In a stirring speech last week, U.S. President Joe Biden spoke eloquently of America’s commitment to fostering democracy and civil rights around the world. I wonder if any leaders of the Palestinian Authority were listening.
P.A. leaders have been practically giddy over the results of America’s presidential election. And with good reason, it seemed. Spokespeople for the Biden administration are already vowing to resume its financial aid and restore various other aspects of U.S.-P.A. relations.
But Biden’s Feb. 4 remarks at the U.S. State Department articulated principles which—if the new president and his administration are serious—will create a serious problem in relations between the United States and the Palestinian Arabs.
The problem is that America reveres democracy, while the P.A. practices authoritarianism. For decades, successive U.S. administrations have shied away from confronting this issue. But Biden said that under his leadership, America will “meet this new moment of advancing authoritarianism.” It’s about time.
He identified “America’s most cherished democratic values” as these five principles: “defending freedom, championing opportunity, upholding universal rights, respecting the rule of law and treating every person with dignity.”
The president didn’t just praise those concepts as admirable. He called them “our inexhaustible strength” and “the grounding wire of our global policy—our global power.”
If Biden really meant what he said, then the P.A. is going to either completely transform itself or face a major clash with the Biden administration.
The P.A. does not “defend freedom.” It jails its critics. Just ask Hussam Khader, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council. He was recently jailed for the “crime” of remarking on Facebook that P.A. dictator Mahmoud Abbas was wrong to call striking Palestinian physicians “despicable.”
The P.A. does not “champion opportunity.” According to Human Rights Watch, opportunity exists only for favored groups. The P.A.’s laws “discriminate against women,” the P.A. has “no comprehensive domestic violence law to prevent abuse and protect survivors,” and the LGBT group “Al-Qaws for Sexual and Gender Diversity” has been banned.
The P.A. does not “uphold universal rights.” Surely, the right of a legislator to express her opinion is a universal right. Yet P.A. council member Najat Abu Baker spent 17 days hiding in the parliament building when the police demanded that she surrender herself to be charged with the crime of publicly criticizing Abbas for not paying teachers adequately.
The P.A. does not “respect the rule of law.” Well, to be precise—it only respects the draconian laws that it decrees. Like the outrageous “Cyber Crime Law” of 2017, mandating prison sentences and fines for anyone who establishes a website that, in the P.A.’s view, could “undermine the safety of the state or its internal or external security.”
The P.A. does not “treat every person with dignity.” According to Amnesty International, “torture and other ill-treatment of detainees” is “committed with impunity” by the P.A. police.
In his remarks last week, Biden cited two foreign governments whose behavior his administration repudiates: Burma (Myanmar) and Russia. He demanded the “restoration of democracy” in Burma and the “immediate release” of jailed Russian dissident Alexei Navalny.
Abbas must have cringed when he heard those words. After all, he is now in the 16th year of his four-term as chairman of the P.A. Burma’s rulers have a long way to go before they approach Abbas’s record. And as for poor Alexei Navalny—well, there are plenty like him rotting in P.A. prisons.
Biden’s strong words about democracy and human rights were welcome. Now we’ll see if he means them when it comes to one of the main offenders.
Stephen M. Flatow is a vice president of the Religious Zionists of America, an attorney in New Jersey and the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995. He is the author of, “A Father’s Story: My Fight for Justice Against Iranian Terror.”