This week’s kerfuffle in the House of Representatives over funding for Iron Dome was the latest example of sensationalism not allowing actual facts to get in the way of a convenient story. Despite the breathless headlines claiming that a few progressive Democratic Members of Congress were able to torpedo American support for Iron Dome by threatening not to vote for the continuing resolution funding the government (eliding that all Republicans also planned to vote no), allegedly proving the Democrats’ party-wide anti-Israel bent, the House came together yesterday to pass a standalone bill providing $1 Billion to replenish Israel’s Iron Dome system by the wide bipartisan margin of 420-9, with 2 voting “present.” This episode shows that despite the rhetoric, the vast majority of Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle remain committed to providing Israel with critical security and missile defense assistance.

Israel does not receive economic or humanitarian assistance from the United States. The only aid the U.S. provides Israel is security assistance. This aid helps to protect Israeli civilians from the numerous threats they face, including rocket fire from Hamas in Gaza, missile and drone attacks from Iran and its proxies (such as Hezbollah in Lebanon), and terrorist attacks that have murdered Israeli citizens for decades.

Despite the importance of American assistance to ensuring Israeli security and stability in the region, there has been increased discussion as of late about placing further end-use restrictions on security assistance to Israel– beyond those in the President Obama-negotiated 2016 Memorandum of Understanding. 

The inclination to place limited restrictions on security assistance is understandable. The lack of progress in the peace process, the further entrenchment of Israel’s military and civilian presence in the West Bank, Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians under its control, and the lack of justice for and frequent harassment of ordinary, law-abiding Palestinians are but some of the reasons that it is important for American policymakers to fight for a more just and equitable future for the Palestinian people. 

But while sometimes well-intentioned, such proposals will have a deleterious effect on Israeli civilians and security without creating any diplomatic gains. Seeking to place further end use restrictions on U.S. security assistance to Israel will not bring justice to Palestinians. It will likely cause the Israeli government to dig in its heels, and potentially even react similarly as the Palestinian Authority after the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act was passed, ultimately rejecting U.S. security assistance altogether. Not only would this erase the leverage that restricting security assistance is designed to create, it would harm U.S. interests in the region and create a crisis with a valuable defense and intelligence ally.

Even if the Government of Israel does not react so strongly, further restrictions may lead to the same endpoint of Israel being unable to receive the full amount of U.S. security assistance. One of the most commonly discussed end-use restrictions is the standard that no U.S. assistance can be used to “exercise permanent control” over any part of the occupied Palestinian territories. It is enormously difficult at best and functionally impossible at worst to maintain coherent distinctions between behavior that does and does not fall under such a standard; at a minimum, it would create a nearly-inconceivable level of complication. For example, if Palestinian terrorists attack Israeli civilians in a West Bank settlement and the IDF responds by trying to track down and arrest the perpetrators using American-provided vehicles or weapons, does that constitute an effort to exercise permanent control over territory because it is protecting a settlement? 

Let’s also play out the next steps here. Assuming that such end-use restrictions come into effect and Israel violates them, what then? Would end-use restriction supporters then advocate for conditions that would state that if Israel does not comply with the restrictions, some amount of security assistance would not be provided? If so, how would the amount be calculated? Much of U.S.-provided assistance is multi-use, so it’s very unlikely that any U.S.-provided assistance articles are used solely for non “legitimate self-defense” purposes. As a result, we would either be back to Israel rejecting U.S. assistance used for legitimate purposes or having the U.S. prohibited from providing such assistance. And if restrictions are not backed by aid conditioning, what has the U.S. gained by creating a nebulous usage-restriction standard that is not enforced and is the subject of endless debate and controversy? If end-use restriction advocates claim conditions aren’t coming should the restrictions be violated, what other enforcement mechanism could exist without conditioning and/or cutting funding? The unspoken truth of end-use restrictions is that conditions are the enforcement mechanism.

There is an alternative approach. End-use restriction advocates who want to focus on efforts to jumpstart a two-state process should focus on what will actually get each side to move in a productive manner, while responding to the instances of problematic behavior on both sides to the extent that they tangibly and clearly impede a two-state outcome. For example, requiring robust annual or biannual State reporting on settlement activity and other related issues (new illegal outposts established, number and locations of demolitions, number of permits issued for Palestinians in Area C, and more). These steps don’t come with the same ambiguity over use, do not activate concerns over damaging Israel’s legitimate security needs, and they create the type of public narrative to which the Israeli government is far more attune. Furthermore, they focus on the actual, on-the-ground impediments to two states and to dignity and justice for Palestinians subject to Israel’s military rule.

Further end use restrictions, while sometimes envisioned by two-state advocates, throw out the proverbial “baby with the bathwater,” endangering Israeli security and not bringing two states any closer to fruition. The U.S. can play a productive role in furthering a two-state vision, but only when the approach brings American policymakers together around positive steps that ensures freedom, security, and prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians alike.