrats express dislike of the use of the term conditions and 
depict their action as more of a determination to influence an outcome.

   No matter what, "we're going to do a robust aid package for Israel," said 
Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat. "But it's got to be consistent with 
humanitarian aid, and also efforts to reduce the suffering of Gazans who aren't 
part of Hamas."

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