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.

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.”


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.”

Peace or Instability? Examining the Impact of the Abraham Accords

Two successive U.S. administrations have made the normalization of relations between Gulf states and Israel under the framework of the Abraham Accords a pillar of their Middle East Policy, despite warnings from human rights advocates that such deals would only embolden autocratic leaders. Now, as the war in Gaza enters its seventh month and risks wider regionalization by the day, peace and stability seem more elusive than ever. Are the Abraham Accords bringing the region closer toward peace and stability or just further enabling authoritarianism?

Join the Middle East Democracy Center (MEDC), Center for International Policy (CIP), and the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies (CCAS) at Georgetown University, in collaboration with the Arab Rights and Research Center‘s “Quest for Democracy in Saudi Arabia” conference, for a panel discussion that aims to answer these questions. The panel will examine the current democracy and human rights challenges in the region amid fears of a broadening regional conflict and the “normalization deals.”

Continue reading “Peace or Instability? Examining the Impact of the Abraham Accords”

The Obstacle Chuck Schumer Left Out of His Big Israel Speech

On March 15th, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer gave a speech clarifying the clear rupture between Israel in 2024 and the Democratic Party of the present. A decade ago it would have been almost unthinkable for a sitting Senator, much less the leader of the Senate, to not only criticize Israel’s conduct of war, but to call for new elections in the country so that it may have better leadership.

Schumer’s speech outlined four obstacles to the two-state solution: Hamas and its supporters, radical right-wing Israelis in government and society, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. As CIP executive vice president Matt Duss writes in The New Republic, Schumer left out a fifth party: the United States Congress.

“The recently passed spending bill, which the president signed last Saturday, is a great example of the destructive role Congress has played in this area. Not only does it block funding for the largest aid provider to Palestinians, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, based on as-yet unproven allegations that a few UNRWA employees took part in the October 7 attacks, but it includes a number of other long-standing anti-Palestinian measures like limiting aid to the Palestinian Authority if the Palestinians initiate or support an International Criminal Court investigation against Israel for human rights violations, or seek to upgrade their status at the United Nations or in other international fora. That is, it punishes the Palestinians for engaging in nonviolent diplomacy.”

Even as the Democratic party, and especially its base, has shifted towards wanting a more equitable outcome for Palestinians than in the past, actions like this undermine the pathways.

Duss continues:

“Monday’s decision [by the Biden administration] not to block a cease-fire resolution from the U.N. Security Council was a long-overdue step in the right direction, but the administration then undermined its impact by inexplicably and incorrectly characterizing the resolution as ‘nonbinding.’ The chasmic disconnect between this president’s words and deeds is part of what rankles. If he wants to repair the damage, if it can be repaired, he’s going to have to find a way to bridge that gap.”

The stakes are profound, most immediately for the lives in peril in Gaza. The stakes are also intimately connected to how and whether young, progressive Americans will engage with Biden and his administration in the fall. To win back trust, and ensure an outcome better from everyone, Congress and the President must match action to rhetoric and remove the roadblocks to ending this conflict and supporting sustainable and equitable peace.

CIP Response to the 2024 State of the Union

Matt Duss is the Executive Vice President of the Center for International Policy

On foreign policy, President Biden’s State of the Union last night didn’t give us too much to work with. He did come right out of the gate strong, talking about Ukraine. I can’t remember the last time a president opened the State of the Union talking about foreign policy, but it really served to underline the urgency of the need to pass the Ukraine aid package which has been stalled in Congress for months.

The section on the Gaza war was unfortunately as expected. Yesterday’s announcement of the building of a Gaza port to facilitate humanitarian aid shouldn’t be dismissed  – more aid for Palestinians on the brink of starvation is obviously good. But as with the airdropping of aid it just reveals the incoherence of U.S. policy right now, in which we’re trying to ease Palestinian suffering while continuing to unconditionally arm and support the government that is intentionally inflicting that suffering.

The president seems to recognize that ultimately this conflict will require a political solution, but is still unwilling to bring the full weight of America’s considerable leverage to that goal. Biden’s potted history of the conflict didn’t help. Hamas’ atrocities on October 7 were obviously the precipitating event, but this war did not begin on October 7. It has been waged against the Palestinians every day for years in the form of a violent and humiliating military occupation. Any effort to bring this conflict to a just resolution will need to confront that reality, and Biden seems unprepared to do that.

On the bright side, Biden took what I think is exactly the right approach on his administration’s biggest foreign policy priority: China. He basically told everybody to chill out about it, he’s got this. This isn’t dismissing the challenge, he hasn’t done that, but I think taking a less hysterical approach is something that will lead to a more rational discussion and better, more effective policy.

On immigration, a key goal must be tackling root causes, such as corruption and violence, in US-Latin America policy. The president unfortunately allowed himself to be drawn into a back and forth with Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Green over the murder of Laken Riley, a 22 year old Georgia nursing student who was murdered by an undocumented migrant who had been released into the country after being detained. Biden’s statement that Riley had been “killed by an illegal” was a misstep that plays right into the right’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, which is unfortunately in keeping with his general approach to immigration lately, where he’s been willing to tack right and offer some pretty dangerous concessions to try and save the Ukraine aid package. But many of the principles and values at stake at our border are the same ones at stake in Ukraine: human safety and dignity, a commitment to international law. It’s wrong to think we can promote one while selling out the other.

But the bottom line is there just wasn’t much foreign policy in it at all. A few paragraphs in a nearly 90 minute speech. And that reflects his administration’s approach: they would like to talk about foreign policy as little as possible. President Biden has a strong case to make in terms of his administration’s domestic accomplishments. They’ve been able to get important things done that are showing huge benefits to the American people. He has a similar opportunity to advance a foreign policy agenda that improves the lives of Americans and global populations alike. Given that foreign policy is clearly going to be a much bigger issue in this election than anyone expected, I think it was a missed opportunity to stake out a bolder vision.


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.


Middle East Dialogues: A Conversation with Matt Duss [Cambridge, MA]

Thu., Feb. 29, 2024 4:30pm – 6:00pm

Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

A conversation between Middle East Initiative’s Faculty Chair Professor Tarek Masoud and former foreign policy advisor to Senator Bernie Sanders Matt Duss. This event is part of the Middle East Initiative’s “Middle East Dialogues,” a series of frank, open, and probing encounters with vital and varied perspectives on the current conflict, its causes, and the prospects for peace and progress in the region.


This event is open to Harvard University ID holders only. Registration is required.


Letter From The Publisher

Nancy Okail, President and CEO, and Matt Duss, Executive Vice President, Center for International Policy

We are delighted to welcome you to the inaugural issue of the International Policy Journal (IPJ), a platform dedicated to discussing foreign policy priorities within a progressive agenda. We look forward to your engagement and collaboration as readers, contributors, and critics to help us better understand today’s challenges, articulate effective solutions, and honestly assess potential risks and trade-offs of proposed policy alternatives.

As we near the end of the first quarter of the 21st century, it’s clear that the United States’ foreign policy needs new ideas to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. We believe that the US can and should play a robust and constructive global role without succumbing to detrimental hegemony or exceptionalism, including its associated white supremacy, ultra-nationalism, hyper-militarization, and inequality. Achieving this necessitates a paradigm shift in US foreign policy to address evolving global threats and power dynamics.

Today’s challenges demand perspectives beyond the outdated left-right divide or an imposed separation between domestic and foreign affairs. The impact of international crises, from climate change to the pandemic, and even remote conflicts like those in Ukraine and the Israel-Palestine, underline this need. Our aim is for the IPJ to be an inclusive space for nuanced foreign policy analysis, promoting a more peaceful, just, and sustainable world.

The IPJ seeks to be the epicenter for progressive debate and analysis, shaping the discourse and working to build consensus around the urgent challenges of these polarized times. Our approach involves bridging domestic and foreign concerns, promoting a comprehensive perspective that includes those affected by our policies, advocating for accountability, and reinvigorating diplomacy.

We seek to reframe the perspective of the US foreign policy debate, offering practical and meaningful solutions that reflect the diverse realities of global communities, that supports the safety and prosperity of Americans while centering US foreign policy’s impact on those communities. We believe in a conception of national security that is synonymous with global security, rooted in human rights and equality. This solidarity-based approach challenges the narrative of great power competition, advocating for a more inclusive and equitable global policy framework. We are all in this world together.

Aligned with CIP’s mission, the IPJ aspires to be more than a forum for the exchange of ideas. By consolidating expertise, supporting emerging experts, and cultivating a dynamic community, we aim to build a new and durable consensus.