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Joe Biden’s Controversial Gaza Pier Mission Is a Mistake

The U.S. should not build a port off Gaza’s shore, but rather it should redirect efforts to helping Israel and her other allies secure the aid that is currently awaiting entry to Gaza at the crossings.

President Joe Biden participates in a phone call with Jewish faith leaders to commemorate the high holidays, Thursday, September 14, 2023, in the Oval Office. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)
President Joe Biden participates in a phone call with Jewish faith leaders to commemorate the high holidays, Thursday, September 14, 2023, in the Oval Office. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address last night offered many pledges. Still, the announcement that he is directing the U.S. military to lead “an emergency mission to establish a temporary pier in the Mediterranean on the Gaza coast” to facilitate the transfer of aid to Palestinians is a politically cynical move that is frankly misguided. At face value, this latest objective seems like a virtuous humanitarian effort, but upon closer examination it is damaging on many levels, to Israel, the Palestinians, and ultimately the U.S. as well.

The U.S. ostensibly cares about the security of its only democratic partner in the Middle East and has paid lip service to the plight of the Israeli hostages and others who were assaulted, maimed, and killed in Hamas’s brutal invasion of Israeli territory on October 7, 2023. And yet, over 130 Israeli hostages – both dead and alive – remain languishing in locations unknown throughout Gaza, with Hamas stalling negotiations for their release time and again, despite efforts of the U.S. and others to intervene.

There is no doubting President Biden’s sincerity in being a self-proclaimed “lifelong supporter of Israel,” demonstrating his concern for her welfare by being “the only American president to visit Israel in wartime.” Placing the blame where it is rightfully due, the President said, “Hamas could end this conflict today by releasing the hostages, laying down arms, and surrendering those responsible for October 7th.” But in the same breath, and in an apparent attempt to show balance, he also accused Israel of using the distribution of humanitarian aid to suffering Palestinians as a “bargaining chip” and that Israel is not doing “its part.” Nothing can be further from the truth.

Israel’s military operations in Gaza are being undertaken to neutralize Hamas – recognized by the U.S. as a Foreign Terrorist Organization since 1997 – with the dual objective of retrieving the hostages or securing their release and opening a door for new Palestinian leadership to replace a governing body that has failed the Palestinian people and poses a global threat. To that end, and to reflect on Biden’s comments in the State of the Union, Israel has diligently undertaken the “responsibility to protect innocent civilians in Gaza,” but the “added burden [of] Hamas hid[ing] and operat[ing] among the civilian population” is the primary cause of civilian casualties and suffering, not Israel’s operation.

Exacerbating Palestinian suffering is the UN agency tasked with supporting Palestinian refugees – the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) – which has been exposed as a Hamas collaborator. UNRWA is an abject failure which has misappropriated funds for decades, as evidenced by the labyrinth of terror tunnels built with foreign aid, which run for miles under the Gaza Strip, including under UNRWA’s facilities. Since the discovery that many UNRWA employees joined Hamas on October 7, and that Hamas has used UNRWA hospitals and schools to cover the work of their terrorist operations, the U.S. and other nations including Austria, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Romania, Sweden, Iceland, UK, Japan, Canada and Australia, have suspended funding to UNRWA. UNRWA’s terrorist affiliations have forced the Israeli government to limit UNRWA’s participation in distributing aid to Gazans, thereby causing delays, since Israel sees the UN agency as complicit, and whose presence threatens to undermine Israeli security while it provides humanitarian assistance.

Instead of the U.S. meddling off Israel’s territorial waters by building an offshore port, the better effort would be to actively assist Israel in safeguarding deliveries and inspecting the hundreds of trucks intended to pass through the crossings and removing prohibited goods before letting them pass into Gaza – the actual cause of humanitarian aid being delayed or rejected to date. Inspections require serious manpower and time – time better spent than trying to float supplies off a raft onto Gaza’s beach and hoping they don’t fall into the hands of Hamas, especially since Biden said that “no U.S. boots will be on the ground.”

With the U.S. suspending UNRWA’s funding because of its terrorist sympathies, it is disingenuous to now offer millions of dollars for an operation to build major infrastructure off Gaza’s shore, temporary or not, because the U.S. feels that Israel is not doing enough. Saying that Israel has a right to defend herself has no meaning if you do not uncritically allow Israel to employ enhanced security protocols, no matter how long they take.

After October 7, amidst a litany of anti-Israel attacks, denial of Israelis’ lived experiences, and the rise of global antisemitism, Israel has no reason to trust any person or organization when it comes to securing Israeli territory. To imply that the Israelis are needlessly delaying, with a senior Biden administration official saying yesterday “we’re not waiting on the Israelis,” is an insult to an important U.S. ally and is both cynical and aggressive. And, that’s a lot of swagger coming from the Biden camp considering how little they have accomplished for the hostages and their families, with so many still being held captive.

Those of us who remember the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the U.S. government action in the years after, know that it is hypocritical of the U.S. to criticize Israel and circumvent her efforts at national security. Imagine if the kind of attack that Hamas perpetrated happened in the U.S.; our armed forces would stop at nothing to retrieve our hostages and secure the homeland.

The Biden administration’s plan for an offshore port is ill-advised, and what the U.S. may think is helping the Palestinians may only perpetuate the conflict by empowering Hamas. Although intended as a temporary pier, this project may take years, as we have demonstrably seen that Palestinian aid efforts can exist in perpetuity. UNRWA was established 1949 to support Palestinian refugees after the 1948 War of Independence by providing them with aid while awaiting a resolution of their status. Now, 75 years later, Palestinian refugee numbers have grown from 800,000 to 5.6 million. UNRWA has enabled generations of victims while simultaneously encouraging violent aggression against Israel, as has now become evident since October 7, instead of fostering a resolution. It would not be surprising, therefore, if cries of Palestinian victimhood unwittingly force the U.S. to remain offshore longer than planned as Hamas remains unchecked.

Just as the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq was promised as a swift victory, with us only extricating ourselves eight years later, this “emergency” Gaza operation will certainly not be brief and American taxpayers will be stuck footing the bill. And, when the U.S. ultimately dismantles this offshore port – a very visible display of U.S. power – it will only breed resentment among the next generation of Palestinians, fomenting increased hatred of the U.S., and the world will villainize us for abandoning their “cause.” Essentially, we should not start something we won’t be able to finish well.

With rising protests against U.S. support for Israel and a large pro-Palestinian constituency that is threatening to withdraw support for Biden in the run-up to what will certainly be a contentious presidential election race, this latest move, unfortunately, reeks of politics rather than pragmatism or principle. A grandiose, expensive, politically gestured project is not the answer, though; it just adds complexity and challenges to a struggling system that can simply use organizational assistance and logistical support.

The U.S. should not build a port off Gaza’s shore, but rather it should redirect efforts to helping Israel and her other allies secure the aid that is currently awaiting entry to Gaza at the crossings. With UNRWA out of the picture, facilitating cooperation between genuine humanitarian agencies and nations offers the best chance of providing the residents of Gaza with their much-needed relief and is the surest way to aid Israel in her tireless struggle to destroy Hamas, root out the terror in her midst, end the conflict, and bring her people home.

About the Author: Elizabeth Samson

Ms. Elizabeth Samson is an Associate Research Fellow at the Henry Jackson Society. holds a Juris Doctor from Fordham Law School (NY-USA), an LL.M. in International & European Law from the University of Amsterdam Faculty of Law, a B.A. in Political Science from Queens College, and a Certificate in Management from the Wharton School. Prior to joining HJS, Ms. Samson served as a policy and political consultant, as well as a Consulting Director at the White House Writers Group and a Visiting Fellow at the Washington DC based Hudson Institute. Ms. Samson has authored several peer-reviewed legal publications on topics of comparative international law and humanitarian law. Her writings have appeared in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, Washington Times, and the New York Post.

Written By

Elizabeth Samson is an Associate Research Fellow at the Henry Jackson Society and a former Visiting Fellow at the Hudson Institute.