President Trump launched a barrage of tweets on Jan. 2 dealing with Pakistan, Iran, North Korea, the new tax law and a few other subjects — one of them addressing the Palestinians and Israel. In doing so he contradicted his previous positions and threatened to further destabilize a region for which he has long promised to deliver the “ultimate deal.”
Riffing on his outrage in his New Year’s tweet that in exchange for billions in U.S. aid, Pakistan has “given us nothing but lies & deceit,” Trump complained, “We pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect. They don’t even want to negotiate a long overdue peace treaty with Israel.” In a similar vein the next day, he called for cutting off U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority.
Such a measure has been advocated by parts of the Jewish community and parts of the Republican Party, ostensibly because of the P.A.’s payments to the families of Palestinian terrorists imprisoned by Israel. This time, Trump seemed to be threatening a cutoff if the Palestinians did not submit to negotiations, which Palestinian leaders have characterized as “blackmail.”
It isn’t clear which aid Trump was threatening to stop. About half of the $700 million the United States contributes annually to the Palestinians goes to UNRWA, the United Nations agency charged with humanitarian relief for Palestinian refugees.
While UNRWA has been the subject of withering and justified criticism for decades — the Palestinians are the only group in the world to have their own refugee agency, while the agency has turned a blind eye to terrorism taking place in and around its facilities — it is the primary engine of the social safety net in Gaza and a cornerstone of the United Nations’ support of the Palestinian Authority.
That’s why some Israeli authorities expressed concern over Trump’s threat. The Palestinian Authority, while a convenient and oftentimes deserved punching bag, also has a strong security relationship with Israel. Absent that partnership — a likely outcome of a safety net collapse — Israel would have to re-enter and reoccupy the cities of the West Bank.
But Trump’s tweet contained an additional statement that has raised eyebrows in Israel and among her supporters: “We have taken Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table, but Israel, for that, would have had to pay more.”
Analysts have parsed this fragment of an idea like Talmudists poring over a holy text. It seems on the one hand to contradict Trump’s statement when he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital that its final boundaries will be decided through negotiations. But it also seems to contradict Trump’s statement that the capital announcement was a recognition of existing reality.
Trump came to office a year ago promising to reject approaches that had failed in the past. He is doing that in one respect, but in the process is sowing discord and confusion across an already turbulent region. PJC