Israel to Explain to US About Ban on Palestinian Rights Groups

Israel is sending its envoy to Washington amid deepening rifts with US President Joe Biden’s administration over the ban on six Palestinian human rights groups, a State Department official said Tuesday.

Israel last week declared the leading Palestinian human rights groups as terrorist organizations, sparking international criticism. The United States, Israel’s main strategic partner, has repeatedly stated that there was no prior notification that Israel would take such a step.

Israel’s move marks what critics say is a major escalation of a decades-long crackdown on political activism in the occupied territories. The US State Department said it would seek further information on the decision.

Joshua Zarka, a top Israeli Foreign Ministry official, told Israel Army Radio that the envoy would “reveal all details and present all intelligence information” during his visit in the coming days.

Zarka said he had personally informed US officials of Israel’s intention to ban the groups last week, and said he believed Washington wanted a more thorough explanation of the decision.

The decision on rights groups comes as a test of relations between Biden’s government and Israel’s new government, formed last June by eight different political parties. The coalition ended former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year rule.

Netanyahu’s hardline government enjoys broad support from the Trump administration, which moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, allowed construction of most of the settlements to continue, cut funding to Palestinians and presented a vision of the Middle East that favored Israel.

Palestinians take part in a protest in support of Ahmed Saadat, leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), in front of the Red Cross headquarters in Gaza City October 22, 2009. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Palestinians take part in a protest in support of Ahmed Saadat, leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), in front of the Red Cross headquarters in Gaza City October 22, 2009. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

The Biden administration has largely restored traditional US foreign policy towards Israel and the Palestinians. However, because the US is currently more focused on other pressing domestic and foreign issues, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has received less attention.

Israel has for years accused the rights groups of having links to a Palestinian militant group, but — even under Netanyahu’s hardline government — does not designate them as terrorist organizations.

Israel’s announcement has angered the activist community in Israel, which in recent years has also faced resistance from Israel’s hardline government. In a joint statement Monday, more than 20 Israeli human rights groups, including some of the country’s leading and most established organizations, condemned the move, calling it “a heinous act that criminalizes critical human rights work.” [ab/uh]

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