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Michael Jansen: Adding to Palestinian woes
August 06, 2018
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The Trump administration’s regional policy is based on business-style deal-making that could undermine the stability of this region... The first involves cultivating and maintaining an atmosphere of treat and instability to promote the purchase of arms. This effort has been spearheaded by Donald Trump himself, the world’s most aggressive arms dealer, who has been joined by the leaders of Britain, France, Russia, Germany, China and minor exporters.

US arms exports rose by 25 per cent in 2017, the first year of the Trump administration. Total US exports amount to $1.5 trillion, of which $42 billion is in arms, a relatively modest sum. However, weapons manufacturers are important political players on the US domestic scene. Trump wants to keep them sweet to secure backing for his 2020 re-election bid.

US arms exports amount to one-third of the global arms trade, half are delivered to this region. Saudi Arabia consumes the second largest share of arms globally, India is first. Egypt is second in the region and the UAE third.

During his visit to Riyadh in May 2017, Trump claimed he had secured a “tremendous” deal for $110 billion in arms sales to the Saudis. The figure was exaggerated as purchases in the pipeline amounted to about $25 billion. Former CIA officer Bruce Riedel wrote that “there are a bunch of letters of interest or intent, but no contracts. Many are offers that the defence industry thinks the Saudis will be interested in someday.”

He called Trump’s claim a “wish list.”

The best way to convince Riyadh to fulfil the politically powerful US arms industry’s “wish list” is to stir up trouble which would prompt the Saudis and others to buy US weapons.

The second endeavour, which fits in with the ambition of keeping the regional pot boiling, is the Trump administration’s drive to marginalise Iran. Trump, personally, initiated the process by withdrawing the US from the Iran nuclear deal involving the lifting of sanctions in exchange for dismantling Iran’s nuclear programme. Trump has major economic leverage he can employ to force other countries and foreign banks and firms to comply with the complex collection of US economic sanctions.

Today, the US Treasury Department will begin restoring sanctions. The main targets are US dollar notes; gold, precious metals and aluminium and steel; industrial software; and the automotive sector. The US will halt the export of commercial airliners, parts and services and the import of Persian carpets and pistachios and other foodstuffs.

Trump gave foreign companies and foreign subsidiaries of US firms 90 days to end business with Tehran. So far, General Electric, Boeing, Pugeot, Siemens and Total have complied.

Trump seeks to halt Iran’s oil sales by November. When Trump announced he was pulling out of the nuclear deal, Iran’s exports had risen to 2.7 million barrels a day, the highest volume since the deal came into effect. Iran’s main customers, India, China and Turkey, have challenged Trump’s threats and pressures. There are indications that Washington could grant “waivers” allowing these countries to carry on importing Iranian oil. Europe is also resisting, to a lesser extent.

Trump’s attempt to sink the nuclear deal coincides with economic protests in Iran, prompting hawks in Washington to proclaim their aim is “regime change” although the Iranian regime remains stable and in control of security. The hawks have not absorbed the lesson of Iraq’s collapse after the 2003 “regime change” there.

Trump claims he is prepared to negotiate a “better deal” with Iran which would tighten controls over Iran’s nuclear programme, curtail Iranian “meddling” in this region, and force Iran to withdraw its forces from Syria. On the last point, Tehran will not and cannot pull out of Syria until the country is stabilised and is asked to do so by Damascus.

Trump hardliners are determined to maintain a US military presence in Syria and are boycotting Russian, Iranian and Turkish efforts to end the war in order to prolong it, risking spill-over into Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon.

The Trump administration’s third objective is to disappear the Palestinians. Their continuing existence as a distinct people demanding self-determination undermines the legitimacy of Israel. On August 3rd, Colum Lynch and Robbie Dramer reported in Foreign Policy that Trump’s son-in-law and regional adviser, Jared Kushner, has “quietly been trying to do away” with UNRWA, the UN agency that sustains Palestinian refugees. Early this year the Trump administration paid only $65 million of the $364 million the US normally paid to UNRWA with the tactical objective of forcing the agency’s ultimate closure.

The authors, who had access to internal administration e-mails, say Kushner’s strategic aim is to strip Palestinians of “their refugee status” in order to take the refugee issue off the negotiating table. Trump already tried to do this with the status of occupied East Jerusalem when he recognised the city as Israel’s capital and moved the US embassy there from Tel Aviv.

A Zionist with close personal and commercial connections to Israel, Kushner wrote in an e-mail, “It is important to have an honest and sincere effort to disrupt UNRWA.” He says the agency “perpetuates a status quo.” Previous US administrations have seen UNRWA as a regional stabilising force.

The Kushner plan is to reduce funding to UNRWA and limit those eligible for aid to the now elderly survivors of the 750,000 Palestinians driven from their homes during Israel’s 1948 war of establishment. Their descendants would be excluded and funds which have been provided to UNRWA would be redirected to development agencies that would initiate projects which would resettle Palestinians in host countries. The majority of the five million Palestinians on UNRWA’s rolls would not only lose benefits but would no longer recognised as refugees. This policy would run counter to the practice of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees which regards descendants of refugees as refugees for operational purposes.

The Kushner supposition is that once Palestinian refugees are naturalised by host countries, they will cease to be Palestinians. Once Palestinians are disappeared the political and moral challenge they pose to Israel disappears. In theory, Palestinians as a people and their rights will disappear. Palestine will be erased from the world map.

Kushner is operating on a theoretical basis only because Palestinians of all generations will not forget who they are, where they came from, and their right to self-determination. So far, the Kushner plan has not worked. It has been flatly rejected by the Palestine Liberation Organisation and Palestinian Authority as well as individual Palestinians.

After Trump/Kushners cut funding, UNRWA launched a high profile campaign to raise funds to compensate for the loss and secured, so far, $238 million in fresh funding. This does not yet cover the $300 million formerly donated by the US, but saves the day for UNRWA and the Palestinian people and promotes regional stability.

Trump’s regional policy is not only stupid but also malevolent and seriously destabilising. The sale of arms to Saudi Arabia could prompt Iran to boost arms purchases, precipitating a conventional arms race in the region. The reimposition of sanctions on Iran could lead Tehran to restart key functions in its nuclear programme, undermining the 2015 deal which Iran has, so far, honoured. This could cause other regional powers to opt for nuclear arms, and launch a nuclear arms race. Finally, disappearing the Palestinians is likely to outrage the people of this region and ensure that existing extremist groups will exploit this anger to win fresh recruits eager to attack Western countries which support Israel.

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

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