Month: January 2019

Why Trump’s Middle East peace plan is just a sideshow

Read The Guardian’s Jerusalem correspondent Oliver Holmes

After two years of drum-rolling, Donald Trump’s “ultimate deal” for Israelis and Palestinians is about to enter what its architects claim is the pre-launch phase.

The US president has said the peace plan drawn up by his team – two former personal lawyers and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner – will be ready to unveil by the end of January.

Yet despite the anticipation surrounding Trump’s proposals for resolving one of the world’s most intractable conflicts, a more crucial plan for the region is already being implemented on the ground: an attempt to strengthen Israel’s hand while weakening that of the Palestinians.

One by one, the US has implemented the key demands of Israel’s hardline rightwing lobby, drastically slashing humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, declaring the contested city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, shuttering Palestinian diplomatic offices in Washington, and closing its own consulate that serves the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

For Palestinians – and many Israelis – a peace deal is a sideshow. The bigger issue, which does not depend on peace, is the implementation of Israel’s wishes by the most accommodating US administration in its history.

Trump has repeatedly said the measures are intended to force Palestinian leaders – who reject him outright as a biased mediator – into a peace effort. Trump has also said Israel will have to “pay a price” for peace, although has not specified what that would be.

Palestinian leaders have responded by saying there is no genuine plan for a just solution. “It’s really a lie,” said Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian politician.

“Everybody is working on this fictitious concept. [The US] became partners with Israel and they are implementing Israeli policies. All we see are unilateral measures by the US and by Israel … The reality on the ground is now being engineered.”

A state department official said a “high priority” has been placed on achieving a comprehensive deal, but it would be “difficult”. While they would not comment on details of the plan, which is still being drafted, a few aspects are becoming clearer.

First, unlike previous US-led efforts in which it was up to the Israelis and the Palestinians to decide the details, the Trump version will likely be much more specific and prescriptive. In essence, it will be a series of suggestions that detractors say will be heavily focused on Israeli demands based on the political views of its authors.

For example, Jason Greenblatt, who is leading Trump’s team after his promotion to government from chief legal officer at the Trump Organization, has broken US precedent to say Israeli settlement-building in the occupied West Bank – illegal under international law – is not an obstacle to peace.

The US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, a bankruptcy lawyer who also worked for Trump’s company, has been even more vocal in his support of Israeli settlement construction, and even the annexation of Palestinian territory.

Second, the US will only go so far in pushing the two sides to accept the deal, meaning the plan is liable to collapse. “The parties will need to decide if they think the plan works for them and will make their lives better,” Greenblatt has said. “The parties are the only ones who can make these compromises.”

Critics say it is increasingly apparent that those drafting the plan might not even be betting on its success to achieve their goals, which are already being enforced on the ground.

Trump’s team will know that from Israel’s perspective there is very little appetite for peace compared with the past. An August poll found only 9% of Israelis wanted their government to prioritise reaching a deal with the Palestinians.

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who is acutely aware of public sentiment as an election approaches, has said he does not see “any urgency” on Trump revealing his peace plan. His former defence minister Avigdor Lieberman was even clearer when asked about a peace deal that could result in Palestinian self-rule: “I don’t care about a Palestinian state,” he said. The justice minister, Ayelet Shaked, said she would tell Trump the plan was “a waste of time”.

Read the rest of the article in The Guardian

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UN appeals for $350 million to plug gap left by Trump aid cut

DfID boosts UK aid to £65.5 million

Last month the UN and the Palestine Authority issued an appeal for $350 million to plug the gap left by the withdrawal of the United States’ $365 million contribution to UNRWA, the UN agency dealing with Palestinian refugees.

A new assessment of humanitarian needs by the UN found that:

  • 10,000 Palestinians in Area C of the West Bank are at risk of forcible transfer
  • 13,000 homes in Area C have demolition orders not yet carried out
  • 25,000 Palestinians (including 6,250 children) have been injured by Israeli forces or settlers in 2018
  • 26,000 children in Gaza are in need of mental and psychosocial health support
  • 70% of UN schools in Gaza operate two or three shifts a day
  • 96% of water extracted from the Gaza aquifer is unfit for human consumption

According to the UN: “Following a deterioration of the humanitarian situation during 2018, some 2.5 million people have been identified as in need of humanitarian assistance and protection in 2019.

“The long-standing Israeli blockade and the internal Palestinian political divide are expected to continue, alongside demonstrations, clashes and casualties.

“As a result, the health system in Gaza is likely to remain overstretched, clean water and sewage treatment will be insufficient, and unemployment will remain severe.

“In the West Bank a coercive environment, including discriminatory planning policies, access restrictions, settlement expansion and settler violence, will continue, placing Palestinians in vulnerable communities in Area C, East Jerusalem and the Israeli-controlled part of Hebron city at risk of forcible transfer.”

The UN’s Relief & Works Agency UNRWA provides assistance for 5.15 million refugees, education for 526,000 children, health centres for 3.1 million patients and basic food rations for 255,000 refugees living in extreme poverty.

UNRWA is funded by a voluntary levy of UN members. The agency runs 59 refugees camps, 143 health centres and over 700 schools for 4.3 million refugees in five countries. It provides emergency rations for 400,000 refugees in Syria and nearly a million in Gaza.

After President Trump’s withdrawal of funds, Alistair Burt announced that the UK was increasing its contribution by £7 million to £60.5 million and added a further £5 million on December 17th to provide emergency food including rice, sugar and chickpeas to 62,000 Palestinian refugees in Gaza who are at risk of going hungry. (See link to DfID press release below.)

The minister has however resisted calls from Labour shadow minister Fabian Hamilton and LibDem MP Layla Moran for an emergency conference of donor nations to discuss strategies for dealing with the shortfall caused by President Trump’s announcement.

Pressure has been growing on the minister to take an initiative – in the absence of the Americans – to ensure that the world does not allow another humanitarian disaster to follow on from the starvation in Yemen.

World Bank studies have shown that Palestinian refugees would soon outgrow the need for aid if the blockade of Gaza and the occupation of the West Bank were lifted. What they need is not aid but action.  However in the absence of action, the danger of large-scale starvation is growing.