U.S. Government Support for Israeli Violations of International Law under Global Scrutiny amid War in Ukraine and U.S.-Led Regional Summit of Autocratic Governments
(Tel Aviv, March 26, 2022) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken should use his visit to Israel and Palestine to reaffirm the United States' commitment to international law and human rights and to condemn ongoing Israeli violations of international law including illegal annexation and settlements and the international crimes of apartheid and persecution, said Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN).
More broadly, Secretary Blinken should use this trip to mark a new beginning in the U.S.-Israel relationship based on international law and human rights, as consistent with American values.
"There is no better moment for Secretary Blinken to show the world that the U.S. will hold Israel to the same standards of international law forbidding annexation and the unlawful acquisition of territory through the use of force that it is using to demand an end to Russia's invasion and occupation of Ukraine," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Executive Director of DAWN. "As President Biden scrambles to align Israel with the United States and its allies against Russia, it is incumbent to recognize that decades of near limitless U.S. military aid and political protection have not made Israel a reliable ally, but a political, legal, and security liability that has eroded the very international legal norms to which the U.S. is now clinging in Ukraine."
Secretary Blinken is scheduled to arrive in Israel and Palestine on March 26, where he will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and other Israeli officials. He will also meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. Blinken is also expected to participate in a U.S.-sponsored summit of undemocratic governments during his visit, reportedly set to include the foreign ministers of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, and Israel. Intended to bolster support for the United States in the region, key issues will include global oil production, food insecurity in the Middle East and North Africa due to the war in Ukraine, and concerns over the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal.
"The regional realignment and reassessment of U.S. interests in the Middle East this summit represents cannot be allowed to undermine U.S. obligations to civil and human rights and democracy," said Whitson. "Political expediency cannot replace U.S. commitment to international legal norms, human rights, and democracy," added Whitson.
Over the past year, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 have joined Palestinian and Israeli human rights groups in concluding that the Israeli government is committing the crimes of apartheid and persecution in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. In his report to the UN Human Rights Council, Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk noted that the international community bears much responsibility for the current situation in Israel and Palestine after decades of UN General Assembly and Security Council Resolutions recognizing the unlawful annexation of land, the illegality of Israeli settlements, and the denial of Palestinian self-determination, a basic right under international law.
"Secretary Blinken is putting his head in the sand when he ignores Israel's apartheid reality and belligerent policies that have harmed Palestinians for decades and offers up the same failed strategies of unconditional support for Israel," said Whitson.
"Secretary Blinken is putting his head in the sand when he ignores Israel's apartheid reality and belligerent policies that have harmed Palestinians for decades and offers up the same failed strategies of unconditional support for Israel."
- Sarah Leah Whitson, DAWN's Executive Director
The U.S. government should clarify its position on illegal settlements within Palestine. In 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the U.S. government would no longer follow a 1978 legal opinion from the State Department concluding that Israeli settlements in Palestine's West Bank are "inconsistent with international law." This decision overturned decades of state practice and clearly contradicts settled international law. While President Biden denounced Israel's continued expansion of illegal settlements in October 2021, stating that he was "deeply concerned" by this matter, the State Department has not yet rejected the Trump administration's position put forward by Pompeo as a matter of law. Secretary Blinken should make this point explicitly when he meets with Israel Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
The U.S. government should reverse the Trump administration's recognition of Israel's illegal annexation of the Golan Heights. Israel illegally annexed this land from Syria in 1981 and retains control of the territory. While the Golan Heights are not internationally recognized as Israeli territory, the Trump administration characterized it as part of Israel in 2019. Secretary Blinken has not endorsed the Trump administration's legal claim but he has not refuted it either, instead calling the territory "important to Israel's security."
The U.S. should end its military support for Israel until the Israeli government ceases its violations of international law, including the crimes of persecution and apartheid. Israel receives $3.3 billion in foreign military financing annually from the U.S. government, but clearly fails to satisfy human rights safeguards in the Foreign Assistance Act and the Arms Export Control Act, which should disqualify it from receiving U.S. military assistance.
The U.S. government should sanction the Israeli government until it dismantles its apartheid structures that dominate and oppress Palestinians while privileging Jewish Israelis through its legal system, discriminatory practices, and allocation of resources. A clear first step in this dismantling is for the Israeli government to stop building illegal settlements and to dismantle existing settlements, while granting Palestinians full recognition of their human rights.
The U.S. government should sanction the Israeli government for its persecution of civil society organizations and human rights groups, including the six Palestinian NGOs that it labelled terrorist organizations in October 2021. This decision, which even surprised U.S. government officials, received widespread criticism not only from human rights defenders, but also from mainstream policy organizations and respected think tanks, as well as members of Congress. Israeli government officials discredited themselves by attacking six highly-regarded civil society organizations, some of which have operated for decades and have a long history of criticizing Israeli and Palestinian officials. The persecution of these organizations mirrors the familiar tactics of authoritarian regimes throughout the region that are unwilling to accept criticism, permit dissenting voices, or allow for open civil society.
The U.S. government should sanction the Palestinian Authority until it releases political detainees and stops committing human rights abuses against these detainees, including ill-treatment and torture. Palestinian Authority officials have conducted arbitrary arrests over peaceful protests and criticism on social media, while using repressive tactics to stifle dissent and punish political opponents. Palestinian political leaders cannot credibly call for democratic reforms from the Israeli government while refusing to allow democracy within Palestine.