Andrew Miller, US State Department expert on Israel-Palestine, resigns in wake of Gaza war
Andrew Miller, US State Department expert on Israel-Palestine, resigns in wake of Gaza war

A senior U.S. State Department official skeptical of the Biden administration’s “bear-hug” approach toward the Israeli government resigned this week, a setback for U.S. diplomats pushing for a sharper break with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his far-right coalition, three people familiar with the matter said.

Andrew Miller, assistant secretary of state for Israeli-Palestinian affairs, told colleagues on Friday that he had decided to leave his post. He cited his family, saying he had seen them rarely as the eight-month war in Gaza had consumed his time. Miller told colleagues that if he didn’t have that responsibility, he would have preferred to stay in his post and fight for what he believes in, even in areas where he disagrees with the administration’s policies.

Miller’s resignation, which has not been previously reported, comes amid growing frustration inside and outside the administration over the war’s high civilian casualties and concerns among some that influence over policy matters is dominated by a small circle of President Biden’s closest advisers. Miller is the highest-ranking U.S. official to resign yet whose portfolio focused on Israeli-Palestinian affairs.

“His departure will be a loss for the administration in general and the State Department in particular,” said Suzanne Maloney, vice president and director of foreign policy at the Brookings Institution. “It is a stark reminder of the strain the conflict is placing on those grappling with its security implications for the United States and its allies.”

People who know Miller describe him as a principled supporter of Palestinian rights and statehood and a sophisticated thinker on Middle East affairs. Before focusing on Israeli-Palestinian affairs, he was senior policy adviser to the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and during the Obama administration he was director for Egyptian and Israeli military affairs on the White House National Security Council.

Those familiar with Miller’s decision to resign spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to speak openly about a personnel matter.

“Andrew brought a wealth of experience and a keen perspective to his duties every day,” said State Department spokesman Matthew Miller. “Everyone here regrets his departure but wishes him well in his next endeavors.”

Aaron David Miller, a Middle East expert who has advised both Democratic and Republican administrations, called Andrew Miller a “smart” and “creative” diplomat, but said it had become difficult for officials in the department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs to influence policy.

“He was captured in an office of well-meaning and capable Foreign Service officials who had little or no influence on U.S. policy before and even after Oct. 7,” Aaron Miller said, referring to the date when Hamas militants launched a cross-border attack on Israel that killed about 1,200 people and took about 250 hostages.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller rejected that characterization of the office, pointing out that Secretary of State Antony Blinken has taken its director, Barbara Leaf, on all eight of his trips to the Middle East since October 7 and relies largely on her to deliver messages from him and the president to leaders across the region.

According to the Gaza Health Ministry, Israel’s military retaliation campaign has killed more than 37,000 Palestinians, and there was disagreement throughout the US government about the appropriate response.

At the beginning of the conflict, Biden pledged his full support to the Israelis, sending weapons into the conflict and providing them diplomatic and political protection in international institutions – even as Israel was accused of carrying out indiscriminate bombings and obstructing access to humanitarian aid. Despite this support, Netanyahu has repeatedly ignored US calls to take a more surgical approach in Gaza and not to escalate tensions with the Palestinians, for example by withholding their tax revenues and using inflammatory rhetoric.

Although Gaza policy deeply divides the U.S. government, it has led to few resignations at the State Department, the Pentagon and other federal agencies. State Department officials have recently been subjected to email campaigns calling for protest resignations related to the conflict.

A US official who knows Andrew Miller said he was “ahead of his time from the beginning” in recognizing the risks of the administration’s so-called “bear hug” strategy, referring to Biden’s physical embrace of Netanyahu during a visit to Tel Aviv in the days after the Hamas attack. Miller is said to have believed that the influence the United States has as Israel’s largest military, economic and political backer could have been used more effectively.

“He is certainly one of the more progressive administration officials when it comes to the region, including Israel-Palestine, but he has also never been the burn-it-down, pragmatic type,” the official said. “He has always argued that the United States should support Palestinian rights and statehood, but his engagement during his administration has generally been quiet and moderate.”

Andrew Miller’s departure surprised many in the department, and several U.S. officials said he was respected on all sides of the contentious Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “During his time at the State Department, he was an unmatched supporter of Israel’s security and deeply committed to the fight against anti-Semitism,” said a senior State Department official who worked extensively with him over the years.

By Everly