By Janet Phelan
The announcement by the Trump administration that it is cutting off USAID to the Palestinian territories has some people concerned.
And not only Palestinians. The announcement that Trump is reducing the number of USAID employees in the region by 60% in the coming weeks, in preparation for shutting down the agency’s operations in the region in 2019, is being reported by some of the Israeli press as counterproductive.
USAID has been operating in the Palestinian territories since 1994, with its efforts focusing on economic growth and infrastructure, including water projects, building schools and health clinics. As reported in Haaretz, USAID has invested about $5.5 billion in the West Bank and Gaza in the construction of roads, schools, clinics and community centers.
The decision to shutter USAID comes on the heels of the announcement in August that the US was halting its contribution to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Palestine (UNRWA). The US’s contribution to the 2017 budget of the agency was approximately one third of its total $1.1 billion budget.
The August announcement that the US was no longer contributing to UNRWA was tied to the Palestinian refusal to “play ball” with the Trump administration concerning its “Deal of the Century” peace plan for Israel/Palestine. The cessation of funding for UNRWA and USAID is being reported as a punitive measure designed to force the Palestinians into peace negotiations with Israel, which imploded after Trump announced that he was moving the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Palestinian leaders see East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state and Trump’s move is viewed by them as disqualifying the US as a peace mediator.
The strategy of “squeezing the Palestinians” to force them to the table with Israel may backfire. The gala opening of the Embassy in Jerusalem earlier this year resulted in carnage in Gaza as dozens of Palestinian protesters died in confrontation with Israeli forces. As reported in Haaretz, “Senior defense officials have warned that without an alternative to UNRWA, the situation in Gaza will worsen.” The article goes on to state that “While aid to UNRWA is more significant than the USAID, the cessation of the activities of both agencies, coupled with no alternative in sight will lead to a decline in the humanitarian situation in the Strip and even to its collapse, by which, Israeli security officials have said, Israel will pay the price in terms of sanitation, security and the economy.”
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As quoted in Foreign Policy, a retired Israeli intelligence officer stated, “They’ll get the opposite result…The Palestinians won’t come back to the table. It just won’t happen.”
The perception that the US is a friend to Israel has come under some scrutiny of late. Historically, the US’s relationship with Israel has been double edged. Of recent concern is the perception that the approximately $3 billion in aid that the US gives Israel, earmarked for weapons that Israel then buys from the US, is paying for bum defenses. Not only do some scientists consider the much touted Iron Dome to be a hyped-up failure, similar concerns now shroud the missile defense system known as David’s Sling.
Also of concern is that Trump wants to redefine what constitutes a Palestinian refugee. At this point, roughly 5 million people in Palestine are considered refugees. Trump wants to reduce the count to half a million, which may further impact any Palestinian support of Trump’s “peace process.”
If Barack Obama was blatantly anti-Israel, then Donald Trump may be bumblingly so. While loudly proclaiming his support for Israel, Trump’s actions are putting massive stress on existing fault lines. Depriving Palestinians of fresh water and health care is hardly likely to soften them up towards his “Deal of the Century.” In fact, it is far more likely to increase the conflict.
Coming at this point in time, when anti-Semitism is increasing exponentially across the globe, squeezing the Palestinians could be seen as a fatal mistake. France is currently experiencing a spike in attacks on Jews; Jews constitute one percent of the French population but they account for the victims of one third of the hate crimes in France in 2017. Haaretz reports that half of Holland’s Jews are afraid of identifying as Jewish; and in Germany, a recently released report states that anti-Semitism now pervades mainstream German society, with anti-Semitic content on the Internet up from 7.5 % to over 30%. A recent global study, published by the Kantor Institute, discusses elements in both the right and the left as contributing to the rise in anti-Semitism, worldwide.
In light of this global shift, Trump’s punitive measures against the Palestinians may have the effect of throwing a match into a gas tank. And should the conflict escalate, the Palestinians, deprived of the most basic forms of humanitarian aid, will not be the only victims.
Janet Phelan is an investigative journalist and author of the groundbreaking , EXILE. Her articles previously appeared in such mainstream venues as the Los Angeles Times, Orange Coast Magazine, Long Beach Press Telegram, etc. In 2004, Janet “jumped ship” and now exclusively writes for independent media. She is also the author of two collections of poetry—The Hitler Poems and Held Captive. She resides abroad. You can follow her on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100012703457651
Image credit: Al-Monitor