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

A US Foreign Policy Pathway to Peace for Yemen

Muna Luqman (she/her) is a Yemeni peacebuilder, humanitarian/development expert, and advocate for inclusive diplomacy. She is the founder and chairperson of Food4Humanity and the co-founder of the Women’s Solidarity Network. Diana Duarte (she/her) is the interim Senior Director of Policy and Advocacy at MADRE, a global gender justice organization and feminist fund.

For nearly 10 years, Yemen has been divided by a civil war fought between three parties: the internationally recognized government, supported by the US-backed and Saudi-UAE led coalition,  the Houthis, and separatists in the south. A temporary truce was announced in April 2022, but ultimately collapsed after six months. Neither side had fully met the conditions of the truce, and Houthi hardline demands created an impasse. The failed peace process left the future uncertain for Yemeni communities facing the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and significant aid cutbacks, until a new peace process began to show signs of progress. Under the auspices of the UN Special Envoy’s office, an inclusive peace process began to take root, bringing together Yemeni civil society leaders with Houthis, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Southern separatists. In late December 2023, parties to the conflict had committed to a nationwide ceasefire, measures to improve living conditions, and restarting an intra-Yemeni political process

However, this promising roadmap towards peace was derailed by the retaliatory violence of the US against Houthis blockade attacks in the Red Sea and the expanding effects of Israel’s brutal war on Gaza. This deepening violence and the stubborn determination of policymakers to seek collective punitive military and economic responses is further imperiling lives across the region – all while many of these same policymakers justify launching bombs in the name of so-called security.

The experience of Yemeni peacebuilders has shown: there are ways to escape from this spiral of violence. Making that shift requires the international community to prioritize human rights first and to seek security, accountability and an end to conflict through inclusive, community-led processes. This has long been the vision of Yemeni women who have organized and strategized together for peace, while offering concrete proposals to the international policymakers to guide them towards an approach that centers diplomacy, rights and an ethic of care.

Instead, the unconditional pursuit of military primacy, whether by the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Russia, or others, has worsened the volatility and violence of armed conflict, and ultimately benefits and proliferates armed actors by creating cycles of violence and radicalization. A policy pathway with any chance of success – real, just and sustainable peace for Yemen – must instead put a different set of priorities first. It must reflect the urgent, expressed demands of local peacebuilders, uplifting the primacy of community security and inclusion in fostering a wider, interconnected national, regional, and global security.

In short, the path to peace is built first on ceasefire and inclusive processes, made possible by the leadership of grassroots women peacebuilders with a bottom-up approach.

Peace from the grassroots

Facing reality, we know the status quo is still lightyears away from this needed shift. The policymaking paradigms of the world’s most powerful governments have embraced a militarized logic that routinely threatens or carries out violence against vulnerable people. By taking steps toward transformation, the US and international community can better support peace processes led by community leaders and human rights defenders at the heart of the world’s most intractable conflicts.

First, the work of women peacebuilders at the grassroots reflects documented best practices that a peace deal won’t last unless everyone is at the table. That means broadening any peace process beyond combatants. Too often, formal peace negotiations are carried out only with the people with guns — and the process in Yemen has been no exception, focusing on the Saudi Arabia-led coalition and the Houthis, with limited involvement from civil society.

Not only has this excluded a host of political actors — tribal leaders, the Southern Transitional Council and other local armed groups — but crucially, it divides and sidelines civil society and feminist leaders, who have tended to be shunted into “parallel” advisory tracks and less likely to be in the room as key negotiators. For many years, those who have been invited were tokenized: excluding a diverse community of civil society leaders whose needs and analysis vary according to their work and geographic region.

Notably, more recent efforts have sought to broaden civil society participation in these talks via a series of consultations with local stakeholders in Yemen and in the regional diaspora. These led to significant steps towards a ceasefire in December 2023, and the renewal of a remarkable truce that largely held despite its expiration over a year ago. In the year leading up to the truce, there had been 40 Saudi-led airstrikes on Yemen per week, and the truce’s break in hostilities offered a vital moment of peace and relief for Yemeni families. But the situation remains fragile. All parties will need to continue to work with Yemeni civil society, especially women leaders, to secure a new truce, a monitored ceasefire, and an inclusive, sustainable peace agreement.

Despite existing commitments to localization and inclusion in peace and security, the US and its military actions are endangering peace efforts led by local actors. The US responded to the Houthi blockade of ships in the Red Sea with military force, hitting more than 200 targets in Yemen over the last several weeks. Even as Biden remarkably acknowledged that these attacks were unlikely to affect Houthi behavior, the US has continued to launch airstrikes, promising a trajectory of violence that continues to escalate in Yemen and spread across the region.

Food not bombs

There’s a more sustainable answer to promoting peace and security in Yemen, one rooted in human rights, transitional justice  and effective peacebuilding practice: the US must end its support for Israel’s war on Gaza and demand a ceasefire there, while investing in inclusive peace processes for Yemen led by local peacebuilders, including under the auspices of the United Nations. The US should particularly rely on women and youth peacebuilders, who create real, tangible peace even against unimaginable odds, often under threat of attack by armed groups.

The evidence is clear: when women and civil society meaningfully participate in conflict prevention and resolution, peace agreements are 35% more likely to last at least fifteen years. Peace requires responding to the needs of a wide range of constituencies, and women can often serve as the vital link. The Women Solidarity Network, for example, is the largest women’s network in Yemen, bringing connections to hundreds of community-based organizations across the country. Through their humanitarian work — like delivering food, water, and medicine — women’s groups come to intimately understand people’s needs and build trust among communities that undergirds any successful peace. They create spaces for local communities to identify their urgent needs and to tease out the root causes of conflicts, and they demand channels of inclusion that can funnel this vital information into wider political negotiations,  from post-conflict accountability to the reintegration of fighters to the rights of marginalized groups, like people with disabilities, youth, and minorities.  The Mothers of Abductees Association has negotiated the release of prisoners and detainees, and other leaders have brokered ceasefires locally, and as seen in Yemen, have successfully nurtured the conditions for a nation-wide truce.

For example, the local women-led organization Food4Humanity mediated between two communities in Yemen who had been fighting over scarce water resources. They identified and fixed the source of the problem – a broken water station that led to conflict over scarce water sources. After repairing that station, they then brought together community representatives to sign a peace agreement and commit to maintaining the water pump. As a result, the fighting stopped. Moreover, because water is available, women do not need to walk hours to fetch water, and girls can attend school, decreasing child marriage and empowering young girls.

Local organizations like Food4Humanity also invest in local relationships that serve as entry points to negotiate with factions of armed groups to reach vulnerable populations that international organizations may lack the connections to support. When these communities are reached by local trusted actors, they help identify root causes of the conflict and barriers to address those root causes that would otherwise prevent or spoil the implementation of peace agreements. Inclusion is not pursued just for the sake of representation: it is a tested and required step for effective diplomacy and sustainable security.

Too often, powerful voices around negotiating tables dismiss these kinds of local examples as too small to be relevant to official peace processes. But it is exactly this granular attention to detail, combined with a wider, principled political vision and community networking power, that makes women peacebuilders so effective. This is just one example of the kinds of peacebuilding solutions we need: women leaders have the local connections to play a critical role in monitoring local ceasefires and ensuring that peace holds. In this way, women’s grassroots work repairs broken bonds among communities, enhancing community safety and fostering systems of care, setting the stage for post-conflict reconciliation and reconstruction. The Feminist Peace Roadmap, developed by Peace Track Initiative and members of the Women’s Solidarity Network including Food4Humanity, recognizes that peace cannot be secured from the top down. Sustainable peace flows from the grassroots up and is rooted in meeting the urgent security and livelihood needs of communities at high risk of radicalization.

Instead of prioritizing the involvement of grassroots women-led peacebuilders and civil society actors including tribal leaders and local mediators, the old-school approach of negotiations by the internationally-led peace process prioritizes warring parties responsible for mass human rights violations. Additionally, in Yemen, the US focus on military responses, at the expense of sustainable community-driven security, has created an elite-driven peace process that has allowed warring parties to repeatedly create stalemates while consolidating, or recalibrating, their positions, all while receiving luxurious treatment from international and regional partners, who have also been parties to the conflict. At the same time, the focus on meeting the needs of elites has sidelined the well-documented political priorities of grassroots community leaders in Yemen, including Yemeni women peacebuilders.

Despite their expertise and trusted relationships with local actors, grassroots women peacebuilders and political experts have little access to shape US policymaking that impacts their own communities. They experience firsthand the effects of foreign policy decisions made in distant conference rooms, with little recourse to influence those decisions. Yet, when communities most directly impacted can play a pivotal role in shaping policy, they bring expertise, urgency, and community to even the most dire and complex policy debates. The conflicts that seem intractable can only be met with a set of tools that US policymakers must admit they lack: trust and accountability, which is held exclusively by local peacebuilders, who have already proven that they can bring together what war has torn apart. Rather than military interventions, Yemenis need locally-rooted peace policies that resource priorities and programs designed by grassroots leaders to de-escalate tensions and prevent further violence.

Deeper diplomacy

A current strategy initiated by the Office of the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, in partnership with UN Women, aims at expanding inclusivity in Yemen and involves conducting targeted consultations with Yemenis. These consultations aim to identify the root causes of conflict, foster leadership skills for inclusive peacebuilding, and develop a bottom-up approach for an all-inclusive peace process. This recognizes that lasting peace can only be achieved through the active participation of all stakeholders. By leveraging the collective knowledge and experience of Yemenis, the approach seeks to develop a sustainable peace process that reflects the diverse needs and interests of the Yemeni people. However, this requires true commitment, political will and genuine support by the international community and an enabling environment.

To create space for the voices and leadership of Yemeni women, youth, and civil society, international civil society allies can also serve a key role, building bridges between local communities, global peace movements and policymaking spaces. For instance, groups like international women’s rights organization MADRE — who work in long-term partnership with women on the frontlines of conflict in Yemen and war-affected regions globally — are positioned to demand that feminist analysis and women peacebuilders’ solutions guide US policymaking and to demand accountability for the actions of US leadership. They can bring policymakers — from Congress to the Biden administration — into direct conversation with Yemeni women and youth experts who are poised to identify ways forward for peace, justice, and human rights that outside actors simply cannot see.

The international community must prioritize peace in Yemen, and a ceasefire in Gaza, in order to meet urgent humanitarian needs of communities across the region and end a rapid spiral into deeper instability and bloodshed.

Yemeni women-led civil society is also taking the long view, and ultimately, they know that a peace agreement will be signed. When that happens, if people’s voices are not sufficiently included, the resulting peace will be fragile, and the likelihood of violent escalation and civil war will loom large. Yet, there are proven ways to avert this outcome, by centering justice and accountability, prioritizing inclusion, and meeting communities’ needs for humanitarian aid and development.

To pivot towards peace, we must seize the opportunity to democratize the process, drawing on the expertise of Yemeni women and local experts to generate momentum for policy shifts — including pushing parties to halt attacks and negotiate for peace, increasing humanitarian aid to grassroots, women-led groups, and advancing international accountability for war crimes. We do not need to go back to the drawing board: Yemeni women peacebuilders and civil society organizations have already organized political demands for sustainable peace into guiding frameworks, including the Feminist Roadmap for Peace and the Yemen Declaration for Justice and Reconciliation.

Yemen is currently facing a number of serious issues, including food insecurity and escalating conflicts in the Red Sea. It is crucial to restore the country’s security and judicial institutions, in order to promote stability and human rights, and to combat extremism. This requires an inclusive peace process involving private sector leaders, civil society leaders, and Southerners. Community-based peacebuilding initiatives have proven to be an effective tool in addressing security and governance issues, and preventing violence. Such initiatives have enabled local communities to repair divisions, address grievances, build trust, identify issues, initiate dialogues, and take action to resolve conflicts and build sustainable mechanisms for peace.

The UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen must receive support and strengthen efforts to enhance an inclusive peace process that prevents further escalation and is not a symbolic box-ticking exercise.

It’s time for the Biden administration to adhere to its national and international commitments and ensure that Yemeni women-led civil society are at the table in meaningful and power-wielding roles, and that their priorities are centered and resourced, to shape a more inclusive and successful peace process.

Exiled Iranian monarchists align with Israel’s hardliners

When Iranians drove out the Shah in 1979, a revolution that ultimately ended with the Islamic Republic, supporters of monarchy were driven into exile or underground. In the decades since, these monarchists waiting for a restoration of the Pahlavi throne have found themselves part of the opposition to the present government of Iran, but sitting uncomfortably alongside other opposition movements, especially ones that dream and fight for a democratic Iran. This tension is reflected not just in how the separate opposition movements protest in the country, but in how they position the role of Iran in the world. Notably, Reza Pahlavi, claimant to the overthrown throne, has aligned Iranian monarchists with Israel, leading monarchists to wave the pre-revolution flag at rallies in support of Israel’s war on Gaza.

As Sina Toosi, senior non-resident fellow at CIP, writes for Al-Jazeera:

“…since the outbreak of the Gaza war, the Iranian monarchist movement has shown strong support for Israel online and at pro-Israel rallies in Europe and the United States. Their often-aggressive tactics have concerned many pro-Palestinian activists, with pro-Pahlavi lobbying groups in Washington, DC, such as the National Union for Democracy in Iran (NUFDI), seeking to intimidate pro-Palestinians activists who have been critical of Iranian-American supporters of Israel, labelling them “supporters of Palestinian terrorist groups”.”

This hard-line is a break from the last Shah’s actual foreign policy, which balanced US alignment, security cooperation with Israel, and vocal support for Palestine. Out of power and in exile, Iranian monarchists have not had to make concessions required even of autocrats. Instead, they’ve aligned with the hard right in the US and in Israel, supporting intervention, sanctions, and confrontation with the Islamic Republic.

This, Toosi writes, is in sharp contrast to the human rights-aligned pro-democracy movement within Iran:

“Other government critics and activists believe the Iranian monarchists’ support from Israel and its right-wing allies in the US – evident in their close ties with pro-Israel lobbies in Washington and their reliance on media support from Israeli-government-aligned outlets and influencers – is not a benefit, but baggage. It has exposed their lack of legitimacy and credibility, and their disregard for the Iranian people’s democratic aspirations.”

While hardliners may have found common cause with monarchists longing for a restoration of past glories, these are forces aligned in a cynical disregard for the democratic aspirations of people in their own countries, and abroad. Read Toosi’s full piece here.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

National Coalition Urges President Biden to Restore UNRWA Funding to Aid Palestinians

Nearly four months of conflict have devastated Gaza’s infrastructure and dangerously reduced essential supplies like food, water, and medicine. Hundreds of thousands of civilians—the vast majority of them children and women—are now displaced and at grave risk of starvation and deadly disease.

This week, a coalition of more than 50 national organizations sent a letter to President Biden urging him to support the protection of civilians in the conflict in the Occupied Gaza Strip by restoring funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

The letter was organized by the Friends Committee on National Legislation and the Center for International Policy. Over 50 national groups representing millions of Americans signed it, including Americans for Peace Now, Center for Civilians in Conflict, Humanity & Inclusion, MADRE, Amnesty International USA, Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP), the Center for Jewish Nonviolence, Demand Progress Education Fund, National Council of Churches, and Win Without War.

 


Mr. President:

We are non-governmental organizations supporting the protection of civilians in the conflict in the Occupied Gaza Strip and writing to urge you to restore funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

After nearly four months of conflict which has devastated Gaza’s infrastructure and dangerously reduced essential supplies, hundreds of thousands of civilians – the vast majority of them children and women – are displaced and at grave risk of starvation and deadly disease. UNRWA is the most significant direct provider of humanitarian aid in the territory, with more than two million Palestinian civilians relying on it for critical necessities and services. UNRWA and its staff have gone to heroic lengths to continue aid operations even after catastrophic damage to many of its facilities and the death of more than 150 of their colleagues since the start of the current hostilities.

Twelve individuals among the 13,000 people UNRWA employed in the territory at the start of the current fighting are accused of taking part in Hamas’ October 7, 2023 attack on Israel. UNRWA, which has categorically and repeatedly condemned the attack, swiftly terminated the contracts of those accused. UNRWA’s Commissioner-General has requested the investigation of these employees be overseen by the highest investigative authority at the UN, while the UN Secretary General made it clear the Secretariat will cooperate with a competent authority to prosecute the individuals. This is in addition to UNRWA’s January 17, 2024 announcement that it is commissioning an independent review of staff guidelines and procedures to ensure that all staff adhere to humanitarian principles.

Continuing to suspend assistance to UNRWA for the alleged actions of individuals that UNRWA itself condemns and has pledged to help investigate is not only unjust, but detrimental to your administration’s goal of ending the current humanitarian crisis. Denying resources to UNRWA will only deepen the deprivation faced by civilians in Gaza, helping to spread rather than fight starvation and disease.

We therefore urge you to immediately restore US funding to UNRWA and to work with it and other aid agencies to urgently end the growing humanitarian catastrophe in the territory.

Signed,

Action Corps
Alliance of Baptists
American Friends Service Committee
Americans for Peace Now
Amnesty International USA
Brooklyn For Peace
Carolina Peace Center
Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC)
Center for Economic and Policy Research
Center for International Policy
Center for Jewish Nonviolence
Center for Victims of Torture
Charity & Security Network
Church World Service
Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP)
CommonDefense.us
Demand Progress Education Fund
Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN)
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)
Extend
Freedom Forward
Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL)
Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disicples of Christ) and United Church of Christ
Grassroots International
Humanity & Inclusion
International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN)
Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ)
Just Foreign Policy
MADRE
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
Mennonite Centeral Committee U.S.
Middle East Democracy Center (MEDC)
Migrant Roots Media
Minnesota Peace Project
MPower Change
National Council of Churches
National Iranian American Council (NIAC)
New Hampshire Peace Action
Nonviolent Peaceforce
Peace Action
Presbyterian Church (USA), Office of Public Witness
RootsAction.org
September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows
Sisters of Mercy of the Americas – Justice Team
Sojourners
The Episcopal Church
The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP)
Truman Center for National Policy
Unitarian Universalist Association
United for Peace and Justice
UNRWA USA National Committee
Win Without War
Women for Weapons Trade Transparency
World BEYOND War
Yemen Relief and Reconstruction Foundation
Zomia Center

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.