Trump strategy begins to emerge

There is still no sign of the Trump plan to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict, but there are signs of what his strategy may be.

The two most difficult issues to resolve are Jerusalem, which both sides want as their capital, and Palestinian refugees, who have a right of return to or compensation for their homes in Israel.

Trump’s plan appears to be to take both these issues “off the table” – by recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and by cutting off funds to UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

That would just leave the issue of an independent Palestinian state – which he wants to resolve by resurrecting the idea of a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation, in which Jordan takes responsibility for security in a Palestinian mini-state in parts of the West Bank and Egypt takes over Gaza.

This ‘solution’ has already been rejected many times by the Jordanians as well as the Palestinians and if this was the much-heralded Trump plan, it would be declared ‘dead on arrival’, according to Ha’aretz.

According to Anshel Pfeffer in Ha’aretz, “Netanyahu’s solution is for the Palestinians to be bullied into accepting limited autonomy in Gaza and a few enclaves in the West Bank. That’s all.

“And twenty months into the Trump administration’s tenure, that is exactly what has been happening. Jerusalem is “off the table,” the administration and key Arab regimes are supporting a separate agreement with Hamas in Gaza, and with the defunding of UNRWA, Washington has indicated it is about to take the refugees issue off the table as well.

“What about the rest of the world? So far, the outcry from other governments, from the West to the Arab world, has constituted little more than a weak chorus. No more.”

UK policy has been clear on Jerusalem. It should be a shared capital for the Israelis and the Palestinians. The key question for the new Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt will be whether he stands firm on UNRWA by maintaining and if necessary increasing the UK’s contribution (as the Germans are doing).

Trump move “heartless and dangerous”

On Friday August 31 the US officially announced it was cutting its entire aid budget to UNRWA, the United Nations agency which runs the refugee camps for Palestinian refugees in Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Jerusalem.

The EU called the US decision “regrettable” and said it would leave a substantial gap in the agency’s funding.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned that “the loss of this organisation could unleash an uncontrollable chain reaction.”

Ireland’s foreign minister Simon Coveney called the Trump administration’s decision “heartless and dangerous.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the decision was “a flagrant assault against the Palestinian people and a defiance of UN resolutions.”

In Israel Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy wrote that: “Israel long ago declared war on the agency, America followed it as usual, all with the aim of removing the refugee issue from the agenda.

“Anyone familiar with the conditions in the refugee camps knows just how dependent their inhabitants are on the UN agency. There might be some waste, certainly there are freeloaders, reform is absolutely necessary, but UNRWA provides basic humanitarian assistance.

“Without it there are no schools, clinics and food in the camps. America owes an indirect debt to the people there; it funds and supports the Israeli occupation, and it has never lifted a finger to reach a genuine solution to their suffering.

“But the new America has lost its shame, too; it no longer even wants to pretend to be the honest broker, or take care of the world’s needy, as its position obliges it to do. Let us say, then, shame on you, America.”

The European Union issued a statement pledging to continue supporting UNRWA and implied that it may increase funding to the agency if deemed necessary.

The statement says that other than the EU’s member states, “many others in the international community, including many Arab states, have pledged their support to the continuity of the work that UNRWA is doing.”

The German foreign minister said Germany would increase its contributions to UNRWA because the funding crisis was fuelling uncertainty.

Sewage or garbage choice for Bedouin

To live next to sewage or next to a garbage dump.  That is the choice now facing the Bedouin from the village of Khan al Ahmar which the Israeli government wants to demolish, according to this Amira Hass report in Haaretz (click for full version).

The 180 villagers have spent a summer fighting the planned demolition of their makeshift homes and their now-famous school built of mud and tyres in the Israeli High Court.

International protests, from the UK government and others, have helped to defer the demolition, but not to defeat it.  Essentially all the arguments in court have been about alternative sites for a forced transfer, not about whether the demolition will go ahead.

New Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt will have an opportunity to make a statement about Khan al Ahmar – something his predecessor never did. That may be why the Israeli government never really believed the UK was serious in its protests.

Yet this stretch of desert between Jerusalem and Jericho, where the Bedouin have eked out a living by grazing sheep and goats, is the most strategically important real estate in Palestine, a narrow waist between the north and south of the West Bank without which a Palestinian state could be neither contiguous nor viable.

The last four American presidents, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama, all made it clear to the Israelis that this was their red line.  No building on planning area E1.  But under Trump there are no red lines and nor is there any clear message from the British government.

Once the bulldozers have demolished Khan al Ahmar, the Israeli government will move quickly to bury the two-state solution in concrete, joining up the existing settlements until they have a huge settler city stretching across the West Bank.

The key question is not what the Government will say, but what it will do.  Representations are useless unless they are backed up by some kind of threat. Once the Israelis sense that there is no threat, they will send the bulldozers in, destroying not only the makeshift huts of the Bedouin but the entire structure of the peace process and the “two-state solution”.

What is needed now is plain speaking. If you demolish Khan al Ahmar, we will recognise Palestine.


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