Human Rights Watch has unveiled a story of official oppression by Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and Gaza that poses an awkward issue for President Donald Trump. The abuses include arbitrary arrest and detention and systematic torture. Many examples are included in the recent report,”Two Authorities, One Way, Zero Dissent.”
The abuses are practiced and condoned not only by the leaders of the hard-line terrorist organization Hamas that controls the Gaza Strip, but also by the U.S.-supported Palestinian Authority, including security forces trained by the United States military.
“Relying primarily on overly broad laws that criminalize activity such as causing ‘sectarian strife’ or insulting ‘higher authorities,’ the PA and Hamas use detention to punish critics and deter them and others from further activism,” the report said. “In detention, security forces routinely taunt, threaten, beat, and force detainees into painful stress positions for hours at a time.”
In a little over three decades the United States has given the Palestinian Authority about $5 billion, including over $1 billion to its security forces since 2007 to “improve the rule of law.”
Human Rights Watch calls on the United States and other supporters of the Palestinian Authority, including the European Union, to suspend aid until the abuses are stopped. It has also called on Iran, Turkey and Qatar to stop their aid to Hamas. Neither side is likely to follow this advice.
The problem Human Rights Watch describes is Palestinian faction fighting against Palestinian faction in a no-holds-barred struggle for dominance.
The problem for Mr. Trump is that the Palestinian Authority security forces serve U.S. and Israeli interests in helping prevent terrorist attacks on Israel. Many of these attacks are launched by Hamas, which would like to overthrow the Palestinian Authority.
Mr. Trump has reduced aid to the Palestinian Authority, but his budget for the current fiscal year contains $35 million for its security forces. A number of former U.S. officials involved in Israel-Palestinian Authority relations warn that eliminating the security assistance could lead to a period of chaos on the West Bank and raise the risk of renewed conflict. Such a setback would be a blow to U.S. efforts in the region and endanger the lives of people on all sides.
Even though U.S.-Palestinian relations are at their lowest point since the 1980s, Mr. Trump has indicated that he wants to keep the security assistance funds flowing. But the spectacle of U.S.-trained security forces completely ignoring the rule of law cannot be tolerated. The United States should let the Palestinian Authority know that in no uncertain terms.