Israel to Shore Up Relations With Biden Administration After Outlawing 6 Palestinian Groups

Israel is sending an envoy to the U.S., seeking to strengthen relations as the ongoing rifts between Israel and the Palestinians continue the decades-long conflict, the Associated Press reported.

Last week, Israel declared Palestinian human rights groups to be terrorist organizations, outlawing six of them. The declaration sparked international criticism that it was a major escalation of the crackdown against political activism in the occupied territories.

The United States, Israel's top strategic partner, also offered feedback, but the State Department said it would seek more information.

The Biden administration has sought to restore traditional foreign policy toward Israel and the Palestinians, but with other domestic and foreign issues calling for attention, the conflict was not prioritized until now.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Shawan Jabarin, al-Haq human rights group
Israel is sending an envoy to the U.S., seeking to strengthen relations as the ongoing rifts between Israel and the Palestinians continue the decades-long conflict. Above, Shawan Jabarin, director of the al-Haq human rights group, at the organization's offices in the West Bank city of Ramallah on October 23, 2021. Majdi Mohammed/Associated Press

Joshua Zarka, a senior Israeli Foreign Ministry official, told Israeli Army Radio the envoy would "give them all the details and to present them all the intelligence" during his visit in the coming days.

Zarka said he personally updated U.S. officials on Israel's intention to outlaw the groups last week, and said he believed Washington wanted a more thorough explanation of the decision.

The rights groups decision is emerging as a test of the relationship between the Biden administration and Israel's new government, which was formed in June by eight politically disparate parties. The coalition ended the 12-year rule of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu's hardline government enjoyed broad support from the Trump administration, which moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, largely allowed settlement building to continue unfettered, cut funding to the Palestinians and presented a vision for the Mideast that sided with Israel's positions.

The fractious coalition government has also sought to minimize the Palestinian issue, agreeing not to make major moves that might threaten its stability. But in recent weeks, it has ramped up focus on the conflict, offering a number of goodwill gestures to Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and also pushing forward on building thousands of new homes for Jewish settlers.

Most dramatic was the decision on the civil society groups, which has rattled the coalition and returned focus to the conflict and Israel's decades-long occupation of territories the Palestinians seek for a future state.

Israel has for years alleged the groups' links to a Palestinian militant group but even under Netanyahu's hardline government, stopped short of labeling them terrorist organizations.

The announcement has outraged the activist community in Israel, which in recent years has also faced pushback from hardline Israeli governments. In a joint statement Monday, more than 20 Israeli human rights groups, including some of the country's leading, most established organizations, condemned the step, calling it "a draconian measure that criminalizes critical human rights work."

On Tuesday, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet also criticized the designation, saying it was "an attack on human rights defenders" and calling for it to be rescinded.

The declaration against the Palestinian rights groups appeared to pave the way for Israel to raid their offices, seize assets, arrest staff and criminalize any public expressions of support for the groups. Most of the targeted organizations document alleged human rights violations by Israel as well as the Palestinian Authority, both of which routinely detain Palestinian activists.

The designated groups are Al-Haq, a human rights group founded in 1979, as well as the Addameer rights group, Defense for Children International-Palestine, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, the Union of Palestinian Women's Committees and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees.