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Michael Jansen: A vicious, vindictive act
September 03, 2018
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Donald Trump’s decision to defund the UN agency that provides for Palestinian refugees is vicious and vindictive. The decision is vicious because UNRWA provides food, health care and education to 5.4 million Palestinian refugees, survivors and descendants of the 750,000 Palestinians driven from their homes and land by Israel in 1948. The decision is vindictive because Trump seeks to punish the most vulnerable Palestinians due to their leaders’ refusal to accept his diktats on Jerusalem and refugees.

Trump simply cannot tolerate being defied by anyone. He insists on instant acceptance of his unilateral actions and policies. If they are rejected, he retaliates.

So far this year he has halted almost $500 million in aid for Palestinians: $300 million for UNRWA and $190 million for USAID projects benefitting Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. The regular US contribution to the UNRWA budget had been $364 million, about one-third of the agency’s $1.2 billion budget.

Trump decided on this disastrous course at the insistence of his son-in-law Jared Kushner and against the advice of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a former CIA director.

Ex-diplomat Nicholas Burns dubbed the move “heartless and unwise” and a manifestation of “the most one-sided policy since 1948,” when then US President Harry Truman recognised Israel 11 minutes after its declaration at midnight on May 14th of that year.

Although his chief advisers were divided on recognition, Truman took this step after a visit by his former comrade in arms and business partner Eddie Jacobson who was a committed Zionist dispatched to plead with the president.

Kushner is Trump’s Eddie Jacobson. Kushner comes from an Orthodox Jewish family which has longstanding ties to Israel. Before becoming prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu would spend the night with the Kushners at their home in New Jersey. This connection has been reinforced by business with Israeli firms and individuals and by donations by the Kushner family foundation to illegal Israeli colonies in the occupied West Bank. Therefore, it is hardly surprising Jared Kushner is deeply committed to Israel and influenced by his old friend Netanyahu who used to sleep in his room when visiting his family.

By ending the US financial commitments to UNRWA, Kushner seeks to remove the Palestinian refugee issue from the agenda of peacemaking in this region. He calls for the cancellation of the “refugee status” of descendants of the 1948 and 1967 refugees. This would reduce the more than five million on UNRWA rolls to about half a million elderly survivors and deprive their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of UNRWA rations and services.

UNRWA cares for 800,000 refugees in the West Bank, 1.3 million in Gaza, two million in Jordan, 534,000 in Syria, and 464,000 in Lebanon. If other donors do not compensate for the cancelled US financial commitment, the denial of funds to UNRWA will have a devastating impact on Gaza, Palestinian enclaves in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and the host countries. More than half a million children will be out of school, 1.7 million refugees will be without food and cash aid, 40,000 differently-abled refugees will be without care. Some 30,000 teachers, doctors, nurses, social workers and others UNRWA employs would lose their jobs.

While the refugees rely on UNRWA for essentials, the struggling economies of the West Bank, Gaza, and the host countries will be seriously disrupted.

Jordan is an important case in point. UNRWA-registered Palestinian refugees account for one-fifth of the kingdom’s population. Some 370,000 refugees live in UNRWA’S 10 Jordanian camps. The refugees depend on the agency’s 171 schools with their enrolment of more than 121,000 students and primary health facilities which deal with 1.5 million patient visits annually.

If there is no UNRWA, the money transferred from abroad to fund agency services will cease, denying resources to the Jordanian economy. Jordan will be forced to provide upkeep for the camps and funds for agency schools, clinics and other programmes. Although Jordan has been given $1.5 billion in US aid this year, the sum has been used to service the kingdom’s soaring debt and finance its military and has not contributed to development benefitting the population. How can Jordan hope to meet the needs of Palestinian refugees without UNRWA?

Lebanon and Syria will suffer similarly. All three hosts will be politically and economically challenged by being forced to accept the refugees as permanent residents although they identify as Palestinians and seek to return home. US denial of refugee status to Palestinians — a violation of international law — will leave them stateless if host countries do not grant them citizenship. If they do so, the demographic balance in these countries will be altered. The other option is to put pressure on refugees to emigrate.

The Trump/Kushner line is certain to have negative unintended consequences for the US and its allies. Since last December when Trump declared Jerusalem Israel’s capital, the hand of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has been strengthened because he stood up to Trump’s bullying, condemned his move on Jerusalem and rejected the US as facilitator in negotiations with Israel. Abbas has also castigated Trump for cutting funding and dismissed the Kushner plan for resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, dubbed by Trump the “deal of the century.” This has forced the US to repeatedly postpone presenting this “deal,” humiliating both Trump and Kushner. Talk has been dropped of replacing Abbas with former Gaza strongman Muhammad Dahlan, who might have been expected by the US to accept the Kushner plan despite condemnation by the Palestinian people.

Unable to be less tough on the US than Abbas, Hamas will have to reject Kushner’s economic proposals for developing Gaza, linking it to Egypt’s North Sinai peninsula and putting it under indirect rule by Cairo.

Trump’s persecution of Palestinians is certain to fuel resentment against the US among youngsters across the Arab world and prompt some to join the ranks of Daesh and Al Qaeda which have suffered defeat on the ground in Syria and Iraq and seek new avenues to retaliate against their enemies.

Palestinians who have largely snubbed these groups so far could be among the recruits. Refugee host countries risk destabilisation while radicalised youths could strike targets in the US and Europe as “pay back.”

The man who mentored and inspired Al Qaeda’s founder Osama Bin Laden was Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian from a village in the Jenin area in the West Bank. The al-Qaeda operation to use commercial aircraft to strike the Twin Towers in New York and Pentagon in Washington was motivated by US policy toward Palestine. One of the attackers who led the assault was driven by his determination to punish the US for its pro-Israel stance. Following the devastating attack on September 11th, 2001, the US and other Western governments and mainstream international media refused to make the connection, insisting that the attackers’ motivation was “hatred” of the Western way of life. Palestine was not mentioned.

Azzam is also considered the “Father of the Global Jihad.” He urged Muslims to give priority to fight against Israel. Since the fall of Daesh’s territorial base and Al Qaeda’s containment in Syria and Iraq, these movements are redesigning their organisations and coming up with new strategies in preparation for fresh battles in this region, Africa, Asia, Europe and North America. Heating up the Palestine issue at this time is not only stupid but deadly dangerous.
___________________________________________

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East
affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict

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