September 19th, 2013 in Israel

Great piece by Bill Van Es­veld, a Mid­dle East re­searcher at Human Rights Watch based in Jerusalem, pub­lished in The Hill:

Twenty years ago, Is­raeli and Pales­tin­ian lead­ers signed the Oslo ac­cords on the White House lawn, open­ing the “peace process” that the US is try­ing to rein­vig­o­rate. Yet the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has failed to learn the les­son of the past two decades: keep­ing human rights vi­o­la­tions off the peace talks agenda is a los­ing strat­egy. In this re­spect, Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry’s re­cent shut­tle diplo­macy has ac­tu­ally reached new lows.

Kerry, ac­cord­ing to news re­ports and other sources, met with Eu­ro­pean lead­ers in Vil­nius on Sep­tem­ber 7 and urged them to post­pone new rules that would en­sure Is­rael could not use Eu­ro­pean Union funds to sup­port West Bank set­tle­ments.

But Eu­ro­pean sources say the rules are re­quired by the EU’s own law, which in­cor­po­rate its oblig­a­tions under in­ter­na­tional law not to “rec­og­nize” il­le­gal ac­tions by other coun­tries. Al­low­ing EU aid to be used to ben­e­fit Is­rael’s set­tle­ments could breach that law. Kerry con­tended that Eu­rope’s at­tempt to pre­vent it­self from vi­o­lat­ing in­ter­na­tional law could com­pli­cate the peace process.

This isn’t the first time. The U.S., in the name of pro­mot­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions, has con­sis­tently ap­plied pres­sure to block ac­count­abil­ity for rights vi­o­la­tions, from ve­to­ing Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tions crit­i­cal of Is­raeli vi­o­la­tions to call­ing on Pales­tine not to join the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court – even at times when the peace process has been prac­ti­cally mori­bund.

Is­rael’s of­fi­cial po­si­tion is that the pri­mary re­spon­si­bil­ity for Pales­tini­ans’ human rights in oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries lies with the Pales­tin­ian Au­thor­ity. Yet Is­rael al­lows Pales­tin­ian Au­thor­ity se­cu­rity ser­vices to op­er­ate in less than 20 per­cent of the West Bank.

In the areas of the West Bank where Is­rael has ex­clu­sive con­trol of se­cu­rity, its jus­tice sys­tems finds 99.74 per­cent of Pales­tin­ian de­fen­dants guilty of “se­cu­rity of­fenses,” but closes more than 90 per­cent of Pales­tin­ian com­plaints of set­tler vi­o­lence with­out even fil­ing an in­dict­ment. Only six Is­raeli sol­diers have been con­victed of un­law­fully killing Pales­tini­ans since 2000, and none served more than seven months in jail.

The U.S. has also failed to ad­dress abuses, in­clud­ing cred­i­ble al­le­ga­tions of tor­ture, by the Pales­tin­ian Au­thor­ity. U.S. diplo­mats in Jerusalem told me that the U.S. would op­pose Pales­tin­ian ef­forts to sign human rights treaties. This has been an op­tion since the ma­jor­ity of UN mem­ber states rec­og­nized Pales­tin­ian state­hood in 2012 and would make it eas­ier to hold the Pales­tin­ian Au­thor­ity to ac­count for abuses. But the U.S. diplo­mats I spoke to said such a move would be “un­help­ful to final sta­tus ne­go­ti­a­tions.”