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George H.W. Bush’s pressure on Israel provides model for progressives

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HuffPost, May 2021

Even as Thursday’s cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian militia Hamas brings an end to the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian bloodshed, there are signs that the recent violence could have a long-term effect on U.S. policy in the region.

Namely, the high civilian death toll of the Israeli bombing campaign ― conducted in response to a barrage of rockets fired indiscriminately into Israel ― has breathed new life into calls for a reassessment of the United States’ financial and diplomatic support for Israel. Proponents of imposing tougher conditions on the United States’ annual $3.8 billion military aid package to Israel are now concentrated mostly on the political left. But the most recent U.S. president to actually use the threat of withheld aid to change Israeli policy was Republican George H.W. Bush.

Although the circumstances today are not identical, Bush’s showdown with Israel in 1991 over the terms of U.S. loan guarantees serves as an illustration of what a more evenhanded U.S. approach to the conflict could look like. Bush withheld the loan guarantees until he was satisfied that the money borrowed with U.S. assistance would not go toward Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories.

“Bush established consequences for bad behavior, and he got results,” said James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute. “It can happen again.” At the very least, progressives see Bush’s actions as a useful reminder that renegotiating U.S. aid to Israel is not an extreme, left-wing idea.

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