US appears ready to begin dismantling the Palestinian cause
It is not difficult to understand the US administration’s decision last week to block $200 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) when one looks at the move as yet another piece in a master plan that is becoming clearer every day. It is meant to put pressure on President Mahmoud Abbas and his financially strapped PA and can only be seen as an attempt at cheap political blackmail, as prominent Palestinian figure Dr. Hanan Ashrawi described it. And, despite opposition to the move by top USAID and security officials, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and chief adviser on the Middle East Jared Kushner has pushed to suffocate the PA financially, hoping that Abbas will eventually cave in and restore contacts with the White House.
The money was meant to finance development projects in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It comes in the wake of a series of US moves aimed at defunding the UN Relief and Works Agency following last year’s unilateral decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and May’s opening of the US Embassy there. In the ominous words of Trump, the US move had taken Jerusalem — central to resolving the Palestine question — off the negotiating table.
Now there are reports that the next step would be to redefine the right of return for Palestinians in a bid to eliminate it entirely. The US is apparently planning to slash the number of recognized Palestinian refugees from about 5 million to less than half a million. Under UN resolutions, the right of return for Palestinian refugees is an inalienable right, but the US believes it can tinker with this final status issue by denying second and third generation Palestinians their rights as refugees. It claims that refugee status cannot be inherited. Such an illegal move does not only concern the Palestinians, but also host countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
Such US actions are not random but are essential ingredients of Trump’s much-touted “ultimate deal” for the Middle East. They coincide with Israel’s controversial adoption of the nation-state law last month, which denies the right of self-determination to non-Jewish citizens of Israel. And, while Trump’s aides claim to be adding the final touches to their master plan, Israel’s right-wing government is pushing through with plans to build thousands of additional units in illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Meanwhile, Israel and Hamas are engaged in protracted indirect negotiations to reach a long-term truce that would deliver major economic benefits to the beleaguered Gaza Strip. These talks have enraged the PA and forced Abbas to impose additional financial penalties on thousands of PA employees in Gaza, hoping to twist Hamas’ arm into embracing a reconciliation deal.
The US appears adamant on pushing through with an Israeli right-wing playbook that aims at dismantling the Palestine cause in a bid to bury it completely.
Osama Al Sharif
Separating Gaza from the West Bank is another piece in Kushner’s master plan. Empowering Hamas — Qatar is playing an instrumental role as an intermediary between the Islamist movement and Israel — will further weaken and isolate the PA. Promises of an economic windfall and recognition of Hamas’ de facto rule in Gaza will feature as a major component of Trump’s ultimate deal. The White House hosted a meeting in March to discuss ways to alleviate the humanitarian situation in Gaza, but the PA did not attend.
While the contents of the master plan remain hidden in the vaults of the White House, it is not difficult to see that the groundwork for its implementation has already begun. Despite Arab insistence on the two-state solution and the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 — a position that was underlined again as recently as April in the Arab Summit in Saudi Arabia — the US administration appears adamant on pushing through with an Israeli right-wing playbook that aims at dismantling the Palestinian cause in a bid to bury it completely.
Aside from Hamas’ culpability in facilitating the Trump plan, Abbas too has some responsibility. He has been inconsistent and vague on inter-Palestinian reconciliation efforts, thus distancing his rivals and isolating his allies within the Palestinian national movement. While he has consolidated his power in recent months, he has failed to revive the Palestine Liberation Organization as the only platform that could bring the Palestinians together to confront Israeli and American actions.
On the other hand, the White House and Israel’s right-wing government are misguided if they believe that political blackmail and economic punishment will force Abbas to accept a humiliating deal. The ailing Palestinian leader has nothing to lose by resisting. Kushner is opening Pandora’s Box and there are no guarantees that his end-game will succeed.
No Arab or Palestinian leadership, not to mention the international community, can ever accept a deal that rewards the aggressor and denies a nation under occupation its right to self-determination. A precedent like that would bring the international order to the ground.
• Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.