Every US administration has had significant fallings-out with Palestinian leaders. This happens whenever Palestinians refuse to give Israel everything it demands as the price for a peace deal. Nevertheless, such disputes mostly remain within the constraints of civilized political debate — until now.
Donald Trump took personal offense that Mahmoud Abbas didn’t shower him with praise for the decision to hand Jerusalem to the Israelis. His UN envoy, Nikki Haley, was unleashed to make ominous threats against any government not voting with the US on this issue; threats which were largely ignored, apart from by the usual suspects and a smattering of Pacific Island states. Indeed, Paraguay’s embassy has been relocated back to Tel Aviv three months after opening in Jerusalem, with the nation’s leaders having realized how toxic the issue was for the peace process. Benjamin Netanyahu petulantly retaliated by shutting Israel’s embassy in Asuncion.
A piqued US administration has embarked on a succession of petty, mean-spirited measures against the Palestinians and any global bodies that don’t wholeheartedly endorse Netanyahu’s extreme right-wing agenda. UN programs for supporting Palestinians have been progressively defunded, until the White House simply halted payments for the Palestinians altogether.
Let’s call this what it is: Blackmail — starving the Palestinians into subservient capitulation. The US wants to humiliate Palestinian leaders by terrorizing them into grovelling public displays of gratitude and contrition toward those who are stripping them of their rights and their funding; begging for mercy for their past insubordination.
With the US abandoning its $350m UNRWA contributions — one-third of its budget — let’s remember why this organization matters. UNRWA has responsibility for about 5.4 million Palestinian refugees, primarily in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Gaza and the West Bank. It is currently putting half a million children through school, with around 9 million visits per year to its health centers. Does the US administration know or care what happens when it pulls the plug? Does the US seriously want to bear the consequences of hundreds of thousands of unemployable young people who have missed out on education altogether?
Far-right voices whispering in Trump’s ear know full well that, when desperate people are deprived of a future, they resort to desperate measures — falling prey to radical influences. Just as Bashar Assad cultivated extremist elements in Syria to subvert the popular uprising, pro-Israel hawks never miss an opportunity to radicalize and undermine the Palestinian cause.
This isn’t just about the money — although this isn’t the first time we’ve seen the Trump administration defunding good causes, forcing Europeans and Gulf states to pick up the tab. This president may have a large empty space in regions of the brain where normal people’s consciences can be found — but there are other nations that will step in and do the right thing. For example, Germany — already a leading donor — last week promised to substantially increase its $76m UNRWA contribution. The most revolting thing about the US administration’s decision is its petty, small-minded desire to collectively punish an entire nation because of its leadership’s courageous stance.
Trump delegated his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to draft a “deal of the century” for the Israelis and Palestinians. Yet, through illegal land seizures, the loss of Jerusalem, attempts to legalize the settlement movement, and demotion of non-Jews to second-class citizens, the US and Israel have emptied a deal of any possible meaningful content. Given that US officials have stressed that both sides must make further “painful” concessions as part of this deal, what more can they demand, other than Palestinians pack their suitcases and depart Palestine altogether?
The latest reported US-driven proposal for a Jordan-West Bank confederation is a new scam for killing off prospects of Palestinian statehood and severing connections between Gaza and the West Bank. This doesn’t mean a sovereign and viable Palestinian state, but rather grafting the few remaining cantons of Palestinian land on to Jordanian territory — lands which can be gradually squeezed out of existence as the illegal Zionist settlement movement inexorably expands.
In recent weeks, the Palestinian “right of return” has also come under fire. The right of Palestinian refugees to go home has always been a fundamental tenet of any just peace deal. However, Haley and Trump reportedly now insist the number of refugees is actually about 500,000, as they believe refugee status should not be inherited. Thus, 5 million Palestinians have ceased to exist, and these non-existent Palestinians don’t require funding for food or education — or a homeland.
In the Palestinians, Trump sees all his favorite targets in one convenient package: They are refugees, they are Muslims (he is clearly ignorant of the rich Christian Palestinian heritage), they are poor — and punishing them wins him points with the Israel lobby and his rabid, brainwashed grassroots supporters.
Israel may be the primary victim of suddenly halting Palestinian funding. It is a long time since the world witnessed a mass Palestinian intifada; this time it would be triggered by the collapse of the Palestinian Authority and the local economy, with millions losing access to food, medicine and education. Israel is in no way prepared for such a popular tsunami.
With the UN General Assembly meetings approaching, Palestine’s friends are already planning to force the issue to the top of the agenda. This is good, but we have heard enough meaningless statements of condemnation. It is time for action by European, Arab and other states to turn sympathetic aspirations into action, to renew impartial efforts toward Palestinian statehood and achievement of their rights.
However, the ultimate rejection of Trump’s Middle East policies will manifest itself through all Palestinians and millions of justice-loving allies around the world standing with dignity and demonstrating that attempts to starve, blackmail and humiliate them into submission will only make the Palestinian nation 100 times more determined.
(Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.)