The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the top pro-Israel lobby, has denied a report that it gave permission to U.S. lawmakers to criticize Israel ahead of the Jewish state’s expected move to apply sovereignty to parts of the West Bank, also known as Judea and Samaria, where Jewish settlements are situated.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency cited both a congressional aide and an AIPAC donor this week that the lobby told members of Congress, via Zoom meetings and phone calls, that it won’t stand in their way if they choose to criticize Israel’s plans to annex parts of the West Bank by July 1. This was apparently contingent, according to the JTA report, on these legislators not linking their criticism to or making it conditional on U.S. aid to Israel.

“They want to make sure members of Congress understand this is the time to warn Israel, but not to threaten the Memorandum of Understanding,” referring to the 2016 10-year agreement between the United States and Israel that has the former give the latter $3.8 billion annually in security assistance, according to an AIPAC donor.

This partially echoes AIPAC’s statement last month that it “would be a mistake” for the United States to alter its alliance with Israel were the Jewish state to follow through with annexing parts of the West Bank.

“The U.S.-Israel relationship is a mutually beneficial partnership that reinforces America’s moral values and strategic interests. This relationship with the only democracy in the Middle East is a key pillar of America’s regional security framework,” said AIPAC in response to Democratic senators and left-wing groups that have warned against Israeli annexation of Jewish neighborhoods in the West Bank. “The U.S.-Israel partnership is constantly growing and expanding into new areas, including science, technology, health, energy, agriculture, homeland security and defense.”

Not all lawmakers, specifically Democrats, have been in touch with AIPAC on this subject. Rep. Donna Shalala (D-Fla.) told JNS on Thursday that she has not talked with AIPAC about Israel’s upcoming plans to apply sovereignty to parts of Judea and Samaria.

AIPAC denied the JTA report after it was published.

“AIPAC does not encourage members of Congress to criticize the government of Israel,” lobby spokesperson Adam Harris told the outlet. “Our role is to strengthen the relationship between the two allies.”

However, one prominent foreign-policy expert, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about the report, told JNS that “it doesn’t surprise me because opposition to application of Israeli law to the West Bank is the mainstream, establishment pro-Israel view.”

The JTA report refutes the notion that AIPAC backs the Israeli government’s policies, according to Zionist Organization of America president Mort Klein.

“It now seems clear that AIPAC’s claim that it supports the policies of the Israeli government is not true,” he emailed JNS. “It’s not supporting [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s plan to apply sovereignty to parts of Judea [and] Samaria and the Jordan Valley … ”

While critics claim that AIPAC supports the Israeli government’s policies, the pro-Israel lobby has at times criticized Jerusalem. For example, the lobby objected to Israel blocking Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) from entering the country last August due to their anti-Israel backgrounds, including support for the BDS movement.

AIPAC likely to upset all sides, says source

A former senior U.S. Senate aide who closely worked with AIPAC told JNS, “AIPAC took a position that they would oppose members of Congress tying aid to Israel or otherwise harming the U.S.-Israel relationship over the issue of annexation. But that they do not take a position on what the Israeli government will or will not do.”

Echoing that sentiment, a senior fellow at a Jewish national security policy organization in Washington, D.C., told JNS that AIPAC has likely told members of Congress that they are free to criticize Israel over annexation as long as they don’t seek to undermine the U.S.-Israel relationship through actions such as conditioning U.S. assistance to the Jewish state.

This senior fellow added that “AIPAC is always unpopular with whatever wing” of the ideological spectrum in Israel that “doesn’t do what it wants. Usually, that wing is not [the one] in power. Sometimes, they are. In this case, it’s probably going to piss everybody off by [AIPAC] doing nothing.”

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has said that Israel can proceed to annex parts of the West Bank in accordance with the administration’s Mideast peace plan released earlier this year, the “Peace to Prosperity” vision.

While AIPAC has not publicly commented on annexation—and some Jewish and Israel-related groups, including J Street, have voiced opposition to the upcoming expected move—the Republican Jewish Coalition made its support clear.

“President [Donald] Trump’s historic ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan offers a realistic and implementable opportunity for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” said RJC National chairman, former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman, in a statement on Wednesday. “It provides a framework for creating economic opportunity and greater freedom for the Palestinian people, and for ensuring the security of Israel.”

Coleman said annexation would “represent the first steps in a process that can include negotiations, working with moderate Arab states in the region, and working with the U.S. and other Western allies to bring a stable, lasting peace to Israelis and Palestinians.”

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