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Trump’s threats against the Palestinians should worry Israel

The Netanyahu government is celebrating Trump’s recent declaration and threats against the Palestinians as victories, but Jerusalem should wait before opening the champagne. 

Palestinian burning a picture of US President Donald Trump during a protest against US President Donald Trump's latest decision to recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in Rafah, in the Southern Gaza Strip on December 8, 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Palestinian burning a picture of US President Donald Trump during a protest against US President Donald Trump’s latest decision to recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in Rafah, in the Southern Gaza Strip on December 8, 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

The Trump Administration on Tuesday threatened to withhold millions of dollars in aid that it sends to the Palestinians each year, accusing them of not wanting to negotiate a peace deal with Israel.

Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, said the U.S. would stop funding the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) — the UN agency responsible for providing aid to Palestinian refugees — if the Palestinian leadership refuses to return to American-led peace talks. Washington is the agency’s biggest donor; it sends around $300 million a year to the agency, roughly a third of which is designated for aid to residents of refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza.

It possible that the U.S. president’s threat included Washington’s aid to the Palestinian Authority, which amounts to another $300 million dollars or so a year. The Trump administration has presented these threats as a response to the Palestinian leadership’s decision to reject continued American stewardship of the peace process. That decision was itself a response to Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his commitment to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

While Trump’s threats may be intended to punish the Palestinians for their lack of “appreciation or respect” for U.S. leadership in the region (as the president tweeted), his threats should also worry Israel.

Until the signing of the Oslo Accords, Israel was responsible for managing the day-to-day lives of Palestinians in the occupied territories. Infrastructure, welfare, education, health, and other services were all Israel’s responsibility as the occupying power. Oslo transferred much of that responsibility to the newly created Palestinian Authority, and the two sides passed on the bill to the international community—mainly the U.S., European Union, and Arab states. The idea was that foreign aid would act as a crutch to enable Palestinian development while the occupation came to an end and an independent Palestinian state rose in its place. In parallel, UNRWA would continue to provide aid to 810,000 people in the West Bank alone, operating 19 refugee camps, 96 schools, 43 medical centers, and more.

The peace process died and was buried, and yet the Oslo Accords—designed as an interim agreement meant to end in 1999—continue to serve as the loose framework for relations between Israel and the Palestinians. The U.S., the E.U., and the Arab states have continued to fund the PA and UNRWA, while allowing Israel to maintain the occupation under “luxury” conditions: full control of the territory, full control over the lives of the people, but without any responsibility for them and without being burdened with any serious cost. The justification for that arrangement’s continued existence was the illusion of a peace process. For the past 25 years, half the duration of the occupation, peace was supposed to come at any moment.

But now Trump has changed the equation: if the Palestinians refuse to accept Washington’s leadership of the peace process and its conditions, then there shall be no peace process, and therefore no funding to the PA and UNRWA. The problem is that if there is no peace process, and therefore no funding, then the PA and UNRWA will have to cut their services—close schools, and fire employees—and they alone will not pay the price. Angry protests in response would likely be aimed at Israel, or could undermine the PA’s strength and legitimacy.

Cuts to the PA budget and protests in the street would also likely affect the PA’s security forces, which essentially serve as Israel’s security contractor on the ground, and whom the Israeli defense establishment relies on to keep the peace and help prevent terrorist attacks. In short, one way or another, cutting off the PA’s main sources of funding will erode the framework that has until now sustained Israel’s occupation deluxe.

Trump threatens to shatter not only the underlying assumptions of the framework that subsidizes the Israel occupation (through Palestinian institutions and the UN), but also the illusion of a peace process and the two-state solution (which Netanyahu’s Likud party rejected, again, this week). The Netanyahu government may see these changes as a victory, but in the long-term it is difficult to know where the collapse of the status quo will lead. Israel’s leadership should wait before popping open the champagne.

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    1. David Adams

      Israel’s ongoing denial of Palestinian rights and unconditional U.S. financial and diplomatic support for Israel fuels anti-American sentiment abroad. The negative perception of the United States is based on American policies and not a dislike of the West. Acknowledging Israel’s crimes and recognizing the rights of the Palestinian people would undoubtedly improve America’s international image, by proving that the U.S. government supports the consistent application of international law.As long as the U.S. runs an annual budget deficit, every dollar of aid the U.S. gives Israel has to be raised through U.S. government borrowing so the US has to also pay loan guarantees and annual compound interest on money borrowed to give to Israel. All aid to Israel is illegal under international (and US) law, because Israel is a consistent violator of human rights. Also Israel’s nuclear weapons, built as they are with components stolen from the U.S. and Israel’s refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty render that nation ineligible for American aid. No one in the US government will publicly admit to this truth because to do so would break the very laws we passed decades ago against proliferation, while simultaneously exposing the hypocrisy of the current Israeli foreign policy of the US.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Mark

      I’m disappointed that the Palestinians have allowed Abbas to remain in power for so long, and not re-run the elections that brought Hamas to power.

      I understand Abbas has not decided who is successor will be but for the life of me I cannot understand how a president gets to choose his successor like some sort of tinpot junta. The democratic credentials of the PA seem very shaky and I cannot understand how they get away with it.

      It’s relevant for the article because US cutting funding for the PA will have an impact on who succeeds, and I don’t see any candidates or parties offering the sort of solution IL and US want to see.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        “I don’t see any candidates or parties offering the sort of solution IL and US want to see.”

        The same old non-starter regarding Palestinian self-determination. “Disappointed,” are you?

        Free Marwan Barghouti! (And free Dareen Tatour, Ahed Tammimi and the thousands of other political prisoners.) Stop incarcerating or assassinating anybody who shows any leadership talent while pretending to whine about a mere security contractor kept deliberately emasculated. End the East German Stasi tactics. End the apartheid.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Ben

      Nikki Haley’s diplomacy of revenge and blackmail is as hypocritical and fake as the day is long. (She seems to me to be a totally soulless self-promoter with her sights set on beating out Ivanka for the first female Republican presidential nominee slot. Or something like that.) Already, of course, behind the scenes, Netanyahu is telling the Americans to cool it and not take away their funding of the occupation, while in public Netanyahu supports Haley’s bluster. Can you beat that for cynical conniving and dishonesty? These people deserve each other.

      Reply to Comment