Monday, June 17, 2024

Another senior US State Department official resigns over Gaza war

A career State Department official involved in the Joe Biden administration’s contentious debates over Israel’s conduct in Gaza resigned this week, citing disagreements with a recently published U.S. government report claiming that Tel Aviv was not impeding humanitarian assistance to the besieged strip, two officials told The Washington Post.

The outgoing official, Stacy Gilbert, served in the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.

Gilbert sent an email to staff Tuesday explaining her view that the State Department was wrong to conclude that Israel had not obstructed humanitarian assistance to Gaza, officials who read the letter said.

The cause for resignation is unusual in that it speaks to internal dissent over a hotly disputed report that the Biden administration relied on to justify continuing to send billions of dollars of weapons to Israel.

The report Gilbert objected to was published this month in response to a presidential memo known as NSM-20.

President Biden issued the memo in February after coming under pressure from congressional Democrats concerned about the rising death toll in Gaza. It required the State Department to assess whether Israel’s use of U.S. weapons in Gaza violated U.S. or international humanitarian law and included an examination of whether humanitarian aid had been deliberately obstructed.

The report — the product of weeks of discussion within the State and Defense departments — found that while “aid remains insufficient,” the United States does not “currently assess that the Israeli government is prohibiting or otherwise restricting the transport or delivery of U.S. humanitarian assistance”.

Gilbert, whose views were echoed by the vast majority of aid and humanitarian organizations, said Israel was impeding the aid from reaching civilians in Gaza. Aid flows have continued to be constricted in the weeks since the report was issued. But the report found insufficient grounds to halt aid to Israel.

Along with Paul, a handful of Biden administration officials have resigned since the conflict began in October, including Annelle Sheline, who worked on human rights issues, and Hala Rharrit, one of the department’s Arabic-language spokespeople. Still more have expressed unhappiness with administration policy by sending cables via the internal dissent channel, a process intended to allow diplomats to articulate disagreement without fear of retribution.

After Rharrit resigned, she said that as the months of the conflict progressed, it became more clear that internal discussion about U.S.-Israel policy was unwelcome, unlike almost every other subject during her 18-year career at the State Department.

The Biden administration paused the transfer of some bombs and precision guidance kits to register its concerns over a potential large-scale invasion of Rafah. But it has left most weapons flows untouched and has said Israel’s actions in the crowded border city do not yet cross the president’s “red line” despite the rising death toll and increasing military operations.

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