A leaked memo from the U.S. State Department has brought to light diplomatic concerns regarding President Biden’s approach to Israel’s actions in Gaza. The memo reflects the views of State Department staff and highlights criticism of Israel’s role in the significant loss of Palestinian lives, including a large number of civilians and children. It deems such civilian casualties “unacceptable” and challenges the United States’ adherence to international norms, advocating for accountability on both sides of the conflict.
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This internal memo underscores a potential erosion of confidence in U.S. diplomatic strategy under President Joe Biden’s leadership. The concerns expressed in the memo are representative of various diplomats, especially those in mid-level and junior positions. If left unaddressed, this internal discord could complicate the administration’s policymaking in the Middle East.
The memo puts forward two key recommendations: endorsing a ceasefire and maintaining a balance between private and public communications regarding Israel. It urges the United States to openly criticize Israeli military tactics and their treatment of Palestinians, matters that the U.S. traditionally addresses behind closed doors.
According to the memo, the inconsistency in America’s diplomatic discourse contributes to the perception in the Middle East that the U.S. is partial and insincere, potentially undermining U.S. interests on a global scale.
The memo emphasizes the need for the U.S. to openly reprimand Israel for violations of international standards, such as the failure to limit combat operations to legitimate military objectives. It argues that public criticism is necessary when Israel condones settler violence, engages in illegal territorial acquisition, or employs excessive force against Palestinians to ensure that Israel acts with accountability.
Marked as “sensitive but unclassified,” the exact number of signatories to the memo, or whether it has been submitted through the department’s Dissent Channel—a confidential avenue for voicing policy disagreements—is unknown.
This memo provides insight into the perspectives of numerous State Department officials who have long grappled with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While the department did not comment directly on the memo, it pointed to previous statements by spokesperson Matthew Miller, who acknowledged that Secretary of State Antony Blinken values and carefully considers dissenting views.
Currently, multiple dissent memos regarding the conflict are circulating within the State Department for signature collection. The Dissent Channel allows staff to express policy discontent without fear of retribution.
The memo in question was authored by two midlevel employees with Middle Eastern experience, according to an anonymous source familiar with the document.
The memo recognizes Israel’s right to self-defense against Hamas, who were responsible for the deaths of approximately 1,400 Israelis in a devastating attack on October 7. However, it labels the subsequent Palestinian death toll, encompassing thousands, predominantly civilians and children, as a result of Israeli actions, as “unacceptable.” The document argues that the U.S.’s tolerance of high civilian casualties casts doubt on the international rules-based order that the U.S. champions, insisting on accountability for both Israel and Hamas.
Despite the memo’s urgent tone, it is uncertain whether its appeals will resonate with President Biden or his senior advisors soon.
The Biden administration, including the President and Secretary Blinken, has so far declined to call for a ceasefire, supporting Israel’s objective to neutralize Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Israeli authorities maintain that, given Hamas’ integration among civilians, collateral damage is difficult to avoid, though they assert efforts to minimize civilian casualties.
Recently, the Biden administration’s public statements have placed greater emphasis on the protection of civilians and adherence to international law, yet have largely refrained from directly criticizing Israeli actions in public forums.
Blinken has engaged in listening sessions with staff members dissatisfied with the U.S. policy direction in recent weeks, emphasizing the value of acknowledging and considering internal departmental disagreements in a communication to staff.