Mr. President, enough is enough.

Jeremy Ben-Ami
on May 28, 2024

For eight months, we have watched in abject horror the catastrophic war that has followed Hamas’ barbaric October 7 attack.

Without question, Hamas’ leaders and those who carried out the murders, the rapes, the hostage-taking and the devastation that day deserve to be brought to justice, and Israel has the right, within the bounds of international law, to defend its citizens and pursue accountability.

But, to our great regret, the response of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government has too often crossed the line from legitimate self-defense and pursuit of justice to itself becoming the source of horrific suffering and destruction.

In the wake of what we see as Netanyahu crossing President Biden’s red line regarding Rafah in the tragedy of this weekend, we reiterate our call of many months now: It is time for this war to end.

It is time for a negotiated ceasefire that brings home the hostages and halts the fighting.

It is time for a deal that allows for a surge of humanitarian assistance into Gaza to meet the massive needs of the civilian population. If there is an offer on the table judged by the United States to be reasonable, the Israeli government must be pressed to accept it, just as maximum pressure must also be exerted on Hamas through Egypt, Qatar and other interlocutors to ensure Hamas accepts it.

Our view of the war today does not erase the horror of October 7 or obscure our memory of the people we lost – many of them friends and family of people in our movement, dedicated to peace and coexistence with their neighbors in Gaza.

The Netanyahu government not only failed the country on and before October 7, but has failed the hostages, their families and the Israeli public since. This government has prioritized its pursuit of the impossible concept of “total victory” and “destroying” Hamas above all else.

The United States, President Biden, and many of us who support Israel’s right of self-defense, must also own responsibility for failing to use all available leverage to change the way Prime Minister Netanyahu has conducted this war.

We have urged the President to withhold shipments of offensive weapons to press Netanyahu and his allies to adhere to the rules of war, to American law and to the moral standards we expect from a democratic ally. We supported the recent withholding of a shipment of munitions. But more leverage must be exerted and more offensive weapons should at this point be withheld.

The United States must also mean it when we say that we believe in the rules-based international order. The United Nations, the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court may be imperfect institutions, but they represent the core of the international order that the United States has helped build and that has been central to global stability for decades.

The US should be at the forefront of ensuring that the courts and the international law they uphold remain strong, and that the law applies equally to our friends as well as our enemies. Substantive disagreements may be argued through appropriate channels and processes, but the President should not be protecting the Israeli government or Prime Minister Netanyahu himself from accountability – either by consistently using its veto at the Security Council or by threatening court officials with sanctions.

We oppose any effort by Congress to impose sanctions on international courts or their personnel over disagreements about the steps they are taking. That is behavior more fitting for President Biden’s opponent (who did sanction ICC officials) and his MAGA supporters who consistently attack the rule of law.

Finally, it is not defensible that the US has allowed the war to go on for nearly eight months without demanding a clear commitment from Netanyahu regarding the endgame for the broader conflict.

The President and his team – along with the entirety of the rest of the world – understand that there is only one way for this war and the underlying Israeli-Palestinian conflict to end, and that is with a credible pathway for Palestinians toward self-determination and a state of their own. Withholding certain arms until Netanyahu agrees to a plan that would lead to a Palestinian state must also be on the table for the Biden Administration.

Alongside the nightmare of this present conflict, there remains a once-in-a-generation opportunity for a comprehensive, regional agreement that results in normalization of Israel’s relations with its neighbors; the establishment of a meaningful regional security architecture providing a buffer against Iran’s malfeasance; and the creation of a viable, demilitarized Palestinian state.

The biggest obstacle standing in the way is the extremist Netanyahu government that refuses to articulate its vision of the ‘day after’ this conflict ends. To the extent that it has such a vision, it is at odds with that of the Biden Administration and the rest of the world.

It is time for President Biden to lay out his vision and the detailed steps that can implement it (J Street has outlined one way to get there, but there are others). The United States should lead a United Nations Security Council Resolution enshrining this vision, uniting the world around a pathway to a secure and peaceful future.

The President must demand that Israel’s leaders choose: Either follow the path of Prime Minister Netanyahu and his extremist allies to a future of never-ending conflict, bloodshed and pain – or choose the path that leads to regional stability and global acceptance of the states of Israel and Palestine within a regional security framework.

Hamas and the terrorists who attacked Israel on October 7 can and must be defeated. But that will only happen through a political resolution of the underlying Israeli-Palestinian conflict – one that rallies international support to deprive Hamas of financial, political and popular support and charts a clear, alternate, peaceful path toward Palestinian liberation. The path which President Biden is being led down by Prime Minister Netanyahu will bring only more death and destruction, a more radicalized and angry Palestinian population, and greater enemies for not just Israel but the United States as well.

And – let’s be clear – the political damage the President is suffering by going down this path is so deep that it could cost him the November election and all of us our democracy.

So we say to President Biden: Demand an end to this war now and lay out the choice clearly for Prime Minister Netanyahu. Either resolve this war and the underlying conflict the right way – in a manner that brings lasting peace, security and freedom to both peoples – or go it alone on the path of never-ending violence and bloodshed.

Mr. President, enough is enough.

Jeremy Ben-Ami
President, J Street