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David H. Levitt

Why Are “Red Lines” Only On Israel?

As an American Zionist Jew with Israeli family, I’d have been out at the protests against the Netanyahu government every week during the judicial reform efforts. The actions of Netanyahu’s coalition forfeited any presumption of good faith or legitimacy.

Nonetheless, it is utterly inexcusable that the Biden Administration have taken this time, when Israel is at war against a genocidal enemy, to establish “red lines” for Israel and for Senator Chuck Schumer to threaten conditioning aid to Israel as he absolutely did in his recent speech no matter what spin he (or progressive commentators) tries to put on it.

I re-read Schumer’s speech again, and there is no ambiguity when he said: “. . . the United States will have no choice but to play a more active role in shaping Israeli policy by using our leverage to change the present course.” (emphasis added). Nor was this accidental language – on March 19, 2024, Schumer told the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations that he had spent two months and ten drafts preparing for the speech and updated the White House a day in advance; both he and the White House knew precisely what this was intended to mean.

The “red line” comments relate to a potential Israeli ground offensive in Rafah, right on the Egyptian border, where the majority of Gazan civilians are now located. Incredibly, President Biden quoted, without qualification of any kind, Hamas-provided casualty figures, which (as noted here) may well be fake or at least subject to serious question, just like its false claims about the hospital bombing (proven to be a Hamas rocket misfire) – and yet the President even used these unqualified, unsupported, unverified figures in his State of the Union address.

The President’s “red line” is not the only one, because Egypt’s President Sisi has also declared that Gazan citizens will not be allowed into Egypt to escape the war, calling it a “red line that will not be compromised.”

And Secretary of State Antony Blinken, fresh from making false equivalencies on “dehumanization” between Hamas and Israel, lectures that protecting and aiding civilians must be “job number one” for Israel. Not return of the hostages. Not ending the Hamas threat and eliminating the remaining four Hamas battalions located in Rafah. Not allowing the hundreds of thousands of Israelis in the north and south who are displaced to return to their homes. Not Israeli security. No – “job number one” for the attacked party is the protection of Gazan civilians.

If Biden, Schumer, and Blinken – and Sisi – actually and truly cared about the safety and condition of Gazan civilians, a safe place is available. Rafah is at the Egyptian border, with a vast area within Egyptian territory for temporary refugee status for the Gazan population. It is no different from the millions of refugees from the Syrian conflict (6.7 million have fled Syria), from the Russian invasion of Ukraine (nearly 6.5 million have fled Ukraine, including more than 950,000 to Poland alone, per the UNHCR), and other similar conflicts.

And yet: no “red line” for Egypt to allow Gazan refugees across the border to safety and aid. Egypt may have quite reasonable grounds for not opening the Rafah border to Gazans, but why do those take precedence over Israel’s imperative to protect its own citizens? Why are Gazan refugees different from Syrian, Ukrainian, Afghan (6.4 million according to UNHCR)?

Why is it only Israel whose “job number one” is to protect the people who attacked it? Egypt is one of the largest recipients of U.S. foreign aid, receiving $1.5 billion in 2023; together with Jordan ($1.6 billion in 2023), they receive nearly as much foreign aid as Israel – although in Israel’s case, almost all of its annual $3.3 billion in aid is actually spent in the United States.

So, if the U.S. is going to use its “leverage” to influence the behavior a recipient of substantial foreign aid and if “job number one” is the safety of Gazan civilians, why not demand that Egypt open its border and offer U.S. assistance in providing aid to those civilians once they arrive, along with setting the politics such that when the time comes after Hamas’s remaining battalions and fighting capacity has been eliminated by Israel, those Gazans can return to Gaza?

The positions taken by Biden, Blinken, and Schumer are not only wrong but dangerous. Were Israel to follow their demands, it would do nothing but set up yet another, slightly delayed round of death and destruction for both Palestinians and Israelis, just as Hamas has promised. The same is true of those progressive shills that they appear to heed, such as this one-sided, expect-nothing-from-Palestinians-but-blame-Israel-only article by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof urging use of U.S. leverage on Israel (without even mentioning any demands to Hamas or the release of the hostages it continues to hold as a condition; he clearly doesn’t care about them – typical of his columns). If they truly cared about the Gazan civilians, they would not be talking about pressuring Israel, but would be talking about pressuring Hamas – and Egypt and Jordan.

And where do Biden and Schumer get the notion that there is only a “minority of Palestinians who support Hamas”? As Amit Segal pointed out in his recent Wall Street Journal commentary, it is a fantasy to believe that the Palestinian public does not support Hamas. He highlights a recent Palestinian-run survey (November 2023) that showed that some 75% of Palestinians “extremely” or “somewhat” support the October 7 attacks as well as Hamas generally.

A further review of that survey is even more disturbing – and entirely at odds with the Biden/Schumer perspective:

    • “How much do you support the military operation carried out by the Palestinian resistance led by Hamas on October 7th?” Results: 59.3% “extremely support” and 15.7% “somewhat support” (these are the figures cited by Segal above)
    • “How do you view the role of the following parties:”
      • Hamas: 48.2% extremely support; 27.8% somewhat support (total: 76% – with 87% support in the West Bank)
      • Palestinian Authority: the opposite – with 64.4% “very negative” and 22.9% “somewhat negative” (total: 87.3% – with 85% negative in the West Bank)
      • Israel: 97.3% very negative; 1.5% somewhat negative (total: 98.8% negative, higher in the West Bank)
      • Islamic Jihad: 59.9% very positive (70.1% in the West Bank); 24.3% somewhat positive (total: 84.2% positive)
      • Al Aqsa Brigade: 49.4% very positive; 30.4% somewhat positive (79.8% positive)
      • Egypt (84.6% negative), Jordan (86.4% negative), UAE (88.8% very negative), U.S. (97.6% “very negative”), UK (95.7% “very negative”)
    • “Do you support the solution of establishing one state or two states in the following formats:”
      • “One-State Solution for Two Peoples”: 5.4%
      • “Two-State Solution for Two Peoples”: 17.2%
      • “A Palestinian state from the river to the sea”: 74.4% (with 77.7% from West Bank respondents)

Mr. Segal is right – policy urged by the Biden/Schumer/Blinken trilogy is indeed a fantasy based on the current attitude of Palestinians in both Gaza and even more so in the West Bank. Until that changes, discussion of a two-state solution (which I strongly and fully support, once the conditions are right) as a thing to be established in the near term, much less the demands by the progressive left as epitomized by Kristof, is absurd.

So, a different set of  “red lines” are needed if one truly wants a two-state solution. These are the red lines that the Administration should be urging rather than the tried-and-failed “pressure only on Israel” approach that is currently asserted by the Administration:

-Defund UNRWA permanently and move the functions that Secretary Blinken stated are still needed to a different agency.

-Move the responsibility for any refugees to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees – the agency that is responsible for all other refugees except, until now, the Palestinians and whose job is to end refugee status rather than to perpetuate it while supporting terrorists, murderers, and rapists and practicing the child abuse of incubating another generation of Palestinian children to hate. Insist that any aid to Palestinians be conditioned on ending incitement.

-Enforce the Taylor Force Act barring US tax dollars for pay-to-slay.

-Demand that Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, and other neighbors accept Palestinian refugees (including Gazans) just as they did refugees from Syria’s civil war – and that they treat them with dignity and rights.

-Require change to the current situation for Palestinians living in Lebanon and other Arab nations, where they are treated with true apartheid unlike the specious charge against Israel.

In short, end once and for all the constant Israel-only pressure, and demand that the Palestinians and their supporters take their own steps towards ending the conflict. Honor and laud the greater-than-any-other-nation-in-history efforts by Israel to limit civilian casualties. Recognize, officially and repeatedly, the difficulties faced by Israel in fighting this kind of war, and the limited options it has to protect its citizens and prevent a repeat. As David Brooks explains in his recent New York Times commentary, “What Would You Have Israel Do to Defend Itself?” – stop lecturing Israel from afar about what it should do unless you can provide concrete and workable alternatives that have a reasonable likelihood of success.

Red lines are foolish generally – but especially so when directed at the wrong parties.

About the Author
David H. Levitt practices intellectual property and commercial litigation law in Chicago, and is a pro-Israel activist.