Trump’s plan for peace in the Middle East: Pick a fight with Palestine

Donald Trump is not likely to shake the Palestinian Authority president’s hand again anytime soon.
Donald Trump is not likely to shake the Palestinian Authority president’s hand again anytime soon.
Image: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst
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Building peace between Israel and Palestine is not “as difficult as people had thought,” Donald Trump claimed in May 2017. It was early in his presidency, and he had just met with Palestine’s president Mahmoud Abbas. In a joint press conference, Trump promised, “We want to create peace between Israel and the Palestinians. We will get it done.” Yet so far, the White House’s peace strategy appears to consist mainly of provoking Palestinians.

Less than four months ago, the US controversially moved its Israel embassy to Jerusalem, a city claimed by both nations as their capital. Now, according to the Wall Street Journal, national security adviser John Bolton (paywall) is set to announce the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) office in Washington, DC, the seat of Palestine’s diplomatic presence in the US. This is likely to poison diplomatic relations between Palestine and the US.

The PLO was recognized as a United Nations observer in 1974 and became a non-voting observer state as “Palestine” in 2012. It has had a mission office in Washington, DC, since 1994. In 2010, the Obama administration upgraded its status to “general delegation,” giving Palestinian representatives a de-facto diplomatic recognition in the US.

According to a draft of Bolton’s speech, the closure is designed to stop the Palestinian authority from demanding an International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation into Israel. This decision follows several dramatic cuts of US financial aid to Palestine, totaling nearly $300 million altogether.

After cutting over $200 million in bilateral aid to Palestine in August, the White House announced its intention to pull out of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). This would deprive the fund of $65 million for 2018: The US has already donated $60 million this year, but won’t make further planned contributions unless the status of Palestinian refugees is narrowed to only apply to refugees of the war between 1947 and 1949, and not to their descendants. Even the Israeli government has criticized this decision, worrying that losing UNRWA-supported services and schools may spark unrest in Gaza.

On Sept. 8, the US State Department announced it would divert an additional $25 million from hospitals that serve Palestinians in East Jerusalem. According to a State Department official, the decision was made by Trump himself “to ensure these funds were being spent in accordance with US national interests.”