Donald Trump recently threatened on – where else? – Twitter to slash funds to the Palestinian Authority for their alleged unwillingness to “negotiate a long overdue peace treaty with Israel.” Counterintuitively, Trump bragged about removing the final status of Jerusalem “off the table.” This statement was made in reference to his decision to recognize Israeli rule over the entirety of Jerusalem in defiance of international law and the Palestinians’ desire to make East Jerusalem their capital in a final peace agreement. Unilaterally deciding highly touchy issues in blatant bias toward one party was apparently supposed to endear the slighted Palestinians to Trump’s invitation to be the peace broker. Talk about the “art of the deal”!
The simple fact is that the Palestinians do not trust Trump or his team of pro-Israel partisans, and Trump’s ostensibly extraordinary skills as a negotiator do not seem to go beyond taunt threats over 140 characters.
The New York Times revealed the contours of the peace deal presented to the Palestinians:
The Palestinians would get a state of their own but only noncontiguous parts of the West Bank and only limited sovereignty over their own territory. The vast majority of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which most of the world considers illegal, would remain. The Palestinians would not be given East Jerusalem as their capital and there would be no right of return for Palestinian refugees and their descendants.
Welcome to the Palestinian Archipelago! All borders controlled by Israel!
This was always Israel’s ambition – and it will be recognizable to anyone familiar with Apartheid South Africa’s failed Bantustan zones for blacks – but no American president was ready to embrace a slave master’s peace. Now, Trump is trying to force the Palestinians to sign away their hope for self-determination and consign themselves to interminable occupation with make-believe statehood.
No one should be confused about what this deal is: An attempt to pass off Apartheid as a “peace deal.” Here’s a thought experiment: Is California an independent nation? Why not? After all, it has limited autonomy in state and local governments.
Under the Israel-Trump “peace deal,” the Palestinians would have a local government but will not be able to send representatives to the federal government or have rights under federal law. Israel troops would be able to restrict the Palestinians’ right to travel between areas of their so-called state since the surrounding territory would be controlled by Israel. Our country was born in the motto “no taxation without representation,” so it should not be hard to understand why Palestinians would reject a deal that would maintain arbitrary authority over them, a carceral state by any other name.
Hence the need for bullying: Cutting aid to the Palestinian Authority would only further destabilize an unstable region. The PA’s existence is not charity to the Palestinians but has preserved the conditions for a future peace deal under more propitious circumstances. Trump may be bluffing, however. Without the PA, Israel would have to take full responsibility – in treasury and manpower – for its occupation instead of enjoying the privileges with minimal burden. Israel also needs the PA to prop up the fiction that limited autonomy for the Palestinians is an acceptable substitute for statehood. Trump is surely ignorant about how this all works, but, in the past, Israel’s prime minister personally lobbied Republicans to maintain aid to the authority. Sadly, Israel has conceived of the PA, not as an interim proto-statehood force (what the Palestinians thought they were getting), but a permanent proxy fixture of occupation.
What’s more alarming about Trump’s bluster is his threat to cut off funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). But why should this matter to Americans?
Palestinian refugees are mainly destitute, refugee camps are overcrowded, food insecurity remains a problem, and nearly everyone is dependent on UNRWA for livelihood and basic necessities. America’s annual contribution to UNRWA is $380 million or a tenth of the $3.8 billion in military aid to Israel, a military superpower with a prosperous economy. Cutting aid to UNRWA would not only cause harm to innocent civilians, but it would further tarnish America’s reputation amongst Palestinians and the broader Arab and Muslim world. If America is ever going to be the fabled honest broker, it must maintain an honorable record. Holding hostage vulnerable refugees to extract ignoble concessions from the weaker party is not the behavior any American should be proud of. We have made promises to provide safety to refugees. It serves the United States interests to honor our promises because it demonstrates American fidelity. No nation can be seen as a trustworthy partner if it breaks its promises.
Refugees are dependent on basic food from UNRWA and nothing can be gained by robbing them of sustenance. The anguish of the refugees may spill over and ignite the whole region in fury. Any hope for peace must work on building up institutions and comity, not tearing down one of the region’s humanitarian pillars. A cut in aid to refugees would push everyone back into greater poverty, resentment, and division. Trump may not know it, but UNRWA helps more than the Palestinians.