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February 9, 2021 12:08 pm

Biden Urges Democracy Abroad, But Will It Apply to Palestinians?

avatar by Stephen M. Flatow /


Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas takes part in a virtual meeting with Palestinian faction heads, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Sept. 3, 2020. Photo: Alaa Badarneh / Pool via Reuters.

JNS.orgIn a stirring speech last week, 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 (PA) were listening.

PA 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 financial aid and restore various other aspects of US-PA relations.

But Biden’s February 4 remarks at the US 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 PA practices authoritarianism. For decades, successive US 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.

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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 PA is going to either completely transform itself or face a major clash with the Biden administration.

The PA 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 PA dictator Mahmoud Abbas was wrong to call striking Palestinian physicians “despicable.”

The PA does not “champion opportunity.” According to Human Rights Watch, opportunity exists only for favored groups. The PA’s laws “discriminate against women,” the PA 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 PA does not “uphold universal rights.” Surely, the right of a legislator to express her opinion is a universal right. Yet PA council member Najat Abu Baker spent 17 days hiding when the police demanded that she surrender herself to be charged with the crime of publicly criticizing Abbas for not paying teachers adequately.

The PA 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 PA’s view, could “undermine the safety of the state or its internal or external security.”

The PA does not “treat every person with dignity.” According to Amnesty International, “torture and other ill-treatment of detainees” is “committed with impunity” by the PA 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 PA. Burma’s rulers have a long way to go before they approach Abbas’ record. And as for Alexei Navalny — well, there are plenty like him rotting in PA 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.”

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