ECLECTIC RANT: Does Trump's threat to withhold aid from Palestinians doom any restart of peace negotiations?

Ralph E. Stone
Friday January 26, 2018 - 05:13:00 PM

On January 26, 2018, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Trump threatened to withhold aid money from the Palestinians until they return to the peace talks with Israel. The U.S. has contributed over $6 billion in economic and security aid to the Palestinians since the mid-1990s, and around $500 million annually since 2008, mostly for development projects. Trump had already moved to withhold some -- $65 million of $125 million -- of scheduled aid to the UN agency that assists Palestinian refugees.

This threat to withhold money comes on the heels of Trump's December 6, 2017, recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. The process began in 1995, with the passage of the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which required the U.S. to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by a set deadline, but permitted the move to be put off for six months at a time as long as the President “determines and reports to Congress in advance that such suspension is necessary to protect the national security interests of the United States.” Trump refused to put off the move for another six months. 

Vice President Mike Pence said on his recent trip to Israel that the U.S. will move its embassy by the end of 2019. 

Trump knew or should have known that the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital would inflame the Palestinians as well as much of the rest of the world as the Palestinians want Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state and want this decision to be determined in peace negotiations. Thus, the U.S. and Israel should have known that the Jerusalem decision would ruin any chance for a restart of peace negotiations and end any chance of the U.S. mediating any such negotiations. 

Now, the U.S. threat to withhold funds for the Palestinians will probably inflame the Palestinians and Arab world even more and further jeopardize the standing of the U.S. as a mediator in any future peace talks. 

Even before the threat to withhold aid money to the Palestinians and recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, many had already concluded that U.S. efforts to restart peace negotiations were doomed to failure because the Trump administration does not have a clear vision for that peace and Trump lacks even the most basic understanding of what he really wants to achieve. In addition, it is unclear how he would sustain efforts to achieve a peace deal with so much instability in his own administration. In order for Trump to succeed, he would have to make it clear that he is committed to the two-state solution and he needs to reject Israel's settlement expansions in the West Bank. 

If peace negotiations were to restart, there would need to be repercussions to both Palestine and Israel if they failed to reach an agreement. Without a threat to punish either or both sides for failing to makes serious progress in negotiations, would make it impossible to hold either or both parties accountable. We know, of course, that the U.S. would be unlikely to withhold unconditional political backing and economic and military support to Israel. After all, the U.S. has been Israel's strongest ally and most substantial financial supporter -- about $3 to $4 billion a year -- since President Truman's recognition of the state of Israel on May 14, 1948. 

Thus, a restart of peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine is probably a non-starter during the Trump administration.\ 

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Kentucky shooting deja vu all over again 

While listening and reading about the post-Kentucky shooting, where a 15-year old student killed two and wounded at least 19 others at Marshall County High School in western Kentucky on January 23, I had another sense of deja vu. Just substitute Las Vegas, Sandy Hook, Orlando, Virginia Tech, Charleston, Aurora Theater in Colorado, Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., and the other mass shootings too numerous to mention, for Kentucky, and you will see what I mean. It will be the same discussion -- sorrow, helplessness, outrage, a call for gun control. 

Since these shootings, there has been a noticeable absence of action at the federal level about gun violence in America and I don't expect any after this latest incident. 

As a result, we will just have to grit our teeth and wait for the next mass shooting that will come as surely as night follows day.