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US aid to Israel should be a force for peace

The $3.8 billion the United States sends to Israel every year should make a two-state solution more, not less, likely.

Israeli soldiers walk past armored caterpillar bulldozers during a military drill on May 9.JALAA MAREY/AFP via Getty Images

Israelis deserve to live in safety without fear of attacks that indiscriminately target civilians. Palestinians deserve basic human rights — and democratic rights — including that of self-determination, safety from violence, and freedom from forced removal from their homes by the Israeli military. Everyone living in the region deserves peace. The best way to achieve these outcomes is through a two-state solution and an agreement among the Israeli military, Jewish extremists, and Islamist militant groups that they will, at last, cease the violence.

The United States is currently doing little to help achieve these outcomes — both by underutilizing what leverage it has and by abetting Israel in its efforts to expand into Palestinian territories in violation of international agreements. As conflict in the region escalates, the Biden administration and Congress need to make clear that the ongoing military aid to Israel must be used to help, not hinder, the goal of peaceful coexistence and a two-state solution.


The failings of US policy to achieve peace have only become more apparent and acute. The US government gives Israel $3.8 billion in annual military aid without asking for protection of Palestinians’ rights in return. Some of that aid directly enables Israel to force evictions of Palestinians and expand its settlements, including of the kind that were recently planned in a neighborhood of East Jerusalem, sparking the latest spate of violence. Human Rights Watch has documented that US-manufactured and US-supplied technology, such as Caterpillar bulldozers, which Israel purchases through the US military aid it receives, have been used to demolish Palestinian homes.

This kind of unchecked use of US military financing has, in recent years, pushed Israel in the direction of abandoning the two-state solution, in which Palestinians would eventually have their own country in what are now Israeli-occupied territories. In the last two decades alone, Israel has significantly eroded the viability of the two-state solution by more than doubling its settler population in the West Bank — the territory that would comprise the bulk of a future Palestinian state. That’s why, if the United States is serious about brokering a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians, it must begin putting conditions on the aid it provides in order to ensure that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s expansionary government stops going down the dangerous path of de facto annexation of Palestinian land.


To be sure, Israel is not the only party in this deadly conflict that has committed atrocities. While the Israeli government has indiscriminately bombed residential buildings, schools, and hospitals, the Islamist militant group Hamas continues to also commit war crimes against Israelis. The violent extremists Hamas recruits must be held accountable for their attacks and human rights abuses. The United States should remain steadfast in ensuring that Israel has the capacity to defend itself against any real threats, be they the rockets fire by Hamas or Iran’s threat to wipe out the Jewish state.

But when the Israeli government commits egregious human rights abuses and violates international law, the United States cannot simply turn a blind eye. That’s especially true of the Biden administration, which has made an effort to center its foreign policy on a human rights agenda. The administration, however, has so far failed to adequately use its influence to persuade Israel to agree on a cease-fire to stop the current bloodshed. In fact, Israel’s leadership has rejected a truce offered by Hamas and instead vowed to continue its bombardment of Gaza until there is “complete quiet.” President Biden has not been willing to put his foot down. To the contrary, he has doubled down on the United States’ unconditional military support for Israel and just agreed to an arms sale that includes precision-guided missiles of the kind that The Washington Post reports have been used against Palestinians.


That is most unfortunate because the death toll from the current violence continues to rise, disproportionately among Palestinians. In the Gaza Strip alone, the Israeli military has killed at least 217 Palestinians, 63 of whom were children. Seventeen more Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank, and 10 Israelis, including two children, as well as two Thai workers, have been killed by rockets fired by Hamas, which operates out of Gaza. If Biden is unwilling, as he has expressed in the past, to support putting conditions on military assistance to Israel — or even pause the current arms sale to give Congress a chance to review it, as Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee have requested — then Congress must step in to do so anyway.

Ultimately, conditioning aid to Israel should not be controversial. The majority of American voters believe that their tax dollars should not be given to Israel if it continues to violate American settlement policy, which Biden ought to restore to the Obama-era stance. The Israeli government and the citizens who elect its leaders will always have a choice. Israel should continue to receive US military aid if it treats Palestinians as human beings deserving of basic rights and shows in earnest that it stands ready to broker peace. That, in the end, should not be considered a big ask.


Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us @GlobeOpinion.