November 26, 2023
A four-year-old dual Israeli-American citizen was among the 17 more hostages released by Hamas today. Israel released 39 Palestinian prisoners, all of whom were under 19 years old. Hamas has expressed interest in extending the truce; Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has echoed that interest so long as each day brings at least ten more hostages out of captivity. Officials from the U.S., Egypt, and Qatar continue to negotiate.
In the Washington Post today, reporters Steve Hendrix and Hazem Balousha put on the table the idea that both Netanyahu and Hamas “may be on the way out.” Such a circumstance would permit changes to the current political stalemate in the region, perhaps bringing closer the two-state solution for which officials around the world, including U.S. president Joe Biden, continue to push.
Israelis are furious that Netanyahu failed to prevent the October 7 attack, and seventy-five percent of them want him to resign or be replaced when the crisis ends. At the same time, Hendrix and Balousha write, Palestinians are angry enough at Gaza’s leadership to be willing to criticize Hamas.
Whether Hendrix and Balousha are right or wrong, it is significant that a U.S. newspaper is looking for a change of leadership in Israel as well as in Gaza. That sentiment echoes the statement of Netanyahu’s own mouthpiece, Israel Hayom, about a month ago. Begun by U.S. casino mogul Sheldon Adelson to promote Netanyahu’s ideas, the paper in early November said that Netanyahu should “lead us to victory and then go.”
Meanwhile, Iran-backed Houthi forces from Yemen fired two ballistic missiles at a U.S. Navy destroyer, the USS Mason, this evening, missing it by about ten nautical miles (which are slightly longer than miles on land), or eighteen and a half kilometers. Earlier in the day, the USS Mason and Japanese allies rescued a commercial vessel, the Central Park, when it came under attack by five pirates in the Gulf of Aden near Somalia. The USS Mason captured and arrested the attackers as they fled. The USS Mason is part of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group deployed to the region. Attacks on shipping in the area have increased since the October 7 attack. Last week, Yemeni Houthis seized a cargo ship linked to Israel.
As Congress prepares to get back to work after the Thanksgiving holiday, Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today released a letter addressed to his colleagues outlining the work he intends to get done before the end of the year. He emphasized that he and the Democrats want bipartisan solutions and urged his colleagues to work with Republicans to isolate the Republican extremists whose demands have repeatedly derailed funding measures.
Top of Schumer’s list is funding the government. The continuing resolution that passed just before Thanksgiving extended funding deadlines to two future dates. The first of those is January 19, and Schumer noted that lawmakers had continued to work on those bills over the Thanksgiving holiday to make sure they pass.
Next on Schumer’s list is a bill to fund military aid to Ukraine, Israel, and the Indo-Pacific region as well as humanitarian assistance for Palestinian civilians and money for U.S. border security, including funding for machines to detect illegal fentanyl and for more border agents and immigration courts. President Biden requested the supplemental aid package of about $105 billion back in October, but while the aid in it is popular among lawmakers, hard-right Republicans are insisting on tying aid for Ukraine to a replacement of the administration’s border policies with their own. Some are also suggesting that helping Ukraine is too expensive.
Schumer noted that U.S. aid to Ukraine is vital to its ability to continue to push back the Russian invasion, while Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has pointed out that money appropriated for Ukraine goes to the U.S. defense industry to build new equipment as older equipment that was close to the end of its useful life goes to Ukraine.
Foreign affairs writer Tom Nichols of The Atlantic explains that foreign aid is normally about 1% of the U.S. budget—$60 billion—and 18 months of funding for both the military and humanitarian aid in Ukraine have been about $75 billion. Israel usually gets about $3 billion; the new bill would add about $14 billion to that. (For comparison, Nichols points out that Americans last year spent about $181 billion on snacks and $115 billion on beer.)
Schumer reminded his colleagues that backing off from aid to Ukraine would serve the interests of Russian president Vladimir Putin; backing off from our engagement with the Indo-Pacific would serve the interests of China’s president Xi Jinping.
“The decisions we will have to make in the coming weeks on the aid package could determine the trajectory of democracy and the resilience of the transatlantic alliance for a generation,” Schumer wrote. “Giving Putin and Xi what they want would be a terrible, terrible mistake, and one that would come back to haunt us…. We cannot let partisan politics get in the way of defending democracy….”
Schumer said he would bring the measure up as soon as the week of December 4.
Schumer’s letter came the day after the annual day of remembrance of the 1932–1933 Holodomor famine in Ukraine, when the Soviet Union under leader Joseph Stalin starved 3.5 to 5 million Ukrainians, seizing their grain and farms in an attempt to erase their national identity.
In a statement in remembrance of Holodomor yesterday, President Biden drew a parallel between the Holodomor of the 1930s and Russia’s war against Ukraine today, noting that “Ukraine’s agricultural infrastructure is once more being deliberately targeted” as Russia is “deliberately damaging fields and destroying Ukraine’s grain storage facilities and ports.” (Even so, Ukraine has managed to deliver more than 170,000 tons of grain to Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Yemen in the past year.)
“On this anniversary, we remember and honor all those, both past and present, who have endured such hardship and who continue still to fight against tyranny,” Biden said. “We also recommit ourselves to preventing suffering, protecting fundamental freedoms, and responding to human rights abuses whenever and wherever they occur. We stand united with Ukraine.”
On the Ukrainian remembrance day of Holodomor, Russia launched 75 drones at Kyiv, its largest drone strike against Ukraine since the start of its invasion in February 2022.