The President’s Peace Sham

Jeremy Ben-Ami Image
Jeremy Ben-Ami
on August 29, 2018

When it comes to the policies of the Trump administration, we’ve learned to expect the worst.

Yet it’s still hard not to be taken aback by the malicious, destructive steps that the president’s team is now taking to punish the Palestinian people, marginalize their leadership and undermine the prospects for a two-state solution.

Throughout the year, the administration has refused to disburse over $200 million in aid to the Palestinians — funds that were allocated by Congress to support vital humanitarian programs in the West Bank and Gaza. On Friday, Trump’s team announced that the vast majority of that money will be redirected elsewhere — meaning that programs providing food assistance, medical care and education to tens of thousands of Palestinians will be shut down.

As if that weren’t bad enough, new reports indicate that the administration next plans to reject the refugee status of millions of Palestinians. By denying this status and aiming to destroy the refugee aid agency UNRWA (a process the administration already began by freezing US funding for the agency), Trump and Jared Kushner seem to think they can make the question of millions of Palestinian refugees and their long-term future simply disappear.

There’s a clear pattern here. Almost from the outset, the Trump administration has adopted the agenda of Israel’s far right. They’ve worked to give the settlement movement nearly everything on its wish list.

What Trump, Kushner and Friedman are preparing for the Middle East is not a peace plan. It’s a sham.

The administration refuses to clearly support the two-state solution, breaking with decades of bipartisan US policy.

They refuse to criticize ongoing Israeli settlement expansion and creeping annexation in the West Bank — effectively giving the settler movement a green light to move full speed ahead. US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman has tried to make a central settlement movement fallacy — that the settlements are not illegal and that they are part of Israel — a matter of US policy. That’s no surprise, given his background as a key fundraiser for the settlement movement.

Rejecting decades of US policy on Jerusalem, the administration unilaterally recognized the city as Israel’s capital while effectively ignoring any Palestinian claims to the city — thereby, according to the president’s absurd boasts, taking a deeply sensitive final status issue “off the table.”

As Palestinian leaders have reacted to these moves with outrage and frustration, the administration has sought to punish them with severe funding cuts which exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and add to Palestinian grievances. Now, Kushner and company are looking to also take the question of Palestinian refugee rights “off the table” — fulfilling another longtime pipe dream of the Israeli right.

What Trump, Kushner and Friedman are preparing for the Middle East is not a peace plan. It’s a sham.

Instead of putting forward constructive solutions and seeking to fairly evaluate and mediate between the claims, rights and aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians, they are bullying one side with an impossible series of demands.

By preparing to push a completely biased, unfair and unworkable proposal, they are trying to force the Palestinians to say “no” — and setting them up to take the blame when this approach inevitably fails to lead toward peace or yield any benefit for Israel or the region.

This approach has shattered the administration’s ability to act as a credible or constructive leader in the region. Instead, the US is behaving as a full-on bad actor. And though the settlement movement and its American backers may cheer, Israelis and Palestinians will bear the costs over time of ongoing, deteriorating conflict.

Denying that millions of Palestinians have legitimate claims as descendants of refugees will not make them disappear. Cutting aid to people in need will only exacerbate suffering and increase prospects for violence and unrest — as Israel’s security establishment has repeatedly warned. Entrenching the occupation will further erode the core principles and institutions of Israeli democracy.

At J Street, we’re determined to call out this sham for what it is. In Congress and in the American Jewish community, we’re doing all that we can to rally opposition — and to support a very different vision of American leadership and policy toward resolving this conflict.

On the campaign trail, we’re fighting to elect candidates who will stand up to Trump’s Middle East agenda — and point the way back toward serious, good-faith diplomacy.

No matter what destructive action the president takes next, he can’t change the reality that this conflict will only end with an agreement that meets the needs of both parties and gives both peoples secure, viable states that they can call home.

His misguided actions today won’t prevent a future US administration from again leading good-faith diplomacy towards that goal.

And they won’t stop us from fighting for that better future.