Washington Policy Weekly: War in Gaza Continues as Biden Takes Hit in the Polls

2024 Woes Mount for Biden

As Israel’s war on Gaza continues without a ceasefire—a measure supported by 66 percent of likely US voters—President Joe Biden’s chances in the 2024 election have come under increased stress. According to recent polling by the New York Times, former president Donald Trump leads President Biden in five of six key swing states for the 2024 elections: Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arizona, Georgia, and Nevada. A majority of voters polled held that Trump would do a better job managing the economy, national security, and the US response to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Biden’s favorability has taken an even bigger hit among Arab Americans. According to a poll conducted by the Arab American Institute, 67 percent of Arab Americans disapprove of President Biden’s response to the conflict in Gaza and 66 percent have a negative attitude toward President Biden in general. If the 2024 election were held now, 40 percent of Arab Americans would vote for Donald Trump compared to a mere 17 percent for President Biden, who counted on 59 percent support from the demographic during the 2020 election.

Israel Agrees to Pauses as Conditions Worsen

One month into Israel’s war on Gaza, US officials continue to state the importance of preventing the conflict’s spread beyond the strip. In a November 7 press briefing, State Department officials stated that the United States remains committed to deterring any possible escalation in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. On November 8 and 12, it was announced that US military forces had conducted self-defense strikes in eastern Syria on facilities used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and affiliated groups. According to the Pentagon, the strikes were in response to a series of attacks against US personnel in Iraq and Syria by IRGC-Quds Force affiliates. Since then, four additional attacks against US forces, one in Iraq and three in Syria, have been reported, bringing the total number of attacks since October 17 to 46.

As for the situation in Gaza, Secretary of State Antony Blinken held meetings with Turkish, Qatari, and Omani officials as well as members of the G7. Secretary Blinken’s meetings coincided with calls between the White House and top Israeli officials, in addition to discussions between the Department of Defense and Egyptian and Israeli counterparts. In the meetings, US officials reiterated their focus on ramping up humanitarian assistance into Gaza, freeing hostages, and supporting Israel’s military operation. Temporary pauses, rather than a ceasefire, are the US government’s preferred means for achieving these objectives. Accordingly, after lengthy negotiations between US and Israeli officials, Israel agreed on November 9 to implement four-hour daily pauses to allow civilians in Gaza an opportunity to reach safer areas away from active fighting, while allowing for an increased flow of aid. Reacting to news, President Biden told reporters the process to implement pauses had taken “a little longer than I hoped,” later adding that there remains “no possibility” of a ceasefire to follow.

News of the agreed pauses was generally received positively by Congress. Nevertheless, Israel’s operational approach in Gaza, which has led to the killing of more than 11,000, continues to draw concern. During a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, lawmakers heard from a senior State Department official that the death toll in Gaza could be higher than what is currently being reported, contradicting recent statements from President Biden about the validity of the Gaza Health Ministry’s numbers. Concerned with the rising numbers amid the White House’s messaging that there are no “red lines” when it comes to Israel’s approach in Gaza, Senate Democrats wrote a letter to President Biden on Wednesday asking for the administration’s assessment of the viability of Israel’s military strategy. While conveying their readiness to provide Israel with the military support it needs to fight Hamas, the senators called on the president to ensure that Israel abides by the laws of war. The senators also requested information to “better understand whether there is an achievable plan for governing Gaza when the Israeli military operation ends.” In a separate letter on Wednesday, Senate Democrats also encouraged President Biden to designate the Palestinian territories for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and/or authorize Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) for Palestinians present in the United States. In light of the situation in Gaza and the West Bank, the senators argue that Palestinians already in the United States should not be forced to return to the Palestinian territories, for which Republicans in Congress have pushed in recent weeks.

Also Happening This Week in Washington…

I. Legislative Branch

1) Legislation

House Bill Introduced to Identify Hamas Supporters within US Government. Representatives Marc Molinaro (R-NY) and Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) introduced H.R.6250, a bill to identify Hamas supporters within the US government. The bill would require the Department of Defense, State Department, Department of Homeland Security, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Central Intelligence Agency to submit congressional reports on employees “who have ties to or have shown support for Hamas.”

House Votes to Censure Representative Tlaib. The House passed H.Res.845, a resolution to censure Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-MI). Twenty-two Democrats joined in the Republican-led effort, censuring Tlaib for “promoting false narratives regarding the October 7, 2023, Hamas attack on Israel and for calling for the destruction of the state of Israel” and for using the popular protest slogan “from the river to the sea.”

Senate Bill Introduced to Provide Emergency Funding for USSC for Israel. Senator Jon Ossoff (D-GA) introduced S.3238, the USSC Emergency Supplemental Act. The bill would provide $10 million in emergency funding to the United States Security Coordinator (USSC) for Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The USSC is an international and interagency office based in Jerusalem that serves as a liaison between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the occupied West Bank.

House Bills Introduced to Interrupt Hamas and Iran Financing. Representative Bryan Steil (R-WI) introduced H.R.6322, a bill to disrupt financing to Hamas and prohibit the exchange stabilization fund from being used to deal in Special Drawing Rights from state sponsors of terrorism. Shortly after, Representative Young Kim (R-CA) introduced H.R.6323, which seeks to modify the availability of certain waiver authorities with respect to sanctions on Iran.

Senate Passes Resolution Demanding Release of Hostages in Gaza. The Senate passed S.Res.408, a resolution that condemns Hamas and calls for the immediate release of hostages in Gaza.

2) Personnel and Correspondence

Senator Ossoff Leads Letter on Settler Violence in West Bank. On November 8, Senator Jon Ossoff (D-GA) led six colleagues in a letter pressing President Biden on settler violence in the occupied West Bank. The lawmakers expressed concern about instability there and risks to US national security if US and Israeli policy does not address violent attacks against Palestinians. As the lawmakers argued, current US policy to address settler violence in the West Bank is unclear. President Biden reportedly discussed the issue with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier in the week.

3) Briefings and Hearings

HFAC Holds Hearing on “UN Bigotry Toward Israel.” The House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) Subcommittee on Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations held a hearing on “UN Bigotry Toward Israel.” The hearing predominantly focused on the UN’s alleged “single minded negative focus on Israel.”

II. Executive Branch

1) White House

Vice President Harris Speaks with President of the UAE and Bahraini PM. Vice President Kamala Harris spoke with President Mohamed bin Zayed of the UAE and Bahraini Prime Minister Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa. With President bin Zayed, Vice President Harris discussed the Israel-Hamas conflict and attacks on US forces by Iranian-backed militias across the Middle East. In her conversation with Prime Minister Khalifa, Harris discussed ongoing implementation of the US-Bahrain Comprehensive Security Integration and Prosperity Agreement.

President Biden Continues the National Emergency in Iran. President Biden sent a letter to Congress to notify it of his decision to continue the national emergency declared by President Jimmy Carter with respect to Iran. President Biden justified continued sanctions against Iran under the conditions of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

2) State Department

Secretary Blinken Talks Israel-Hamas and NATO with Turkish FM. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan to discuss developments in Gaza as well as Sweden’s NATO accession, which was recently supported by Turkey.

SAF and RSF Reach Fragile Agreement to Increase Humanitarian Aid in Sudan. On November 7, the United States, Saudi Arabia, and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development announced that the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) had committed to taking steps to increase humanitarian assistance and implement confidence-building measures between the two sides. The situation in Sudan has received increased attention from Congress as House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Ranking Member Gregory Meeks (D-NY), joined by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Ranking Member Jim Risch (R-ID) recently expressed concern over “horrific attacks on civilians in Darfur that bear all the hallmarks of ethnic cleansing.” The lawmakers called on the warring parties to cease hostilities and enable unimpeded humanitarian access.

4) Department of the Treasury

Treasury Holds Roundtable on Countering Hamas Fundraising. On November 9, Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson convened a roundtable of money services businesses to “highlight recent Treasury actions to counter illicit finance” and to “hear the group’s perspectives on techniques used by terrorist groups like Hamas to raise and move funds.”