November 29, 2023

Van Hollen, Schatz, Reed Release Statement Following White House Meeting on Situation in Israel & Gaza

Meeting comes in response to Senators’ letter with majority of Democratic caucus

Today, U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), and Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island) released the following statement on their meeting yesterday with White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and over a dozen of their colleagues to discuss the letter the Senators led with 23 of their colleagues to President Biden condemning the brutal terror attacks by Hamas, expressing support for immediate funding to replenish Israel’s defensive systems, and seeking information on two clear U.S. priorities: supporting an Israeli strategy that will effectively degrade and defeat the threat from Hamas and taking all possible measures to protect civilians in Gaza.

“Following the brutal terror attacks that Hamas conducted against Israel, America has stood united in our support for Israel’s duty to defend itself and hold Hamas accountable. As we noted in our letter, we believe the U.S. should immediately provide Israel with funding to support this effort, including funds to replenish its defensive systems.

“But to better understand the efficacy of U.S. funding that supports Israel’s operations inside Gaza, we requested answers from the President on how these funds are being used in order to ensure they support an Israeli strategy that will effectively degrade and defeat the threat from Hamas while taking all possible measures to protect civilians in Gaza. In our letter to President Biden, we raised several key issues, including maintaining a focus on returning hostages, reducing civilian casualties, delivering humanitarian aid, establishing a plan for post-war governance and the future of the region, and addressing extremist violence in the West Bank. During yesterday’s briefing, we had an opportunity to discuss with the Administration each of the questions raised in our letter.

“As we expressed in the meeting, we are grateful for their leadership in negotiating a temporary ceasefire to secure the release of many hostages and to allow some desperately needed humanitarian assistance into Gaza. We also expressed our appreciation for President Biden’s strong statements on the rising extremist settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank as well as their intention to place visa restrictions and their consideration of other forms of sanctions, on these extremist settlers. We support these efforts. 

“But as the end of the temporary ceasefire looms ahead, we must do more to ensure the protection of innocent civilians. With the Netanyahu government’s indication that it intends to continue its ground invasion into the South and Khan Yunis, humanitarian considerations must remain front and center. This city – at the heart of southern Gaza – has nearly doubled in population as many of the 1.7 million Palestinians who have fled the north in compliance with IDF orders have sought refuge there. To aid civilians, as we noted in our letter, ‘we must not only do our part to provide urgently needed humanitarian relief to Gaza, but also insist that Israel take all necessary measures to help us facilitate such relief.’  

“We are gravely concerned that a resumption in fighting threatens to once again renew the high rate of civilian casualties and further deepen the humanitarian crisis. We expressed these concerns in our meeting, and we appreciated the Administration’s acknowledgment of these issues. We are committed to working with the President and his Administration to address these concerns and to secure assurances from the Netanyahu coalition on them.

“As we made clear yesterday, this meeting was not a substitute for a public response to our questions – the Administration must provide transparent responses to the American people on these matters – but we appreciated the opportunity to discuss these issues in depth.

“We continue to support additional assistance to Israel in the aftermath of the brutal Hamas attacks – but we are all in agreement that this assistance must be consistent with our interests and values and used in a manner that adheres to international humanitarian law, the law of armed conflict, and U.S. law. We need to find a better path toward helping Israel achieve legitimate military and security objectives. U.S. assistance has never come in the form of a blank check – regardless of the recipient.”