State Department expert on Israeli-Palestinian affairs resigns amid Gaza crisis

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

Andrew Miller, the deputy assistant secretary for Israeli-Palestinian affairs, told colleagues Friday that he had decided to leave his job. He cited his family, saying he has seen them sparingly as the eight-month war in Gaza has become all-consuming. Miller told colleagues that if not for those responsibilities, he would have preferred to remain in his job and fight for what he believes, including in those areas where he disagreed with administration policy.

Miller’s resignation, which has not been previously reported, comes amid growing frustration inside and outside government over the war’s steep civilian death toll and concerns among some that influence over policy matters has been dominated by a narrow coterie of President Biden’s closest advisers. Miller is the most senior U.S. official to resign to date whose portfolio focuses on Israeli-Palestinian issues.

“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’s a telling indicator of the general toll that the conflict has taken on those who have been working to deal 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 nuanced thinker about Middle East affairs. Before his job focusing on Israeli-Palestinian issues, he was a senior policy adviser to the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and during the Obama administration, he served as director for Egypt and Israel military issues on the White House National Security Council.

Those familiar with Miller’s decision to leave spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid about a personnel matter.

“Andrew brought deep experience and sharp perspective to the table every day,” said State Department spokesman Matthew Miller. “Everyone here is sorry to see him go, but we wish 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 at the department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs to influence policy.

“He was caught in a bureau of well-intentioned and capable Foreign Service officers who have had little or no impact on U.S. policy before and even after October 7,” said Aaron Miller, noting the date when Hamas militants led a cross-border attack into Israel that killed about 1,200 people and took about 250 hostages.

Matthew Miller, the State Department spokesman, rejected that characterization of the bureau, noting that Secretary of State Antony Blinken has brought its leader, Barbara Leaf, on all eight of his trips to the Middle East since Oct. 7 and has relied on her extensively as she carries messages from him and the president to leaders throughout the region.

Israel’s retaliatory military campaign has killed more than 37,000 Palestinians, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, and divided officials across the U.S. government about the appropriate response.

[Israeli strikes on tent camps near Rafah kill at least 25 and wound 50, Gaza health officials say]

At the outset of the conflict, Biden provided his full backing to the Israelis, surging weapons into the conflict and providing diplomatic and political cover at international institutions - even as Israel was accused of using indiscriminate bombing tactics and impeding access to humanitarian aid. Despite that support, Netanyahu has repeatedly ignored U.S. demands to take a more surgical approach in Gaza and refrain from exacerbating tensions with the Palestinians, such as withholding their tax revenue and using incendiary rhetoric.

Though Gaza policy has been deeply divisive in the U.S. government, it has prompted only a handful of resignations at the State Department, Pentagon and other federal agencies. Officials at State have recently been subjected to email campaigns encouraging protest resignations related to the conflict.

One U.S. official who knows Andrew Miller said he was “ahead of the curve from the beginning” in recognizing the risks of what has become known as the administration’s “bear hug” strategy, referring to Biden’s physical embrace of Netanyahu during a visit to Tel Aviv in the days after Hamas’s assault. Miller is said to have believed that the leverage the United States has over Israel as its biggest military, economic and political backer could have been used more effectively.

“He’s certainly on the more progressive side of administration officials when it comes to the region, including on Israel-Palestine, but he has also never been a ‘burn it all down and forgo pragmatism’ type,” said the official. “He has always advocated that the United States should support Palestinian rights and statehood, but his advocacy while in government has generally been quiet and measured.”

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 dispute. “During his time at the State Department, he was an unmatched supporter of Israel’s security and deeply attached to the fight against antisemitism,” said a senior State Department official who worked with him extensively over the years.