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Photo: AP, Reuters
Trump and Abbas
Photo: AP, Reuters
Ron Ben-Yishai
Let the Palestinians make lemonade of Trump's lemons
Op-ed: US cutting its aid to the Palestinians and funding to UNRWA are welcomed steps, but they must be done gradually and alongside supplementary economic moves to help end Palestinian dependency on donations.
Cutting aid to the Palestinians, cutting funding to UNRWA, and the Trump administration's declaration that it does not recognize the Palestinian "right of return," are all welcomed steps, because they will force the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and other factions in the PLO to adopt a more practical view on a permanent resolution to the conflict. Perhaps these moves could even cause the Palestinians to recalculate their own steps and come back to the negotiating table with a paradigm that would be closer to something Israel would consider acceptable.

 

 

But alongside the possibilities in these moves by Washington, we must first recognize the risks. The economic pressure, which is the result of cutting UNRWA's funding, will almost certainly cause a very serious and very real humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and to a lesser degree in Judea and Samaria as well.

 

In addition, the Palestinian leadership's response to Trump's declaration, which pulls the rug out from under the international legitimacy for the Palestinian "right of return" demand, will almost certainly spark violence on Gaza and West Bank streets, mostly on the backdrop of the battle over the PA leadership in the wake of Abbas's departure.

 

US President Donald Trump; Palestinian President Abbas (Photo: AFP)
US President Donald Trump; Palestinian President Abbas (Photo: AFP)

 

Therefore, if the US, Israel—and perhaps also the Quartet—want to leverage the funding cuts and the canceling the recognition for the Palestinian "right of return" in order to achieve a groundbreaking positive result, this process must be done gradually and be accompanied by supplementary economic moves.

 

Washington needs to gradually cut the funds the Palestinians receive either directly or through UNRWA over 3-4 years in a way that allows the supplementary economic moves to be implemented on the ground, giving the Palestinians in Gaza and in Judea and Samaria alternative sources of income and employment. Otherwise, cutting the funding will, in short order, bring to a humanitarian crisis in the strip that Israel has a supreme political and security interest in preventing. Such a crisis will lead to security tensions that Hamas would either initiate or be dragged into—and the rest is known.

 

A similar conflict could develop in Judea and Samaria as well. There won't be a humanitarian crisis, but the worsening unemployment situation will serve as another incentive for unrest, which has been bubbling under the surface anyway. It will start with street protests—and the rest is known here as well. It could end with another mini-intifada, or perhaps even a full-blown intifada.

 

All of this could be avoided if the Trump administration announces a gradual reduction of funding, which will be done in tandem with a plan for economic investments and projects to establish electricity, water, health and education infrastructures in the strip and in Judea and Samaria, in order to replace the donations the Palestinians receive through UNRWA and other international bodies. Indirectly, such a "Marshall Plan" for Gaza and the West Bank could increase Palestinian motivation to reach a peaceful resolution to the conflict, and create internal processes within Palestinian society to allow this. On such a backdrop, the US withdrawing its recognition of the Palestinian "right of return" won't lead to such serious unrest.

 

The Gaza donor countries convened in Brussels Tuesday. This is an excellent opportunity to establish an international consortium—including Arab states—that would also supervise and ensure the economic investments are not funneled by Hamas to its military wing and that the Palestinian education system doesn't teach incitement.

 

Israel would be an active partner in such a consortium, but not as a regular member, rather a "facilitator." Meaning, the Israeli government won't fund or directly carry out the moves, but will do everything in its power to ensure the implementation of these moves will be done quickly through our ports and the border crossings under our control. Professional, engineering and mostly security consultation to the international consortium is necessary not just for effective implementation, but also to maintain our vital national security interests.

 

We can talk and bargain over everything else after there's a calm in the Gaza Strip (a return to the post-Protective Edge understandings), which will allow this process to begin. Calm currently prevails in the West Bank, where this process can start immediately. Then, when this process is already underway, serious negotiations could start over the captives and the bodies of the soldiers that need to be returned home, as well as all kinds of "arrangements."

 


פרסום ראשון: 08.28.18, 23:49
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