J Street to Biden: Act Now to Save Lives, Hostages, Chance for Long-term Peace

December 21, 2023

Two and a half months after the horrific October 7 attack by Hamas, J Street’s support for the people and state of Israel remains unwavering. We continue to affirm Israel’s right and obligation to defend its territory, provide security for its citizens and bring to justice those who perpetrated this barbaric attack.

However, as six Members of Congress with significant national security experience wrote this week to President Biden, the civilian death toll and humanitarian crisis in Gaza that the Netanyahu government’s military operation have caused are unacceptable and out of line with American interests and values.

These Members – each of whom learned bitter lessons about war and counterterrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan – urged the President to “use all our leverage to achieve an immediate and significant shift [in Israel’s] military strategy and tactics in Gaza.

In recent days, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin warned Israel that when you drive the civilian population into the arms of the enemy, you can “replace a tactical victory with a strategic defeat.” And former Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley weighed in similarly on the nature of the war, noting that “military doctrine has evolved … and the preferred doctrine today in highly dense urban areas is to do intelligence-led precision strikes with precision munitions, and special operations forces.”

J Street too opposes the Netanyahu government’s disastrous approach to the war.

We call on President Biden to heed the advice of this wide array of national security experts and veterans of counterterrorism operations and to convey to the Netanyahu government, both publicly and privately, that the time has come to end the all-out military campaign and massive aerial bombardment of Gaza and immediately shift to a far more targeted and limited operation.

In light of the Netanyahu government’s repeated refusal to heed the administration’s call and advice, J Street urges the Administration to take further, firmer steps to bring about this change including:

  1. Proposing a renewed pause in the fighting that enables the safe return of the remaining hostages and a dramatic surge in humanitarian assistance.The terms of a renewed break in hostilities would include Hamas’ release of additional hostages in exchange for an extended break in the fighting and a further release of prisoners. We would also support the Administration proposing a longer-term end to the fighting were Hamas required in addition to releasing all the hostages to relinquish its remaining arsenal and accept passage for its leadership to a third country.A renewed pause should bring a dramatic, urgent infusion of humanitarian aid, inclusive of food, water and medical supplies for families in Gaza. The civilian population of Gaza – the majority of whom are children and 85 percent or more of whom are displaced from their homes – are living in unbearable conditions. We commend the Administration’s efforts to reopen the Kerem Shalom crossing to facilitate movement of more aid into Gaza. This must be paired with the entry of humanitarian aid organizations to establish more field hospitals, shelters and distribution mechanisms.
  2. Shifting America’s posture at the United Nations.The United States should stop vetoing Security Council resolutions related to the conflict that seek to find ways to advance the release of hostages, the provision of humanitarian assistance and a pathway to diplomatic resolution of the conflict. Rather, the US should draft and lead resolutions that accord with our policy and values, possibly outlining terms for further pauses in the fighting, holding Israel and other actors accountable when their actions violate international law or contradict US interests and renewing the global commitment to a two-state solution, while articulating parameters to guide negotiations.
  3. Outlining a plan for post-war Gaza reconstruction and a pathway to a viable Palestinian state.The Administration should provide a detailed public plan for the day after the present crisis that begins with reconstruction and redevelopment of the devastation in Gaza and leads to the creation of a viable, independent state of Palestine alongside a secure Israel. The plan should provide for a revitalized and reformed Palestinian Authority that unites the West Bank and Gaza and creates the conditions in which Israel can normalize relations with all regional neighbors and the broader Arab and Muslim world.The President should make clear that any American investment or involvement in post-war reconstruction – for instance in a multinational Marshall Plan-style effort – will be accompanied by an American commitment to recognition of Palestinian statehood – despite Prime Minister Netanyahu’s opposition. Already in recent days, the UAE has made clear that financial and other commitments from the Arab world to post-war development in Palestine will only come when there is an Israeli commitment to a two-state solution.
  4. Instituting strict oversight and scrutiny of arms and material purchased with US assistance to ensure they are used in compliance with domestic and international law.Senator Chris Van Hollen’s proposed amendment to the President’s supplemental assistance request provides a commonsense and universal approach to oversight of weapons purchased with American assistance. The President should ask Congress to include such transparency measures in the supplemental package they are considering and should indicate that the Administration will use all the tools already at its disposal under existing law to ensure that the Israeli government – along with all other countries receiving US assistance – acts within the bounds of domestic and international law.

The death toll in this conflict is too great and the suffering unbearable – leading many passionate and committed individuals and organizations to call on Israel to unilaterally cease fire. J Street does not join in calling for a ceasefire because we do not see a viable path to a stable, peaceful future for either Israelis or Palestinians with Hamas in control of Gaza and still committed in its charter to Israel’s destruction and publicly pledging to repeat the October 7 attack if given the chance.

Having said this, we also see no viable path to sustainable, long-term resolution of this conflict if the Netanyahu government continues to add to the already unacceptable civilian toll and humanitarian crisis in Gaza and to disregard American recommendations on the conduct of the war.

We urge the Biden administration to take immediate action to ensure that the Israeli government significantly shifts course before this conflict costs more lives and wreaks more pain and devastation. The way the current campaign is being pursued only jeopardizes Israel’s efforts to defeat Hamas and secure the release of the hostages – while laying the groundwork for even deeper, long-term security challenges.