The leading pro-Israel lobby group within the United States has given permission to the country’s officials and lawmakers to criticise Israel’s plans to annex areas of the occupied West Bank, on the condition that “the criticism stops there”.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which has held significant influence within US politics throughout the decades, has provided the guidelines of limited criticism in Zoom meetings and phone calls with US lawmakers, according to one donor and one congressional aide who spoke to the Times of Israel.
It is generally unclear what is meant by not going too far, but it is thought to be centred on the continuation of US aid to Israel. The donor, who is involved in the lobbying of congress but who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said: “We are telling the senators ‘feel free to criticize annexation, but don’t cut off aid to Israel.’”
The warning by AIPAC not to go so far as to affect the aid was also echoed by a congressional staffer, who is described a Democrat being targeted by the group, who said: “They want to make sure members of Congress understand this is the time to warn Israel but not to threaten the Memorandum of Understanding.”
This memorandum was a deal between the Israeli governments of Prime Minister Netanyahu and former US administration President Barack Obama in 2016 which guaranteed Israel a budget of defence aid amounting to $3.8 billion annually over a decade. Any criticism, the staffer said, is “not to threaten assistance.”
Throughout the years of its influence on the country’s politics, AIPAC has been strongly opposed to any criticism of Israeli policy or of the government of Israel itself, using its lobbying powers to condemn and side-line those who have done so while preventing others from voicing criticism. This permission, therefore, is seen as being in contrast to that pattern, but is thought to be possible due to the extremely controversial nature of the annexation plans, which have split many pro-Israel supporters.
Under the plan by the new Israeli coalition government, Israel would claim sovereignty and seize control over 30 per cent of the Palestinian territories in the occupied West Bank, particularly the illegal Jewish settlements and the strategic Jordan Valley, with steps being taken to this end from 1 July.
An AIPAC statement on 11 May acknowledged that “It is inevitable that there will be areas of political or policy disagreement between leaders on both sides — as there are between America and all our allies.” While the annexation plan is one such area, the same statement warned against any proposals to reduce ties with Israel if annexation goes ahead, making it clear that “Doing anything to weaken this vital relationship would be a mistake.”