May 9, 2024 - World

Blinken report expected to criticize Israel, but say it isn't breaking weapons terms

Aid trucks carrying relief supplies from Turkey arriving in Gaza City as the Israeli attacks continue in Gaza City, Gaza on Thursday. Photo: Mahmoud Issa/Anadolu via Getty Images

Aid trucks carrying relief supplies from Turkey arriving in Gaza City as the Israeli attacks continue in Gaza City, Gaza, on May 9. 2024. Photo: Mahmoud Issa/Anadolu via Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to submit to Congress as soon as Friday a highly critical report about Israel's conduct in Gaza that stops short of concluding it has violated the terms for its use of U.S. weapons, three U.S. officials said.

Why it matters: The report assessing whether Israel complied with international law and restricted humanitarian aid to Gaza sparked the most contentious internal debate in the State Department since the Oct. 7 attack, U.S. officials said.

  • Local health authorities report nearly 35,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza and an April report from Amnesty International found Israel used U.S. weapons against Palestinian civilians in the enclave.

In recent months, the State Department has been engaged in an internal process to prepare the politically sensitive report required under a new national security memorandum issued in February by President Biden.

  • The State Department is reviewing the use of weapons by Israel and six other countries engaged in different armed conflicts.
  • If a country is determined to have violated international humanitarian law or impeded the delivery of U.S.-supported humanitarian aid, it could lead to suspension of U.S. military aid.

Driving the news: The State Department set its own deadline to submit the reports about the seven countries to Congress by May 8, but earlier this week said it would be delayed a few days.

  • A U.S. official said the delay was largely technical and was related to not all the seven reports being ready.
  • The White House's top Middle East advisor, Brett McGurk, told a group of Middle East experts from several think tanks on Thursday that the report will be submitted to Congress on Friday, according to people who attended the briefing.
  • A State Department official said it is a possibility, but added it could still change.

Behind the scenes: In recent weeks, there has been a tug of war within the State Department over the contents of the report about Israel and its conclusions.

  • The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and USAID recommended Blinken conclude that Israel has violated the terms of the national security memorandum, but other parts of the department pressed Blinken to certify that it didn't.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel Jack Lew and outgoing U.S. Gaza humanitarian envoy David Satterfield sent a memo to Blinken in recent weeks saying Israel isn't violating international law in its war in Gaza, two U.S. officials who read the memo told Axios.

  • Lew and Satterfield recommended Blinken certify in the report that Israel isn't hampering humanitarian aid, two U.S. officials said.
  • The two made clear that while Israel did restrict humanitarian aid in the past and created obstacles for aid to reach Gaza, it has changed its policy since April after President Biden presented Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with an ultimatum.
  • According to U.S. officials, Lew and Satterfield said that the situation today when it comes to Israeli policy regarding humanitarian aid has significantly improved and Israel isn't intentionally impeding aid.

Zoom in: Three U.S. officials said Blinken's report is going to list a series of incidents that took place during the war in Gaza and note that they raised serious concerns about violations of international law by Israel.

  • The officials said it is going to describe the situation in "very critical terms" and mention that the State Department is still looking into several of those incidents. At the same time, Blinken will stop short of concluding that Israel has violated international law in the context of the national security memorandum, the officials said.
  • A senior U.S. official said Blinken's report also adopted the conclusions of Lew and Satterfield and certifies that Israel isn't currently violating the national security memorandum when it comes to facilitating the delivery of U.S.-supported humanitarian aid.
  • Lew, Satterfield and the State Department declined to comment.

The big picture: Some Republican lawmakers have criticized the national security memorandum as "unnecessary bureaucracy" that "contributes to frustration from the partners and allies that count on U.S. security assistance."

  • But 88 Democratic lawmakers wrote to the president last week saying there is "sufficient evidence" that Israel's restrictions on aid violated U.S. law, drawing a harsh rebuke from the Israeli ambassador to the U.S.
  • The State Department report must be "seen to be based on facts and law, and not based on what they would wish it would be," Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who pushed for the national security memorandum, said last week.
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