CIP Calls for Israel-Iran De-escalation; Reiterates Need for Ceasefire in Gaza

In response to last night’s attack by Iran on Israel, Nancy Okail, Center for International Policy (CIP) president and CEO, issued the following statement: 

“CIP condemns Iran’s launching of more than 300 missiles and drones against the State of Israel in retaliation for an Israeli strike near an Iranian diplomatic complex in Syria that killed senior military commanders and several others. Escalatory actions by both countries threaten to fan the flames of conflict throughout the region, endangering the lives of millions.

We appreciate the apparent advance diplomatic efforts by the United States and others behind the scenes — as well US, UK and Jordanian participation in air defense measures — to minimize the impact of Iran’s attack. Prioritizing civilian protection and de-escalation was clearly the right approach and should continue to serve as the international community’s objectives in the critical days and weeks ahead.

Achieving those goals requires not only arresting the escalation of violence between Israel and Iran, but securing a ceasefire in Gaza that halts the killing of civilians, releases the hostages, allows vital humanitarian aid to actually reach those who need it, and lowers tensions in the region. The continued unconditional supply to the Netanyahu government of the arms it is using in Gaza undermines those objectives, as well as US and international law.

Netanyahu’s repeated disregard of US redlines in Gaza, moves to deepen permanent occupation in the Palestinian territory, and escalation with Iran are destabilizing the entire region. With American forces already drawn into hostilities with the Iranian-backed Houthis and actively engaging Iranian missiles and drones, President Biden cannot afford to let the extremist Prime Minister continue to have a harmful, undue influence on the course of events. Hopefully, the president’s efforts have averted a wider regional war with Iran; we urge him to bring that same level of effort to save the people of Gaza.”

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Six Months In, Biden Must Move From Talk to Action in Gaza War

Washington, D.C. – The Biden administration has largely failed to make the substantive policy changes needed to advance human security and uphold U.S. laws in the six months since Hamas’ horrific October 7th attack on Israel and the start of the devastating hostilities in Gaza it triggered, according to a new memo from the Center for International Policy (CIP).

“While the Biden administration has been changing its rhetoric toward the right direction, its actions continue to fuel the very horror and escalation they speak against,” said Nancy Okail, Center for International Policy President and CEO. “It is well past time for the U.S. to use its considerable leverage to end the human catastrophe in Gaza, starting with suspending its massive arms transfers to Israel while it is openly defying U.S. values, laws and interests. Doing so is not only a security and moral necessity – it’s a legal one.”

The memo, The Gaza War at Six Months: Five Recommendations for Ending the Fighting and Ensuring Human Security in Israel-Palestine, assesses the Biden Administration’s handling of the crisis and outlines five key areas where the United States can better use its influence and statecraft to stop the fighting, end the nightmare for Palestinian civilians and Israeli hostages, and ensure the security, rights and well-being of Israelis and Palestinians in the longer term.

“It’s important that the Administration is finally taking steps to enshrine its values in policy memoranda but it’s clearly insufficient,” added Matt Duss, Center for International Policy Executive Vice President. “We continue to urge the administration to end its reliance on an old playbook –providing unconditional support and shielding Israel from any consequences for clear violations of international law – that has proven ineffective.”

Recommendations to the Biden administration:

  1. Press for a bilateral and sustained ceasefire, leveraging the U.S. vote at the UN and arms sales to Israel
  2. Suspend delivery to Israel of the arms it is using in Gaza and facilitate adequate humanitarian aid delivery, in accordance with U.S. law
  3. Refocus away from “arms for peace” bilateral normalization efforts and toward a just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the end of occupation
  4. Take meaningful anti-occupation, anti-annexation steps, including consistent consequences for violations
  5. Expand support for the Palestinian people –including for UNRWA and lawful, nonviolent efforts at Palestinian statehood– and for Palestinian leaders who seek peace with Israel

The Gaza War at Six Months: Five Recommendations for Ending the Fighting and Ensuring Human Security in Israel-Palestine

This week marks six months since the horrific Hamas-led October 7, 2023 attack and atrocities against civilians in southern Israel, followed by the devastating and often indiscriminate Israeli assault on Gaza. At least two-thirds of the more than 30,000 Palestinian dead are civilians, with more than one million people on the brink of a famine that is already starving children to death. In addition to the more than 1,150 Israelis killed in Hamas’ initial attack, some 130 Israeli hostages remain in captivity in Gaza. 

This memo updates our recommended steps for the Biden Administration to take to stop the fighting, end the nightmare faced by Palestinian civilians and Israeli hostages, and ensure the security, rights and well-being of Israelis and Palestinians in the longer term.

Continue reading “The Gaza War at Six Months: Five Recommendations for Ending the Fighting and Ensuring Human Security in Israel-Palestine”

Treating Israeli Arms Assurances as Credible Undermines Biden’s Own Policy

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In response to the Biden administration’s comments in a State Department briefing today indicating that it has received written assurances from Israel that, in its view, meets the terms of National Security Memorandum 20 (NSM-20), Center for International Policy Vice President for Government Affairs Dylan Williams issued the following statement:

“Contrary to a mountain of evidence, the administration’s comments today inexplicably treat Israel’s assurance that it is not restricting U.S. humanitarian aid delivery in Gaza and otherwise adhering to relevant international law in the use of US arms as ‘credible and reliable.’

Treating the assurances received from Israel as sufficient in the face of deepening famine, disproportionate civilian casualties and repeated threats of an offensive in Rafah against U.S. wishes renders NSM-20 an empty gesture in its first outing, and functionally greenlights Israel continuing to use our weapons against U.S. law, interests and values.

In response, U.S. lawmakers should insist that the Biden administration change course and enforce American law and its own policy. U.S. Government complicity in and enabling of this slaughter in violation of our laws and values must end.”

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CIP joins NGO letter urging Biden to comply with 602I in Gaza

Today, more than 25 humanitarian and rights groups sent a letter to President Joe Biden urging him to reevaluate unconditional arms transfers and other security assistance to Israel in compliance with existing US law, which prohibits the United States from providing security assistance or arms sales to any country when the President is made aware that the government “prohibits or otherwise restricts, directly or indirectly, the transport or delivery of United States humanitarian assistance.”

“President Biden has rightly made the rule of law and its impartial application central tenets of his administration. He must adhere to the standard he set and follow the law with regard to Israel’s restricting of critical aid to Gaza, rather than continuing to make an exception for it,” urged Dylan Williams, Vice President for Government Affairs at the Center for International Policy.

March 12, 2024

President Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear President Biden,

We write to express our deep concern regarding continued U.S. security assistance to Israel despite Israeli restrictions on humanitarian aid, an apparent violation of U.S. law. We demand that you urgently comply with U.S. law and end U.S. support for catastrophic human suffering in Gaza.

On March 2, the United States began its first airdrops of humanitarian aid into Gaza – a risky, expensive, and ineffective method for assisting civilians that is widely considered an option of last resort. On March 7, your administration announced that it would build a floating pier along the Gaza coast to bring aid to the population. Both efforts are the latest implicit recognition of Israel’s severe restrictions on humanitarian access amid extraordinary human suffering. Your administration has now publicly recognized what humanitarian organizations have reported for months: that the government of Israel is obstructing the delivery of humanitarian aid to starving Palestinians.

Gaza’s health ministry reports that more than 30,000 Palestinians – at least two-thirds of them women and children – have been killed in Gaza and over 70,000 wounded, with thousands more estimated to be buried under the rubble. Over 90 percent of people in Gaza are acutely food insecure, with a growing number of children dying of starvation and dehydration. Over 75 percent of Gaza’s population is already displaced, and the level of damage to shelter and infrastructure means people increasingly have nowhere safe to go nor reliable provisions if and when they move. As civilians face bombardment, disease, and starvation, lifesaving health care is increasingly inaccessible.

The United States is a leading donor of the humanitarian response in Gaza. Secretary Blinken has called on Israel to “maximize every possible means” to get aid to Gazans, noting that “the situation, as it stands, is simply unacceptable.” And you have rightly said you will accept “no more excuses” for continued obstacles to aid. But since October 7, the government of Israel has failed to facilitate the entry of sufficient humanitarian aid, including through additional border crossings into Gaza and northern Gaza in particular; blocked the entry of many humanitarian aid trucks; denied humanitarian access requests; enforced arbitrary customs restrictions on humanitarian goods; and attacked humanitarian workers and their facilities as well as civilians seeking aid. Longtime U.S. implementing partners around the world have come under attack in Gaza, and lifesaving U.S.-funded humanitarian aid has been blocked from entering Gaza. Just last week, hours after your State of the Union address, an Israeli airstrike on a housing complex hosting displaced people killed a humanitarian aid worker employed by a US-based NGO.

These restrictions are not isolated instances but the policy of the government of Israel: as Prime Minister Netanyahu stated clearly on October 18, “We will not allow humanitarian assistance in the form of food and medicines from our territory to the Gaza Strip.” While Israel has subsequently allowed some aid into Gaza, it remains far from sufficient – a fact that Netanyahu confirmed when he stated in January that Israel was only allowing a “minimum” amount of relief into Gaza. During your own State of the Union address, you implicitly acknowledged that Israel was using humanitarian aid as a bargaining chip. Human Rights Watch and Oxfam have determined that the Israeli government is committing a war crime by using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare in the Gaza Strip.

Meanwhile, the United States continues to provide Israel with unconditional arms transfers and other security assistance. This not only facilitates Israel’s harmful conduct, but also appears to violate Section 620I of the Foreign Assistance Act (22 U.S.C. § 2378–1), which prohibits the United States from providing security assistance or arms sales to any country when the President is made aware that the government “prohibits or otherwise restricts, directly or indirectly, the transport or delivery of United States humanitarian assistance.”

U.S. weapons, security assistance, and blanket political support have contributed to an unparalleled humanitarian crisis and possible war crimes in Gaza. We demand that you urgently comply with U.S. law, end U.S. support for catastrophic human suffering in Gaza, and use your leverage to protect civilians and ensure the impartial provision of humanitarian assistance.

Signed,

Airwars
American Friends Service Committee
Amnesty International USA
Anera
Arms Control Association
Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC)
Center for International Policy
Charity & Security Network
Demand Progress Education Fund
Foreign Policy for America
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Human Rights Watch
Humanity & Inclusion
MADRE
Middle East Democracy Center (MEDC)
MPower Change
Norwegian Refugee Council USA
Oxfam America
PAX
Peace Action
Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft
Refugees International
U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights Action (USCPR Action)
Win Without War
Zomia Center

The Biden Administration Cannot Avoid Scrutiny of Arms to Israel

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In response to reports that the Biden Administration sought to bypass congressional review and accompanying public scrutiny of massive arms transfers to Israel by dividing them into more than 100 smaller deliveries that individually fell under the threshold for mandatory notification to Congress under U.S. law, Ari Tolany, the Center for International Policy’s Security Assistance Monitor (SAM) director, issued the following statement:

“This doesn’t just seem like an attempt to avoid technical compliance with U.S. arms export law, it’s an extremely troubling way to avoid transparency and accountability on a high-profile issue.

“These arms laws and notification requirements exist precisely so that American lawmakers and taxpayers can evaluate the appropriateness of transferring U.S. weapons systems to a context like the devastating conflict in Gaza. Providing assistance to an active conflict should raise our standards of transparency and accountability, not diminish them. The fact that this glut of deadly arms has enabled massive civilian suffering in a bombardment that President Biden has himself called ‘indiscriminate,’ and that these transfers have continued despite the administration’s acknowledgement that Israel is blocking U.S. humanitarian aid, makes this move all the more disturbing.”

“Congress needs to step in immediately and demand a suspension in arms transfers to Israel until it can be sure such transfers can be conducted in full compliance with all relevant U.S. law – as well as our related obligations under international humanitarian law.”

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.

Biden’s different rules for Ukraine and Israel

Biden’s divergent handling of Ukraine’s war against Russia and Israel’s war in Gaza define the bounds of the administration’s foreign policy, a staggering juxtaposition in effect. Biden’s team persuasively rallied international support to the side of an invaded Ukraine, under a vision of universal application of international law and solidarity between those victimized by aggressors. In Israel, Biden stood by the country following the horrific attack by Hamas on October 7, 2023, and continues to largely stand by the country months into Israel’s war of retaliation waged against the people of Gaza.

Matt Duss, executive vice president of the Center for International Policy, outlined this tension in a December piece for The New Republic:

The reality is that Russia is occupying Ukraine to end Ukrainian self-determination, and Israel is doing the same to Palestine. “They’re not a real people and the land is really ours by right” is the position of both the Russian and Israeli governments regarding Ukrainians and Palestinians.

When it came to America’s role in aiding Ukraine beset by an invading power, the Biden administration rallied diplomatic efforts and military aid, ensuring that the smaller country could not be bullied out of existence by its more numerous, nuclear-armed neighbor. The Russian invasion, at a large scale and aim, built on previous aggression, which had seen Ukraine in an intense but smaller-scale conflict since 2014.

While the spark of Israel’s assault on Gaza is retaliation for an attack on civilians, the conflict itself builds from decades of occupation and specific tensions, history well outlined by Duss. That the Biden administration’s response to Israel’s war was diplomatic and material backing, instead of urging its ally to address the enduring and destabilizing harms of occupation, was a profound missed opportunity.

Duss continues:

The United States has put a great deal of effort in appealing to the global south/nonaligned world on a range of issues, including support for Ukraine. That effort was mortally wounded when the whole global south saw the West’s blatant double standard. (“For my friends, everything; for my enemies, the International Criminal Court.”)

Read the rest of the piece at The New Republic.

Extend the Cease-Fire in Gaza—but Don’t Stop There

Recent days have seen the first good news out of Gaza in a long time. As part of a U.S.-brokered cease-fire that began last Friday and will expire tomorrow, Hamas has released dozens of the more than 200 people it took hostage during its October 7 attack on Israel; those released include many of the children whom the group took captive. For its part, Israel has released 150 Palestinian prisoners, paused its bombardment of Gaza, and allowed more humanitarian supplies into the territory, providing a brief respite to the millions of civilians there who have suffered immensely for weeks.

As CIP president and CEO Nancy Okail and executive vice president Matt Duss write in Foreign Affairs:

An extended cease-fire could facilitate the return of more Israeli hostages and reduce the risk of deepening the humanitarian catastrophe among Gaza’s civilians. It could also help calm tensions in the West Bank and reduce the risk that the war could escalate by drawing in outside actors, such as the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and its patron, Iran.

But extending the cease-fire should be just the first step in a larger process that would require intensive U.S.-backed regional diplomacy—and an overhaul of American policy. When Biden took office in 2021, he was determined not to spend his time and energy on fruitless efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But the war in Gaza has shown that the issue cannot be ignored. To make good on Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s November 8 statement that there can be no return to a manifestly unsustainable status quo ante, the United States must change its overall approach and commit to a broad-based diplomatic process that can finally resolve the conflict and prioritize rights and dignity for people in the region.

Read Okail and Duss’s full piece here.