WASHINGTON – As President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stake out opposing positions on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, some Western advocacy groups are speaking with their wallets by sending money to West Bank settlements.
The White House announced last week that President Barack Obama will try to salvage Israeli-Palestinian peace talks by the end of his term; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared on Sunday that the two-state solution is not viable.
The two-state solution has been the operating principle behind peace talks for over two decades. The green line constitutes the borders of a two-state solution between Israel and a future state of Palestine made up of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. However, Jewish settlements on the West Bank have been a longstanding monkey wrench to the plan because Palestinians demand that they communities be evacuated as part of any deal.
Money from Christian and Jewish advocacy groups in the U.S. that has been flowing over the green line to support West Bank settler also creates an impediment because it sends a distinct political message.
“When you give … the impression that there is no difference between Israel-proper and the occupied West Bank, that is another impediment to trying to promote the idea of a two-state solution,” Ori Nir, director of communications and public engagement for Americans for Peace Now, said.
Americans for Peace Now, a progressive nonprofit that advocates for a two-state solution, describes settlements as one of the biggest obstacles to peace. Yet both Christian and Jewish-American organizations send millions of dollars to settlements, influencing events on the ground from thousands of miles away.
“The other thing is that the more brick and mortar there is there, the more people that are there, the larger and deeper the footprint is there, the more difficult it would be to convince people to leave peacefully,” Nir said.
John Hagee Ministries and Friends of the Israel Defense Forces are examples of Christian and Jewish groups that fund activities in the West Bank. The New York Times reported in 2010 that “at least 40 American groups…have collected more than $200 million in tax-deductible gifts for Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the past decade.”
John Hagee Ministries, an evangelical organization based in San Antonio, Texas believes that God gave Israel to the Jews – and everything from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River should belong to Israel.
“God…made an eternal covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that he was going to give them a specific piece of real estate that the Jewish people were going to have forever,” Founder John Hagee said in a speech for Christians United for Israel.
A spokesman for the organization said John Hagee Ministries has donated more than $80 million to Israeli or Jewish organizations since 1981, when it began hosting an annual Night to Honor Israel. The event raised nearly $2.8 million at the 2014 event alone.
“Please note: More than 95 percent of John Hagee Ministries (JHM) donations to Israeli/Jewish charities stay within the Green Line,” spokesman Ari Morgenstern said in an email, with about $4 million going to projects such as schools and youth centers in various settlements across the West Bank, such as Ariel and Efrat.
While John Hagee Ministries sends money directly over the green line, there are other ways to help support settlements.
Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, founded in 1981 by a group of Holocaust survivors, supports Israeli soldiers and their families. However, FIDF donates money to many other organizations, according to its federal filings.
According to its disclosures, the organization donated over $5.5 million to Nefesh B’Nefesh, an organization that facilitates immigration to Israel for North American Jews. The group advertises locations that include the settlements of Gush Etzion, Efrat, Alon Shvut, Adam, Ariel and Giv’at Ze’ev, among others.
Money donated to Nefesh B’Nefesh “goes into facilitating the moves of the new immigrants,” said Director of Communications Yael Katsman.
FIDF, which could not be reached for comment, and Nefesh B’Nefesh also have a partnership program dedicated to helping immigrants transition into the Israel Defense Forces once they are drafted in accordance with Israel’s national draft.
However, the money American organizations send to settlements is a drop in the bucket compared to the funds provided by the Israeli government.
“Well, the moneys that are donated by third parties are a small percentage of budgets the State of Israel itself spends. And in and of themselves, they’re of little strategic consequence,” Geoffrey Aronson, specialist in Middle East Affairs, said. “But what they do suggest is that there is an ability to mobilize international support for Israel’s policy of settlement expansion.”
In addition to sending money to West Bank settlements, pro-Israel organizations donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to congressional leaders. For example, these organizations donated over $420,000 to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY., between 2008 and 2014 and nearly $150,000 to Rep. Ed Royce, R-Cal., chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, between 2012 and 2014.
“…There are large quantities of campaign funding that come from right-wing Jewish and Christian organizations or individuals,” former Consul General to Jerusalem Philip Wilcox said. “… Those contributions are a major factor is dissuading congressmen and senators who otherwise might be willing to discourage continued occupation and settlement.”