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Washington ignores Amnesty Israel 'apartheid' report at its peril

Not holding partners to account for human rights abuses makes them burdens rather than assets to the U.S.

Analysis | Middle East

By blatantly ignoring the findings of human rights abuses against Palestinians as the United States did this week upon the release of a seminal report by Amnesty International, Washington is ultimately emboldening bad behavior while further entrenching itself in Middle East security crises.

Here’s why.

Amnesty's latest assessment on Israel’s treatment of the Palestinaians, deemed a “crime of apartheid,” stems from a five-year analysis of Israeli civilian and military law. The organization reached the same conclusion as Human Rights Watch and Israel's own main human rights organization, B’Tselem (Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories).

The Israeli government has presented no counter argument to these findings, except false accusations of antisemitism. 

The 274-page report has also further embarrassed the United States, which also rejected Amnesty's report, all the while regularly citing Amnesty and HRW when those organizations issue reports on the human rights abuses of countries not aligned with Washington. 

This episode further highlights two ways in which this approach undermines U.S. national security.

First, the United States loses further credibility on human rights when it applies it selectively. Some rules are for our partners — and an entirely different standard for our adversaries. This selectivity instrumentalizes and undermines the very concept of human rights. It is not a value to be upheld but a stick to use against those we don't like, while turning a blind eye to partners such as Saudi Arabia, Israel, and other systematic human rights abusers. 

Second, Biden's Mideast strategy is increasingly defined by the goal of "strengthening alliances." Biden views America's security partnerships as a critical asset in the competition against China. But two negative and mutually reinforcing developments follow from this approach:

To begin with, U.S. partners will behave increasingly recklessly and in contrast to American values as they correctly perceive Washington as having given them a permanent carte blanche, and because they calculate that the U.S. — because of the China competition — cannot afford to be tough on them. 

Case in point: Israel's de facto annexation of Palestinian territory and elimination of any viable two-state solution is partly the result of decades of American deference to Israel even though the U.S. itself has defined a two-state solution as central to American interests.

Moreover, Washington will be forced to more frequently defend the worsening  behavior of its partners. Whatever double standards we saw in the past, it is likely to get substantially worse going forward. Forget the rhetoric about centering human rights or pursuing more prudent goals.

Ironically, it is difficult to see how this approach, which fuels recklessness among U.S. partners and makes them even greater burdens rather than assets to Washington, ultimately strengthens America's position vis-a-vis China. Rather, this will further entangle the United States in the problems and conflicts these partners have started or are embroiled in. 

The day America will come home from the Middle East is being pushed further and further away. 

An Arab woman puts Palestinian flags on the fence while protesting the demolition of a building to construct a Jewish-only settlement in East Jerusalem on Jan 14, 2011. (Ryan Rodrick Beiler / Shutterstock.com)
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