The Trump administration recently announced that it would close the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s office in Washington, D.C., citing a lack of progress in peace talks with Israel. This comes after the administration’s move to cut funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.
Critics like Ishaan Tharoor at the Washington Post were quick to lambast the administration for having an “anti-Palestinian agenda.” Don’t let Tharoor and his allies mislead you. The administration isn’t playing sides -- it’s recognizing hard truths.
Lasting peace can’t be built on fictions. Trump is delivering a strong dose of reality to key Palestinian institutions, which just might lead to a plausible solution.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Tharoor and others are up in arms over the administration’s recent actions. These are the same folks who lauded the previous administration’s attempts at brokering a deal -- which achieved exactly nil.
One common theme among these detractors is lavish praise for UNRWA and the Palestinian Authority, two organizations with a mixed track record at best and a harmful one at worst.
UNRWA’s stated purpose is to provide aid to needy Palestinians, a noble and necessary cause. But it’s commitment to that mission is questionable. For starters, the agency labels not just those Palestinians displaced from Israel in 1948, but their descendants as well. No other refugees in the world are classified in this fashion. Not those from Iraq, South Sudan, Somalia or anywhere else.
The official Palestinian refugee population stands around 5.3 million instead of 850,000, the actual number of displaced persons. Since these millions of individuals are classified as refugees, many advocates claim they should have an absolute “right of return” in any Israel/Palestine compromise. Right of return, as it is currently being pushed, would entail all Palestinian refugees having access to their literal homes in modern day Israel.
Let’s face it: This will never be agreed upon in a future peace deal, no matter the American or Israeli administration. Even Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said that such an act would “drown Israel with refugees,” and isn’t a viable solution.
In addition to hindering the peace process, UNRWA has had quite a few of its own shameful controversies. Hamas has used UNRWA schools to store weapons and fire missiles at Israel. Textbooks handed out by UNRWA have been notorious for their anti-Semitic content. A few choice excerpts include discussions of the ambitions of “greedy Jews” and the claim that Jews have no holy sites in Jerusalem. Maps of Israel also don’t include major cities such as Tel Aviv and some maps don’t even include the name “Israel” on them.
Does it surprise anyone that Palestinian children grow up with hostility towards Israel?
Like UNRWA, the PA isn’t without its share of embarrassments. Riddled with corruption, the organization has been used to enrich the few at the expense of the many: Abbas has an estimated net worth of $100 million and lets benefits seep down to his cronies. In lieu of development and infrastructure projects, the PA has instead spent a significant portion of its budget on bankrolling the families of terrorists through the Palestine Martyrs Fund. The fund doled out a whopping $347 million in 2017 and is expected to spend $403 million by the end of 2018.
How, again, does this contribute to a future state for the Palestinian people? Ding ding -- it doesn’t. The PA has dramatically failed the Palestinian people. And Trump is right to question the long-held assumption that these entities are positively contributing to the peace process and well-being of the Palestinian people.
Continuing to embrace UNRWA’s charade of subsidizing a rapidly increasing number of Palestinian “refugees,” who are simply being used as pawns on a chess board, is disingenuous and will make peace less likely as time goes on. Political compromises need to be recognized, and UNRWA constantly feeding false hope to members of the Palestinian community is cruel and inhumane.
Furthermore, transparency and accountability at the PA is an absolute must. The premier Palestinian political entity should not be a piggy bank that its leaders can plunder at their choosing while doling goodies to key constituencies.
Maybe Tharoor can provide some insight on how not funding these failing, anti-Semitic, corrupt institutions is “anti-Palestinian.” Shock therapy for these key players is long overdue.
Sure, the Trump administration’s approach is unconventional. That’s a good thing. It’s ending the harmful status quo that too many in the U.N. would prefer to maintain. Tough love may just lead to a grand bargain.