Harris says Biden presidency will not condition aid to Israel

The Democrats' vice presidential pick, Sen. Kamala Harris, sought to distance the Biden campaign from emerging party criticism of Israel in recent years.

al-monitor Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris delivers remarks during a campaign event on Aug. 27, 2020, in Washington.  Photo by Michael A. McCoy/Getty Images.

Aug 27, 2020

California Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democratic party’s vice presidential pick for the 2020 elections, said Wednesday that a Joe Biden administration would not place new conditions on future US military assistance to Israel.

The statement is the latest sign the Biden campaign is still seeking to distance itself from unprecedented criticism of Israel’s policies emanating from the Democratic party’s left wing in recent years.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who failed in his bid to become the Democratic nominee, said last year that if elected, he would leverage billions in US military aid to Israel to push for more humane policies toward Palestinians.

“Joe has made it clear: He will not tie security assistance to political decisions Israel makes, and I couldn’t agree more,” Harris told political supporters Wednesday in a conference call with Jewish donors, according to Israel's Haaretz newspaper.

Harris also sought to one-up the Trump administration over reports it offered the United Arab Emirates the possibility of purchasing the F-35 fighter jet, in potential violation of a decadeslong understanding between the US and Israel.

Harris said a Biden presidency would ensure Israel’s military superiority in the region, known as its qualitative military edge, would not be eroded.

Support for Israel and its policies has waned in recent years among younger Democratic voters all the while President Donald Trump has made bold moves in support of the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu.

In 2018, the Trump administration moved the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, angering those who have long seen the city's status as a topic for negotiations and the capital of a future Palestinian state. Earlier this year, the White House  unveiled a peace plan spearheaded by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. 

Democratic Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York have also been critical of Israel during their two years in Congress.

Critics have slammed Omar and Tlaib for “anti-Semitic” comments, most notably when Omar suggested AIPAC campaign donations were behind Republican lawmakers’ support for Israel, which she said practiced “apartheid.” Omar later apologized for the comments.

Harris on Wednesday reiterated the Biden campaign’s support for the Jewish state, casting the 2015 Iran deal in light of Israel’s interests.

The Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from the deal in 2018, replacing it with a clampdown on Iran’s economy. “We will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, period,” Harris said. “The deal blocked Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon and it was working.”

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long opposed the deal. Earlier this week, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer told Al-Monitor that Israel had been the “guinea pig” in the Iran nuclear deal, which he called a “failed experiment.” Dermer did not rule out a new deal, but said Israel prefers steps that would more effectively block Iran’s potential acquisition of a nuclear weapon, including by not allowing uranium enrichment.

The Trump administration says Iran has exploited the deal to expand its ballistic missile program and has supported proxy militias in conflict zones in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

Biden has said he would try to rejuvenate the deal with Iran under new terms, including ones that address Iran’s ballistic missile program.

The position has reportedly inspired confidence among some officials in Israel who see fixing the Iran problem as a greater potential win than fulfilling Netanyahu’s plan to unilaterally annex swaths of the Palestinian West Bank — which Biden opposes.

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