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Some House Democrats Reportedly Seeking Ouster of Biden’s Middle East Adviser

Brett McGurk has exerted significant influence over the administration’s handling of Israel’s assault on Gaza.

Brett McGurk, former special envoy to counter ISIS, right, and then-Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer make their way to the Democratic luncheon in the Capitol on October 23, 2019, in Washington, D.C.

A group of progressive lawmakers in the U.S. House is reportedly planning to ask President Joe Biden to seek the resignation of White House Middle East adviser Brett McGurk, a lesser-known official who has exerted significant influence over the administration’s handling of Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip.

HuffPost’s Akbar Shahid Ahmed, who has detailed McGurk’s outsized role in shaping Biden’s Gaza policy, reported Thursday that progressive House Democrats have drafted a letter to the president requesting that he ask McGurk to step down.

According to Ahmed, supporters of the effort plan to “circulate the letter widely next week and raise the proposal at the next meeting of the powerful Congressional Progressive Caucus, which has more than 100 members.”

“Frustration ‘has reached a boiling point’ among Democrats who see McGurk as responsible for harmful policies that undermine Biden’s support,” Ahmed wrote Thursday, citing an unnamed Democratic lawmaker. “Skeptics say that he wrongly focused Biden’s Middle East policy on deepening U.S. ties to Saudi Arabia — a risky proposition given its record of rights abuses that implicate the U.S.”

Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Democracy for the Arab World Now, said the push for McGurk’s resignation is “an excellent idea.”

“Not because Brett McGurk is prickly and not open to listening to views that challenge his own,” Whitson added, “but because the results of his autocratic, deaf leadership have been a complete failure in the Middle East, on moral, legal, and strategic grounds.”

Last week, Ahmed reported that McGurk — who helped craft disastrous Bush administration policies in Iraq — “has been pitching national security officials on a plan suggesting an approximately 90-day timeline for what should happen once active fighting in Gaza ends.”

“It argues that stability can be achieved in the devastated Palestinian region if American, Israeli, Palestinian, and Saudi officials launch an urgent diplomatic effort that prioritizes the establishment of Israel-Saudi ties,” Ahmed wrote, citing unnamed U.S. officials. “Such a development is widely referred to as ‘normalization,’ given Saudi Arabia’s refusal to recognize Israel since its founding in 1948.”

One official told Ahmed that McGurk “has laid out his vision in a top-secret document shared in some circles of the Washington national security establishment — a plan that envisions Biden traveling to the region in the coming months on ‘a victory tour’ to claim credit for an Israel-Saudi deal as an answer to Gaza’s pain.”

The plan, according to Ahmed’s reporting, “would use the incentive of aid for reconstruction from Saudi Arabia and possibly other wealthy Gulf countries like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to pressure both the Palestinians and the Israelis… In this vision, Palestinian leaders would agree to a new government for both Gaza and the occupied West Bank and to ratchet down their criticisms of Israel, while Israel would accept limited influence in Gaza.”

Biden has claimed that “one of the reasons” Hamas attacked Israel on October 7 was “because they knew I was about to sit down with the Saudis” to discuss normalizing relations with Israel. Ahmed noted Thursday that “many U.S. officials and regional experts say that the U.S. push for a Saudi-Israel agreement inspired resentment among Palestinians who wanted the Saudis — major players in the Muslim-majority world—to resist such a bargain without the creation of a Palestinian state.”

The White House lashed out over the HuffPost story on McGurk’s post-war plan for Gaza, with National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson accusing Ahmed of making up quotes from U.S. officials—a baseless allegation that the administration partially walked back after journalists and lawmakers came to Ahmed’s defense.

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), one of dozens of U.S. lawmakers calling for a cease-fire in Gaza, wrote on social media earlier this week that Ahmed “has a lot more credibility than Brett McGurk who was involved with failed policy in Iraq, disastrous policy on Yemen, and the initiative for normalization of Israel and Gulf states with an indifference to the aspirations of the Palestinian people.”

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