July 19, 2024

Dozens of State Department employees have signed internal memos to Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken expressing serious disagreement with the Biden administration’s approach to Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, according to U.S. officials, part of a surging tide of internal disagreement within the Biden administration over the Middle East crisis.

At least three internal cables, sent via a dissent channel established during the Vietnam War, have urged President Biden to call for a cease-fire in Gaza, according to an official, who spoke anonymously to discuss sensitive diplomatic cables that have not been released to the public.

Two were sent in the first week of the war, and the third was sent more recently, the official said. Another official, also speaking anonymously, confirmed the three cables.

Israel forces have been on the attack in Gaza for more than a month following the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel. The death toll in Gaza is over 11,000, according to the health ministry there.

The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has insisted that there can be no cease-fire, saying that one would only benefit Hamas, and the Biden administration has supported that position. Instead, Mr. Biden has been pressing Israel, with mixed success, to adopt “humanitarian pauses.”

The most recent of the memos, first reported by Axios, proposed that Israel trade Palestinian prisoners it was holding, some of whom have not been charged, for the more than 200 hostages abducted by Hamas from Israel on Oct. 7.

At least one of the memos also asks the administration to offer a serious plan for a long-term peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians that would create a Palestinian state — and not simply pay lip service to the idea, as critics say Mr. Biden and Mr. Blinken have done.

Mr. Blinken has met in person with signatories to at least one of the cables sent in the first week, one of the officials said. One of Mr. Blinken’s senior aides met with the signers of another cable sent that week, the official said.

Mr. Blinken has conducted at least one other listening session with employees of the Near East Affairs bureau, some of whom believe U.S. policy has been too tolerant of the civilian casualties inflicted by Israel’s military in densely-populated Gaza.

Mr. Blinken responded to the internal dissent in a message emailed to department employees on Monday and obtained by The New York Times. “I know that for many of you, the suffering caused by this crisis is taking a profound personal toll,” he wrote, adding that he was aware that “some people in the department may disagree with approaches we are taking or have views on what we can do better.”

In the message, Mr. Blinken said the State Department had “organized forums in Washington to hear from you, and urged managers and teams to have candid discussions at posts around the world precisely so we can hear your feedback and ideas.”

He added: “We’re listening: What you share is informing our policy and our messages.”

U.S. officials say that while differing opinions and fresh perspectives are welcome, employees at the State Department and elsewhere in the government must accept and implement policy set at senior levels.

The cables come as dissent throughout the Biden administration is increasingly spilling into public view. Earlier this month, more than a thousand employees of the U.S. Agency for International Development signed a letter, first reported by The Washington Post, insisting on a cease-fire.

The State Department’s dissent channel was created in 1971 to allow department officials to express criticisms and disagreements over the Vietnam War. Under State Department rules, dissenters are protected from retaliation.

In recent years, State Department employees have used the channel to warn against President Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, urge the Obama administration to launch airstrikes against Syrian forces and to denounce President Trump’s temporary ban on allowing citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries to enter the United States.

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