July 20, 2023

Van Hollen Addresses Appropriations Committee on Use of U.S. Foreign Assistance to Government of Israel

Today, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) addressed the Senate Appropriations Committee, indicating his support for the $3.3 billion in security assistance to Israel for its defense against enemies like Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad but making it clear that these American taxpayers dollars should not be used by the Government of Israel for certain other purposes, including as a shield for settler violence against Palestinians or to advance the expansion of settlements and illegal outposts in the West Bank. According to data from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Israeli settlers have been involved in an average of 95 monthly attacks against Palestinians in 2023 compared with an average of 71 monthly attacks last year. A transcript of his remarks is available below and video is available here.

SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-Md.): Thank you, Madam Chair, and to Vice Chair Collins again for getting this Committee on track. I really want to commend Senator Coons and Senator Graham for their work. And I want to associate myself with the opening statements that both of them made about the importance of security assistance.

Both of them in their opening statements highlighted the fact that this bill contains $3.3 billion in security assistance for Israel. And I have supported this security assistance for Israel for all the reasons that President Herzog outlined in his remarks yesterday to a joint session – so Israel can defend itself against enemies like Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad – and I continue to support this assistance for that purpose.

But, colleagues, these funds are not intended to be used by the Government of Israel to aid and abet those Jewish settlers who are seizing undisputed Palestinian lands in Area C, and these taxpayer dollars should not be used to expand the settlements or illegal outposts. And these taxpayer dollars are not intended to be used to shield those settlers who are attacking and burning Palestinian villages with virtual impunity. We don't hear much about it here, but it's gotten so bad that the heads of Israel's security agencies have described these settlers’ attacks as, quote, “terrorism.”

In his address to the Congress yesterday, President Herzog rightly condemned those incidents of Palestinian violence – they should be condemned. But President Herzog was silent about the settler violence which has spiked dramatically under this right-wing government. And members of this right-wing government – while they are quick, as they should be, to condemn incidents of Palestinian violence – have actually made statements that fan the flames of some of the settler violence, which has spiked dramatically since the beginning of this year under the very right-wing government.

One of the people in this current Israeli government who not only condones this settler violence but has helped fan the flames is the Finance Minister Smotrich, who recently called for the Palestinian village of Hawara to be, “wiped out.” In addition to his portfolio as the Minister of Finance, Smotrich has also been given a portfolio within the Ministry of Defense that provides for civilian control over the West Bank. And in fact, yesterday – probably just as President Herzog was addressing a joint session – as Haaretz reported this morning, “Smotrich says he plans to allow Israel to demolish Palestinian construction in West Bank defying Oslo agreements.” Now, why does it say “defying Oslo agreements?” Because what he's saying is that, in addition to demolishing Palestinian property and construction in Area C, he wants to do that in Areas A and B which under Oslo were given Palestinian control.

So, colleagues, I raise this issue because what we are witnessing with Smotrich in control here is what most people have acknowledged as annexation – effective annexation. And we have a decision to make. People like me and President Biden, we've long supported a two-state solution. President Biden has been very clear about that. But what's happening on the ground right now, every day, is slamming the door shut on that opportunity. I would just ask my colleagues who don't support a two-state solution to at some point provide their vision of what their alternative is.

And so, again, I support this assistance for the reasons I say, but I am going to be looking very carefully in the days ahead to figure out to what extent these funds are being used for these purposes that I mentioned that are not intended by the aid. And finally, I will close, Madam Chair, by saying one of the provisions in this bill calls for a briefing of interested committee members within six weeks by General Fenzel. Who's General Fenzel? He's our three-star general on the ground in Jerusalem, responsible for security coordination. We're asking him to brief us on his report on the shooting death of an American citizen and journalist, Shereen Abu Akleh. But he will also be prepared to talk about what's happening on the ground right now. And the alarm that it should cause all of us.

So yes, let's condemn incidents of Palestinian violence. But let's also hold accountable those settlers who are, every day and regularly, seizing Palestinian lands and those in this Israeli government – very right-wing government – who are aiding and abetting in those actions.

I thank the members of the Committee, and I hope we will continue this conversation.