January 11, 2024

What is S.Res. 504? – Sanders Resolution to Hold U.S. and Israel Accountable

  1. The Significance of the Resolution

Senator Bernie Sanders’ introduction of a resolution under Section 502B(c) of the Foreign Assistance Act marks a historic and significant step towards scrutinizing and curtailing U.S. military support for any war crimes being conducted by Israel. This move can finally force our government to evaluate whether Israel is upholding the standards set by U.S. law and international human rights and war law. It can also provide the American people with transparency regarding the transfer of U.S. weapons fueling the war – including secret stockpiles of U.S. weapons inside Israel – and any other forms of potential U.S. government complicity in the illegal slaughter of Palestinian civilians – and put those actions to a halt.

  1. Understanding Section 502B(c)

Section 502B(c) of the Foreign Assistance Act, a rarely used but powerful tool, prohibits the U.S. from providing weapons or other forms of support for countries committing gross violations of human rights or war crimes. Under the statute, a single lawmaker can offer a “privileged resolution” that must receive a vote. If Congress then passes that resolution, the State Department is required to investigate potential human rights violations being carried out by the government of a country receiving U.S. weapons and support. If the State Department does not provide a report within 30 days of the resolution’s passage, all security assistance to that country must be halted until the report is submitted. Sanders’ resolution calls for such a report on Israel, focusing on whether use of U.S. weapons in Gaza and the West Bank violates international law.

  1. Historical Precedent

In 2019, Senators Chris Murphy and Todd Young introduced a resolution requesting a report on Saudi Arabia’s human rights practices under Section 502B(c). This action highlighted concerns about U.S. complicity in human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia. The resolution did not pass, but the effort significantly increased scrutiny of and pressure on U.S. support for the Saudi war in Yemen.

  1. Pressure on Biden and Netanyahu Governments

Sanders’ resolution could exert significant and much needed pressure and accountability on both the U.S. administration as well as the Netanyahu government. By highlighting potential human rights violations and the use of U.S.-made munitions in Israeli strikes, it challenges the status quo of unconditional U.S. military aid to Israel. It also puts the spotlight on the Biden administration’s responsibility to monitor compliance with international law in real-time, a commitment stated in the Conventional Arms Transfer policy. This comes as Israel finds itself in the International Court of Justice in The Hague — charged with genocide by South Africa. 

  1. Impact on U.S.-Israeli Relations and Regional Stability

Approval of this resolution could fundamentally alter the calculations of the Biden Administration. It presents Congress with the opportunity to restrict or end military assistance for the Gaza war based on the findings of the State Department’s report. This could serve as a key leverage point in negotiations with Israel, potentially hastening progress towards halting the conflict and establishing a precedent for changes in conduct to prioritize human rights and adhere to international law. The Sanders resolution also represents a broader shift in Congressional and public opinion towards conditioning U.S. support for military action in the Middle East, reflecting growing concerns about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the profound risk of regional war.

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