A great deal of attention has been rightly placed on President Biden’s strong leadership during the war between Israel and Hamas. Yet, there are a number of critical measures that Congress still must pass to help ensure American policy objectives are achieved in the short, medium, and longer terms.
There are two actions that Congress should take to support Israelis and Palestinians in this difficult period. First, Congress should pass a supplemental appropriations package that includes additional security assistance for Israel, including Iron Dome interceptors and batteries, munitions, and other articles needed for its war against Hamas. The war is far from over and Israel will require further U.S. assistance in order to successfully complete its mission of ensuring long-term security for its people. Much of the assistance already provided by the Biden administration to Israel on an emergency basis has come from U.S. stockpiles that now require backfilling. Given the critical need for such emergency supplemental funding, any such proposal should be crafted in a way that guarantees the greatest possible bipartisan support. Ensuring the package that is considered is not an attempt to further partisan gain and does not contain political poison pills will emphasize the importance of Israel’s security to the Congress and quiet all voices contending that Israel has devolved into an issue completely consumed by partisan politics. Second, Congress should pass additional humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people to alleviate civilian suffering being experienced in the disastrous conditions of Gaza. This direly needed humanitarian aid can and must go to the people of Gaza, and not Hamas, through vetted international organizations and agencies, as the Biden administration has clearly stated.
At this point, it seems that in order for Israel to achieve the sense of stability it seeks and for the Palestinians of Gaza to enjoy the freedom they deserve, Hamas can no longer rule the Gaza Strip. While Congress need not provide authorization for the use of American force to achieve those goals — indeed, the Israeli army is fully capable of doing so using its own fighting force — there are three important actions Congress should take to ensure success in the medium term. First, rhetorically giving Israel space to conduct operations to remove Hamas, while also echoing the message of the Biden administration: that Israel, like the United States, shares the responsibility of conducting its military operations according to the rules of war. Second, by offering a full-throated reinforcement of the Biden administration’s message to Israel’s detractors not to take advantage of this moment to open additional fronts — especially in the north with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Third, by emphasizing to Israeli and Palestinian Authority leadership the importance of maintaining stability at this time and not allowing the fighting in Gaza to ignite the flame of violence among radical factions in the West Bank. Congress has a unique part to play in this goal — specifically in supporting the work of the United States Security Coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority (USSC) in Jerusalem. While securing stable funding for the USSC mission is a long-term goal, Congress can continue to engage with current USSC Chief of Mission LTG Michael Fenzel, who likely more than any other U.S. official on the ground has his finger on the pulse of the current situation in the West Bank as part of his mission to coordinate between the Israel Defense Forces and the Palestinian Authority Security Forces (PASF).
As this war continues, Congress must also begin to consider the day after Hamas in Gaza. As my colleague Michael Koplow explains, the least bad option for Gaza in an era of post-Hamas rule is the return of the Palestinian Authority to the Strip. This dramatic change will require a commitment by the United States and the Congress to assist in strengthening the Palestinian Authority and simultaneously undertaking serious reform. The U.S. will also need to dramatically bolster the office of the USSC in order for it to expand its efforts training and equipping the PASF, so that it can operate in Gaza to bring some semblance of law and order to the Strip. Coordinating the hand-off of security control of Gaza from the IDF’s active military campaign to a PA security force that has not set foot there since 2007 will also pose a significant challenge. Congress should pass the recently introduced bipartisan Middle East Security Coordination Act (MESCA), championed by Sens. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.), Todd Young (R-Ind.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and James Lankford (R-Okla.). MESCA ensures that the USSC mission has sufficient funding while simultaneously calling for increased burden-sharing from the U.S.’ NATO partners in the mission, ensures the mission has sufficient personnel needs, and calls for the expansion of the mission to include additional countries with positive relations with both Israel and the PA (including countries party to the Abraham Accords and other Arab and Muslim-majority nations). As the Biden administration calls for a refocus on achieving a two-state outcome the day after this war, supporting the USSC mission is a key building block toward that goal. Even in the closer future, additional support for the USSC mission is critical in order to achieve any modicum of stability in Gaza after the active fighting of the war subsides.
Congress has a crucial role to play moving forward. Congressional policymakers should think strategically and work towards smart policy solutions that will ensure that Israel receives what it needs to guarantee its security and that the Palestinian people of Gaza receive humanitarian assistance. While these goals seem challenging given the current atmospherics, left untended, the dynamics in the region will only deteriorate and the situation will become even more dire in the long run. Congress can act to ensure a better future for the region, and even aside from the broader goal of achieving two states, it can take necessary steps to help promote a better reality on the ground for Israelis and Palestinians.
Aaron Weinberg is the director of government relations at Israel Policy Forum. Aaron has previously served in the House of Representatives covering issue areas such as foreign policy and defense. He can be found on social media at @AaronWnbrg.
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This story originally Appeared on The Hill