Eitay Mack & Yonatan Gher
Al-Jazeera / July 6, 2021
The US can no longer afford to maintain international impunity for the Israeli state and army.
At the beginning of his term, US President Joe Biden laid out his foreign policy vision: to restore the United States’ respected leadership on the world stage; to take immediate steps to renew US alliances; and to strengthen the coalition of democracies. The Achilles heel of this optimistic plan and its credibility is Washington’s anachronistic relations with the State of Israel.
This special relationship is a relic of the Cold War, when the US supported its allies unconditionally – militarily and politically – even when it came to military governments and dictatorial regimes that were involved in gross human rights violations. Accordingly, within the borders of Israel there is a state that grants political and economic privileges to its Jewish majority, and in the West Bank there is an Israeli military dictatorship, operating according to the same methods of colonialist regimes, most of which ended in the last century.
Recently, two acclaimed organizations, Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem, accused the Israeli state of committing crimes of apartheid against the Palestinians. That, however, did not produce a change of policy in Washington.
For decades, the US has maintained a bubble of complete impunity for successive Israeli governments, both in the occupied Palestinian territories and within Israeli borders. It has extended unconditional support for Israel at the United Nations Security Council and provided annual military aid. The Israeli state is the largest recipient of US foreign aid, having been granted some $146bn since it was established in 1948.
While the US has often denounced the violation of human rights and the deterioration of democratic values and institutions across the world, it has hardly levelled any criticism at the appalling state affairs in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.
The US has condemned in strong words and even acted against the bombing of civilians in Syria by Bashar al-Assad’s regime, but has said nothing of the Israeli air raids on residential areas in Gaza or the demolitions of Palestinian homes in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The US has also spoken out against the wounding and killing of protestors in Myanmar and the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya, but has stayed silent on Israeli forces wounding and killing protestors in the West Bank and Gaza and forcefully displacing Palestinians from their homes in occupied East Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley and Khan al-Ahmar.
Even when former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu turned racism towards the Palestinian population and Jewish supremacy into a declared policy, Washington remained mum.
Under his watch, the Knesset passed the nation-state law, which declared Israel a nation-state of the Jewish people only, while supporters of ethnic cleansing and hate crimes against Palestinians reached positions of power. He not only weakened state institutions, undermining the independence of the Knesset, the security agencies and the judiciary, but also was himself implicated in various corruption schemes. Nevertheless, Washington continued to welcome Netanyahu into the “club of democratic leaders”.
The new government in Israel, which ended Netanyahu’s 13-year rule, presents an important opportunity for a reboot of US-Israeli relations. To balance out the dynamic between the two countries, many changes have to be made, but there are a few measures the US government can take immediately to begin this process.
First, the Biden administration should heed the call of Palestinian, Israeli and American activists to condition US financial aid on Israel’s commitment to upholding human rights and international law. If it continues violating the human rights of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, then the flow of US assistance should be stopped immediately.
Second, the Biden administration should demand that the Israeli government stop the illegal evictions of hundreds of Palestinian residents from their homes in occupied East Jerusalem.
Third, the Biden administration should demand that the Israeli government repeal the nation-state law, which gives a cloak of legality to the illegal discrimination of the Palestinian citizens within Israel.
Fourth, the Biden administration should demand that the Israeli government repeal Military Order No. 101, which was passed in 1967 and which prohibits any protest in the occupied West Bank without permission from the Israeli military – permission that as far as is known has never been issued for Palestinians in 54 years of occupation. The Palestinians should be given the opportunity to hold non-violent protests against the occupation and the Israeli military dictatorship, freely and without restrictions.
It should be emphasized that none of these are exceptional measures. In fact, US laws, such as the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 and others, condition foreign aid upon the fulfilment of a country’s commitments to human rights and international law. The US has conditioned foreign assistance many times and there is no reason why it should not do so for Israel.
By taking these measures, the US will end its policy of double standards that privileges the State of Israel over all other states with which the US enjoys close relations. By now it should be clear to Biden and his team that enabling impunity for the Israeli state and army does not help the people living in Israel and only serves to fuel the endless cycle of violence from which both Palestinians and Israelis suffer.
Eitay Mack is a human rights lawyer and activist
Yonatan Gher is the Israeli Executive Director of Combatants for Peace