The Trump administration has restored the United States to the position of honest broker – emphasis on “honest” – and taken a hatchet to a series of fantasies underlying the notion of an Israeli-Palestinian “peace process.” Twenty-five years after the Oslo Accords ushered in radical, despotic, kleptocratic Palestinian self-government, the Accords are dead. And that’s good.
The new construct is as follows:
- The U.S. is not neutral between Israel, America’s democratic friend and ally, and the Palestinians, who are neither.
- Everybody has a “narrative,” a national story. Not everyone’s narrative is factual. The U.S. will insist that there are facts, and that history – both ancient and modern – is real and knowable. The American government’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel is simply the acceptance of the truth of history. The city was the capital of the Jewish people and never, ever the seat of government for any other. In this assertion, the president was joined by many members of the U.S. House and Senate, irrespective of party – although some had more trouble saying so than others.
- The U.S. will not pay for fraud, mismanagement, or support of terrorism by the Palestinians or the United Nations. Repeat the comment about congressional support.
- Neither will we fund two Palestinian governments simply because it is easier than figuring out what to do with Hamas and Fatah, who are fighting a civil war and agree on little besides the need for Israel’s ultimate demise. Repeat the comment about congressional support.
In the new game, the Palestinians have something to lose – the sine qua non of successful negotiations.
The Washington rumor mill believes that President Trump’s next move will be to change the definition of Palestinians as “refugees” in the American lexicon. Palestinians will cease to be the only population in the world in which refugee status is handed down generationally through one’s father, which ensures permanent geometric growth in the refugee population. Palestinians will become like every other group. If you lose your home and can’t go back – think Rohingya or Montagnard – you are a refugee. Settled in a country that will have you, you are no longer a refugee, nor will any of your future generations be. Think Vietnamese.
In tandem, then, comes the proposition that the descendants of refugees have no “right” to go and settle in places their parents, grandparents, or great grandparents claim to have lived. This, again, will make the Palestinians just like every other refugee population. Time moves forward only. Israel is here, Israel will remain, and Israel can determine who lives within its borders.
On the other hand, and there is always another hand, much of the discussion is driven by money. Although money is fungible, it isn’t always easily so, and contrary to the professional refugee-managers, the goal is not to punish Palestinians whose only crime is the misfortune of living under Hamas or the P.A.
The American Taylor Force Act – passed and signed – will have the United States withhold money from the P.A. in the amount of the stipends the P.A. pays to terrorists and their families. The Palestinian Authority paid out approximately $350 million in 2017. The knowledge that their families will be taken care of financially has, in fact, led to a number Palestinians choosing what we, in the U.S., call “suicide by cop.” Palestinians who feel hopeless and for one or another reason figure that they can best provide for their families by killing Jews are encouraged by their own government. That’s an easy one. If P.A. strongman Mahmoud Abbas doesn’t spend the money on terror stipends, he can replace the American shortage and spend the money on other things.
The Trump administration has also announced that it will stop the flow of U.S. taxpayer funds to the U.N. Human Rights Council – a bastion of anti-Israel sentiment. “We’ll calculate 22 percent of the Human Rights Council and the High Commissioner’s budget, and our remittances to the UN for this budget year will be less 22 percent of those costs – and we’ll say specifically that’s what we’re doing,” NSC adviser John Bolton said. “We expect that impact to occur on the Human Rights Council.” Again, not much of a problem. One might hope the UNHRC will produce 22 percent less hot air, but that is not certain.
Then comes a more difficult issue. The administration has cut $300 million from UNRWA, leading to the expected wails about starving babies. UNRWA has, for almost seven decades, been the prison guard of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, and Syria, as well as running shanty towns for Palestinians in Jordan, where many hold both citizenship and refugee status. It has also hired Hamas and Hezb’allah operatives and shielded their weapons in UNRWA schools.
Babies won’t starve unless the Palestinians want them to for a photo op. (Don’t be huffy – it was Gaza leader Yaya Sinwar who praised “the sacrifice of” Palestinian children “as an offering for Jerusalem and the right of return.”) On the other hand, it behooves the United States to work closely with Israel – the Israelis being most acutely sensitive to the connection between money and terror – to manage the change in available funds for the short term. Otherwise, it is possible that Hamas and the P.A. can gin up even more unhappy souls to engage in terrorism.
If “peace” is a bridge too far, a long-term stabilization process is not out of reach based on President Trump’s new foundations for American policy. At a minimum, the United States can be sure that the policies that it pursues are consonant with American interests and American allies. President Trump has done well.