Biden Administration bows to international law, ceases funding Israeli research done on stolen land in Palestinian West Bank

Juan Cole

Informed Comment  /  June 27, 2023

Ann Arbor – The Biden administration has reverted to the longstanding practice of not funding Israeli institutions in the Palestinian West Bank. AFP reports that State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said, “engaging in bilateral scientific and technological cooperation with Israel in geographic areas which came under the administration of Israel after 1967 and which remain subject to final-status negotiations is inconsistent with US foreign policy.”

Rebekah Yeager-Malkin at The Jurist points out that in the 1970s, Washington established three foundations to promote cooperation between the US and Israel in scientific research. These are, she says, “the Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation (BIRD), the Binational Science Foundation (BSF) and the Binational Agricultural Research and Development Foundation (BARD).”

The major Israeli research institution in the Palestinian West Bank, Ariel University, was built on land stolen from Palestinian families, and it had been the major beneficiary there of BIRD, BSF and BARD research monies.

President Donald Trump had more or less recognized the Palestinian West Bank as Israel, the same position as is taken by right-wingers in the Israeli government. Trump broke with US policy as it had been pursued since 1967, when Israel opportunistically seized the Palestinian West Bank and the Gaza Strip, making the Palestinians stateless and without basic human rights, including the right to own property securely. One Israeli squatter of US heritage was caught on video trying to steal a Palestinian home, and when he was rebuked by the rightful owner, he replied, “If I don’t steal it somebody else will.”

This decision by the Biden administration appears to have been taken two years ago, but it was not implemented in the run-up to the 2022 midterms. It was only communicated to the Israeli government this weekend, and confirmed by Miller on Monday.

Haaretz notes that the European Union also won’t fund squatter Israeli institutions on Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank.

In international law, occupying enemy territory during wartime is not forbidden. However, the Hague Regulations of 1907 and the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 envision occupation as lasting for a brief duration during the war. They do not provide for it to last 56 years. In fact, they forbid the occupying power from making any significant changes in the lifeways of the occupied population. It is also forbidden to transfer people from the occupying nation into the occupied territory. That is a war crime, of which Israel is guilty on several hundred thousand counts.

Israel’s occupation, I would argue, is by now illegal on the face of it, as are most Israeli actions in the West Bank. The ongoing blockade and siege waged against the Gaza Strip, a form of collective punishment that harms children and other noncombatants, is also illegal.

The Israelis have since 1967 locked several hundred thousand Palestinians out of the West Bank. Those who remain face a maze of Israeli checkpoints and must constantly be showing their papers. Their olive trees are cut down, their crops sabotaged, their property further stolen. South Africans who lived under Apartheid there and who have visited the West Bank say, appalled, that the situation for Palestinians under Israeli rule is much worse that what Blacks faced under South African Apartheid.

In recent days, Israeli squatters on Palestinian property have gone wilding, with thousands rampaging into Palestinian hamlets, setting fires and shooting them up. Only five of these black shirts have even been charged by the Israeli state. The Biden administration at least condemned these pogroms.

The least the US government can do is refuse to be a party to this Apartheid situation, toward which this decision is a small step. But it is mainly symbolic. If the Biden administration wanted to do the right thing and was serious about a two-state solution (which by now is probably impossible), they would stop exercising their veto on Israel’s behalf at the UN Security Council. Israel’s law-breaking is so egregious that the UNSC would certainly place it under economic sanctions if the US didn’t block that step.

Juan Cole is the founder and chief editor of Informed Comment ; he is Richard P. Mitchell Professor of History at the University of Michigan and the author of, among others, Muhammad: Prophet of Peace amid the Clash of Empires and The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam