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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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”

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.”

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

Senate Emergency Appropriations Bill Would Harm US Interests and Values, Human Security in the Middle East

The Center for International Policy commends efforts by Senators supporting vitally important aid to Ukraine to construct a viable legislative vehicle in a Congress rendered increasingly dysfunctional by rising rightwing extremism in its ranks. With Ukraine’s financial and military resources rapidly dwindling as it struggles to repel Russia’s illegal invasion, assistance from the United States is critical. We also commend lawmakers seeking to include more than $10 billion to address dire humanitarian crises around the world. 

We therefore regret that, despite the good faith efforts of many lawmakers, the bill as currently written is nonetheless unacceptably unbalanced by provisions that are deeply harmful to US interests and values, as well as human security in the Middle East.

In contrast to Ukraine’s demonstrated need for funds and arms to counter Russia’s expansionist military assault and occupation, the bill’s $14 billion in further US taxpayer funding for weapons for Israel to use in its devastating campaign in Gaza is neither financially, militarily nor morally justified.

With a per capita GDP greater than that of the UK, Canada and Japan – and more than twelve times that of Ukraine — Israel has not made the case to Congress or American taxpayers that it will be unable to carry out essential, legitimate defense activities without such financial assistance. Such extraordinary additional aid the Israeli government is especially inappropriate in light of its ministers continuing to spend Israel’s own funds on projects in illegal West Bank settlements, while urging Israel’s financial institutions to defy new US anti-terrorism sanctions.

While Israel has the right and responsibility to defend its people and take military action in response to Hamas’ horrific October 7, 2023 attack, Israel’s campaign in Gaza is failing to achieve its own stated objectives of rescuing the Israelis taken hostage or “eliminating” Hamas from the territory. Instead, Israel’s disproportionate bombardment and near-total siege of the territory with US weapons has resulted in approximately 27,000 deaths – two-thirds of which Israel itself estimates are civilians – including more than 11,000 children, as multiple Israeli ministers call for the mass forced displacement of Gaza’s residents.

Despite calls by lawmakers for conditions on further military assistance to prevent Israel’s continued use of US arms in a manner that President Biden himself has twice called “indiscriminate,” the proposed bill not only fails to include any such safeguards, but would reduce already insufficient opportunities for Congressional oversight of weapons sales to Israel under federal law. The new White House National Security Memorandum requiring foreign military aid recipients like Israel to adhere to international humanitarian and relevant US law is a step in the right direction, but not a sufficient replacement for durable, statutorily binding safeguards – especially in light of the Biden administration’s repeated resistance to enforcing existing human rights and arms control laws with regard to Israel.

Additionally, as Gaza’s civilian population faces a crisis of starvation and disease, the legislation unconscionably prohibits any of the humanitarian aid it allocates, as well as any previously appropriated aid funding, from being used for contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) – the main provider of lifesaving aid and services in the territory. Far from addressing the growing threat to US and regional security that the war and humanitarian crisis in Gaza represents, this bill would cruelly exacerbate it, while increasing the prospects of the United States being drawn into another costly and avoidable quagmire in the region.

​​Time and again we have seen the folly of pursuing military measures without transparency or accountability mechanisms and without due attention to civilian well-being. We urge lawmakers to redress these deficiencies in the bill, so that its other components vital to global human security can move forward.

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Five Recommendations for Ending the War and Ensuring Human Security in Israel-Palestine

Organizations and leaders in the progressive foreign policy community have strongly condemned the heinous and illegal acts Hamas perpetrated against Israeli civilians, as well as Israeli government actions that have killed and gravely harmed Palestinian civilians in violation of international law. It is also essential for progressives in the United States to propose and champion forward-looking recommendations for how the Biden Administration can help end the current war in Israel-Palestine and best ensure the security, rights and well-being of Israelis and Palestinians in the longer term.

The progressive foreign policy community is diverse in both its composition and views. Different groups and leaders will no doubt have their own specific prescriptions that go beyond those articulated here, but we hope the following recommendations can serve as a commonly supported basis for essential US action.

Recommendation #1: Push for a humanitarian ceasefire

A ceasefire or truce that begins as a temporary measure, but which could be extended, is vitally necessary to prevent further loss of civilian life on a mass scale. The delivery of needed humanitarian aid, additional efforts to secure the release of hostages, the re-establishment of water supplies and electricity and initial assessments of Gaza’s reconstruction and resilience needs would all be made possible by a break in fighting. A ceasefire could also help calm tensions in the West Bank and elsewhere in the region, greatly reducing the risk of full-scale fighting moving to an additional theater or drawing in outside actors such as Iran.

While we hope such a ceasefire will be extended indefinitely, a ceasefire is not a peace treaty. It is an ad hoc measure under which combatants do not waive their right to resume military operations if other efforts (see recommendation #2, below) to permanently end an armed conflict fail.

Recommendation #2: Undertake intensive diplomacy to end Hamas attacks, secure release of hostages and end the Israeli siege

With a ceasefire in place, the Aqaba group (the United States, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and representatives of Palestine Liberation Organization) should convene with the addition of Qatar and Turkey – US security partners with channels to Iran and Hamas – with a goal to secure the release of all hostages and an end to the current war. A guiding objective of that process must be an outcome that does not restore the status quo ante, i.e., at a minimum, it must not allow Hamas to have a Gaza-based offensive attack capability, nor can it allow for continued blockade and functional imprisonment of Palestinian civilians in Gaza. Consideration should also be given to beginning the process of appropriately addressing accountability for the brutality against, and mass casualties among, civilians on each side.

Recommendation #3: Refocus regional diplomatic priority from bilateral normalization efforts to multilateral efforts toward a just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the end of occupation

Once a negotiated end to the current Israel-Hamas war is in place, the United States must finally get serious about diplomacy to justly resolve the underlying Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That means moving away from prioritizing the Trump/Netanyahu vision of piecemeal bilateral normalization agreements between Israel and Arab- and Muslim-majority autocracies that have given cover to metastasizing permanent Israeli control of the occupied Palestinian Territories and the inherently discriminatory denial of fundamental Palestinian national, political and human rights in violation of international law. It means championing the inherent benefits of Israel’s full acceptance and integration in the Middle East, and moving away from an “arms for peace” model where recognition of Israel is bought with US weapons deals that increase militarization and instability in the region. It also means avoiding the previous and repeatedly failed model of meekly facilitating direct, bilateral negotiations between parties with a massive imbalance of military and diplomatic power.

Instead, the United States should lend its full diplomatic weight to helping construct a truly multilateral framework involving key regional players toward a just and comprehensive resolution of the conflict in accordance with international law. This would include universal normalization and recognition of the national rights of both Israelis and Palestinians – alongside ensuring the security and well-being of both peoples – as its northstar. Different models, such as the Arab Peace Initiative or recent confederation proposals – could be proposed by participants as terms of reference. Absent such an effort, the lack of a political horizon will only continue to feed despair, distrust, and extremism among both peoples.

Recommendation #4: Take meaningful anti-occupation, anti-annexation steps:

Permanent Israeli occupation and ongoing de facto annexation of Palestinian territory is incompatible with international law and shared human values. Failure to take concrete steps to counter permanent, undemocratic Israeli control in the territories would doom any diplomatic conflict resolution effort and continue to feed the current cycle of violence.

The United States must end its demonstrably inadequate practice of limiting itself to mild criticism of deepening occupation and instead take concrete steps to counter it. At a bare minimum, these include: reinstating legal guidance that settlements are inconsistent with international law; declining to use its veto in the United Nations Security Council to shield Israel from accurate and appropriate criticism for its settlement and annexation-related activities; and instituting a zero tolerance policy for the use of US-supplied or -financed arms in connection with violations of human rights or for other prohibited purposes by meaningfully enforcing existing US law on the misuse of aid and US-origin weapons.

Recommendation #5: Substantially expand support for the Palestinian people and Palestinian leaders who seek peace with Israel

The Biden Administration should strengthen the legitimacy of Palestinians seeking a peaceful path to conflict resolution by upgrading the United States’ own bilateral relations with PLO, including by finally following through on its promise to reopen a consulate in Jerusalem serving Palestinians, exercising existing executive authority to terminate the decades-old legislative designation of the PLO as a terrorist organization, and working with regional and other international partners toward a major economic support program benefitting the Palestinian people.

Additionally, the United States must stop blocking international organizations and discouraging other countries from recognizing Palestinian statehood. While a comprehensive final resolution to their conflict can only be agreed between Israelis and Palestinians themselves, Palestinians are well within their rights as a nation to seek recognition of their state from international organizations and governments around the world. Binding themselves to the obligations of statehood and acceding to treaties that require responsible conduct is a non-violent, international law-affirming effort that should be applauded, not discouraged or penalized. The United States should therefore cease its practice of delegitimizing these efforts, and instead welcome them as bolstering the prospects for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.