to Make Trump’s Israeli-Palestinian Peace Plan Work
New York Times
April 2, 2019
two years of playing coy, the Trump administration is reportedly
finally ready to unveil its plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace. The
plan’s details remain confidential, but if it is anything like President
Trump’s moves so far on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, it will be bold.
of those steps have worked out far better than the president’s critics
anticipated. Moving the United States’ embassy from
Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, for example, failed to elicit the protests in the
wider Arab world many predicted, even as Israelis celebrated it as correcting a
of the administration’s bold strokes has been to all but eliminate the United
States’ once-considerable aid to Palestinians. And while that has attracted
far less attention than the embassy move, it is likely to prove more
consequential for American and Israeli interests, and for the president’s
hoped-for deal—and not for the better.
recently, Palestinians were one of the largest recipients of American aid. Then,
in August, the
Trump administration announced it would not make about $300 million in
payments due to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, which
provides schooling, housing and other services to those it designates as
refugees in Gaza and elsewhere. Around the same time, the State Department also
revealed that it was cutting about $230 million in other aid to the
Palestinians, ending support for programs bringing together Palestinian and
Israeli children and hospitals in East Jerusalem, among others.
left untouched only assistance to the Palestinian security forces, long popular
with both Israeli and American security officials. Yet in October, Congress
adopted and Mr. Trump signed legislation that would make the
Palestinian Authority, in return for accepting this and any other assistance,
subject to the jurisdiction of American courts. This prompted Palestinian
officials at the end of last year to reject
Trump administration has good reasons to be frustrated with both the Palestinian
leadership and aid organizations. UNRWA has long been accused of failing to
adequately monitor its staff and the curriculum in schools that it runs for
extremism, and of inflating the number of Palestinian refugees to perpetuate its
mission. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority’s president, ordered
contacts with the United States frozen after the embassy move and has
refused to engage with American envoys regarding the Trump administration’s
efforts to devise an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan. The United States has made
clear that the decisions on aid are meant to apply pressure on Mr. Abbas to
return to the negotiating table—a goal consistent with longstanding American
the elimination of American aid to the Palestinians is unlikely to achieve that
goal. In fact, in the long run, it will probably undermine both American and
Trump administration is right that American aid to the Palestinians provides
Washington with leverage, but it is applying that leverage to the wrong end. Few
observers believe that Mr. Abbas is interested in negotiating with Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Trump, having rebuffed their less
conservative predecessors, or, even if negotiations resumed, that a peace deal
could be reached at this time.
aid can be leveraged to advance American aims in other ways. Past
administrations have used it to strengthen the authority of Palestinian
officials who favor peace and to deter
the Palestinian Authority from pursuing Israel at the United Nations
and in international courts. Congress has sought through the
Taylor Force Act to compel the Palestinian Authority to cease the
reprehensible practice of paying the families of terrorists, by reducing aid to
the Palestinians by an amount equal to what the Palestinian Authority pays to
families of prisoners and accused terrorists. And many supporters of Israel
would have liked to see American funding for UNRWA used to compel the
organization to reform. These goals have been undermined by the elimination of
aid. You can’t tie strings to assistance that has already been cut.
is not just about dollars, but about engagement that confers influence. Aid
programs bring American officials into contact with a wide swath of Palestinian
society, which can help ensure that American influence outlasts the current
leadership of the Palestinian Authority. It would be rash to assume that the
vacuum left by the United States will not be filled by others, such as Russia,
whose agenda in the region diverges sharply from Washington’s.
American aid has been a stabilizing influence in both the West Bank and Gaza.
Many USAID programs began in the aftermath of the Second Intifada and were
designed to prevent a return to such turbulence. Over the past 15 years,
security assistance programs have helped
build Palestinian security forces to supplant the semiofficial militias
that fueled violence during the Second Intifada. These Palestinian security
forces have effectively coordinated with the Israeli Army to combat terrorism in
the West Bank.
curtailing violence, raising standards of living and keeping children in school,
American assistance has contributed to a long period of relative calm, if not
peace. It is for this reason that Israeli officials have for years quietly
supported its continuation.
who supports Israeli-Palestinian peace should hope for the success of Mr.
Trump’s plan. But peace will ultimately require more than the agreement of
leaders. It will require a Palestinian security force that can fend off those
determined to use violence to derail peace efforts, and a civil society that can
ensure that peace is not just a top-down proposition. Aid to the
Palestinians—conditional and coordinated with Israel—should be a part of
American policy. It could not only help President Trump’s plan succeed but
also ensure stability if peace efforts founder.