As Humanitarian Pause Nears End, US Must Demand Change in Israeli Tactics and Must Not Provide a Blank Check for Netanyahu

November 30, 2023

J Street is deeply grateful that the humanitarian pause in place for the past week has brought the release of over 100 hostages, a break in fighting between Israel and Hamas, and a significant influx of humanitarian aid to Gaza.

We’ve shared in the joy of watching Israeli families reunite with loved ones, and we’ve shared in the horror of hearing stories of their captivity. And we’ve experienced profound concern and despair as we continue to learn more about the devastation and growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

We hope that the pause in fighting will be extended for days to come as called for in the existing agreement or under new terms with more hostages released and the delivery of substantially more humanitarian aid to meet the urgent needs of civilians in Gaza.

And let us be clear: We demand the immediate release of all hostages in Gaza and an end to indiscriminate rocket fire and terror attacks against Israel.

Sadly, we know that the halt in fighting is temporary, which is why it’s so important to articulate our views about what should happen next.

While J Street supports Israel’s right to take military action in accordance with international law to bring Hamas terrorists to justice and protect Israeli citizens, we echo the Biden Administration’s clear admonition to the Netanyahu government: “Be surgical, be targeted, be precise, try to minimize civilian casualties wherever possible.”

We are extremely concerned about the fate of Gazan civilians, including those displaced from the north, as the fighting moves south. We appreciate and agree with the White House spokesperson’s recent public statement: “We don’t support southern operations until the Israelis can show that they have accounted for all the internally displaced people of Gaza.”

At the same time, we are alarmed by Israeli actions in the West Bank by both settlers and the Israeli army that are leading to high civilian casualties and the displacement of families and entire communities. Every day, the Israeli government and extremist Israeli settlers are taking actions aimed at cementing permanent, undemocratic control over the West Bank and pushing the only viable path out of this crisis – the creation of an independent demilitarized Palestinian state – further out of reach.

These actions run totally counter to the long-term goals and interests that should be at the center of both Israeli and American policy: Long-lasting peace and security achieved through diplomacy and a political resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian and broader Israeli-Arab conflicts.

America’s continued support for Israel as fighting may soon resume should be grounded in two principles: (1) There must be guardrails around Israel’s conduct of the war (2) There can be no blank check for the Netanyahu government in the upcoming aid package.

We support the administration’s work with Israel to press for calculated, targeted operations, tailored to the threat Hamas presents and with a focus on special operations, anti-terror tactics and anti-tunnel operations.

The administration should make very clear that a resumption of widespread high-intensity bombing – and the resulting high civilian casualties – is unacceptable.

The greater the destruction inflicted on innocent Palestinian families, the higher the likelihood of mass forcible displacement; the harder it will be for anyone to govern post-war Gaza; the greater the risk this operation leads to retaliatory violence and terror; the deeper the fracturing of global support for Israel; and the greater the risk of regional escalation.

As Senator Chris Van Hollen has said, an absence of red lines in the conduct of this war “cannot be consistent with American interests and American values.” President Biden must make clear that the US will not provide unbounded support for a war led by Prime Minister Netanyahu if it has no limits and no exit strategy.

If Netanyahu cannot or will not adopt the restrained, strategic approach urged by the US and other key allies, this war will tragically lead only to more bloodshed, suffering and instability – without truly defeating Hamas, breaking the cycle of conflict or creating a path to a better future.

Regarding the Biden Administration’s request for supplemental assistance, the Senate is likely to consider – as early as next week – the President’s comprehensive request. This is a crucial opportunity for Congress to ensure that this next round of military aid is not a ‘blank check’ for Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Security assistance must genuinely advance American interests and Israeli security which is not to be confused with supporting the agenda of Israel’s current far-right government.

Congress and the president should ensure as security assistance is provided that:

  • All necessary mechanisms are in place and enforced to ensure US security assistance is delivered and used in compliance with both domestic and international law.
  • No aid is diverted to enable settler violence or further steps that permanently deepen the occupation of the West Bank.
  • Plans for the next phase of military operations will be highly targeted and provide maximum protections for civilians from potential harm.
  • The delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza will be greatly increased and expedited.
  • They are insisting on an Israeli commitment to ending the occupation of Palestinian territory in a defined and reasonable time following the end of hostilities.

There is no path to resolution of this conflict if Hamas retains the operational control of Gaza that made its brutal October 7 attack possible. But the path to a better future will also be out of reach if the US sets no guardrails for the Israeli government’s military campaign and provides its assistance in the form of a blank check.

Our goal at J Street is clear safety and peace for Israelis and Palestinians in states of their own. How these next weeks proceed will determine just how possible that goal will be when the fighting is done.