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House Democrats back away from delaying Israel arms sale amid Gaza conflict

The Biden administration will brief lawmakers on the proposed $735 million sale of JDAM guidance conversion kits and other weapons equipment.
Israeli security forces deploy to disperse Palestinian protesters amid clashes near the settlement of Beit El and Ramallah in the occupied West Bank on May 18, 2021.

Democrats in the House appeared to back away from a plan to urge the Biden administration to delay a proposed $735 million arms sale to Israel amid the ongoing conflict with the Gaza Strip on Tuesday.

House Majority leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) will not send a letter requesting the sale’s delay after the Biden administration agreed to brief committee members on the matter, ABC News reported.

Meeks was set to request a delay that could give lawmakers time to place a hold on the sale, Vox's Alex Ward first reported yesterday.

The Biden administration formally notified Congress of the plan to grant Boeing a license to directly sell $735 million worth of weapons equipment, including JDAM bomb guidance kits, on May 5, nearly a week before the conflict with Gaza began.

But the sale proposal was not publicly announced, in line with policy on direct licensing contracts of that time, according to a US official.

Chairman Meeks called an emergency meeting on Monday night after The Washington Post revealed the sale proposal. The Post reported that some Democrats on the Foreign Affairs panel had only learned of the planned arms sale over the weekend, leaving insufficient time before the Thursday deadline to consider initiating a hold.

It is not clear when the administration's briefing will be held.

“The chairman’s intention behind a possible letter was to create an opportunity for members to engage in a candid conversation with the administration about the arms sale," a spokesperson for the House Foreign Affairs Committee told Al-Monitor via email.

"A letter is no longer necessary given that the White House has now agreed to engage with members at the highest level on their concerns, and [on] the administration's broader strategy on gaining a peaceful resolution to this conflict,” the spokesperson wrote.

House Democratic leadership's decision not to push for the delay makes the arms deal all the more likely to pass, as the JDAM sale has so far aroused little objection in the Senate despite calls for an immediate cease-fire by a majority of Senate Democrats.

But a briefing is unlikely to quell the growing wave of skepticism among progressives over broad US support for Israel amid the Benjamin Netanyahu government’s continued policies of settlement and blockade of the Palestinian territories, both widely deemed illegal under international law.

The current violence between Israel and Gaza has roots in the stunted, decadeslong peace process, which has been a low priority for the Biden administration as it focuses on negotiations with Iran to limit its nuclear program.

So far, some 200 Palestinians and 12 Israelis have been killed in the violence that erupted last week when Hamas launched rockets into Israel in response to an Israeli police raid on Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque and attempts to displace Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah.

During a phone call with Netanyahu on Monday, President Joe Biden expressed his support for a potential cease-fire for the first time since the conflict began a week earlier. The United States on Monday blocked a third attempt by the United Nations Security Council to issue a statement calling for an immediate cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.

The UN's humanitarian aid agency said Tuesday that Israeli bombardment of Gaza has displaced an estimated 52,000 people. Israeli officials allowed some humanitarian aid and fuel supplies to enter into the besieged strip on Tuesday following the UN's warning that Gaza's only power plant was running out of diesel.

Israel’s government rejected Hamas’ proposal for a mutual cease-fire last week. Netanyahu signaled again on Tuesday that his government will continue its campaign of airstrikes in Gaza until Palestinian militants' rocket attacks are quelled.