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It’s high time the US re-evaluated its relationship with Israel

All the world’s a stage but, as the world’s hegemon, the United States are more than a mere player. After a year in which Israel’s domestic and coronavirus policy has led to significant abuses of human rights, the Biden administration must rethink their diplomatic relations and incentivise the Israeli government to change their policies.

The Israel-Palestine conflict dates back to the late 19th and early 20th century and is, at its heart, a matter of self-determination. The issue escalated following the Second World War as large numbers of Jewish people fleeing persecution in Europe wanted to form a national homeland in what was then an Arab and Muslim majority territory. In 1948, the State of Israel was established, and the first Arab-Israeli war ensued. Despite Israel increasing their control over the region, tensions have remained high and the largely Arab and Muslim populations of Gaza and the West Bank have attempted to form their own state of Palestine.

Palestinians in Israeli-occupied territory face immense oppression. In a 2019 report, Human Rights Watch outlined severe restrictions to Palestinian’s human rights: constricted freedom of movement, the unlawful transfer of Israeli citizens into the occupied West Bank and “expansive open fire orders” from senior officials aimed at protestors who posed no threat to human life. Such treatment has not only been condemned by the United Nations, but by Israeli citizens themselves, who regularly gather in solidarity with their Palestinian counterparts. In these instances, police brutality is almost non-existent – an unmistakeable example of institutional prejudice.

The coronavirus pandemic has shone an even greater light on the severity of the Israeli government’s discriminative tendencies. Praised by many for their record-setting vaccination drive, few mention that, in the West Bank, vaccines have only been distributed to Jewish settlers, leaving an estimated 2.7 million Palestinians to fend for themselves. Such a policy will only add to the thousands who have already died on both sides of this long-standing regional conflict.

Just weeks ago, at Biden’s inauguration, the Department of State released a statement explaining that “Israel has no greater friend than the United States”. They committed to “robust defence cooperation” in which they engage in joint weapons development, military exercises, and funding.

Be in no doubt: Unconditional and unbridled American support of the Israeli government’s actions is an endorsement of the horrific treatment of Palestinians. It should be condemned unreservedly. If this wasn’t enough, by funding weapons programmes, the US is actively enabling the Israeli drone strikes in the West Bank that are taking so many unnecessary lives.

Why, therefore, are the United States – a supposed beacon of justice and democracy – so supportive of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his administration?

As with many aspects of American foreign policy, there are two likely reasons: oil and votes. In regard to the former, Israel is crucial to the US plan for regional stability in the Middle East. With Israel on board, access to the ever-lucrative oil becomes simpler. In relation to the latter, polling has consistently suggested that a majority of American’s hold a favourable view of the Israeli government, often citing shared democratic values.

However, if the US truly wants to work towards world peace, then they need to facilitate discourse about violence and discrimination everywhere, domestically and internationally. Sanctions and other consequences for undemocratic and discriminatory behaviour should be employed consistently as opposed to when and if it suits them. This applies not only to Israel, but to cases such as Narendra Modi’s exclusionary Hindu nationalism and China’s genocidal acts against Uighur Muslims.

The last few days have seen the US impose sanctions in response to a military coup in Myanmar. Such a response demonstrates that the US do have the capacity to respond to injustice – and to do so quickly.

At the start of a new administration, big decisions must be made. If Joe Biden wants America to lead by the power of their example, he must be openly critical of injustice everywhere – including Israel.

Image: Wikimedia Commons