Washington Policy Weekly

I. Legislative Branch

1) Legislation

House Resolution Introduced Expressing that Israel Must Fully Support Future Negotiations with Palestinians. On March 26, Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (R-NY) introduced H.Res.1107, which states that Israel must be in full support of any negotiation or agreement relating to the Israeli-Hamas conflict in order for it to move forward. The resolution also emphasizes that the United States should not pressure Israel to enter into any negotiations or agreements with Palestinians.

2) Personnel and Correspondence

House Democrats Urge Biden to Address Israeli Settler Violence. On March 22, Representatives Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Mark Pocan (D-WI) sent a letter to President Joe Biden urging him to increase efforts to halt state-sanctioned demolitions of Palestinian homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The letter urges the administration to “take meaningful action to halt these processes of displacement and their erosion of prospects for peace and a two-state solution.”

Letter to Department of State Opposes New Director General of ICRC. On March 25, Representatives Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) led a bipartisan letter calling for the Department of State and USAID to oppose the nomination of Swiss national Pierre Krähenbühl as Director General of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) due to his past tenure as commissioner-general of UNRWA.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Delivers Sudan Speech. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered a speech on the Senate floor on March 25 about the ongoing humanitarian crisis and war in Sudan. Cardin welcomed the recent appointment of Department of State Special Envoy for Sudan Tom Perriello and emphasized that the international community “must hold those committing war crimes accountable.” He also called on the Biden administration to pursue diplomatic efforts to end the conflict.

Senators Warren and Sanders Write to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) penned a March 25 letter to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg regarding the suppression of Palestinian-created and related content on its platforms. The letter requests that Meta “provide additional transparency as to content moderation and to address discriminatory algorithmic design.” Specifically, the letter questions Meta’s decisions to take down posts in Arabic while allowing English and Hebrew posts with the same meaning to remain on their sites. Sen. Warren sent a previous letter to Meta expressing similar concerns, and notes in the most recent letter that “Meta’s response reveal[ed] the company’s unwillingness to explain how and why these decisions [regarding content moderation] appear to be having a discriminatory impact.”

Republican Senators Call on Qatar to Expel Hamas Leaders. Senators Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Ted Budd (R-NC) issued a joint statement on March 26 calling on Qatar to immediately expel all members of Hamas’s political office currently residing in Doha. The statement reads, “Qatar’s harboring and support have led Hamas to believe that it can kill and kidnap Americans with impunity. This must end now. We urge the Biden administration to demand that Qatar expel Hamas from Doha immediately. Until Doha acts against the Hamas leaders it is currently sheltering, we will work with our colleagues to hold Qatar accountable for its support of this vile terrorist group.”

Rep. McCollum Leads Letter Reiterating Gaza Concerns. On March 27, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) led five other House Democrats in a letter to President Biden about the deteriorating situation in Gaza. The lawmakers wrote, “Israel’s restriction of [humanitarian] aid and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s refusal to address U.S. concerns on this issue is absolutely unacceptable.” The letter also implores the Biden administration to enforce US law with regard to Israel and to take immediate action to stop further loss of civilian life in Gaza.

Republicans Seek Answers on Biden Plans for Pier Near Gaza. On March 28, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, led 11 of his committee colleagues in a letter to President Biden regarding the administration’s plan to construct a pier in Gaza. The letter outlines the senators’ “strong reservations” about the project, in addition to their concern about the protection of US forces and how additional humanitarian aid will be distributed upon the pier’s completion.

Bipartisan Letter Opposes New ICJ President. Also on March 28, Representatives Ronny Jackson (R-TX) and Brad Sherman (D-CA) led a bipartisan letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken that articulates concern over the recent election of Nawaf Salam as the president of the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The letter asserts that “Judge Salam has a clear record of bias against Israel” and calls for his recusal from any upcoming cases at the ICJ involving Israel. The representatives add that if Salam fails to recuse himself, “the State Department should impose sanctions on him.”

Letter Denounces the Biden Administration’s Abstention on UNSC Ceasefire Resolution. On the same day, Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) sent a letter to President Biden denouncing the US decision to abstain from the recent UN Security Council vote calling for a Gaza ceasefire.

Sen. Cotton Criticizes Planned Visit of Iraqi PM. Also on March 28, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) sent a letter to President Biden expressing concern with the White House’s plans to host Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia` al-Sudani in April. The letter notes that the visit “sends the message that the Biden administration is more interested in appeasing Iran than supporting Israel [to] defeat Hamas.”

Congressional Delegation Meets with Israeli President. On March 28, a delegation of US lawmakers from the Democratic Party, led by AIPAC, met with Israeli President Isaac Herzog.

Rep. Tim Walberg Clarifies Comments that Gaza Should “Be Like Nagasaki and Hiroshima.” On March 31, Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI) walked back his recent comments that Gaza “should be like Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Get it over quick.” Rep. Walberg said his remarks were taken out of context and were meant as a metaphor to convey the need for Hamas to swiftly surrender.

II. Executive Branch

1) White House

White House Announces that Netanyahu Agreed to Reschedule Meeting on Rafah. At a March 27 White House press conference, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre confirmed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office agreed to reschedule a previously planned bilateral meeting regarding military operations in Rafah. White House National Security Communications Advisor John Kirby noted that they hope the meeting will be conducted in person in Washington. Netanyahu cancelled the meeting on March 25 in response to the US’s abstention on the UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. US officials noted that top Biden administration officials held “constructive” meetings last week in Washington with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

White House Comments on New PA Cabinet and Humanitarian Airdrops in Gaza. On March 28, Kirby said that the White House is reviewing the recent changes to the cabinet of the Palestinian Authority (PA), noting that “a revitalized Palestinian Authority” will be key to “delivering results for the Palestinian people and to help establish the conditions for stability, both in the West Bank and in Gaza.” Kirby also responded to reports that Palestinians have drowned in attempts to reach airdropped aid that landed in the sea, noting that “it is not a risk-free operation to conduct airdrops” and that the administration is aware that these drops are not “a sufficient supplement for the kinds of humanitarian assistance—food and water and medicine—that can come in by trucks.”

Biden Says Saudi Arabia “Prepared to Fully Recognize Israel.” At a March 28 fundraiser for his presidential campaign, President Biden told attendees that Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, “are prepared to fully recognize Israel” in future normalization agreements.

2) Department of State

US Officials Address Ceasefire Vote Abstention. In a press statement, Secretary of State Antony Blinken explained why the United States abstained from voting on a March 25 ceasefire resolution at the UN Security Council. “Because the final text [did] not have key language we view as essential, notably a condemnation of Hamas, we could not support it. This failure to condemn Hamas is particularly difficult to understand coming days after the world once again witnessed the horrific acts terrorist groups commit,” the secretary said.

Secretary Blinken Meets with Iraqi Foreign Minister. On March 26, Secretary Blinken met with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Fuad Hussein to discuss the ongoing efforts under the US-Iraq Strategic Framework Agreement to improve Iraq’s economic and energy security and to defeat the so-called Islamic State. The two officials also spoke about the recent terrorist attack in Moscow, emphasizing the need “to continue to deal with ISIS and make sure that it doesn’t revive and regenerate.”

Human Rights Official at State Department Resigns over US Gaza Policies. On March 27, Annelle Sheline, a foreign affairs officer with the Office of Near Eastern Affairs in the Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, publicly resigned from her post. Sheline cited the Biden administration’s continued support for Israel’s war on Gaza as the reason for her resignation, writing that “whatever credibility the United States had as an advocate for human rights has almost entirely vanished since the war began.” Sheline added that she hopes “[her] resignation can contribute to the many efforts to push the administration to withdraw support for Israel’s war, for the sake of the 2 million Palestinians whose lives are at risk and for the sake of America’s moral standing in the world.”

Department of State Comments on Future Governance of the West Bank and Gaza. On March 28, Department of State Spokesperson Matthew Miller noted that the United States hopes to see the Palestinian Authority (PA) governing both the West Bank and Gaza after the conclusion of the war in Gaza. Miller stated that the US diplomats have discussed various proposals with countries in the region and with the Palestinian Authority. Miller also stated that it will be important for the PA to “implement credible and far-reaching reforms” to bring “the conditions for stability in both the West Bank and Gaza.”

Department of State Welcomes Announcement of New PA Cabinet. On March 29, Miller in a statement welcomed the nomination of a new Palestinian Authority (PA) cabinet.  He said that “a revitalized PA is essential to delivering results for the Palestinian people in both the West Bank and Gaza and establishing the conditions for stability in the broader region.”

US Reportedly Approves Additional Defense Transfers to Israel. On March 29, the Washington Post reported that the Biden administration recently approved a shipment of fighter jets and bombs worth billions of dollars to Israel. The bombs had already received congressional approval, but their delivery had not been completed.

Department of State Announces Visa Restrictions on Syrian Officials. On March 29, the State Department announced visa restrictions on ten Syrian officials and members of their immediate families for their involvement in serious human rights abuses in Syria. The Department stated, “The United States is committed to promoting accountability for those involved in repression of Syrians and justice for victims and survivors. We will not normalize relations with the Assad regime absent authentic progress towards a lasting political solution in line with UNSCR 2254. We reaffirm our unwavering support for the Syrian people, including in their ongoing peaceful demands for freedom and dignity. We will continue to seek and pursue visa restrictions against regime officials and other individuals who engage in the repression of Syrians.”

3) Department of Defense

CENTCOM Conducts Additional Airdrops in Gaza. CENTCOM carried out additional airdrops of humanitarian assistance–primarily food assistance–into northern Gaza throughout last week.

Secretary Austin Meets with Israeli Defense Minister. On March 26, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III met with Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant at the Pentagon. The Secretary reiterated the US position that Israel must protect civilians in any planned operation in Rafah, noting that “protecting Palestinian civilians from harm is both a moral necessity and a strategic imperative.” Austin also emphasized the need to open more humanitarian corridors into Gaza and noted the United States’ commitment to preventing further regional escalation.

Under Secretary of Defense Hosts Iraqi Foreign Minister. On March 26, Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Sasha Baker met with Iraqi Minister of Foreign Affairs Fuad Hussein. The officials discussed ongoing efforts to protect coalition forces in Iraq in the face of recent attacks on US personnel and expressed an enduring commitment to the US-Iraq Higher Military Commission, which coordinates collaboration on regional security issues.

4) Department of the Treasury

Treasury Sanctions Quds, Houthi, and Hezbollah Network. On March 26, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions on actors facilitating commodity shipments and financial transactions for the benefit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF), the Houthis, and Hezbollah. The action marks the sixth round of sanctions targeting the network of Iran-based, IRGC-QF-backed Houthi financial facilitator Sa’id al-Jamal since December 2023.

Treasury Announces Sanctions on Drug Traffickers Supporting Assad. On March 26, OFAC sanctioned 11 individuals and entities supporting the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad through the facilitation of illicit financial transfers and trafficking of illegal drugs, as well as the extraction and export of Syrian commodities. In the announcement, Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson said, “[T]he Assad regime continues to employ a variety of schemes to evade sanctions and sustain its longstanding campaign of repression against its own citizens, including trafficking in illegal drugs, exploiting currency exchanges, and leveraging seemingly legitimate businesses…The United States remains committed to holding accountable those who seek to support this illicit financial activity at the expense of the Syrian people.”

Treasury Announces Sanctions Targeting Hamas-Aligned Network. On March 27, OFAC announced sanctions targeting two individuals and three entities believed to be financial facilitators for Hamas. Specifically, the sanctions target Gaza Now, a news network, and its executives, who Treasury claims raised funds for Hamas following its October attack on Israel. The sanctions will be applied as part of an ongoing collaboration between Treasury and the United Kingdom’s Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation.

US Reportedly Tells Israeli Banks They Do Not Have to Close Accounts of Sanctioned Settlers. The Times of Israel reported on March 29 that US officials intend to tell the Israeli Finance Ministry that US sanctions against violent settlers are not intended to cut off those targeted from the entirety of their assets. According to the reporting, US officials say that those sanctioned should still be allowed to access their bank accounts for basic sustenance purposes, but that foreign transactions will remain barred.