Foreign Policy

Upending 'Peace Process' Futility

Trump is no longer interested in a Middle East status quo that abides the definition of insanity.

Arnold Ahlert · Sep. 13, 2018

“You see, whether intended or not, Trump’s entire political career (much like his previous business career) has been about slaughtering sacred cows. In this case, Trump’s presidency has attempted to challenge the status quo that dominates Washington, D.C. and prevents reasonable policy from being made.” —columnist Brandon Weichert

In the annals of American diplomacy, there has never been a more sacred cow — or greater exercise in futility — than the decades-long debacle referred to as the Middle East “peace process.” In the 51 years following the Six-Day War of 1967, the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and two UN resolutions urging “land for peace,” several American administrations convinced themselves they could achieve a breakthrough in Palestinian-Israeli relations.

The laundry list of efforts is daunting: Jimmy Carter’s 1979 Camp David Accords, the American and Soviet Union co-sponsored Madrid Conference of 1991, the 1993 Oslo Agreement, the 2000 Camp David effort, 2003’s Roadmap and Geneva Accord, George W. Bush’s 2007 Annapolis Conference, Barack Obama’s 2010 Washington meetings led by George Mitchell and Hillary Clinton, and the John Kerry-led talks of 2013-2014.

All during that time, three elements remained an integral part of the equation: the overwhelming majority of concessions were to be made by Israel; America continued funding the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA); and Hamas’s founding charter, including the update made in 2017, remained committed to Israel’s elimination.

President Donald Trump is no longer interested in a status quo that abides the definition of insanity — doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result each time.

The first indication things would be different was Trump’s fulfillment of his campaign promise to move America’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The United States passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, stating that Jerusalem “should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel,” and that our embassy should be established there “no later than 31 May 1999.” Yet status quo-minded presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama signed waivers to prevent it from happening.

Unsurprisingly, the “usual suspects” were infuriated by the move, including Western “allies,” the UN General Assembly, and PLO President Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas, now in his 14th year of a four-year term, called it a “slap in the face” and insisted America could no longer be seen as an honest broker in the peace process.

Trump’s response? He insisted his administration will pursue peace, but that he had “taken Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table.”

The next wrecking ball to the status quo came last month. Breaking 70 years of “tradition,” the Trump administration announced it was cutting off funds to UNRWA. “The United States will no longer commit further funding to this irredeemably flawed operation,” the State Department said in a statement released Aug. 31.

The statement further referred to the “disproportionate share of the burden of UNRWA’s costs [the U.S.] had assumed for many years,” and UNRWA’s dubious fiscal practices of “endlessly and exponentially expanding community of entitled beneficiaries.” It also noted that “Palestinians, wherever they live, deserve better than an endlessly crisis-driven service provision model.”

America has long been UNRWA’s principal donor, underwriting one third of its $1.1 billion annual budget, and again, the initiative’s detractors are apoplectic. “Through these moves, America has further written itself out of the process of peacemaking in the Middle East,” asserts Brookings Institution columnist Hady Amr. “Trump has sent an unmistakable message to the Palestinian people: He callously disregards their most basic needs.”

Not quite. Approximately 40% of UNRWA’s budget is spent in the Gaza Strip. Following the announcement of its “Disengagement Plan” in December 2003, Israel ultimately withdrew from Gaza in 2005. Two years later, Hamas took it over from the PLO in a bloody coup. Ever since, Hamas has launched innumerable missiles at Israel, dug terror tunnels to infiltrate it, and precipitated all out war in 2008, 2012, and 2014.

Wars inevitably produce damage that requires rebuilding. Trump has made it clear he will no longer underwrite that definition of insanity — one that arguably incentivizes hostility — either.

Yet there is more at play here. As part of the defunding effort, the Trump administration is precipitating a “sharp reduction in the number of Palestinians recognized as refugees, dropping it from more than 5 million, including descendants, to fewer than a tenth of that number, or those still alive from when the agency was created seven decades ago, according to officials familiar with the decision,” The Washington Post laments. “Any such reduction would effectively eliminate, for most Palestinians, the ‘right of return’ to land contested with Israel.”

The entire population of Israel is approximately 8.4 million people. Thus, a fully implemented “right of return” could bring in a group comprising 37% of the new total population of 13.5 million.

That demographic bomb — one which bears a striking resemblance to the American Left’s open borders endgame — is now “off the table” as well.

Finally, in two more vapor-inducing developments for the sacred cow crowd, the Trump administration announced it is withdrawing $25 million in funding previously committed to the East Jerusalem Hospital Network. According to a State Department spokesperson, reviews of assistance to “the Palestinian Authority and to the West Bank and Gaza Strip found that the funds were not advancing U.S. interests or providing value to American taxpayers,” NBC News reported.

The administration has also told the PLO government that its primary office, located in Washington, DC, will be closed. Senior Palestinian diplomat Dr. Saeb Erekat, who acknowledged the closure, insisted this “dangerous escalation shows that the U.S. is willing to disband the international system in order to protect Israeli crimes and attacks against the land and people of Palestine as well as against peace and security in the rest of our region.”

What peace and security?

On Tuesday, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton explained the closure was in response to Palestinian attempts to prompt an investigation of Israel by the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has also threatened to conduct a criminal investigation against the U.S. for alleged war crimes committed in Afghanistan. “The United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court,” Bolton stated. America is not a signatory to the treaty that created the ICC, and Bolton insisted his renewed push against it aligns with the president’s goal of putting America “above all else.”

That’s the real rub here — along with the idea that, unlike his predecessor, Trump is walking the walk, not merely talking the talk, of support for Israel. Support that stands in stark contrast to Obama, who engineered a contemptible deal with Iran, and sought to undermine Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 2015 reelection.

In short, Trump has done something virtually unprecedented with regard to a “peace process” that invariably operated under the assumption that Palestinian and Israelis had equally legitimate grievances: He has taken sides — with an ally, and against those who use “diplomacy” as a subterfuge to ultimately eliminate the Jewish State.

In terms of policy, that’s as reasonable as it gets.

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