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Trump is in for a rude awakening in Middle East

The Trump administration's extreme approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is making a difficult situat...

Posted: Sep 17, 2018 7:11 AM
Updated: Sep 17, 2018 7:11 AM

The Trump administration's extreme approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is making a difficult situation far worse.

Since at least the early 1990s, there has been broad agreement among Israelis, Palestinians and the entire international community that the only way to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is through a negotiated two-state agreement.

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The parties may have been sharply divided on many of the issues that need to be settled in such negotiations -- but at least they agreed on that.

Now, President Donald Trump is taking a wrecking ball to the very concept of negotiations. He seems to be advancing a delusional narrative that a peace agreement can be imposed on the Palestinians -- mimicking the way that Israel's right-wing settlement movement has acted for years to impose its own policies on the Palestinians and entrench its occupation and control over the West Bank.

One of the first major signs of this drastic change in the US approach was when Trump broke decades of bipartisan US policy by moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, declaring at the time and on several occasions since that he had taken the issue of Jerusalem "off the table."

There are new reports that the administration is about to seek to redefine who it regards as a Palestinian refugee so that he can take that issue off the table as well. They are expected to drastically reduce the amount of Palestinian refugees the United States will recognize.

It would accomplish this by declaring that it no longer accepts the definition of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the UN body responsible for dealing with Palestinian refugees, which states that refugee status is passed from one generation to the next.

The United States already took a major step in this direction by announcing earlier this month that it would cancel all funding to UNRWA -- which normally totals over $100 million annually. That drastic move follows the announcement in August that the administration would cut virtually the entirety of direct bilateral aid to the Palestinian people, most of which supports vital humanitarian and economic projects in the West Bank and Gaza.

And in a move to further silence and marginalize Palestinian voices, the Trump administration announced this week that it would close the main mission of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in the United States, effectively removing any Palestinian diplomatic presence from Washington.

All this appears to be the prelude to the long-awaited unveiling of the so-called "peace plan" being worked on by Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner. But by declaring that two of the core issues to be negotiated by the parties -- Jerusalem and refugees -- are no longer on the table, Trump has essentially removed the table itself. There is virtually nothing left for the Palestinians to negotiate. This is no peace plan at all -- it's a peace sham.

This approach fits perfectly into two other dominant themes of the Trump presidency. First, a callous disregard of the needs of refugees, and open cruelty toward them -- women and children included.

Cutting UNRWA funds and bilateral aid is not an abstraction. It means depriving desperate people in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza of food, employment, education and health care. But what would one expect from an administration that had no qualms about ripping toddlers and infants from the arms of their parents, who crossed the US border with Mexico seeking asylum?

Secondly, it fits into Trump's general approach to international relations. He apparently sees little value in meaningful diplomacy and negotiation. Instead, his method is invariably to try to bully other parties, whether friends or adversaries, into doing what he wants. We've seen it in trade issues with China and the European community; we've seen it in relations with our NATO allies. We've seen with the Iran nuclear deal, which Trump irresponsibly ripped up. And now we're seeing it with the Palestinians.

On many of these issues, Trump is due for a rude awakening. No matter how powerful the United States is, it cannot so easily enforce its will on other nations and peoples. Palestinian nationhood has been forged through conflict and suffering over many decades and there is no way they will simply surrender their legitimate rights.

Trump's policy is actually much more likely to hurt Israel by taking the two-state solution off the table, leaving Palestinians and the international community no alternative but to demand equal democratic rights for all people living under one state. That would mean the end of a Jewish majority in Israel and the end of Israel itself as a Jewish homeland.

Trump and his supporters should beware the law of unintended consequences. The rest of us should fiercely oppose this cruel and destructive policy.

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