Is the world ready for the consequences of starving Palestinians of hope?
Recent weeks have seen a vicious and vindictive onslaught against the Palestinians: US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the blocking of essential funds, threats against Palestinian leaders, accelerated settlement expansion, and new measures to annex stolen land. This constitutes a systematic effort to eradicate the memory that historic Palestine ever existed.
The US administration slashed $100 million in aid to Palestinian refugees, and is threatening to cut hundreds of millions of dollars more in essential aid. Why? Apparently because the Palestinians did not rejoice at the decision to “take Jerusalem off the table” and because President Mahmoud Abbas “disrespected” US Vice President Mike Pence by refusing to meet him. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu salivated as he listened to the US president deliver these grotesque comments at Davos.
Having taken Jerusalem “off the table,” calls to restart talks are a sick joke, equivalent to killing a hostage then inviting the deceased’s family to negotiate for her safe return. Jerusalem is the beating heart and soul of Palestine, and a holy city to billions of Muslims and Christians. The US administration has not simplified negotiations by neutralizing a problematic issue — it has made negotiations impossible and meaningless.
Abbas described the Jerusalem decision as the “slap of the century.” US Ambassador Nikki Haley responded with a bizarre attack against Abbas, accusing him of “outrageous and discredited conspiracy theories.” Yet it is America’s leaders, not the Palestinians, who are defying more than 20 UN resolutions concerning Jerusalem’s status, unilaterally and illegally subverting principles enshrined in international law.
Abbas spent his entire career bending over backward to reconcile US demands with Palestinian aspirations. By throwing him under a bus, Haley will discover that the most moderate Palestinians are 100 times less willing to compromise on their rights than Abbas.
America’s leaders brag about funding as if they deserve undying Palestinian gratitude. But these funds are necessary because the Palestinians are a nation under occupation. Payments to refugee programs, and for institutions with which to build the facade of statehood, are a means to perpetuate and expand the occupation, removing all financial and moral burdens from the occupying power.
America was left isolated by the recent UN vote on Jerusalem, despite threats against states that did not meekly do what they were told. Europe’s refusal to change its stance on Jerusalem is commendable, and perhaps a first step toward reversing the vandalism of the peace process.
While the US president's pro-Israel stance reeks of cynical opportunism, Pence is a true believer. Hailing from the American evangelical movement, Jerusalem plays a pivotal role in Pence’s biblical worldview.
When Israeli-Arab MPs silently expressed their opposition by respectfully holding up placards in the Knesset, they were ejected from the chamber like naughty children. With the US petulantly penalizing the Palestinians, even their representatives are denied a voice.
During the Jordanian leg of Pence’s trip, King Abdullah told the media that the two of them had “agreed to disagree” on Jerusalem. Pence could smilingly brush off this comment, having witnessed the world’s ineffectual reaction over Jerusalem, leading him to conclude that peace efforts could be abandoned with zero negative cost.
In the age of Pence and Netanyahu, is there hope for the peace process? As Palestinian MP Hanan Ashrawi eloquently argued, the US decision on Jerusalem, and Israel’s package of measures to annex Arab land, are undermining the basic tenets of the peace process, leaving nothing left to discuss — “peace has never been further away.”
The proud and steadfast Palestinian people will never give up a millimeter of their land, or compromise on their fundamental right to a viable and sovereign state, for the sake of a free lunch.
When your interlocutors are implacably opposed to compromise, negotiations can only succeed if you are willing to unilaterally concede everything, yet the Palestinians have nothing left to give away.
With the US administration taking a sledgehammer to the foundations upon which any Palestinian state could be built, rather than tearfully begging the US to continue funding a perverse system, the correct Palestinian response is: Bring it on, do your worst, and see what the consequences are for Israel when Netanyahu is forced to bear the cost of feeding and maintaining 5 million Palestinians.
Netanyahu would be happy to let Palestinians starve, yet almost more dangerous is starving people of hope. When all peaceful paths toward a Palestinian state are blocked, the inevitable result will be an explosion of anger. Millions of Palestinians and their allies can be expected to come out and demonstrate in the defiant but non-violent manner exemplified by inspirational figures such as Ahed Tamimi.
But America’s leaders must understand that this starvation of hope will also trigger desperate responses by radicalized young people whose futures and prospects have been stolen from them. Do Washington and Tel Aviv seriously want to drag us all back into this nihilistic cycle of violence?
The Palestinians have repeatedly watched their remaining territory divided, sub-divided and cantonized. It is a simple rule of physics that when an object is squeezed and pressurized enough, it will explode.
Previous US administrations never gave a dollar away overseas out of starry-eyed benevolence. Preventing the implosion of America’s allies and trading partners was simply naked self-interest. The world should call America’s bluff when its leadership talks about cancelling overseas aid. The US public will quickly see the consequences of such short-sighted and self-defeating policy.
Meanwhile, let US administration learn the hard way that the proud and steadfast Palestinian people will never give up a millimeter of their land, or compromise on their fundamental right to a viable and sovereign state, for the sake of a free lunch.
• 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.
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