Trump has dropped any pretence of the US as an ‘honest broker’ in the Middle-East

The Dome of the Rock and the old city are seen from the Mount of Olives through barbed wire in Jerusalem on January 13, 2018. NurPhoto/SIPA USA/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.The Trump Administration in the United
States has rocked the Middle-East with two devastating policy announcements in
recent months that have created fear and instability for the five million
Palestinians living in the region. 

In December, President Trump announced a
plan to move the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,
thereby reversing a longstanding US commitment to have the status of the
contested Holy City agreed as part of a negotiated Middle-East settlement.  

By recognising
Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Trump seemingly dashed Palestinian
aspirations for recognition of East Jerusalem as the capital of a future
Palestinian state. 

Trump regarded this move as "a long
overdue step to advance the peace process", but this view was overwhelmingly
rejected by the United Nations General Assembly when it voted 128-9
in favour of a resolution condemning Washington’s policy shift.  

The size of the majority opposing the US
was all the more commendable for the bullying that preceded the vote which
included a threat from US diplomat Nikki Haley that she would be ‘taking
names’ of countries that supported the motion with a view to cutting their
aid from the US. 

UNRWA
budget cuts

More evidence of Trump’s political
chauvinism in the Middle-East came in January with his administration’s
announcement that it was to withhold $65m
(£45.8) of a $125m aid package to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency
(UNRWA), the UN Mission created in 1948 to provide for the welfare of Palestinian
refugees. 

In one of his legendary bad-tempered tweets,
President Trump said "we pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a
year and get no appreciation or respect."   

Indeed, in 2017 the US contributed $355m
to UNRWA, around half of its operating budget but contrast this with US aid to
Israel which was $3.1 billion
in 2017 – more than any other nation – in the context of an overall 28 per cent
($50 billion) cut
to the US aid budget last year.  

Trump’s slashing of aid to UNRWA is highly dangerous

Trump’s slashing of aid to UNRWA is
highly dangerous given the parlous humanitarian conditions in which
Palestinians are living, particularly in the Gaza Strip, with the International
Committee of the Red Cross warning that
‘without immediate intervention, a public health and environment crisis is
looming’.  

Chris Gunness, a spokesman for UNWRA, has
asked "Is it in American and Israel security interests
to have the collapse of a functioning service provider in Jerusalem?" 

UNRWA services
in Gaza go beyond food aid to
include the provision of 267 schools, 21 primary healthcare facilities, 48
women’s programme centres and 33 community rehabilitation centres. There are also just under 100,000 recipients
of ‘social safety net’ services directed at families living in ‘abject poverty’
who are ‘unable to meet their most basic food needs’. 

In the West Bank,
UNRWA is supporting more than 800,000 refugees by operating 98 schools, 43
healthcare facilities and 19 women’s centres.  

If these
frontline services are removed, it will not only create unbearable levels of
distress to Palestinians, but create social upheaval and fertile ground for the
spread of extremism in a region already combatting the hateful ideology of
Islamic State. 

What peace process?

The 25 years
since the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords have seen: a rapid escalation of settlement construction in the West Bank; the separation
of the West Bank and Gaza; the construction of a Separation Barrier deemed illegal by
the International Court of justice; the illegal transfer of 600,000-750,000 colonists into the West Bank; and the imposition of an eleven year
siege on the Gaza Strip which has resulted in 80 per cent
of its 2 million people becoming dependent on international aid. 

Throughout this
period, every US administration went through the motions of international
diplomacy in the Middle-East and pursued a ‘peace process’ no matter how remote
the prospect for resolution. 

All of this
ended with Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
With this taken off the negotiations table, any Palestinian leader entering a
talks process on this basis would be recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.  

Trump has dropped any pretence that a peace process was on Washington’s agenda

At a stroke,
therefore, Trump has dropped any pretence that a peace process was on
Washington’s agenda and, at the same time, disposed entirely of any suggestion
that the United States was somehow an ‘honest broker’ trying to bang heads
together toward an agreed settlement. 

How could it be
so when the US "signed a $38 billion military
aid pact with Israel" in 2016, on President Obama’s watch, in what was the "single largest pledge of bilateral military assistance in US history?" 

Or, when the Foreign Policy Journal revealed
that 30 members of Congress were speakers at the American Israel Public
Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual policy conference in March 2016. Twenty-five of
these politicians received contributions in 2016 from pro-Israel Public Affairs
Committees (PACs) averaging $36,000 per recipient and, in return, AIPAC gained "a
public expression of high level support for Israel."  

In expressing concern at the influence
of lobbyists in using finance to "secure access or buy support", Foreign Policy Journal argues that "For
the sake of our democracy, the flow of interest group money that is buying off
our elected lawmakers must be stopped."

The murky merging of private capital
with American government policy surfaced again last month when the New York Times revealed
that a family real estate company connected to Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s
son-in-law and adviser on the Middle-East, received an investment of $30
million from Menora Mivtachim, one of the largest financial institutions in
Israel.

The New
York Times
argues that the deal "illustrates how the Kushner Companies’
extensive financial ties to Israel continue to deepen, even with his prominent
diplomatic role in the Middle East." It then, without a hint of irony, appends
that "The arrangement could undermine the ability of the United States to be
seen as an independent broker in the region."  That role, it ever truly existed, has been eviscerated in the diplomatic
ructions that have followed Trump’s recent policy announcements.

BDS

In
the absence of any meaningful external political pressure on Israel to enter
negotiations with Palestine either from Washington or the European Union –
which appears to lack any co-ordinated initiative of its own – Israel seems
intent on pursuing a ‘status quo’ policy of changing facts on the
ground and keeping political concessions at arm’s length.  

Israel
knows that accelerating settlement construction in the West Bank and
transferring colonists on to Palestinian land prevents the realisation of a
contiguous Palestinian state. While the US and EU agree that settlements are an
impediment to peace – even Trump sees "Israeli
settlements getting in the way of negotiations" – neither polity seems intent
on pressuring Israel to cease construction. 

This political vacuum needs to be filled by global civil society in supporting the BDS movement.

This
political vacuum needs to be filled by global civil society in supporting the
Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement. BDS is a non-violent movement for "freedom,
justice and equality" which "works to end international
support for Israel's oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply
with international law." 

Supported by academics, trade unions,
churches and grassroots movements across the world, BDS is building global
support for peace and justice in Palestine.

In recognising
parallels between apartheid South Africa and the unjust treatment of
Palestinians by Israel, Archbishop Desmond Tutu has joined the call for
support of BDS suggesting that:

“Those who
continue to do business with Israel, who contribute to a sense of normalcy in
Israeli society, are doing the people of Israel and Palestine a disservice.
They are contributing to the perpetuation of a profoundly unjust status quo.”

BDS has enjoyed significant success in persuading transnational
corporations, Orange and Veolia, to divest from Israel and this has been
underpinned by boycotts organised by local councils, pension funds, church
groups, trade unions and academics across the world. 

A Ministry for Strategic Affairs has
been created by Israel to ‘push
back’ the BDS Movement and allocated a war chest of $72
million which reflects the seriousness with which Israel regards the growth
of BDS.

At a time when we appear to have reached
the lowest ebb of political commitment and agency toward a settlement in the
Middle-East, support for BDS provides an opportunity for civil society groups
to show their solidarity with Palestine.

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