The dangerous consequences of a standalone Gaza deal

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The dangerous consequences of a standalone Gaza deal

While US President Donald Trump’s foreign policy has, thus far, been erratic and unpredictable, his administration’s “vision” in Israel and Palestine is systematic and unswerving. This consistency seems to be part of a larger vision aimed at liberating the “conflict” from the confines of international law and even the old US-sponsored “peace process.”

Indeed, the new strategy has, so far, targeted the status of East Jerusalem as an occupied Palestinian city and the right of return for Palestinian refugees. It aims to create a new reality in which Israel achieves its strategic goals while the rights of Palestinians are limited to mere humanitarian issues.

Unsurprisingly, Israel and the US are using the division between the Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, to their advantage. Fatah dominates the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah while Hamas controls besieged Gaza.

A carrot and stick scenario is being applied in earnest. While, for years, Fatah received numerous financial and political perks from Washington, Hamas subsisted in isolation under a permanent siege and protracted state of war. It seems that the Trump administration — under the auspices of Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner — is turning the tables.

The reason that the PA is no longer the “moderate” Palestinian leadership it used to be in Washington’s ever self-serving agenda is that Mahmoud Abbas has decided to boycott the US in response to the latter’s recognition of all of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. True, Abbas’ subservience has been successfully tested in the past but, under the new administration, the US demands complete “respect, thus total obedience.

Hamas, which is locked in Gaza between sealed borders in every direction, has been engaging Israel indirectly through Egyptian and Qatari mediation. That engagement has, so far, resulted in a short-term truce, while a long-term deal is still being discussed.

The latest development on that front was the visit by Kushner, accompanied by the White House’s Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, to Qatar on Aug. 22. There, Gaza was the main topic on the agenda.

So why is Gaza, which has been isolated (even by the PA itself), suddenly the new gate through which top US, Israeli and regional officials are aiming to reactivate Middle East diplomacy?

On Aug. 31, Foreign Policy magazine reported that the US administration is in the process of denying the UN Palestinian refugee agency, UNRWA — which has already suffered massive US cuts since January — of all funds. Now the organization’s future is in serious peril. This worrying news came only one week after another announcement, in which the US decided to cut nearly all aid allocated to Palestinians this year, $200 million, which mostly would have been spent on development projects in the West Bank and providing humanitarian aid to Gaza.

So why would the US manufacture a major humanitarian crisis in Gaza — which also suits the right-wing Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu — while simultaneously engaging in discussions regarding the urgent need to end Gaza’s humanitarian woes? The answer lies in the need for the US to manipulate aid to Palestinians in order to exact political concessions for Israel’s sake.

Since the US decided to defy international law and announce it would move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem last December, it has been in search of a new strategy that would circumvent the PA in Ramallah. PA President Abbas, whose political apparatus is largely reliant on “security coordination” with Israel, US political validation and financial handouts, has little with which to bargain.

Hamas has relatively greater political capital, as it has operated with less dependency on the Israeli-US-Western camp. But years of relentless siege, interrupted by massive, deadly Israeli wars, have propelled Gaza into a permanent humanitarian crisis.

While a temporary truce between Israel and Hamas-led Palestinian groups in Gaza went into effect on Aug. 15, a long-term truce is still being negotiated. According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, citing Israeli officials, the truce would include a comprehensive ceasefire, the opening of all border crossings, expansion of the permitted fishing area off the Gaza coast, and the overhauling of Gaza’s destroyed economic infrastructure, among other stipulations.

Concurrently, Palestinian officials in Ramallah are fuming. “Chief negotiator” Saeb Erekat accused Hamas of trying to “destroy the Palestinian national project” by negotiating a separate agreement with Israel. The irony is that the Fatah-dominated Palestine Liberation Organization and PA have done just that for more than 25 years.

However, delinking the future of Gaza from the future of all Palestinians could, indeed, have dangerous consequences.

Regardless of whether a permanent truce is achieved between Israel and the Hamas-led Gaza factions, the sad truth is that whatever grand illusion is currently being harbored by Washington and Tel Aviv is almost entirely based on exploiting Palestinian divisions, for which the Palestinian leadership is to be wholly blamed.

  • Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His latest book is “The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story” (Pluto Press, London, 2018). He earned a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter. Twitter: @RamzyBaroud
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