Is Biden’s Israel Policy Cynical or Naive?

Today, Isaac Chotiner of The New Yorker interviewed Executive Vice President Matt Duss about the Biden Administration’s Israel policy, and what other options are available.

CHOTINER: Do you think the sense within the Administration is that Israeli behavior would actually change if the United States started imposing consequences? Because you can come up with examples through history of people saying, “Well, there’s nothing we can really do to change the course of events, so we’re just going to stick by and do the best we can.”

DUSS: I think there is and has been a genuine debate within the Administration about the efficacy of some of these tools for leverage. My own view is that we should find out, because even if you are not effective in changing Israeli behavior, the upside is that the United States would no longer be arming a mass atrocity. I think that’s a pretty big upside. I also think the serious analysis is that Israel simply could not sustain this war for a long time if the United States withdrew its military support.

There’s also just a basic sense that—and I say this as a former staffer myself—once the boss has laid down where he or she will not go, what approaches he or she is or is not willing to consider, then you try and find solutions within those bounds. And I think that’s what we’ve been seeing here.

Read the rest of the interview here.

Biden Ceasefire Push Welcome, Enforcement of US Red Lines Still Critical

Center for International Policy executive vice president Matt Duss issued the following statement in response to President Biden’s speech setting forth the terms for a ceasefire agreement now under consideration by relevant parties:

“The president’s promotion of a long overdue comprehensive ceasefire proposal is welcome. In nearly eight months of war, indiscriminate bombardment and siege, thousands of innocent Palestinian civilians have been killed, and hundreds of thousands more now fear for their survival amid mass displacement and famine. The hostages and their families have endured nearly eight months of unimaginable suffering. The security and well-being of both peoples depend on this ceasefire being agreed, and we applaud the administration’s efforts to secure it. 

We should also note Prime Minister Netanyahu’s statement in reaction to President Biden’s speech, which identified different goals and conditions for ending the war and made a point of referring to the ‘exact draft offered by Israel.’ The possibility of daylight between a proposal Israel would accept and what President Biden outlined means that his administration must take concrete steps to enforce his red lines and secure the ceasefire he set out. As it stands, the US should immediately cease provision of offensive weapons as long as Israel continues to prevent the delivery of humanitarian aid and disregard international law protecting civilians.”

The Center for International Policy has repeatedly urged the Biden Administration to pursue a ceasefire by using its full leverage, including an end to the unconditional supply of weapons to Israel and to US shielding Israel at the UN Security Council and other international legal fora.

CIP Condemns Deadly Airstrike on Rafah Tent Camp, Renews Call for US to Halt Arms

In response to an Israeli airstrike on a tent camp in Rafah that caused the deaths of at least 45 civilians, part of an ongoing offensive in southern Gaza, Center for International Policy’s Vice President for Government Affairs Dylan Williams issued the following statement:

“The mass killing of civilians seeking refuge, whether by mistake or otherwise, is exactly what President Biden said would be unacceptable about an Israeli offensive in Rafah. Biden shouldn’t wait for a pro forma Israeli investigation — he should stand by his word and halt arms right now.”

CIP has been warning for weeks that the Israeli offensive in Rafah is a violation of President Biden’s “red line.”

ICJ Order to Halt the Invasion of Rafah Must Be Respected by All

In response to the International Court of Justice ruling ordering Israel to halt its Rafah offensive, Center for International Policy executive vice president Matt Duss issued the following statement:

“We call on all governments to respect and abide by the International Court of Justice’s order requiring a halt to the invasion of Rafah and to reopen the Rafah border crossing. We specifically call on the United States government to help enforce the order, which is consistent with its own stated position in support of a ceasefire and release of hostages, by halting the transfers of US arms that Israel is using in Rafah.

This historic step to uphold international law and the rights of civilians in conflict is unfortunately necessary in light of the failure of previous appeals to Israel to prevent mass civilian casualties and stop the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. As the Court issues its order, hundreds of thousands of people – many of them already displaced from other parts of the territory – are being driven from Rafah without a plan to ensure they receive the food, shelter and other basic necessities they need to survive.

We also reject all attempts to delegitimize, intimidate or penalize the ICJ or its officers. The security and rights of people around the world hang in the balance as the institutions tasked with upholding international humanitarian law perform their duties. Disagreements with ICJ or International Criminal Court actions may be expressed appropriately and challenged through the established processes, but attempting to undermine or criminalize the multilateral legal bodies that are a core part of the rules-based international system threatens essential US and global security interests.”

###

Yet another dangerous bill puts weapons for Israel above US law

Today, Janet Abou-Elias and Lillian Mauldin of Women for Weapons Trade Transparency have a column in The Hill arguing against congressional efforts to override presidential pauses of arms shipments. The “Maintaining Our Ironclad Commitment to Israel’s Security Act,” introduced by Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), would prevent the president from pausing or delaying the delivery of weapons to Israel without noticing Congress 15 days beforehand of the intent to pause. They write:

Withholding U.S. security assistance has historically been an important check to ensure that allies comply with U.S. national security objectives and international law. Not only that, the U.S. is obligated by its own laws to withhold military assistance from countries that restrict the delivery of U.S. humanitarian aid and from any unit of a foreign security force that has committed a gross violation of human rights.

The author of the latter law himself, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), recently argued that Leahy laws should apply to Israel.

Read the rest of the piece here.

CIP Welcomes ICC Prosecutor Moves on Israel-Palestine

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In response to the International Criminal Court seeking arrest warrants for senior leaders for events in Israel and Palestine beginning October 7, the Center for International Policy’s President and CEO Nancy Okail issued the following statement:

“We welcome the International Criminal Court Prosecutor’s application seeking arrest warrants for senior Hamas and Israeli officials for numerous violations of the Rome Statute.

International law protecting civilians in conflict must be applied consistently and impartially. The failure to adhere to or enforce the laws of war not only contributes to an environment of impunity in the current conflict in Gaza, but undermines the rights and safety of people around the world. Today’s move by the ICC’s prosecutor is an urgently needed step toward restoring accountability under, and reinforcing the legitimacy of, international humanitarian law.

CIP calls upon countries, including the United States, to fully cooperate with – and in no way impede – the ICC process currently underway on this matter. One need not agree with the prosecutor’s allegations to respect and defend the legitimacy of the court, its processes and the law which it is tasked to enforce. Any attempt to penalize or intimidate the court or its officers must be categorically condemned.

The United States should also fulfill its own obligations and immediately cease military support enabling the violations of human rights and international law enumerated in the requested ICC warrants.” 

Flawed NSM-20 Report on Israel Undercuts Administration’s Own Efforts Alongside US Law, Interests and Values

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In response to the Biden administration’s report to Congress treating Israel as largely in compliance with the requirements of National Security Memorandum 20 (NSM-20), Center for International Policy (CIP) executive vice president Matt Duss issued the following statement:

“The administration has once again ignored a mountain of evidence and failed to hold Israel accountable for severe violations of international and US law in its conduct in the Gaza war. While stating that it is ‘reasonable to assess’ that Israel failed to meet NSM-20’s requirements in certain instances, the administration’s failure to indicate meaningful US action in response is a clearly political decision that risks not only further harm, but contradicts the assessments of US lawmakers and civil society organizations.

This report comes as hundreds of thousands of civilians in Gaza face famine, continued bombardment and an invasion of Rafah against US warnings. While we welcome President Biden’s recent promise to withhold certain munitions out of concern for civilian harm, today’s report treating Israel as largely meeting its obligations under NSM-20 undercuts the administration’s own efforts to protect civilian lives and facilitate a ceasefire and the release of hostages still held by Hamas. Instead, it functionally greenlights Israel’s continued use of US weapons in ways contrary to our law, interests and values. 

The Biden administration must end its mixed messages and conflicting actions on Israel’s conduct in Gaza, as well as in the occupied West Bank, and bring its policy in line with its rhetoric. It must fully and consistently enforce international and US law by halting the transfer of all offensive weapons and other military assistance that Israel is using in the Rafah invasion or elsewhere to violate Palestinian rights. If this administration is serious about promoting peace and upholding human rights and international law, President Biden must finally and completely end US complicity in the grievous harm being done to civilians with our aid and arms.”

The Israeli War on Gaza: Post-War Scenarios

Omar Shaban is CIP’s inaugural Leahy Fellow for Human Rights and Security. He is also the founder of PalThink for Strategic Studies, an independent Gaza-based think tank with no political affiliation.

The attack of October 7th 2023 was a pivotal event at the local and international levels, ushering in a new era in the life of the Palestinian people and relations with  the conflict with the Israeli occupation. For the first time in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Israel was subjected to a surprise attack by militants belonging to armed organizations, not an organized army, who broke through the border and reached about 14 small towns in southern Israel, inflicting a number of Israeli and foreign civilian and military casualties, and kidnapped and held hostage dozens of civilians, military personnel and non-Israeli foreigners.

The Hamas-Jihadist attack came as a shocking surprise to everyone, Israel, the world, the Palestinian people, and a large part of the leadership and members of Hamas itself and Palestinian society in general, because there were no indications of the possibility of such an event taking place. A few hours after the attack, Israel launched its war on the Gaza Strip in general and Hamas and Islamic Jihad in particular. This war, which is still going on for the 205th day as of this writing, is one in which Israel used all means of killing, destruction, death, and starvation, amounting to genocide, with a case submitted to the International Criminal Court by the State of South Africa.

The Israeli government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu and the War Cabinet set goals for the war: 1), to free the hostages held in the Gaza Strip, and 2), to eliminate Hamas’ military capabilities, and undermine the regime it runs in the Gaza Strip, and 3) ensure that Gaza will not pose a future threat to Israel’s security.  These objectives, if realized, will necessarily produce radical changes in Gaza’s system of governance, and their effects will be long-lasting. Research and policy analysis centers have been studying the concepts and scenarios of the results of this war and what it will entail in the short, medium, and long term. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has referred to the battle in Gaza as the second war of independence for the State of Israel,  just as the Palestinian Nakba was the first war of independence, and the term “the day after the war on the Gaza Strip” is commonly used by Israeli politicians as a term that refers to transcending the presence of Hamas in the future of the Gaza Strip.

However, the Israeli government, represented by its leaders or the War Cabinet, was unable to present a clear vision for this future, although they expressed some features of it in the context of the military campaign, such as Israeli ministers declaring repeatedly that they do not want UNRWA, the Palestinian National Authority, or Fatah to participate in the future of Gaza. These Israeli goals partially intersected with the US vision of dealing with the war on Gaza, which was represented in the vision of US Secretary of State Blinken: First, defeating Hamas and rejecting a role for it as part of Gaza’s future, second: the US refusal to displace the population of Gaza, and third, the refusal of Israel permanently reoccupying Gaza. Talking about the day after the war became one of the most important results of the convergence of the desire to defeat Hamas. While recognizing that the answer to the question “What comes the day after the war?” carries with it divergent views: the United States wants to see a Palestinian National Authority with radical reforms in the Gaza Strip, while Israel opposes the presence of the Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip and does not want to see unity within the Palestinian political system.

 

The day after the war: Possible scenarios

This paper attempts to anticipate the future by examining possible scenarios for managing the Gaza Strip after the end of the war and analyzing the possibilities and obstacles of each scenario.

Before reviewing these scenarios, it should be noted that the question of the day after the war on Gaza has become an important question to be answered by Israel after the failure of the plan to deport the residents of the Gaza Strip to Egypt. Israel tried to gain Western sympathy in the first days of the war to pass the plan to deport Gaza residents, but this plan failed because of Arab and international rejection, especially from Egypt, which firmly refused to open its territory, in addition to the resistance of the residents of Gaza and their refusal to be deported again. Netanyahu and the Israeli War Cabinet went on to destroy all forms of life in the Gaza Strip by targeting all the basic elements of life, such as water, energy, and sanitation networks, shelling hospitals, schools, churches, and mosques, in addition to turning to rubble all government offices, residential towers and hundreds of thousands of housing units as well as refusing to allow in fuel and rationing food and medical aid, in an attempt to submit life in Gaza to the power of death. Interestingly, it is the US administration that has taken the initiative to develop scenarios to manage the governance of the Gaza Strip after the war.

Blinken’s multiple visits to the region during the first months of the war came within the framework of presenting scenarios for governing the Gaza Strip after the end of the war, as the US administration identifies with Israel’s goal and continues to support by all means its war against the Palestinian people in Gaza. In his meeting with Arab foreign ministers in Jordan, the US Secretary of State put forward the idea of managing the Gaza Strip through a joint Arab force, a proposal that was rejected by the foreign ministers. This prompted him to visit President Mahmoud Abbas and present the proposal to him, which Abbas conditionally accepted the governance and management of the Gaza Strip but only within a political process that leads to a Palestinian state according to international legitimacy resolutions, which Israel certainly rejects. In light of these changes, the Israeli war on Gaza opened the door wide for all possible scenarios for managing the governance of the Gaza Strip, and some of the possible scenarios are as follows:

 

1- Hamas containment scenario

This scenario assumes that the Israeli war on the Gaza Strip will not intentionally or effectively succeed in eliminating Hamas, but the continuous Israeli pressure on Hamas using all means of war, including killing, destruction, starvation, and humiliation, will push it to make fundamental concessions that affect the foundations and principles of the movement. These concessions include recognizing Israel’s right to exist, renouncing violence, and accepting a political-negotiating approach. The movement may then have the opportunity to survive, preserve what remains of its capabilities, participate in governing the Strip, and engage in its reconstruction on new political bases. If Israel succeeds in achieving this, it will have completely domesticated the Palestinian situation.

In a recent statement by the Hamas leadership, Khalil al-Haya said:  Hamas is ready to abandon the military approach and give up weapons if a Palestinian state is approved.

Arguably, this most recent Hamas position represents a radical change from its previous positions.

Getting Hamas to abandon its military program is the strategic goal that Israel is trying to achieve in this war, and if it succeeds, it will have won. This would mean Hamas entering the path of compromise and abandoning the armed struggle, which is the same scenario the PLO had in 1982, after Israel invaded Beirut and PLO forces and its head at the time, Yasser Arafat, left the country. Israel would have succeeded in maintaining the separation of the Gaza Strip from the West Bank and keeping the Palestinian political divide intact, thus not having to respond to international and regional calls for the need to open a political track for the conflict that ends with a two-state solution. This scenario also guarantees Israel freedom of security and military action in the Gaza Strip, including raids, arrests, and suppression of any Palestinian resistance, without an actual military presence on the ground. This scenario has strong prospects because it is consistent with Israel’s traditional policy toward Hamas since it took control of the Strip in 2007, which is a policy of mowing the grass rather than eliminating it. There has been a change in the stated goal of the Israeli war on Gaza from eliminating Hamas and overthrowing its rule to destroying the group’s military capabilities and preventing it from repeating the October 7th attack. A report published by Al Jazeera lists the opinions of some Israeli experts that Hamas will remain in Gaza the day after the war and that any authority cannot fill the vacuum, and must participate in the civil affairs of Gazans. The realization of this scenario depends on the results of the ongoing battle on the ground, how and when it ends, and whether Hamas will be able to survive and realize some achievements that enable it to possess some power cards.

Influential parties, such as Qatar and Turkey in particular, may contribute to convincing the movement’s leadership abroad to accept this scenario, but this scenario would cause Hamas to lose the support and allegiance of the resistance forces such as Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah. This approach will greatly affect the future of Hamas, especially in front of its supporters and in its ideological stance against Israel, and may lead to a partial collapse and a split in the movement, in addition to the major rift that may occur with other resistance factions such as Islamic Jihad, and the axis of resistance (Hezbollah and Iran). This scenario will also find strong opposition from some Arab parties such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, which prefer Hamas to disappear from the scene and its integration into the Palestinian political system, as they are at odds with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

 

2- Interim international, regional and local supervision of the Gaza Strip

This scenario assumes that after the end of the war, and to fill the vacuum that may arise as a result of the collapse of the regime in the Gaza Strip, influential powers (USA, the European Union, Arab countries influential in the Palestinian case, Egypt and Jordan in particular) may be forced to form an Arab and international force with the participation of local representatives from Gaza to manage the Strip. This entity will manage the reconstruction process and supervise sectors such as education and health and may be supported by an external military force to maintain security, such as a UN peacekeeping force.

This scenario is very much on the table, as Arab countries have announced their readiness to send troops to the Gaza Strip to contribute to its security. The realization of this scenario is mainly linked to Israel’s success in achieving all of its goals and effectively eliminating Hamas and weakening it to the point where it cannot resist. The resistance factions have announced their rejection of this proposal. This scenario, even if it is on the table, requires a legitimate cover from the Arab League or the United Nations as well as acceptance by the Palestinian Authority, which may see this scenario as a transgression against it, especially in light of the legitimacy of Palestinian representation in the PLO and questions over the roles the Arab participants wish to play in the Gaza Strip, especially since they may not be eager to engage in the quagmire of the Gaza Strip in the absence of a permanent political solution. Under this scenario, the PA would not be able to extend its control from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip. Over time and as the situation evolves, its presence in the West Bank would be eliminated by moving its center to the Gaza Strip, or by replacing it entirely with another authority in the Gaza Strip. The outcome of this path could be the realization of a two-state solution by establishing a Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip, which could enjoy certain aspects of sovereignty. The price for this would be to keep the status of Jerusalem and the West Bank suspended and separate from that of the Gaza Strip, while keeping hope aflame, in line with a step-by-step policy, that the fate of that area will be dealt with in the future. Of course, land annexation, Judaization, and settlement will continue until Israel ends up swallowing the entire West Bank, including Jerusalem.

 

3- The scenario of returning the authority to the Gaza Strip

This scenario requires Israel to agree to enable the Palestinian National Authority to reorganize itself in the Gaza Strip, including security control over the Strip, which may require recruiting local elements, bringing in forces from the West Bank or diaspora refugee camps, or containing the existing security forces in the Gaza Strip according to new security principles and doctrine. The PA favors this scenario, as it has already prepared itself for it after Prime Minister Mohammed Ishtia resigned and President Abbas appointed Mohammed Mustafa to form a new government, predominantly from experts and technocrats, in response to repeated calls from the European Union and the United States for the reforming of the PA. This scenario requires Palestinians to build genuine Palestinian reconciliation, form a national technocratic government that would be tasked with rebuilding the Gaza Strip under international auspices, curb Israel’s aggressive policies, establish Palestinian elections, and introduce political reforms in the structure of the political system to prevent the escalation of the conflict and unify the Palestinian decision in time of peace and war, paving the way for a political path in the future.

The Israeli government announced earlier that it would not allow a Fatahistan state in the Gaza Strip, as this scenario would force Israel to go through a comprehensive political process that would eventually lead to a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. However, a change in Israel’s attitude toward the PA has become evident with secret meetings held between influential Palestinian security figures and Israel. Given these changes in Israeli attitudes, it is worth considering the price Israel will demand from the PA for allowing it to administer the Gaza Strip after the war, which will be in the context of completing Israel’s mission to eliminate pockets of resistance and prevent them from being armed.

However, if this scenario is the most likely to happen, then the survival of Hamas as an active part of the Palestinian political system depends on three factors. The first factor is the acceptance of Hamas to fully integrate into the structure of the political system, abandon dependence on the resistance axis, and abide by the PLO agreements, without requiring it to explicitly recognize the State of Israel. The second is the extent of the international community’s enthusiasm to accept the presence of Hamas in the Palestinian political system the day after the war. And the third factor is Fatah’s acceptance of Hamas in the political system after its defeat and declining strength, as undoubtedly Fatah views Hamas as a political rival that has repeatedly presented itself as an alternative.

 

4- Scenario of the return of the Israeli civil administration to the Gaza Strip

This scenario assumes that the Israeli military will remain present – permanently or temporarily – in the Gaza Strip the day after the war. This scenario is imposed in specific parts of the Gaza Strip, such as the northern area, Gaza City, and even the center of the Strip, without being applied in the southern area of the Strip, which includes the governorates of Deir al-Balah, Khan Younis and Rafah. If so, it will require re-establishing the civil administration in the same fashion the occupation forces used to run the Gaza Strip before withdrawing from it in 1994 under the Oslo Accord. Under this scenario, the occupation forces would provide services to the residents of the Gaza Strip, and the army and Shin Bet would take over the security management of the Gaza Strip. This scenario will also push the Israeli army to strengthen measures it has already put in place, such as what is known as the logistics road linking Israel and Gaza City, which has become like the border of the buffer zone between northern and southern Gaza. This road is equipped with two military posts on the Gaza shore and near Salah al-Din Street, with both posts equipped with air-conditioned rooms and sleeping quarters for soldiers similar to those in the West Bank. In addition, the establishment of the port in an area south of Gaza City indicates that the measures taken are not for the short term but may remain effective in the long term.

This scenario requires the complete elimination of Hamas’s power in the Gaza Strip, especially in Gaza City and northern Gaza. In any case, Israel has considerable experience in civilian administration of PNA areas, and so it will not start from scratch, especially with its tendency in recent years to deploy mobile apps that directly address Palestinian citizens and facilitate communication with them, such as the “Coordinator’s App.” However, the cost of this option is very high for Israel, both in human and financial capital, especially given the deteriorating living conditions of citizens in the Gaza Strip after the war, the cost of reconstruction, and its assumption of full responsibility for providing services to citizens as the occupying power and its need to manage popular resistance and Palestinian and regional rejection of occupation. This option would make Israel the occupier of all Palestinian territories, a return to the pre-Oslo era, and would mean the end of the two-state solution. This scenario was rejected by the United States and Europe, which clearly demanded that Israel not remain in the Gaza Strip and that the PNA return to it. In mid-February 2024, Blinken announced the US rejection of any “new occupation” of Gaza after the end of the war, in response to Netanyahu’s announcement of a plan for after the end of the ongoing war in the Strip.

 

5- Restoring village ties with Israeli military rule

This scenario is based on the formation of a group of Palestinian local administrations made up of family, tribal, and community figures to manage the life affairs of Palestinian citizens in their areas of influence and cooperate with the international community in the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, while the issue of security remains in the hands of the Israeli army. This would be similar to the administrative formations established by Israel in 1978 to manage the Palestinian areas in the West Bank and create an alternative leadership to the PLO that is locally acceptable. It should be noted here that since November 2023, the occupation forces have begun communicating with tribal figures to explore the prospects of managing the Gaza Strip through local collaborators working at this stage to manage the humanitarian aid file. However, the occupation forces did not achieve any breakthrough in this regard as of the time of the writing of this paper, in light of a public refusal to cooperate with the occupation. The Gaza Mukhtars Association announced their refusal to cooperate with the Israeli war government to manage the affairs of the Gaza Strip. Gaza’s tribes and families announced their rejection of the Israeli proposal through an official statement titled: “We refuse to be an alternative to any political system.” Hamas also rejected this scenario, calling Israel’s attempt to communicate with Gaza’s mukhtars and clans “a betrayal that we will not allow.” This scenario is difficult to realize for two reasons; first, Israel will not find acceptable family or local figures in the Gaza Strip with influence and tribal respect that would accept to play this role, as it is a national betrayal, in addition to the Palestinian Authority and Arab countries in the region rejecting it, not to mention that it would fuel popular resistance in the Gaza Strip against it. This scenario has been proven to fail in the past when Israel tried to form village associations in the West Bank as an alternative to the Palestinian leadership.

 

6- Egyptian management of the Gaza Strip

The Gaza Strip represents strategic depth for Egypt, which administered the Gaza Strip from 1948 until June 1967, when Israel occupied the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula. Egypt may have to play this role to fill any vacuum that may arise as a result of Hamas’s military defeat and the fear that extremist terrorist forces will fill this vacuum, as Egypt has bitter experience in the war against terrorism in Sinai, whose borders are connected to the southern Gaza Strip. Egypt would not necessarily administer the Gaza Strip directly but could do so by expanding the influence of the Egyptian intelligence service in the Gaza Strip, as it is currently doing in eastern Libya, which is controlled by General Khalifa Haftar without an actual Egyptian administration. This means that Egypt may view the border that Israel is trying to impose in the northern Gaza Strip through what is known as Route 749 as the border of its national security area, similar to the Sirte-Jufra line, which Egypt set up in 2020 and declared it to be its area of influence and a red line for its national security.

Although this option is unattractive from the Egyptian point of view at the moment, important factors may push it to consider this scenario in one form or another. These are: (1) Egypt’s national security, (2) the desire to benefit from the gas fields in the Gaza Strip, where Egypt, represented by the Egyptian Gas Holding Company (EGAS), previously signed an agreement with the Palestinian National Authority to develop the Marin Gaza gas field, and (3) Egypt’s desire to manage the reconstruction process and benefit from contracts for large-scale infrastructure rehabilitation operations expected to be launched after the war on Gaza. On the Palestinian side in particular, Hamas may view Egypt’s management of the Gaza Strip as a way to preserve itself from completely disappearing as a result of the occupation of the Gaza Strip. However, this scenario would not be welcomed by the Palestinian Authority, which considers the Gaza Strip an essential part of the territory of the Palestinian state, giving it the exclusive right to govern the Strip.

 

A perspective on what Gazans aspire to the day after the war

In reviewing the various scenarios for the situation in the Gaza Strip the day after the end of the war, it is important to take into account what the Gazans themselves, the first and foremost stakeholders in this context, aspire and expect. After the end of the war, civilians in the Gaza Strip look for a future of peace and prosperity. The wars and escalations of the past 17 years have cast a bloody shadow on the daily lives of the population, and the people of Gaza are steadfast in their desire to end the cycle of violence and build a bright future for the next generations. The Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip are demanding an end to the war and a Palestinian leadership capable of bringing peace and stability to civilians, promoting reconstruction, and implementing development projects that restore the health system, food security, job opportunities, and freedom of travel, demands they have been making since the imposition of the blockade on the Gaza Strip in June 2007.

The humanitarian crises in the Gaza Strip are threatening the lives of hundreds of civilians, in addition to the scourge of the war, which has destroyed the economic life and future of thousands of young people. People in the Gaza Strip aspire to restore the democracy they have been deprived of since 2007 by holding parliamentary, presidential, and university council elections. On the tenth anniversary of the division in 2017, PalThink published an open letter signed by 52 NGOs calling on the Palestinian government to hold local government elections in the Gaza Strip.

This would lead to a phase of stability and development with a unified and youthful Palestinian political system, working with all available means to achieve political and development goals and build a better future for all. This was emphasized in the research paper published by MIFTAH in 2021, which included the following: civil society organizations affirm their position that local elections must be held in accordance with the requirements of the law, and believe that there is still time for the government, political forces and parties to stop the first phase and not to fragment the elections and hold them on one day and in all governorates.

Gazans also aspire to begin the process of rebuilding what was destroyed by the multiple wars, which caused a significant deterioration in all economic and social indicators.  The citizens of the Gaza Strip realize that the years of siege and multiple wars have not achieved any political goal for the Palestinian people, but rather have been a huge burden on them and an obstacle to the realization of the Palestinian national project. It is worth mentioning here that the preparations for the legislative elections that were scheduled for May 2021 witnessed the submission of 36 electoral lists to participate in the elections, 26 of which were formed by young people who are not known and are not from the traditional Palestinian political system. The residents of the Gaza Strip are part of the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and since the division and the suspension of the nascent democratic process, they have not stopped demanding an end to this division and the holding of elections.

The citizens of the Gaza Strip believe that the best and only scenario for them is to be under an elected Palestinian national leadership that represents them and works to achieve their goals and aspirations.

 

Conclusion

It may be easy to start a war, but it is not easy to end it, and it is even more difficult to decide the day after. This is true of Israel’s seven-month war on the Gaza Strip. At the beginning of the war, the objectives were clear, as announced by the Israeli War Cabinet, but as time passes these objectives seem less clear and unfulfilled. Hamas has not been completely defeated, the hostages have not been freed, and the population of Gaza has not been abandoned. The ambiguity of how to end the war and decide the next day stems from the fact that most proposals are “wishful thinking” and are out of touch with reality. The October 7th offensive was indeed a pivotal event that can be said to mark a new historical era in the life of the Palestinian people, an era that is currently being termed “the day after the war on Gaza.” This term has become synonymous with the unknown future of Gaza, not only from the Palestinian perspective but also from the Israeli and regional perspectives, as positions within the Israeli government, as well as within the War Cabinet, diverged towards the future of Gaza. This means that discussing the issue of the day after the war on Gaza may take us  to think about the future of the current Israeli government, whose possible fall would represent the fall of the Israeli extreme right-wing forces and the fall of Israeli proposals to displace the population of the Gaza Strip. It may also represent the fall of normalization proposals between some Arab countries and Israel without resolving the Palestinian issue. It can be said with confidence that the war on Gaza has not only destroyed the Gaza Strip but also dispelled political ideas and extremist proposals that some in Israel and the region thought were achievable.

Therefore, we must go to the most realistic scenario, one that is most consistent with the principles of international law and legitimacy. It is a scenario that is based on ending the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and enabling the Palestinians to restore unity and decide on the form of the political system they want and the way to achieve it freely and without external interference. The war on the Gaza Strip, with all the killing and destruction it has caused, must provide a historic opportunity to start a new path towards a landmark settlement that ends the century-old conflict and achieves stability and peace in the Middle East.

This story originally appeared at Arab Reform Initiative on April 30, 2024.

Letter from 101 NGOs Urging U.S. to Restore UNRWA Funding

President Joseph R. Biden
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20500

The Honorable Michael Johnson
Speaker of the House
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Charles E. Schumer
Senate Majority Leader
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear President Biden, Speaker Johnson, and Leader Schumer, 

We, the undersigned 101 immigrant, refugee, human rights and humanitarian organizations, write to express our alarm and deep disappointment following Congress’s decision to reinforce and codify the Biden Administration’s suspension of U.S. funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the principal aid provider for millions of Palestinian refugees in Gaza and in the surrounding region. Suspending funding during a humanitarian catastrophe, widespread starvation and looming famine is a moral and strategic failure that abandons nearly two million displaced Palestinians during a period of extreme need. We call on Congress to urgently introduce and pass legislation and for the President to support reinstating funding to UNRWA.

For over six decades, the United States has been one of the strongest supporters of UNRWA, including its largest bilateral donor. Without U.S. support, UNRWA cannot effectively carry out its role as the largest humanitarian agency in the region. Currently, UNRWA is working to provide life-saving assistance to Palestinians in Gaza who are facing extreme malnutrition, starvation, and an outbreak of deadly diseases due to Israel’s ongoing bombing campaign and deprivation of aid. To date, over 34,000 Palestinians have been killed and tens of thousands more injured without access to functioning hospitals or appropriate medical care. The situation in Gaza is extraordinarily dire, and the need to ensure civilian protection and humanitarian relief is crucial. 

Cutting off funding to UNRWA completely erodes the international community’s ability to respond to one of the worst humanitarian crises of our time. International NGOs and other UN organizations have repeatedly stated that they do not have the personnel, resources, or infrastructure to respond to the humanitarian needs in Gaza appropriately. Continuing UNRWA operations is imperative to address and alleviate the ongoing crisis. There is no debate that UNRWA’s ability to provide services, including food, water, medical assistance, and protection, is irreplaceable and essential to the survival of Palestinians in Gaza, especially now as famine is imminent. 

Furthermore, prohibiting funding to UNRWA not only affects Palestinians in Gaza, but also harms over three million Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria who depend on its services for shelter, education, financial assistance, access to healthcare, and more. Palestinian refugees are excluded from receiving any protection or other assistance from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which is mandated to provide aid to all other refugees globally. Thus, UNRWA is the primary entity serving this population and has effectively been doing so since its establishment over 75 years ago. UNRWA’s unique experience, knowledge, and expertise within the region and with the Palestinian refugee population is indispensable.

Following allegations by Israeli officials that 12 members of UNWRA’s staff in Gaza had taken part in the October 7 attack against Israel, 16 countries–including the United States–halted their funding of the critical organization. UNRWA took immediate action in investigating the allegations and removed the accused staff. A newly released report following an independent review for the UN reveals that Israel has yet to provide any evidence to substantiate the initial claims. While investigations continue, Australia, Canada, Japan, the European Commission, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Iceland France, and Germany have all recognized that UNRWA remains the only entity with capacity to ensure safe and effective delivery of aid and services in Gaza on the scale the current situation requires, and have resumed their funding.

UNRWA employees have risked their lives to fulfill their mission of providing aid during Israel’s continued bombardment in Gaza. As of April 24, 180 UNRWA staff members have been killed which is “the highest number of aid workers killed in the history of [the] organization in such a short time,” according to the Director-General of the U.N. office in Geneva. Due to the near-impossible circumstances, the Agency has struggled to provide food, medicine, and clean water to the approximately one million displaced Palestinians seeking refuge in or around 154 UNRWA shelters. Now, with the loss of vital funding from the United States, UNRWA’s humanitarian aid operations will inevitably collapse, and Palestinians in Gaza and elsewhere will continue to suffer grave consequences. 

The United States should uphold its commitment to the human rights of the Palestinian people and resume its role as a strong supporter of UNRWA by passing legislation to reinstate funding to the humanitarian agency immediately. Failing to do so would be a moral stain on this Administration and Congress’s legacy.

 

Signed,

18 Million Rising
Acacia Center for Justice
ACCESS of WNY
African Communities Together
Al Otro Lado
Alliance of Baptists
American Baptist Churches USA, Bright Stars of Bethlehem
American Friends Service Committee
American Muslim Bar Association
American Muslims for Palestine (AMP)
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC)
Americans for Peace Now
Amnesty International USA
Arab American Civic Council
Arab American Institute (AAI)
Arab Resource & Organizing Center (AROC)
Avaaz
Black Alliance For Just Immigration
Boat People SOS (BPSOS)
Border Butterflies Project
Bridges Faith Initiative
Carolina Peace Center
CASA
Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC)
Center for Gender & Refugee Studies
Center for International Policy
Center for Security, Race and Rights
Center for Victims of Torture
Charity & Security Network
Church World Service
Civic Ark
Climate Refugees
Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA)
CommonDefense.us
Communities United for Status & Protection (CUSP)
Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, U.S. Provinces
Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)
Demand Progress Action
Detention Watch Network
Disciples Center for Public Witness
Disciples Peace Fellowship
Dorothy Day Catholic Worker, Washington DC
Emgage Action
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Every Campus A Refuge
Faith in Texas
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Haitian Bridge Alliance
Hindus for Human Rights
Hope Border Institute
Human Rights First
Human Rights Watch (HRW)
Immigrant Legal Resources Center
Immigrants Act Now
Immigration Law & Justice Network
Innovation Law Lab
International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP)
Islamophobia Studies Center
Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
Middle East Democracy Center
Minnesota Peace Project
MoveOn
MPower Change Action Fund
Muslim Advocates
Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC)
Muslim Justice League
Naser Immigration Law, LLC
National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd
National Council of Churches
National Immigrant Justice Center
National Iranian American Council Action
National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC)
National Partnership for New Americans
NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice
Nonviolent Peaceforce
Oasis Legal Services
Oxfam America
Palestine Legal
Peace Action
People’s Action
Presbyterian Church (USA), Office of Public Witness
Project ANAR
Project South
Refugee Congress
Refugees International
ReThinking Foreign Policy
RootsAction.org
South Asian SOAR
Tahirih Justice Center
The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP)
The Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights
United Church of Christ
Utah Health & Human Rights
We Are All America (WAAA)
Welcoming America
Win Without War
Wind of the Spirit Immigrant Resource Center
Witness at the Border
Women’s Refugee Commission

New Insensitive Munitions may pose lingering toxic threat

Hanna Homestead is the Director of the Climate and Militarism Program at the Center for International Policy.

In February, the Washington Post reported the story of Hind Rajab, a six year old Palestinian child who spent the last three hours of her life trapped in a car with seven dead members of her family, pleading for help. The family was following evacuation orders from the Israeli military when their car was targeted. An ambulance was then dispatched to rescue Hind with permission from Israeli authorities. Despite being clearly marked as a medical transport vehicle, radioing its location, and following the approved route provided by the Israeli military, the paramedics came under heavy fire. Further investigation by the Post found the destruction of the ambulance was “consistent with the use of a round fired by Israeli tanks, according to six munitions experts.” The fragment of a US-made 120mm tank-fired round was reportedly found near the charred vehicle, which had a visible foot-wide hole consistent with the exit of a tank projectile.

Given nearly two weeks had elapsed before it was safe to investigate the scene, experts could not definitively verify the fragment was directly involved in the strike. However, satellite imagery proved that Israeli tanks capable of firing 120mm rounds were in the area when the attack on the ambulance occurred. In December, the Biden Administration bypassed Congress – a highly controversial move – to approve the transfer of nearly 14,000 anti-tank 120mm MPAT rounds to Israel despite evidence of ongoing, indiscriminate, and systematic targeting of civilians.

The transfer of US-made explosive weapons, including 120mm MPAT rounds, 155mm artillery shells, and Mark-84 unguided bombs are playing a central role in the Israeli government’s genocidal efforts to “make Gaza uninhabitable,” resulting in Hind’s death as well as more than 30,000 civilians over the last six months. Even spent, the remains of the round poses a toxic risk. Explosive weapons contain chemicals and heavy metals that contaminate water and soil for generations, fueling displacement and food and economic insecurity that threatens regional and geopolitical stability. Both the detonation and production of explosive weapons contribute to severe and long-lasting-environmental contamination, resulting in direct deaths and civilian harm that continues long after the explosions occur. Recent Pentagon efforts to make munitions “safer” for military personnel not only downplay, but threaten to exacerbate these widespread toxic legacies.

Munitions, made in America

Within the US, the production of explosive weapons has resulted in massive amounts of pollution and ecological destruction. There are currently more than 40,000 military sites across US states and territories that are contaminated with toxic military waste and legacy explosives, creating significant and cascading public health challenges. The DoD has already spent more than $40 billion attempting to clean them up, and recent estimates by the Government Accountability Office found the DoD faces at least $91 billion in future environmental liability costs. Historically-marginalized populations are particularly at risk of harm from toxic contamination. Superfund sites are more likely to exist in low-income areas, and are correlated with lower life expectancy in the surrounding communities.

The US is currently in the process of ramping up explosive munitions production to continue arms transfers and to replenish depleted domestic weapons stockpiles after significant amounts of defense equipment were transferred to Ukraine and Israel over the last two years. Not only are production rates increasing significantly, but the DoD is transitioning from producing larger-caliber munitions containing legacy energetic materials (explosives, nominally TNT and RDX) to those made with “insensitive” high explosives (IHE), also referred to as insensitive munitions (IM). Insensitive munitions are designed to be less reactive to stimuli and therefore safer to transport and store, an understandable goal when stockpiling explosives. This function is perceived to be both necessary and advantageous by the DoD and members of Congress interested in producing a larger war reserve to avoid future stockpile depletion.

In December 2023, defense giant BAE Systems was awarded a DoD contract worth $8.8 billion to produce the insensitive high explosive IMX-101 to be used as a “safe and effective” replacement for TNT in new artillery rounds. IMX-101 is the main explosive fill used in new 155mm M795 projectile production – currently one of the most highly sought-after munitions – replacing the legacy 155mm M107 projectile. While the development of IMX-101 has been in the pipeline for decades, the increased demand for ammunition from Ukraine and Israel, as well as competition to modernize vis a vis China, has spurred Congress to “expedite” testing and oversight to hasten the production of weapons made with IHE.

While offering functional advantages, the full impact of insensitive munitions on human and ecological health is not yet known, and what data is available raises concerns. Experts infer that some of the chemical compositions of IHE are likely to differ considerably from legacy explosives in their properties, and “therefore, also in their effect and behavior in the environment.” Yet, the DoD maintains there is limited information in the literature regarding human toxicity and adverse health effects due to exposure to insensitive explosives, including IMX-101. It is also unclear how environmental assessments and data on IHE that do exist are evaluated or incorporated into ongoing IM manufacturing, training, and operational planning. While IM weapons have been described as a way the military can “have [its] cake and eat it, too,” a closer look at the development of the 155mm M795 projectile made with IMX-101 raises a number of concerns.

IMX-101 appeared on the scene in 2010, after being named one of “The 50 Best Inventions of 2010” by TIME Magazine for its promise to replace TNT as a “less dangerous explosive.” Early testing of IMX-101 weapons was fast-tracked from what’s typically a five-year test period to two, and did not include comprehensive assessments of the ecological toxicology of the compound or its residues resulting from its production or operational use. Qualification testing of 155mm projectiles made with IMX-101 generally focused on the weapon’s performance, showcasing how IM projectiles can withstand various catalysts while maintaining lethality when deployed as intended. The results were published along with DoD assurances that “IMX-101 and its ingredients were found to be less toxic than RDX and the IMX-101 detonation products were calculated to be benign.” However, research conducted at the DoD’s Picatinny Arsenal used to certify the low-risk profile of IMX-101 shells has since been retracted due to inaccuracies and inconsistencies in the data. The original DoD 2009 study (no longer publicly available) indicated over 99.99% of all energetic material was destroyed during detonation, signifying the munition did not pose a contamination risk.

Eight years later, subsequent field experiments funded by the DoD Environmental Restoration Program demonstrated that in fact, over 30% of some energetic compounds remain after detonation – meaning the IM shell poses a significantly higher risk of environmental contamination than originally reported. Further DoD research has shown IM munitions deposit more residues than legacy explosives. These residues can persist in the environment for long periods of time following detonation, as research has indicated “the half-life of munition particles was estimated to range between 66 and 228 years for IMX-101.” A revised 2019 toxicology assessment of IMX-101 released by the US Army Public Health Center also points to a number of primary adverse health and reproductive effects on animal and plant life following exposure to IMX-101 compounds and recommends further testing, noting the DoD’s lack of comprehensive and long-term studies on IMX’s human and ecological toxicity. Numerous researchers have since published findings on the toxic effects of IMX-101 and its degraded residues – including their potential to have greater contamination risks than TNT or RDX.

Additionally, while research shows the “dud” rates for IM munitions do not differ significantly from legacy explosives, the DoD’s Defense Systems Analysis Center has indicated the disposal of unexploded ordnance (UXO) made with IHE, like IMX-101, may require up to 400% more explosives than legacy munitions given their “insensitive” characteristic. This carries significant implications for post-conflict remediation of unexploded ordnance and pollution of military testing sites. UXO must be removed and detonated, otherwise they degrade and leak poison indefinitely, irreversibly contaminating soil and groundwater.

The challenge of UXO removal is of particular concern in Gaza due Israel’s excessive bombing in urban settings, where munitions experts say there is a higher rate of failed detonation. The use of IMX-101 munitions, including the thousands of 155mm M795 projectiles the US is currently supplying to Israel, has the potential to significantly increase the cost of environmental remediation which is already expected to require tens of billions of dollars and take many years to complete. Environmental justice, including the remediation of ecological damage caused by Israel’s heavy bombardment and ongoing siege, will be critical to the safe return of displaced Palestinians to Gaza and to lasting regional peace.

Despite mounting evidence of the need for greater oversight over insensitive munitions modernization, Congress has continued to loosen the reins. The FY 2024 NDAA passed in December established a new Joint Energetics Transition Office within the DoD to “expedite testing, evaluation, and acquisition” of “new” energetic materials. Military personnel in charge of procurement report they have “a lot of freedom to maneuver now” due to the new programs Congress has authorized.

Aftermathematics

The expedited approval and production of new insensitive munitions without adequate understanding, transparency, or planning in regard to their toxicity or long-term contamination risks comes as research is revealing the extensive impact of legacy RDX and TNT contamination on human health and the environment. For decades, the DoD fought against environmental oversight, claiming “environmental cleanups would come at the expense of the safety of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

According to ProPublica reporting, when the US went to war in Iraq in 2003, top Pentagon officials led by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld attempted to shield the DoD from nearly all environmental oversight measures to preserve “readiness.” Though these efforts failed, throughout the following years the Pentagon sought to undermine accountability for pollution caused by weapons production, including funding and publishing studies downplaying the health and ecological risks of producing legacy explosives. Today’s focus on weapon’s modernization at the expense of adequate environmental testing sounds eerily familiar. In addition to expediting IMX-101 production, the FY2024 NDAA included authorization for the Pentagon to test warheads and propellants using the insensitive energetic material CL20, despite a 2007 DoD study indicating CL-20 residues likely pose a significant toxic ecological risk.

Efforts to clean up contamination caused by legacy weapon’s production and testing are currently underway within the United States, thanks to the persistent organizing of frontline communities. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced an additional $1 billion in new Superfund program funding, which includes military sites. Other types of military-related pollution such as radiation exposure due to nuclear weapons development and testing and PFAS contamination are also being recognized as serious public health concerns. Veterans who were exposed to toxic substances from burn pits, which include UXO disposal, are finally being provided with health benefits after decades of denied claims. While much more still needs to be done domestically, there are currently no legal requirements to address toxic legacies of war abroad caused by US weapons that are deployed directly by US troops or transferred abroad. Americans rarely have insights into the devastating and destabilizing long-term effects these weapons have on foreign populations.

The DoD procurement decisions being made today will have long-term, global impacts. Congress must realistically assess the risks of IM procurement and deployment in order to make an accurate judgment on if the marginal tactical advantages outweigh the human, moral, geopolitical, and financial costs of ecological destruction. Further, Congress should take proactive steps to ensure the comprehensive health effects are accurately assessed and publicly disclosed. The production of IM munitions must not continue the destructive history of legacy explosive contaminants – which will impact affected communities in the US and internationally for decades, and potentially permanently. Congressional oversight is especially important now as the Supreme Court is likely to overturn Chevron deference this year, limiting the EPA’s ability to regulate and mitigate pollution harms.

The US also has a terrible track record in regard to remediating environmental war contamination.

Given that available data show that insensitive munitions may be more difficult, expensive, and environmentally harmful to dispose of (potentially requiring 400% more explosives to detonate), Congress should ensure this information is incorporated and budgeted for in post-conflict remediation planning. Considering the US Army’s poor history with UXO disposal via burn pits in the past, Congress should ensure that the Pentagon plans for IMX UXOs before deployment and adopts principles for assisting victims of toxic remnants of war into their operating policies. This matters immediately, from the first responders making perilous rescue runs the moment the guns are silenced. And it matters long term, as bomb disposal crews clean up and people return to make a life out of the rubble.

For too long, the true human and ecological costs of war have been excluded from foreign policy discourse. Weapons are ultimately made for one purpose: to kill. “Insensitive” munitions are no different; their use inevitably contributes to the destruction of each other’s children, our communities, and the biodiversity of our earth on which all life depends. The toxic ecological effects of these weapons must not be regarded as externalities or secondary to their battlefield functionality; environmental contamination negatively impacts conditions for long-term peace and global security and should be included in a realistic accounting of the costs of war. Ultimately, the best way to avoid these horrors – from mass death to environmental degradation to unexploded ordnance – is for policymakers to abide by and uphold human rights, and commit to resolving political disputes through diplomatic means.