Military Aid Cannot Be Unconditional

The suffering of civilians in Gaza — tens of thousands dead, many of them children; hundreds of thousands homeless, many at risk of starvation — has become more than a growing number of Americans can abide. And yet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and his ultranationalist allies in government have defied American calls for more restraint and humanitarian help.

The United States commitment to Israel — including $3.8 billion a year in military aid, the largest outlay of American foreign aid to any one country in the world — is a reflection of the exceptionally close and enduring relationship between the two countries. A bond of trust, however, must prevail between donors and recipients of lethal arms from the United States, which supplies arms according to formal conditions that reflect American values and the obligations of international law.

Mr. Netanyahu and the hard-liners in his government have broken that bond, and until it is restored, America cannot continue, as it has, to supply Israel with the arms it has been using in its war against Hamas.

The question is not whether Israel has the right to defend itself against an enemy sworn to its destruction. It does. The Hamas attack of Oct. 7 was an atrocity no nation could leave unanswered, and by hiding behind civilian fronts, Hamas violates international law and bears a major share of responsibility for the suffering inflicted on the people in whose name it purports to act. In the immediate aftermath of that attack, President Biden rushed to demonstrate America’s full sympathy and support in Israel’s agony. That was the right thing to do.

It is also not a question whether the United States should continue to help Israel defend itself. America’s commitments to Israel’s defense are long term, substantial, mutually beneficial and essential. No president or Congress should deny the only state on earth with a Jewish majority the means to ensure its survival. Nor should Americans ever lose sight of the threat that Hamas, a terrorist organization, poses to the security of the region and to any hope of peace between Palestinians and Israelis.

But that does not mean the president should allow Mr. Netanyahu to keep playing his cynical double games. The Israeli leader is fighting for his political survival against growing anger from his electorate. He knows that, should he leave office, he will risk going on trial for serious charges of corruption. He has, until recently, resisted diplomatic efforts for a cease-fire that might have led to a release of hostages still in the custody of Hamas. He has used American armaments to go after Hamas but has been deaf to repeated demands from Mr. Biden and his national security team to do more to protect civilians in Gaza from being harmed by those armaments. Even worse, Mr. Netanyahu has turned defiance of America’s leadership into a political tool, indulging and encouraging the hard-liners in his cabinet, who pledge to reoccupy Gaza and reject any notion of a Palestinian state — exactly the opposite of U.S. policy.

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