Trump Palestine Palestinian Refugees Refugee definition

Amidst all the buffoonery, Trump is right to reject the Palestinian definition of ‘refugee’

I never expected much good to originate from the election of the Buffoon. Sure, the fact that Hillary Clinton will from time unto eternity be remembered as ‘she who enabled the election of Donald Trump’ is about as close as one can get to Faust’s moment of perfect happiness. It reminds us that there is still justice in the world, if only fleeting. Overall, however, I expected a failed Presidency. Even so, I assumed there would be bright spots here and there. A Trump Administration would, for example, avoid sending the US military hither and yon in service to the ideals of Liberal Internationalist Do-Goodism. No more Libyas. No more mucking around in places like Syria. No more prattling about the ‘Responsibility to Protect’. I also expected that a Trump Presidency would restore a sense of reality regarding US relations with Israel and Israel’s intractable conflict with the Palestinians. On that last point, I haven’t been disappointed.

Over the past few months, the US has significantly cut its funding of direct aid to the Palestinians. It has also eliminated US funding of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) – the UN organisation that keeps the Gaza strip functioning as a giant refugee camp. The total reduction from all sources amounts to more than $500 million. More significant still is that the US has rejected the unique definition of ‘refugee’ that places the Palestinians into their own special category. This definition conveys refugee status on the descendants of Palestinian refugees. By rejecting this definition, the US strikes at the very core of the Palestinian narrative in that it denies their self-identification as a displaced people entitled to return en masse to their former land.

The justifications for these cuts are quite straight-forward, obvious, and observable by examining the use to which the money is put. The funding directly benefits Hamas, which is illegal under US law. The funding has been diverted to support and sustain offensive actions against Israel. But the most significant aspect of the funding is that it perpetuates the refugee situation by providing the Palestinians an indefinite means of support. The Palestinians don’t have to face the facts of history and take responsibility for themselves. Instead, they indulge the myth of the ‘right of return’ and its eternal struggle for liberation – all of it funded by generous western donors. They are allowed to keep the label of ‘dispossessed refugees’ who are entitled to perpetual support because of their oppression. Powers hostile to Israel get to keep the Palestinians as a convenient foil on the cheap. They don’t have to pay to support the refugees, neither do they have to receive them and integrate them into their own societies. At this point, it would be helpful to remember what happened to the Jews of the Middle East after they were expelled from their respective Arab nations. Some 500,000 were re-settled in Israel. No Arab country has taken similar responsibility for the Palestinians.

There have been the predictable forecasts of catastrophe and doom: the infrastructure is at risk; education will stop; clean water will disappear; hospitals will shut down; unemployment will rise; hunger will increase; tensions will escalate; Hamas will be strengthened, and violence will result. Most ominously of all, the ‘Peace Process’ will be damaged. The PLO Executive committee called the funding cuts “cheap blackmail as a political tool”. (No one bothered to ask what “Keep giving us money or we will resort to violence” should be called, but I digress.) The Washington Post thundered a headline that said: “Trump administration tells Palestinian refugees to submit or starve”. In fact, what the Trump administration said was: “Submit or you don’t get any American money.” There are plenty of other funding sources in the world, like the EU, for example. Or the Arab Gulf states. It’s not like funding the Palestinian refugee machine is an American responsibility. Already the EU has pledged an additional €40 million. European and Gulf states are likewise pledging more money. We’ll see if the full amount is covered. There is certainly enough money available in Europe and the Gulf to cover the difference. Whether there exists the will to spend it is another matter. Will the additional spending be sustainable over time? Will the commitments actually be kept or will they be quietly deferred? It was always easier to just let the Americans do it. Any expressed regret and condemnation regarding the American decision amounts to little more than “How dare the Americans force us to back our principles with our money.”

But that doesn’t address the main point. To understand the real impact of this decision by the US, you should examine this statement by Federica Mogherini, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission:

Today we reaffirm the EU’s political and financial support to UNRWA, with an overall contribution from the EU and its Member States of €1.2 billion for the past three years. UNRWA is essential for the perspective of a two-state solution. Supporting the agency means supporting peace and security in the Middle East. And this is in our strategic interest.

What the Trump Administration has done is walk away from any effective support for a two-state solution. Remember the role that enlightened opinion has always assigned to the Americans in the ‘Peace Process’. They are supposed to strong-arm the Israelis into making tangible concessions on security in return for nebulous Palestinian promises of peace. By rejecting the Palestinian narrative, the Americans have as much as said: “We aren’t going to support that concept anymore.” The approach to peace will no longer by predicated upon Palestinian mythologies, and without those mythologies the Palestinians don’t have much of a case: no more indefinite timetable; no more right of return; no more infinitely expanding population of Palestinian refugees; no more illusions of a Palestinian state. Yes, I know Trump said he preferred a two-state solution. Here let me supply the quotes:

I like a two-state solution. That’s what I think works best… That’s my feeling.

If the Israelis and the Palestinians want one state, that’s OK with me. If they want two states, that’s OK with me. I’m happy if they’re happy.

But a two-state solution will never happen without considerable American pressure. The ‘Peace Process’ has always tried to reconcile two mutually-exclusive goals: it is supposed to satisfy both Palestinian national aspiration and ‘legitimate’ Israeli security concerns. The problem is that the former condition automatically compromises the latter. The Israelis have certain non-negotiable imperatives that they can never surrender:

1. The Israelis will never surrender control of the border at the Jordan River.
2. The Israelis will never surrender control of the resources on the West Bank – especially water.
3. The Israelis will never surrender control of the air space over the West Bank.
4. The Israelis will never surrender the high ground that overlooks the major Israeli population centers on the Mediterranean coast.
5. The Israelis will never surrender the strategic depth afforded by the West Bank.
6. The Israelis will never allow a hostile military force under Palestinian control on the West bank.
7. The Israelis will never, ever, ever allow the Palestinians to conclude foreign treaties that allow foreign nations to station military forces on the West Bank.

These are all legitimate Israeli security concerns, and a true Palestinian state would undermine each and every one. If the Palestinians were to receive a true state on the West bank, Israel would have to surrender on every single point. After all, a state is not a state if it doesn’t have sovereign control of its territory and its borders and its resources and its foreign policy.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that any Palestinian state would have to be de-militarised. No Israeli government could say otherwise. That condition alone means a two-state solution is off the table, and should lead the reader to immediately question what is meant by ‘two states’. Unless the Americans are willing to break Israeli knee-caps, an actual viable Westphalian Palestinian state west of the Jordan River will never happen. And the Trump Administration has now said: “We won’t break their knee caps. Sorry.” The parties are free make the best deal they can as far as Trump is concerned, but the (ahem) Palestinian trump-card of dispossession has been removed from the deck. The best the Palestinians can ever hope to achieve is some form of autonomy under Israeli sovereignty.

By cutting off the aid and rejecting the privileged Palestinian definition of refugee, the US has told the Palestinians that there will be no more appeals to the historic wrongs they allege. There will be no more gravy-train of easy American money. It has indicated that the Palestinians will not be considered perpetual refugees entitled to perpetual international support, and perhaps they should be making alternate plans for the future – plans that don’t involve the impossible fantasy of returning by conquest or treaty to a land they will never inhabit. Time is not necessarily on their side anymore. For 70 years, they have been fighting a war of annihilation in their heads – fantasising about the day when, at last, they have the Israelis at the point of a bayonet. For 70 years, they have not faced up to the reality of defeat. They reject the understanding that it was a really bad idea to start a war of annihilation and lose it. Instead they sit in refugee camps living off aid money and nursing their resentments. It’s time for the Palestinians to submit to the reality of defeat. It’s the only possible avenue for peace in the Middle East.

It’s much easier to come to terms with reality when people aren’t paying you to pretend you are a great force of history striving to correct past wrongs. Then you will suddenly realise you have to find a way to make a living.