Sen. Murphy open to placing conditions on aid to Israel, calls civilian death toll in Gaza ‘unacceptable’

Sen. Chris Murphy on "State of the Union" on November 26, 2023.

Sen. Chris Murphy on “State of the Union” on November 26, 2023.CNNCNN — 

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy on Sunday said he was open to placing conditions on any aid to Israel, with the aim of reducing civilian casualties in Gaza.

The Connecticut Democrat, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union” that as lawmakers return to the Capitol Monday with the elusive goal of passing aid to Israel and Ukraine, they will discuss how to structure aid to Israel so it is used in line with human rights laws. His comments, on the third day of the truce between Israel and Hamas, come as other lawmakers — on both sides of the aisle — either didn’t rule out the idea of conditions on aid or underscored concern about minimizing civilian Palestinian casualties.  

“We regularly condition our aid to allies based upon compliance with US law and international law. And, so, I think it’s very consistent with the ways in which we have dispensed aid, especially during wartime, to allies, for us to talk about making sure that the aid we give Ukraine or the aid we give Israel is used in accordance with human rights laws,” Murphy said. “And that’ll be a conversation we will all be engaged in when we get back to Washington on Monday.”

Murphy has previously called on Israel to try to further reduce civilian casualties and to allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza, where more than 14,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to the Hamas-controlled health ministry there, in the wake of Hamas’ brutal cross-border assault on Israel on October 7.

“I do believe that the level of civilian harm inside Gaza has been unacceptable and is unsustainable,” he said. “I think there’s both a moral cost to this many civilians, innocent civilians, children often, losing their life, but I think there’s (also) a strategic cost. Ultimately, Hamas will get stronger, not weaker, in the long run if all of this civilian death allows them to recruit more effectively and ably inside Gaza.”

But Murphy also said that Israel has a “moral obligation” to continue fighting Hamas following the temporary four-day truce between Hamas and Israel, which is now in its third day.

“Hopefully, Hamas will accept the conditions that have been laid down that will allow for more hostages to be released. But if they don’t, ultimately Hamas is going to be defeated,” added Murphy. “That’s in Israel’s interest, but it’s also in the interest of the United States. We do not want terrorist organizations believing they can get away with the kind of murder that Hamas did on October 7.”

The Biden administration has pleaded with lawmakers to come together to pass aid for Ukraine and Israel, but disputes over supporting Ukraine — and now over immigration policy — have marred the talks.

Some progressives have proposed adding strict restrictions on aid, including Sen. Bernie Sanders, who released an extensive list of proposed demands for the Israeli government to receive US aid, including “an end to the indiscriminate bombing,” a “right of displaced Gazans to return to their homes,” “a freeze on settlement expansion” in the West Bank and no long-term occupation of Gaza by Israeli forces, as well as a commitment to engage in peace talks “for a two-state solution in the wake of the war.”

Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet indicated to CBS in an interview Sunday that he is open to supporting conditions on aid to Israel. “I haven’t so far, but I think that’s a debate we’re going to have in the coming days,” the Colorado senator, who services on the Intelligence Committee, said on “Face the Nation.”

House Intelligence Chairman Mike Turner, an Ohio Republican, told NBC Sunday that while he wouldn’t propose placing conditions on aid to Israel aimed at lessening civilian casualties in Gaza, it is already the policy of the US and Israel.

“I think the White House has been clear, and I think US policy has been clear, of lessening the Palestinian casualties that are not Hamas,” Turner said on “Meet the Press,” adding that Israel has issued warnings to civilians about which areas will be targeted. “I wouldn’t propose it, but I think it does accurately reflect US policy.”

Murphy on Sunday also criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s previous policies toward Palestinians, saying, “Benjamin Netanyahu believed that you could ignore the Palestinians, that you could try to squash their desires for a state and, ultimately, that would bring peace to the region into Israel. That’s just not the case.”

He continued, “Ultimately, the next government is going to have to put us back on a path to have a Palestinian state. That’s not easy, but it is the only way forward for Israel, is the only way forward for long-term peace.”

CNN’s Lauren Fox and Manu Raju contributed to this report.

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