This editorial was originally published Wednesday in The Boston Globe.
Israelis deserve to live in safety without fear of attacks that indiscriminately target civilians. Palestinians deserve basic human rights — and democratic rights — including that of self-determination, safety from violence, and freedom from forced removal from their homes by the Israeli military. Everyone living in the region deserves peace. The best way to achieve these outcomes is through a two-state solution and an agreement among the Israeli military, Jewish extremists and Islamist militant groups that they will, at last, cease the violence for good.
The United States is currently doing little to help achieve these outcomes — both by underutilizing what leverage it has and by abetting Israel in its efforts to expand into Palestinian territories in violation of international agreements. The Biden administration and Congress need to make clear that the ongoing military aid to Israel must be used to help, not hinder, the goal of peaceful coexistence and a two-state solution.
The failings of U.S. policy to achieve peace have only become more apparent and acute. The U.S. government gives Israel $3.8 billion in annual military aid without asking for protection of Palestinians’ rights in return. Some of that aid directly enables Israel to force evictions of Palestinians and expand its settlements, including of the kind that were recently planned in a neighborhood of East Jerusalem, sparking the latest spate of violence. Human Rights Watch has documented that U.S.-manufactured and U.S.-supplied technology, such as Caterpillar bulldozers, which Israel purchases through the U.S. military aid it receives, have been used to demolish Palestinian homes.
This kind of unchecked use of U.S. military financing has, in recent years, pushed Israel in the direction of abandoning the two-state solution. If the United States is serious about brokering a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians, it must begin putting conditions on the aid it provides.
To be sure, Israel is not the only party in this deadly conflict that has committed atrocities. While the Israeli government has indiscriminately bombed residential buildings, schools, and hospitals, the Islamist militant group Hamas continues to also commit war crimes against Israelis. The violent extremist Hamas recruits must be held accountable for their attacks and human rights abuses. The United States should remain steadfast in ensuring that Israel has the capacity to defend itself against any real threats, be they the rockets fired by Hamas or Iran’s threat to wipe out the Jewish state.
But when the Israeli government commits egregious human rights abuses and violates international law, the United States cannot simply turn a blind eye. President Biden has not been willing to put his foot down.
Ultimately, conditioning aid to Israel should not be controversial. Israel should continue to receive U.S. military aid if it treats Palestinians as human beings deserving of basic rights and shows in earnest that it stands ready to broker peace. That, in the end, should not be considered a big ask.
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