The Slaughter and Starvation of Gaza Cannot Continue; US Must Suspend Arms to Israel

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today the number of Palestinians killed in Gaza is estimated to have passed 30,000 – two-thirds of them civilians and more than half of those children – as dozens were shot by Israeli forces or crushed in the chaos of hundreds of desperate civilians surrounding an aid convoy in Gaza City. In response, Center for International Policy (CIP) Executive Vice President Matt Duss issued the following statement:

President Biden must say ‘enough is enough’ and finally end US support for and complicity in the ongoing carnage in Gaza. Importantly, he should suspend transfers to Israel of the arms it is using in Gaza, as he is already obligated to do under US law given the obvious reality – including an open admission by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu – that the Israeli government is limiting the amount of humanitarian aid delivered to the territory.

President Biden should also continue his efforts to reach a ceasefire that includes the release of all hostages and a massive emergency surge in humanitarian aid. We regret that both Israel and Hamas have recently failed to reach a ceasefire, but the US approach should not be contingent on the decisions of others. It should be based on our own values and our own laws. Diplomacy must be prioritized not only as a means of reaching peace, but in order to uphold our own principles. The ongoing provision of arms to Israel despite its open hindrance of humanitarian efforts is a clear departure from those principles.

A full ceasefire and massive humanitarian relief effort is not just a moral necessity but a security one. The ongoing war in Gaza has triggered fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, as well as between the United States and Houthi forces in the Red Sea and Yemen – both of which threaten to spread and possibly draw Iran and others in the region into a larger, even more devastating conflict. 

Nearly five months of slaughter and starvation of civilians in Gaza, and the continued holding and abuse of Israeli hostages, must not continue. It is time for President Biden and US partners to finally use their leverage to end this catastrophe.

 

Durable Peace Isn’t Possible Without Palestine

Y.L. Al-Sheikh is a Palestinian-American writer and organizer active in the Democratic Socialists of America and in international solidarity work between Israel/Palestine and the United States. 

The prospective invasion of Rafah by Israel threatens to blow up not just the nation’s recent attempts at regional normalization, but to also provoke the ire of Egypt and Jordan, countries that walked long, hard diplomatic roads to reach peace with their neighbor. Rafah, the southernmost city in the Gaza strip, had a prewar population of 275,000, which has now swollen to over 1,300,000 people. It is currently the last place for most of the Palestinians of Gaza to find refuge, given the scale of destruction throughout the north forcing them south toward the Egyptian border.

It is in this context that we are witnessing some of the harshest exchanges between Israel and its Arab neighbors, including the Jordanians and Egyptians, since the 1973 war fifty years ago. This regional deterioration comes at a time that the Biden Administration is rebooting its multi-year effort to broker a security and normalization deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel, despite fierce skepticism both at home from Senate Democrats and abroad from Israel’s ultra-right governing coalition.

With a resurgent intensity in rage among the Egyptian and Jordanian peoples in response to Israel’s military campaigns in occupied Palestine, the governments of these two states are feeling the pressure to respond. In Egypt’s case, with echoes of the Nakba on the mind and fears of hundreds of thousands refugees being exiled into the Sinai, they have publicly raised the prospect of terminating the 1979 treaty of peace based on the Camp David accords. On the other side of Israel’s frontier, the government of the Kingdom of Jordan, which has a majority Palestinian population, was recently instructed by its parliament to review all existing agreements with Israel, including the 1994 treaty of peace which was signed in part with the expectation that a Palestinian state would soon come to fruition via Oslo. These actions, though perhaps largely symbolic at the moment, underscore a more serious lesson that has been forced upon the West since the beginning of the war: the prospects for durable peace and prosperity in the region are slim to none without a meaningful path to Palestinian liberation.

Cracks in this orientalist belief that the Palestinians could be sidelined permanently and without consequence were already showing long before October 7th, with the Biden administration facing rising domestic pressure over the three and a half years of his first term. Prominent Democrats across the political spectrum of the party, from internationalist progressives like Bernie Sanders and Rashida Tlaib to national security centrists like Chris Van Hollen and Tim Kaine, have vented frustration with the lack of pushback against Israel’s most extreme government in history.

Before the war, President Biden’s record on Israel-Palestine looked eerily similar to his predecessor’s, with the president nominally maintaining key elements of Pompeo doctrine on settlement policy, upholding Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan heights and implicit recognition of Israel’s control over a supposedly “united” Jerusalem, and a failure to follow through on the campaign promise to reopen the consulate for Palestinians in East Jerusalem. It took until February 23, 2024, over three years into this administration’s term, for the first of a series of possible reversals by the Biden administration of any part of the Pompeo doctrine. It remains unclear at this time if this policy change will include a reversal in how products made in the settlements must be labeled, as the administration currently mandates that Israeli products made in the occupied West Bank be marked as “made in Israel”. To the administration’s credit, an executive order was issued which allows for sanctions to be imposed on violent settlers and those who do business with them, and there is speculation that the mechanism will be used more often in the near future.

Polling data indicated that younger voters disapproved of Biden’s handling of the May-June War of 2021, just as they are disapproving today of his handling of the current war, and in early 2023 a Gallup poll had shown that for the first time ever Democratic voters had more sympathy for Palestinians than they did for Israelis. In this context, it is not surprising that Senate Democrats are demanding real concessions for Palestinians in exchange for approving any tentative treaty between Saudi Arabia and the United States. The “price” for such a treaty since the brutal Israeli campaign that has killed over 12,000 Palestinian children has gone up significantly, both from the perspective of Democrats and of Saudi Crown Prince MBS, with the latter now demanding that Israel take “irreversible steps” towards the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Yet there have also been rumblings against the suddenly revived two-state paradigm itself. We are now more than twenty five years removed from the signing of the first Oslo agreement, which neither explicitly promised a Palestinian state nor set a defined time table for the establishment of such a state, and the failures of the much talked-about peace process are leading some to embrace alternative frameworks for peace. Rashida Tlaib is  currently the only member of Congress to formally endorse a secular, binational state for all of its citizens, but her skepticism of two states for two peoples is being echoed in the international arena.

In a bombshell interview last year, former Jordanian DPM and FM Marwan Muasher stated that it was his view that Jordan should sever all relations with Israel and begin to push the international community towards a single state or confederal model that respects Palestinian and Jewish Israeli rights alike. Muasher was the architect of the 1994 treaty of peace between Jordan and Israel, and his view is indicative of how some in Jordan are beginning to feel about the post-Oslo political landscape. Likewise, the “one-state reality” as a framework for understanding the conflict has gained salience on the heels of reports issued by B’Tselem, Amnesty, and Human Rights Watch calling Israel’s multifaceted regime over all Palestinians between the Mediterranean and River a system of apartheid. In May of 2021, Congresswomen Bush, Ocasio-Cortez, and Tlaib all asserted that “apartheid states are not democracies”. Despite these shifts, the Biden administration seems intent on trying to revive partition as the United States’ official framework for peace, and a detailed plan could be unveiled within the next month.

However, the current philosophy of unequivocal support to Israel makes the United States one of the biggest obstacles to a negotiated peace, rather than a facilitator of it. So long as this administration and any successive one is intent on being Israel’s lawyer above all else, intervening on Israel’s behalf in every diplomatic forum and providing it with unconditional military support, there will be no reason for Israel to compromise and certainly no reason for Palestinians to trust the Americans to be a fair mediator. For peace to be given a chance of seriously succeeding, regardless of the minute details of the final political framework, Biden will not just have to finally reverse the damage that his predecessor created, but go beyond all of his predecessors and make clear that a just settlement will be based on international law and the dignity of not just Israelis, but the Palestinians as well. As Rashid Khalidi says towards the end of his book A Hundred Years’ War On Palestine, negotiations “should stress complete equality of treatment of both peoples, and be based on the Hague and Fourth Geneva conventions, the United Nations Charter with its stress on national self determination, and all relevant UN Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, not just those cherry-picked by the United States to favor Israel.”

Anything less will doom this president to the same fate as Clinton, Bush, and Obama, failed authors of ephemeral treaties, of which nothing besides missed opportunity remains.

Eight Failures From The US Testimony At The International Court of Justice

The U.S. Government has made its oral statement at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Sadly, if predictably, the position presented constituted a charter for permanent occupation and undermining International Law.

The International Court of Justice was tasked by the UN General Assembly in December of 2022 to provide an advisory opinion on the legal consequences and third party responsibilities arising from Israel’s prolonged occupation of the Palestinian territories. This process includes holding hearings and receiving statements, and it is the first time in 20 years (since the advisory opinion on the construction by Israel of a wall in Occupied Palestinian Territory) that the court has addressed these legal questions. At the hearings, an unprecedented number of states will be appearing to offer testimony – the vast majority will be supporting variations of the case put forward by the Palestinians while a small minority, led by the U.S. will do the opposite.

Here’s why the Biden administration’s disappointing argument should concern anyone who wants to see genuine movement towards peace and justice:

1. A core of the U.S. argument was that the Court and international law do have a role, but those must narrowly center around UN Security Council Resolutions and with a heavy emphasis on 242 and 338. That in itself is a sleight of hand by the United States Government. We know why the Security Council is always so limited and circumscribed – because the U.S. has consistently for decades vetoed anything which offers a broader application of international law to Israel’s actions and to its permanent belligerent occupation. What  the U.S. position is saying is that other equally important pre-emptory norms and conventions in international law cannot be applied to the case of Israel/Palestine – for instance the inalienable rights to self-determination, the Genocide Convention, the convention on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination etc. The U.S. is deploying something of a tautology. It has broken the capacity of the Security Council to act by consistently using its veto and now it wants to apply those broken results to undermine the role of the International Court of Justice.

2. Given the centrality of UNSCRs 242 and 338 to the presentation of the U.S, it is worth placing those resolutions in their correct context. Neither make mention of the Palestinians directly or of the Palestinian right to self-determination, they are very much rooted in the then predominant language of the Israeli/Arab conflict. In approach they resemble the legacy of the 1947 UN Partition Plan – passed by a pre-decolonisation UN consisting of just 56 states, of whom 33 voted for partition (31 from the global north along with apartheid South Africa). Those two resolutions, 242 and 338, both more than half a century old, predate the major legal questions facing the ICJ in this advisory opinion – the massive proliferation of illegal settlements, de facto annexation, changes in the status of Jerusalem and the entrenchment of a discriminatory regime considered to meet the legal definition of apartheid.

3. In its oral statement, the U.S. recognized the illegality of the acquisition of territory by force and stated this is a principle it upholds universally. However, that does not stand up to the most basic scrutiny. The previous Trump administration recognized Israel’s illegal annexation of the Golan Heights and de facto changed its position on the status of the illegal annexation of East Jerusalem by moving the U.S. Embassy there. Neither of these steps have been reversed by the Biden administration.

4. The U.S. position was essentially to endorse the notion of permanent belligerent occupation. It talked about conditions for withdrawal, but of course its own policies prevent the most important condition for that withdrawal, namely the U.S. guaranteeing Israeli impunity and avoidance of costs or consequences for Israel’s continued illegal actions. The USG therefore ends up defending and owning Israel’s ongoing drift toward ever greater extremism.

5. The U.S. testimony conspicuously refused to reassert the illegality of Israel’s settlements – one of the central questions the court has already ruled on and on which there is near total international unanimity. U.S. testimony was an opportunity to assert a policy long neglected. Instead, the USG seems to want us to focus on a few bad apples of extremist settlers when the reality of the illegal settlement project is in it being a central plank of Israeli state policy to control land and resources, to advance demographic re-engineering, and is legally enabled, funded, secured, by every Israeli government of every political persuasion.

6. The U.S. position at the ICJ goes hand in hand with its vetoing of recent resolutions on Gaza at the UN Security Council. That position is to maintain a strict separation between a US-led peace process and international law. It is a separation which enables a 30-year peace process under which Israel’s violations of international law multiply and metastasize rather than being ended, in which numbers of illegal settlers exponentially increase and in which the peace process becomes cover for the enabling and entrenching of a reality of apartheid. It should therefore come as no surprise that of the submissions at the ICJ, 22 states and 2 International Groupings reference the apartheid reality. Reconnecting any future peace effort to international law is what is most necessary and what the USG is trying to prevent.

It is understandable why – if international law is applied to Israel then the legal complicity of the US, for instance, in supplying Israel with weapons, comes under the microscope. If the US can pick and choose and strong-arm – a process sometimes called “the rules based international order” – as a replacement for international law, then it can use the asymmetry of power to bully Palestinians as it has done to others. However, this will only make the situation worse and leave the US more exposed in its attempts to defend the mutual claims of Israel and the US to exceptional impunity. It also ultimately undermines Israel’s security because if international law does not apply to Israel, then it cannot apply to Hamas either and all parties must be in compliance with international law.

7. There were additional shortcomings, oddities, and missed opportunities in the USG’s oral statement. The U.S. was right to raise Israel’s legitimate security needs. However, Israel has defined its security in such an expansive and unreasonable way as to become a pillar underpinning the regime of separate and unequal ethno-nationalism. The U.S. appears to uncritically endorse the Israeli position claiming that security needs to be balanced against any possible future withdrawal of the occupation and thereby green lighting further decades of occupation. It was also noteworthy that without any relevance to international law or the ICJ hearings, the USG frequently promoted its priority of normalisation and integration into the region of Israel – again endorsing the approach of the Trump administration and subordinating international law and legitimate Palestinian rights to a geo-political vision which seeks to strengthen the U.S. but further obfuscate the issue of peace, rights and self-determination for the Palestinians.

8. Why does any of this matter? The court will probably only release its advisory opinion in several months. That outcome is unlikely to align with the arguments made by the U.S.

Another advisory opinion by the court clarifying legal questions around Israel’s prolonged occupation will not offer immediate actions that can be enforced but it matters because it will potentially provide new tools around which voters, consumers, shareholders, activists and national courts can challenge the existing status quo and the ways in which multiple governments and companies, arms suppliers, and apologists are complicit in this ongoing affront to international legality and indeed to the future wellbeing of not only Palestinians, but of Israelis for whom the role of oppressor can never deliver security or peace of mind.

Daniel Levy is the president of the U.S. / Middle East Project

 

The Counter-ISIS Train and Equip Fund (CTEF)

The Counter-ISIS Train and Equip Fund (CTEF)

Egyptian Military Aid Suspension Turns Up Short