Exclusive: Biden Administration To Appoint New Special Envoy For Gaza

The president plans to tap Lise Grande of the United States Institute of Peace to replace David Satterfield, two sources told HuffPost.

President Joe Biden will soon appoint Lise Grande, the current head of the government-funded United States Institute of Peace (USIP), as his new czar for humanitarian aid for Gaza, according to a USIP employee informed of her plans on Tuesday and a source familiar with the appointment.

Grande will replace David Satterfield, a former ambassador who Biden appointed to the newly established role of special envoy for Middle East humanitarian issues on Oct. 15. That move came a week after Israel began a sweeping U.S.-backed offensive in the Gaza strip in retaliation for an Oct. 7 attack by the Gaza-based militant group Hamas.

Satterfield will continue to work at the State Department as a senior adviser, a source familiar with his plans told HuffPost. HuffPost first reported in January that he would leave his envoy role.

The U.S.-backed Israeli campaign has devastated Gaza, creating an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe in the Palestinian region that has devolved into a famine, per an internal U.S. government assessment revealed earlier this month by HuffPost.

Humanitarian groups say Israel is still imposing unacceptable restrictions on relief for civilians in Gaza, despite promising the Biden administration for months it would do more to ease Palestinian suffering — particularly after an Israeli airstrike killed seven aid workers on April 1.

Some lawmakers and human rights activists believe that these aid restrictions mean that, by continuing to provide military assistance to Israel Israel, the Biden administration is in violation of American law. The International Court of Justice has repeatedly ordered the Israelis to ease their restrictions.

Meanwhile, U.S.-backed Israeli military operations continue. Most recently, a strike on the Gazan city of Rafah killed 21 people on April 21, according to local authorities. Observers worry the Israeli offensive will soon extend to a full invasion of Rafah, a refuge for more than a million displaced Palestinians.

Grande is a former United Nations official who previously worked on other humanitarian crises, including in Yemen.

She is well known among aid experts. But her tenure at USIP, a nonpartisan think tank focused on winding down conflict, has become controversial during the Gaza war.

Earlier this year, several USIP staffers circulated an internal letter accusing the institution of taking “insufficient” steps to mitigate Israeli-Palestinian tensions and “taking a politically safe approach to the crisis.”

In the previously unreported letter, the employees argued they were not seeking “advocacy” from USIP but believed it had been less proactive in organizing diplomacy and less forthcoming in its analysis than it had been in its response to Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine. Of that conflict, Grande has said: “There is a very strong argument that Russian conduct amounts to genocide.”

Dave Harden, a former senior U.S. Agency for International Development official who has worked in Palestine, described having limited optimism about Grande’s new role.

“Lise is smart, gritty and bold — a strong choice with unrivaled experience leading humanitarian responses to complex crises in the Middle East,” Harden told HuffPost on Tuesday night. “But she also has serious gaps: Lise doesn’t have [U.S. government] interagency experience, hasn’t worked in classified settings, doesn’t know the Israelis.”

Grande told colleagues on Tuesday she was leaving the institute for 5 months, the USIP employee said.

Harden expressed worry about her likely short tenure: “Biden needs an envoy with a long term commitment to Gaza, through the war and the day after,” he said.

Spokespeople for the State Department and USIP did not immediately provide comment for this story.

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