The National Interest Foundation Newsletter, Issue 228

The National Interest Foundation Newsletter

Issue 228, March 15, 2024

Welcome to our NIF Newsletter. This week, we examine the resumption of funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) by most European countries and Canada while Israel seeks to dismantle the organization, provide analysis on the way in which the rift between U.S. President Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has become apparent in some of the subsequent media interviews following the recent State of the Union address, and look into how a group of U.S. Senators have cited a law that should forbid arming Israel due to its continued blocking of humanitarian aid to Gaza.

Most European Countries and Canada Resume UNRWA Funding While Israel Seeks to Dismantle the Organization

A recent report found that Israeli authorities coerced several detained UNRWA employees into falsely stating ties to Hamas, and also subjected them to ill-treatment and human rights abuses. (Photo from AP)

Most European Countries and Canada Resume UNRWA Funding While Israel Seeks to Dismantle the Organization

Sweden and Canada were among the countries that recently announced they will resume aid payments to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). The humanitarian agency is the largest of its kind operating in Gaza, and provides critical healthcare, education, relief, employment, and social services – resources that are especially important and necessary now due to Israel’s ongoing destructive military offensive in Gaza and the dire humanitarian crisis that it has brought about. The welcome development of the resumption of funding comes amid news that the Israeli army is seeking to dismantle the relief organization. This is just the latest in Israel’s long-standing efforts to try and hinder the work of UNRWA and have it disbanded. Last month in February, Israel put forth unsubstantiated allegations that several UNRWA workers were involved in the October 7th Hamas attacks. These claims were later debunked, but still prompted over a dozen countries to cut their funding to the agency. In addition to an independent entity finding that the allegations had no merit, a recent report highlighted how Israeli authorities coerced detained UNRWA employees into falsely stating ties to Hamas, and consisted of first-hand accounts of mistreatment and human rights violations suffered while apprehended. In the report, detainees described instances of abuse which included beatings, threats, torture, and the denial of medical treatment. UNRWA has stated that it plans to hand the report over to other agencies, both inside and outside of the United Nations, that specialize in documenting human rights abuses.

Observers hope that the moves to reinstate funding to UNRWA may prompt other countries that paused financial aid to follow suit, as there is a massive need for a significant uptick in humanitarian assistance services. United Nations officials have warned of the worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza, stating that more than a quarter of the civilian population there is on the brink of famine. Furthermore, at least 85% of citizens have been forcibly displaced due to Israel’s ongoing military offensive, with an estimated 1.5 million Palestinians currently taking refuge in and around Rafah – a city that itself remains under risk of a potential destructive Israeli military operation and that now has a population in excess of five times larger than it was prior to the War on Gaza. The conflict has also devastated the Palestinian territory’s health system and infrastructure, overwhelming hospitals, doctors, and other healthcare workers. According to recent data, Sweden is the fourth largest contributor to the UNRWA’s budget, and Canada is the eleventh largest. The European Union (EU) is also a major UNRWA donor, and earlier this month, the EU’s European Commission announced that it would provide 50 million euros as well. UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini has emphasized the unprecedented nature of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and expressed that he is “cautiously optimistic that within the next few weeks…a number of (other) donors will return.”

Israel has severely restricted the entry of humanitarian aid into Gaza, leading the United States and others to conduct airdrops and announce plans to build a temporary port along Gaza’s Mediterranean coast to bring in aid by sea. However, aid groups have rightly pointed out that these are more costly, ineffective, and time-consuming methods to deliver food and medical supplies, and that the focus should be on pressuring Israel to open up aid crossings and allow trucks to enter via land. Humanitarian groups have consistently outlined the serious obstacles that they face in trying to deliver aid into Gaza, largely due to obstructive practices by Israeli authorities. These include arbitrary layers of inspections and denials, unexplained delays, unnecessary hurdles, and inconsistency in green-lighting and vetting aid deliveries. All of this has resulted in what these organizations refer to as a “complex system with multiple potential choke points rather than a good-faith system optimized to maximize aid volumes.”

On top of the blatant methods to impede humanitarian aid, fair and impartial analysts also see through Israel’s pattern of continuous attempts to undermine the work of UNRWA. This was evident with last month’s unsubstantiated and debunked allegations against several agency employees, which was clearly aimed at damaging UNRWA’s reputation and financially strapping it. The organization has long been the target of Israeli hardliners who seek to see it disbanded because it perpetuates the issue of Palestinian refugee return and serves as a constant reminder that Palestinians were forcibly displaced from their ancestral homes. Prior to the onset of the War on Gaza, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described UNRWA in his own words as “an organization that perpetuates the problem of Palestinian refugees and the narrative of the right of return…and therefore UNRWA should be removed from the world.” Now, unsurprisingly, after countries like Sweden and Canada have decided to resume their UNRWA funding, it was revealed this week that the Israeli army has presented a plan for the full dismantling of the agency – merely the latest effort to derail the organization.

Biden-Netanyahu Rift Becomes Apparent Following the Recent State of the Union Address

Netanyahu continues to dismiss Biden’s guidelines and criticism. (Photo from Reuters)

The Rift Between U.S. President Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu Has Become Apparent Following the Recent State of the Union Address

In his recent 2024 State of the Union address, U.S. President Joe Biden delivered a fiery speech in which he called out former President Donald Trump, Russian leader Vladimir Putin, and even criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over his Gaza War policies and failure to safeguard civilians. President Biden claimed that “Israel has a fundamental responsibility to protect innocent civilians in Gaza…Israel must also do its part. Israel must allow more aid into Gaza and ensure humanitarian workers aren’t caught in the crossfire.” This was a clear criticism of Netanyahu and Israel’s handling of the conflict, which has also negatively impacted Biden’s domestic political prospects. There has been a notable sentiment throughout the United States that some citizens will not vote for Biden in the upcoming November election unless a lasting ceasefire is initiated to protect innocent Palestinian civilians – and there are even those who are of the mindset that Biden is irredeemable due to his support of Israel in the preceding months amid their devastating War on Gaza. In a hot mic moment after the speech, Biden expressed how he and Netanyahu would need to have a “come to Jesus meeting,” indicating that Biden has been displeased with the humanitarian violations of the war. During his State of the Union speech, Biden also unveiled a plan to build a temporary pier that will help deliver aid to Gaza to try and alleviate the dire humanitarian conditions.

President Biden has been increasingly public about his frustrations with Netanyahu’s unwillingness to open more land crossings for aid, and the planned military offensive in the border city of Rafah – both of which are detrimental to the lives of Palestinian civilians. He has stated that an Israeli assault on Rafah, where an estimated 1.5 million displaced Palestinians are taking refuge, would constitute a “red line.” In clarifying remarks during a media interview, Biden claimed that “It is a red line, but I am never going to leave Israel,” and that he would continue sending weapons for Israel’s Iron Dome even with criticizing the killing of more than 30,000 Palestinians. A common theme since the beginning of the war has been the Biden administration’s inability to guide Israeli actions in Gaza, despite the U.S. providing support to Israel. Biden is attempting to leverage this position to see humanitarian assistance prioritized, but recent statements from Netanyahu show that the two leaders are on different pages regarding their approach to Gaza.

In a recent “softball” interview on “Fox and Friends,” Netanyahu stated that Israel would not be “getting off the gas” and that it would not stop short of “complete victory.” In Netanyahu’s eyes, a “complete victory” is categorized as the total destruction of Hamas. In his interview, Netanyahu made it clear that he is not intent on settling for anything less than this “goal,” as he seeks to go after Hamas battalions that he believes are in Rafah. Furthermore, he expressed little regard for the opinion of Biden, asserting that decisions regarding Hamas are at Israel’s discretion and not the United States because “it is our neck on the line.” With all of this, Netanyahu is disregarding and disparaging U.S. input despite the United States sending around $4 billion a year in what is largely military assistance to Israel, and what is estimated to be approximately $300 billion total between 1946 and 2023 – a figure that is only continuing to grow. The United States’ objective to send aid to Palestinian civilians while simultaneously sending weapons to Israel is contradictory, according to some former and current administration officials.

Public relations between U.S. President Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu seem to be faltering, evident from Biden’s belief that Netanyahu was “hurting Israel more than helping,” and Netanyahu’s subsequent response where he contended that he was “pursuing the wishes of the majority in Israel.” While Netanyahu tries to claim that he has the support of the Israeli public, it should be noted that former U.S. President George W. Bush similarly believed he had the support of the U.S. public in his invasion of Iraq, a war that ended in catastrophic failure. Biden has cautioned Netanyahu against such missteps, warning Israel in his latest interview to not make the same mistakes that the U.S. made invading Iraq back in 2003. This plea has fallen on deaf ears, as Netanyahu remains insistent on pursuing “complete victory” in Gaza, something that even the staunchest of Israel’s defenders concede is unattainable. The growing rift between Biden and Netanyahu has presented a bad diplomatic look for both leaders, as their interviews signify a muddled alliance and a lack of coordinated strategy.

U.S. Senators Cite a Law That Should Forbid Arming Israel Due to Its Continued Blocking of Humanitarian Aid to Gaza

The United Nations and humanitarian groups have drawn attention to how Israel has impeded aid to Palestinian civilians in Gaza. (Photo from Reuters)

U.S. Senators Cite a Law That Should Forbid Arming Israel Due to Its Continued Blocking of Humanitarian Aid to Gaza

A group of United States Senators have banded together, writing a letter to President Biden which urges him to discontinue sending arms to Israel. The lawmakers have called for a halt of weapons transfers, citing a U.S. law that prohibits the supply of weapons to foreign states that restrict humanitarian aid from reaching civilians. Eight U.S. Senators, including seven Democrats and one Independent, penned the letter to Biden detailing how both his administration and the UN have acknowledged that Israel is blocking humanitarian aid and is “one of the primary causes of this humanitarian catastrophe,” behavior that should forbid U.S. military support. The group of Senators, led by Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), are outraged by the lack of aid going through to the besieged enclave, recognizing that Gaza is in the midst of a dire humanitarian crisis. During a recent interview on NPR, Senator Merkley stated that Israel’s screening practices of aid were “erratic and inconsistent,” and that “starvation is not a legitimate strategy, it is in fact under international law, a war crime.” Israeli forces are continuously hindering ground aid from going through to Gazan civilians in need, citing bogus security concerns.

The UN has highlighted that in order to meet the needs of civilians in Gaza, at least 300 aid trucks a day are required, however, there are currently less than half of those able to go through. The letter to Biden from the U.S. Senators is one of the latest attempts by some of the more progressive members of Congress to voice their discontent with the Netanyahu government. Congress has thus far been unable to garner the number of votes in the House and Senate that are necessary to restrict or condition military aid to Israel. Back in January, Senator Sanders introduced a bill that would have required the U.S. State Department to produce a report examining whether Israel committed human rights violations in Gaza, but the resolution failed with a vote of 72 to 11. With other Congressional measures falling short, this recent group of Senators have cited the Foreign Assistance Act to try and persuade President Biden to enact policy change.

Israel’s obstruction of humanitarian aid violates Section 620I of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, which outlines that “no assistance shall be furnished to any country when it is made known to the president that the government of said country prohibits or otherwise restricts, directly or indirectly, the transport or delivery of United States humanitarian assistance.” Another sub-section of the law called the Humanitarian Aid Corridor Act, delineates that the president is required to halt U.S. military aid as soon as he/she is made aware that a country is blocking or restricting the delivery of American humanitarian assistance. Israel is clearly in violation of the law, yet the Biden administration has continued to send arms to Israel. Since the onset of the war, the U.S. has reportedly made more than 100 weapons transfers to Israel, with many of these sales being pushed through without congressional oversight. These weapons include precision-guided munitions, small-diameter bombs, bunker busters, small arms, and others. Many of these munitions have been directly used in the killing of Palestinian civilians, as the death toll has now surpassed 31,000. In response to these alarming figures, the group of Senators note that “immediate action is necessary to secure a change in policy” regarding Israel. According to the New York Times, the most recent aid bill to Israel will send $14.1 billion in military support to Israel, of which $10 billion would go toward offensive weapons to be used in Gaza. That is a disturbing $10 billion in U.S. dollars that would be used indiscriminately against innocent civilians.

Biden administration officials have admitted that Israel is impeding deliveries and is in violation of U.S. law, but has still refused to take appropriate action. The United States could certainly be using its leverage against Israel to force policy change and allow more ground aid to enter Gaza, but instead, the Biden administration has resorted to airdropping aid and announcing plans for the construction of a temporary port. Aid groups have consistently pointed out that neither of these measures will be sufficient in alleviating the dire levels of the humanitarian crisis. Frustrated by a lack of adequate action from President Biden, members of Congress are beginning to express their dissatisfaction. The letter from the group of Senators is just one of many examples of growing frustration with the Israeli government. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer recently called Netanyahu an obstacle to peace, and urged Israel to hold new elections. Schumer’s remarks speak volumes regarding the increasingly widespread criticism of Israel’s inhumane actions in Gaza.

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