Trump’s Threats against the Palestinians Should Worry Israel

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by Haggai Mattar

The Trump Administration on Tuesday threatened to withhold millions of dollars in aid that it sends to the Palestinians each year, accusing them of not wanting to negotiate a peace deal with Israel.

Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, said the U.S. would stop funding the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) — the UN agency responsible for providing aid to Palestinian refugees — if the Palestinian leadership refuses to return to American-led peace talks. Washington is the agency’s biggest donor; it sends around $300 million a year to the agency, roughly a third of which is designated for aid to residents of refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza.

It possible that the U.S. president’s threat included Washington’s aid to the Palestinian Authority, which amounts to another $300 million dollars or so a year. The Trump administration has presented these threats as a response to the Palestinian leadership’s decision to reject continued American stewardship of the peace process. That decision was itself a response to Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his commitment to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

While Trump’s threats may be intended to punish the Palestinians for their lack of “appreciation or respect” for U.S. leadership in the region (as the president tweeted), his threats should also worry Israel.

Until the signing of the Oslo Accords, Israel was responsible for managing the day-to-day lives of Palestinians in the occupied territories. Infrastructure, welfare, education, health, and other services were all Israel’s responsibility as the occupying power. Oslo transferred much of that responsibility to the newly created Palestinian Authority, and the two sides passed on the bill to the international community—mainly the U.S., European Union, and Arab states. The idea was that foreign aid would act as a crutch to enable Palestinian development while the occupation came to an end and an independent Palestinian state rose in its place. In parallel, UNRWA would continue to provide aid to 810,000 people in the West Bank alone, operating 19 refugee camps, 96 schools, 43 medical centers, and more.

The peace process died and was buried, and yet the Oslo Accords—designed as an interim agreement meant to end in 1999—continue to serve as the loose framework for relations between Israel and the Palestinians. The U.S., the E.U., and the Arab states have continued to fund the PA and UNRWA, while allowing Israel to maintain the occupation under “luxury” conditions: full control of the territory, full control over the lives of the people, but without any responsibility for them and without being burdened with any serious cost. The justification for that arrangement’s continued existence was the illusion of a peace process. For the past 25 years, half the duration of the occupation, peace was supposed to come at any moment.

But now Trump has changed the equation: if the Palestinians refuse to accept Washington’s leadership of the peace process and its conditions, then there shall be no peace process, and therefore no funding to the PA and UNRWA. The problem is that if there is no peace process, and therefore no funding, then the PA and UNRWA will have to cut their services—close schools, and fire employees—and they alone will not pay the price. Angry protests in response would likely be aimed at Israel, or could undermine the PA’s strength and legitimacy.

Cuts to the PA budget and protests in the street would also likely affect the PA’s security forces, which essentially serve as Israel’s security contractor on the ground, and whom the Israeli defense establishment relies on to keep the peace and help prevent terrorist attacks. In short, one way or another, cutting off the PA’s main sources of funding will erode the framework that has until now sustained Israel’s occupation deluxe.

Trump threatens to shatter not only the underlying assumptions of the framework that subsidizes the Israel occupation (through Palestinian institutions and the UN), but also the illusion of a peace process and the two-state solution (which Netanyahu’s Likud party rejected, again, this week). The Netanyahu government may see these changes as a victory, but in the long-term it is difficult to know where the collapse of the status quo will lead. Israel’s leadership should wait before popping open the champagne.

Haggai Matar is an Israeli journalist and political activist. He is the executive director of “972 – Advancement of Citizen Journalism,” the nonprofit that publishes +972 Magazine. He previously served as co-founding editor of Local Call, the Hebrew-language news site co-published with Just vision. Read his Hebrew blog on Local Call. Republished, with permission, from +972 Magazine. Photo: Nikki Haley and Benjamin Netanyahu.

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  1. There is no “peace process”. It is a political fiction intended to reinforce the status quo. Most of what happens in Palestine- Israel is smoke and mirrors and this is no exception.

    Qatar is the pay master of the Palestinians. Unless they are on board with cutting off funding then it is chump change for them to make up for the shortfall from the Americans.

  2. Interesting analysis. It sounds like Israel-Palestine support is like the NATO military support situation. President Trump: ‘The U.S. is getting a bad deal and those benefiting from U.S. financing of Palestinians (the Israelis) must pay their share!’ Considering that Israel gets over $3 billion a year from the U.S., meeting a shortfall of $300-600 million in Palestinian support, with some help from Qatar, shouldn’t be too hard. And it is worth it to Netanyahu, since he is getting U.S. support to dump the two state idea.

  3. Thanks for the post , reasonable post , reasonable prediction , yet , not so accurate :

    One must distinguish between three zones in the west bank ( Oslo accord ) : Zone A ( totally under Palestinian control , in civil and military or security terms ) Zone B ( mixed control , civil on the Palestinian authority , and security on the Israeli state ) and finally : Zone C ( both civil and security under the control and responsibility of Israel ) .

    Now , if indeed , the financial aid is cut of , than , only Zone B , shall cost the Israeli state . This is because , anyway , C is currently under the Israeli responsibility , A is whatsoever ( almost ) under Palestinian full responsibility , this is because , there is no , and can’t be , Israeli marshal law there . The Palestinian authority , has its own : Legislation , executive branch , military or security control and forces . So , in sum , only Zone B shall cost to Israel , because the main Palestinian population , not concentrated there ( but rather in A ) .

    However , as stated in that post , a real potential game changer , may occur , if the Palestinian security forces , shall cease from functioning as ” sub contractor ” of the IDF ( Israeli army ) , and more than that , shall turn against the Israeli state itself and settlers in the west bank . This can be , a hell of game changer ( in Security terms ) .

    Thanks

  4. El Roam,
    If Trump withholds aid to the Palestinian Authority then the correct (IMHO the only) response from Abbas should be to dissolve the PA completely. Trump must understand the concept of insolvency, and can hardly complain if Abbas announces that because of that insolvency then the PA is now declaring bankrupcy.

    Once the PA is dissolved then there still remains two parties: the IDF as the occupying power, and the PLO as the Palestinian’s main national liberation organization.

    (there is also Hamas, of course, but nobody that matters cares about them).

    As far as I know Washington does not fund the PLO, and as far as I understand it nobody has ever repudiated the Israeli govt’s recognition of the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinian people in final status negotiations.

    Not Israel.
    Not the USA
    Not the EU
    Not the UN
    Not even Hamas

    If Abbas dissolves the PA then the situation reverts to the status quo ante of pre-Oslo i.e. the PLO is a political organization, nothing more, no less, and the IDF is the occupying power with a legal responsibility for the protected persons that are under its authority.

    The Israelis will attempt to deny that, I would imagine. Most likely they will annex the settlements and declare that they have “disengaged” from the rest of the West Bank – a kind of mega-Gaza.

    Washington will back them on this, but that will simply be a case of Trump and Bibi playing a childish game of “let’s-pretend”.

    The rest of the world will not be fooled because the laws of belligerent occupation are clear on this matter: if you have seized a territory then you are responsible for the people who live on that territory, and that responsibility remains for as long as you retain your “effective control” over that territory.

    Tough for the Palestinians. Very tough indeed. But that’s their only realistic option other than simply crawling away and leaving everything to the Zionists.

  5. I believe if you take away the accounting tricks, Israel gets more than 4 billion a year and you can bet they don’t spend a dime on a Palestinian except to incarcerate or kill them. They might spend a little of our money on them because they have to, but it is a tiny fraction.

    Get a hold of your seats because the Iranian/American War is on the way. Israel hasn’t given us a launch date yet, but a rule of thumb is you don’t want to be in the field operating in the summer in that part of the world so it could be any day now, or sometime after the middle of September. It is coming unless Iran gets a new leader.

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