Palestine front and center


Now that US President Donald Trump has decided to withhold more than half of a $125 million installment destined for the UN relief agency for the Palestinians, the world must decide what it will do about it. Already, UNRWA has said it will launch a global fundraising campaign to fill in budget gaps left behind by the US administration’s decision. Belgium will distribute $23 million to UNRWA to cover a portion of the funding withheld by the US. Still, that is a drop in the bucket. The US is UNRWA’s single largest donor - it donated $368 million to the agency in 2016 alone. As such, the Trump administration’s decision to cut funds to the organization has, according to UNRWA, sparked its largest-ever financial crisis.

Two weeks ago, when Trump raised the prospect of cutting off aid to the Palestinians, he said he would do so because Palestinian leaders were refusing to agree to resume negotiations to broker a peace deal with Israel. However, it will be extremely hard for the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table and not only because of Trump’s controversial decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. On all the core issues, there are huge gaps between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not envision the same kind of outcome as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas does. They have fundamentally different views about how to resolve Jerusalem, what a two-state solution means, how to resolve refugees, how to resolve security, how to resolve borders. So, on what basis are Palestinians going to negotiate?

It would not be fair for Washington to punish the Palestinians for refusing to engage in a peace process in which the sides sit poles apart and also punish the Palestinians who have nothing to do with the peace process. More than five million registered Palestinian refugees benefit from UNRWA’s educational, health and social services. The agency’s operations span the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. It educates about 500,000 children in nearly 700 schools and UNRWA doctors see more than nine million patients in nearly 150 primary health clinics every year. Without aid, Palestinian camps will continue to suffer from rampant poverty, overcrowding, high unemployment, poor housing conditions and lack of infrastructure.

By severing this key economic lifeline, the US loses its ability to have any political influence over the Palestinians. Fundamentalists could also step in to fill the gaps left behind if UNRWA’s services are scaled back.

Israelis are encouraged by what Trump is doing but Palestinians are demoralized. Israel is steadily expanding, relentlessly constructing settlements on occupied territory and seizing the whole of Jerusalem in flagrant violation of international law. It has simultaneously committed untold numbers of brutal crimes and human rights abuses against Palestinians. Numerous international resolutions have condemned the occupation and its practices as it relentlessly strives to destroy a people who are struggling to liberate their land and attain their right to statehood.

Israel is backed by a major world power in its drive to eliminate Palestine and seize control of its land. That power has departed from all previous positions of its government. At this stage, the international climate is ripe for a just solution to the cause of a people who have waited too long for justice. The time is right to build up the momentum of a moral and financial drive spearheaded by countries and organizations that strive for peace and justice.

The Palestinian issue must today be front and center on the agendas of Arab and Islamic governments. As for Trump who has now completed one full year in office, he will hopefully sooner or later realize the importance of supporting the stability of the Palestinian government, its people and refugees.