Last December, we warned that President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel would undermine the Middle East peace talks.
We were right. The Palestinians are continuing to shun direct negotiations on any agreement with Israel.
Now, Trump, in an effort to force the Palestinians to the negotiating table, has ordered the closing of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s mission in Washington.
In addition, the administration announced it is ending decades of U.S. funding for the United Nations agency that helps Palestinian refugees.
The announcement comes on the heels of the decision by the White House to slash bilateral U.S. aid for projects in the West Bank and Gaza. The U.S. supplies nearly 30 percent of the total budget of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, and has been demanding reforms in the way it is run.
The Associated Press, in a detailed report on Trump’s moves against the Palestinians, quoted the State Department as saying the U.S. “will no longer commit further funding to this irredeemably flawed operation.” The decision cuts nearly $300 million of planned support.
While the administration may be able to persuasively argue that it is being a good steward of American taxpayer dollars, the funding cuts simply bolster the narrative in the Middle East that Trump’s unabashed support for Israel has made America a dishonest broker in the peace talks.
Here’s what the Associated Press said in the wake of Trump’s latest action against the Palestinians:
“Closing the PLO mission in Washington almost certainly will stiffen the Palestinians’ opposition to any Trump peace plan now being worked on by Trump’s Middle East point men, son-in-law Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt.
“The Palestinian leadership has been openly hostile to any proposal from the administration, citing what it says is a pro-Israel bias.”
If the president believes that making the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza even more miserable is a winning strategy for peace, he needs to revise his book, “Trump: The Art of the Deal.” He also needs a primer on the long-standing Israeli-Arab conflict.
In December, after the president had announced that the U.S. supports Israel’s claim of Jerusalem as its capital, we said this:
“Trump has sown the wind and he will leave it to everyone else to reap the whirlwind.”
The militant group Hamas declared a “day of rage,” and violence followed.
There are enormous challenges to achieving peace in the Middle East, but none is more difficult than reconciling the competing claims of Israel and the Palestinians to Jerusalem, a city that has a place in Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions.
The Camp David accords made the status of Jerusalem the subject of negotiations.
But Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has made the most contentious negotiable issue in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians nonnegotiable.
Although Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act in 1995 that urges the federal government to relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv, it is the president, not Congress, who sets foreign policy. Presidents Bill Clinton, a Democrat, George W. Bush, a Republican, and Barack Obama, a Democrat, exercised their executive prerogative to pursue their foreign policies.
But Republican President Trump suggested that the inaction by his predecessors was a sign of weakness and that he alone knows what’s best for the very troubled region of the world.
Indeed, not only has the administration closed the PLO mission in Washington and slashed funding for humanitarian programs in the West Bank and Gaza, it has raised the specter of U.S. refusal to recognize the International Criminal Court, which the Palestinians want to prosecute Israel for war crimes.
The Associated Press reported that the administration is trying to draw a connection between the PLO mission and the ICC and thus pressure the Palestinians to talk directly with Israel.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert called the two developments “consistent.”
But a comment from Palestinian official Saeb Erekat highlighted the difficulties the U.S. faces in trying to broker a peace agreement.
“This is yet another affirmation of the Trump administration’s policy to collectively punish the Palestinian people.”
The chances of peace between Israel and the Palestinians today are slim to none – thanks to President Trump.