The Disgraceful Collapse of the ‘Rely on America’ Approach

The decision by Donald Trump’s administration to end U.S. funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, a contribution which has covered approximately one-third of the agency’s annual budget of about $1 billion, is much worse than a manifestation of the tightfisted selfishness, which has marked the policies of the most zealously nationalistic and right-wing administration in U.S. history.

This decision promotes a shared objective between the Trump circle (in which his son-in-law Jared Kushner plays a prominent role) and the far-right Israeli government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu that aims to settle the Palestine question, removing it from agenda of both countries once and for all. During the Trump presidency, Washington is coordinating with Israel to attack one fundamental pillar of the Palestine question after another, which the Oslo Accords did not resolve a quarter century ago (next Thursday happens to be the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Oslo Accords in Washington on July 13, 1993). As a reminder, the topics, which the inauspicious agreement tabled for subsequent years, include three issues at the heart of the Palestine question: Jerusalem, refugees and settlements.

After the Trump administration declared its intention to settle the issue of Jerusalem by recognizing the City of Peace as the capital of the “nation of war,” it candidly announced its intention to settle the refugee question by attacking UNRWA. In fact, the Trump administration makes the same complaint against UNRWA as the Israeli government: The definition of Palestinian refugees, which the agency uses, is not limited to the first refugees who were registered when UNRWA was established in late 1949, but includes their descendants in accordance with the rule, which the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees follows for other refugees.

This radical logic restricts Palestinian refugee status to those who were born before the Nakba, registered by UNRWA and still clinging to life, which applies to approximately 50,000 men and women at most (as of 2012).* It goes without saying that the limitation of Palestinian refugees to this number means depriving their descendants, who number approximately 5 million people, of the rights prescribed by Resolution 194, which the U.N. General Assembly adopted at the end of 1948. It stipulates that “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property.”**

As for the Israeli settlements, the Trump administration is moving to approve their official annexation by Israel, including the overwhelming share of the West Bank, which has been occupied since 1967. This will happen with the imminent announcement of the “deal of the century,” a farce whose only objective is facilitating official annexation, as we have explained on these pages previously.

All of this completely vindicates those who criticized the Oslo Accords and condemned the bilateral negotiations that Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas conducted behind the backs of the other members of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian peace negotiators, most notably Haidr Abd al-Shaqi, Faisal al-Husseini, and Hanan Ashrawi. It is well known that the PLO EC members, and the negotiators in particular, condemned Arafat and Abbas for accepting an agreement that did not contain any provisions pertaining to Jerusalem, refugees or settlements.

As for the backdrop of the dispute, the opposition thought that dividing up the Palestine question along the lines of Oslo weakened their cause the way the peace agreement between Egypt and Israel undermined the entire Arab front, portending disastrous consequences for the fate of settlements, Jerusalem and refugees. In contrast, Arafat and Abbas’ support for the inauspicious agreement was based on continuing their reliance on America. Arafat inaugurated that approach when he agreed to remove the Palestinian resistance from Beirut in 1982 in response to President Ronald Reagan’s announcement that he accepted the legitimacy of a “Palestinian entity” (in the West Bank and in union with Jordan). Arafat’s excuse was that America held all the cards. Instead of ratcheting up the pressure on Washington by naming it his greatest enemy, Arafat concluded he must rely on America and its Arab friends, namely Saudi Arabia. Arafat only corrected his mistake after it was too late, that is to say, after George W. Bush’s team, which allied itself with the Israeli far-right led by Ariel Sharon, came to power in Washington.

As for Abbas, he continued along the same approach in spite of it being a clear failure. That caused the Bush administration to push for Abbas as prime minister and then on the Palestinian people as Arafat’s successor in the Palestinian Authority after his assassination.*** Now, the Trump crowd is shattering the last illusions to which Abbas clung by ropes of sand in order to justify his exercise of “power” over an entity, which resembles a Bantustan, the “autonomous” enclaves created by the apartheid state in South Africa. At the completion of Trump and Netanyahu’s attempt to settle the Palestine question, the Palestinian Authority will end up with the official status of Bantustan, which it has effectively had since its founding. At that point, the shimmering mirage of an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, which was cited to justify Oslo, will finally fade from the horizon.

*Editor’s note: Nakba is the Arabic term for the events of 1948, when Palestinians were displaced from their homes by the creation of the state of Israel.

**Editor’s note: The complete Resolution 194 is: “The United Nations General Assembly adopts resolution 194 (III), resolving that ‘refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.’”

***Editor’s note: Yasser Arafat died on Nov. 11, 2004. The cause of death, officially attributed to a hemorrhagic stroke, was subsequently disputed.

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