US Should Seek Unequivocal Israeli Commitment, in Word and in Deed, Against Mass Transfer of Civilians from Gaza

January 8, 2024

We welcome the Biden Administration’s clear rejection of calls from ministers in the Netanyahu government, including reportedly from the Prime Minister himself, for the mass resettlement of civilians from the Gaza Strip.

As we note reports that the Israeli military is planning to shift from a large-scale ground and air campaign toward a more targeted, focused operation, we continue to urge the Biden Administration to use all US leverage to ensure this swiftly results in meaningful change on the ground, including significantly lower civilian casualty levels, progress toward hostage releases and a major increase in humanitarian aid.

Just as Palestinian leaders and advocates must accept the right of millions of Israelis to live in peace and safety in Israel, so too must Israeli leaders accept the right of millions of Palestinians to live in peace and safety in Palestinian territory.

Given numerous, repeated statements by Israeli ministers who support the depopulation of Gaza, the US government should seek a firm, public commitment from the Prime Minister that his government is not pursuing and will not pursue any such civilian transfer policy.

The mass permanent transfer of families in Gaza from their homeland would constitute a severe violation of international law. Statements by ministers in the Netanyahu government – many of whom have national security responsibilities – expressly calling for such violations must be repudiated by Prime Minister Netanyahu as Israel’s head of government.

We understand that Prime Minister Netanyahu may be eschewing such a repudiation given his precarious political and legal position, which is all the more reason the United States should insist on a public and unequivocal commitment. As a major military assistance donor and as a supplier of arms to Israel, including those being used in the current war, the United States has a clear responsibility to do so.

Meanwhile, in light of warnings from the UN humanitarian chief that Gaza is “uninhabitable” – and reports from US Senators on the ground that convoys of humanitarian aid are being unduly delayed and restricted as a result of political decisions by the Netanyahu government – the US must state clearly that humanitarian aid cannot be wielded as a means of war in the fight against Hamas. The White House must increase pressure on Israeli authorities to comply with relevant Security Council resolutions and facilitate a major, immediate increase in humanitarian aid to Gaza, and restore power, water and fuel supplies to civilian infrastructure.

Longer term, all appropriate aid and assistance should be provided to those both internally and externally displaced by the Israel-Hamas war to ensure their ability to live safely and freely in Gaza. The challenge will be significant: Israeli military operations have forced more than 85% of Gaza residents from their homes, with the UN currently estimating that more than a quarter of Gaza residents will have no homes to return to. The need for further US action is urgent.