Washington Policy Weekly

I. Legislative Branch

Personnel and Correspondence

House Democrats Send Letter to Biden Calling for Gaza Ceasefire. Thirteen House Democrats wrote to President Joe Biden on Thursday calling for “a mutual, temporary ceasefire agreement…that provides for, among other things, the immediate return of all of the 134 hostages.”

Sen. Tim Kaine Requests US Provide Only Defensive Weapons to Israel. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) wrote to President Biden on Wednesday requesting that any additional US weapons provided to Israel be for defensive use only. The Senator argued that the United States can aid Israel “without deepening the suffering of innocent Palestinian civilians.” The letter also supported the administration’s efforts to negotiate a temporary ceasefire that will guarantee the release of hostages in Gaza.

Sen. Tom Cotton Requests Clarification Regarding Sanctions Placed on Israeli Settlers. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) wrote to President Biden last Tuesday regarding the administration’s February 1 executive order granting the Secretary of State and the Secretary of the Treasury authority to sanction Israeli settlers engaged in terrorist activities in the West Bank, asking the administration to clarify whether the sanctions authority includes Jerusalem.

Senate Democrats Seek De-Escalation in Lebanon, Israel. Speaking about the conflict on the Israel-Lebanon border following a trip to the region, Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) told Reuters last week that there is “an urgency for both sides in taking this opportunity to de-escalate and to withdraw.”

II. Executive Branch

1) White House

White House Comments on Veto of UN Security Council Gaza Ceasefire Resolution. After the US vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza last Tuesday, the National Security Council’s Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby stated that the resolution, put forward on behalf of Arab states by UNSC member Algeria, would have “put sensitive negotiations in peril,” referring to ongoing US-backed efforts to achieve a ceasefire and hostage release deal. Kirby mentioned that a resolution circulated by the United States calls for a “temporary ceasefire in Gaza as soon as practicable.” US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas Greenfield reiterated that the US-proposed resolution “will support the negotiations that are taking place on the ground” and secure the release of hostages.

2) State Department

Secretary Blinken Refers to Israeli Settlement Expansion as Inconsistent with International Law. In a reversal of Trump administration policy, Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Israel’s expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank “inconsistent with international law,” responding to reports on Friday that the Israeli government plans to build thousands of additional settlement units there. Blinken stressed that the building of new settlements is “counterproductive to achieving a negotiated and sustained peace between Israel and Palestinians.”

Middle East Envoy Travels to the Region for Hostage Release and Ceasefire Negotiations. White House Middle East Coordinator Brett McGurk traveled to Egypt and Israel last week to attend meetings regarding a hostage release and ceasefire deal. In Israel, McGurk met with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, as well as with members of intelligence agencies. The White House commented that the meetings were “constructive” and that the United States continues to work to achieve a temporary ceasefire and hostage release deal.

State Department Defends Israeli Occupation at ICJ Hearing. On Wednesday, during a hearing at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), Department of State Legal Advisor Richard Visek urged the panel of judges not to call for Israel’s immediate withdrawal from occupied Palestinian territory because Israel has “very real security needs.” The ICJ case specifically addresses the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and is separate from the case brought by South Africa about whether Israel is committing genocide in Gaza.

US Condemns Obstruction of Aid and Closing of Civic Space in Sudan. The Department of State called on the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) on Friday to allow unhindered humanitarian assistance deliveries to all parts of Sudan, following reports that both parties are obstructing assistance and harassing aid workers. The State Department also condemned “actions by both groups to constrain civic space, restrict access to internet and mobile phone networks, stoke interethnic conflict, and criminalize groups providing support for communities harmed by conflict.”

State Department Condemns Houthi Operations in the Red Sea. A spokesperson for the Department of State on Wednesday condemned Houthi attacks on cargo ships in the Red Sea, stating that “many of the ships that the Houthis have attacked contained food, such as grain and corn,” some of which are heading toward Yemen.

3) Department of Defense

Saudi Arabia Hosts Military Conference in Riyadh with CENTCOM. Saudi Arabia Military Medical Services hosted the Multinational Medical Response Training conference February 11-13 in partnership with the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) Command Surgeon in Riyadh, CENTCOM announced last week. Command Surgeon US Army Col. Larry McCord stated that the conference aimed “to create an enduring regional medical disaster response framework that enhances stability and collaboration throughout the region.”

Secretary of Defense Speaks with Israeli Defense Minister. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III spoke with Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant on Thursday to discuss Israeli military operations in Khan Younis. Secretary Austin reiterated the Biden administration’s position that the Israeli military must have a “credible plan to ensure the safety of and support for the more than one million people sheltering in Rafah” before conducting large-scale operations there. He also stressed the importance of allowing humanitarian assistance to reach Palestinians in Gaza.

US-Led Coalition Carries Out Additional Strikes on Houthi Targets in Yemen. A US-led multinational coalition carried out strikes on Saturday targeting eight locations in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen. The Department of Defense stated that the strikes targeted weapon and missile storage facilities, one-way attack unmanned aerial systems, air defense systems, radars, and a helicopter. The Department further stated that the United States will “not hesitate to take action, as needed, to defend lives and the free flow of commerce in one of the world’s most critical waterways.”