THE ANGRY ARAB: Maxime Rodinson & the Palestinian Question

A new book attacking the French scholar for his views on Israel and Zionism spurs As`ad AbuKhalil to provide his own assessment.

By As`ad AbuKhalil
Special to Consortium News

The French Orientalist Maxime Rodinson was by far one of the greatest scholars on Islam and the Arab world in the 20thcentury (if not ever).  His contributions belie the notion that all Orientalist production can be dismissed as purely ideological (and that was not the contention of Edward Said in his “Orientalism,” all distortions of Said’s work notwithstanding). I, for one, owe a great debt of gratitude to Rodinson for influencing me early on in my conception of, and education in, Middle East studies.  Rodinson wrote the best contemporary biography of the Prophet, and he examined him from a Marxist historical perspective (the book was translated into many languages, including Persian but not Arabic).

Rodinson’s “Islam and Capitalism” also powerfully debunked classical Orientalist myths about Islam and Muslims (including the thesis of Max Weber about capitalism and Protestantism) by showing that Muslims were able to go around the theoretical theological ban on usury in their financial transactions. Later, in “Europe and the Mystique of Islam,” Rodinson introduced the notion of “theologocentrism” to critically characterize the Western school of thought in academia that attributes all observable phenomena among Muslims to matters of theology.  Furthermore, refreshingly, Rodinson paid attention to Arab leftism and wrote about Lebanese and Syrian communists who he knew well in the seven years he spent between Syria and Lebanon during and after World War II.

Attention to Rodinson is prompted by the publication of Susie Linfield’s “The Lions’ Den: Zionism and the Left from Hannah Arendt to Noam Chomsky.”  The author is a professor of journalism at NYU and has no background in Middle East studies.  Yet, she uses her platform to launch an attack on critics of Israel and Zionism and situate them in the category of self-hating Jews.  But her method of handling Rodinson is not even honest: she accuses the author (who lost his parents in Auschwitz) of not talking about his Jewish background or even about Nazi atrocities when, in fact, he spoke at length about such matters.  She even accuses Rodinson of being silent about the crimes of Arab governments and misdeeds of the PLO when he was a harsh critic of them both.  And she makes up a story that Rodinson was accused by Arabs of “lacking respect for Islam (and worse)” without providing any evidence. Rodinson remains highly respected in the Arab world.

Rodinson was born to Jewish communist parents (his father played chess with Leon Trotsky), who were fierce anti-Zionists.  He grew up in a secular atheist family, and that rankled Linfield, who considered it a disqualifier in his writings on Palestine. Not identifying with an ancestral religion is anyone’s right, including Rodinson who became a communist early in his youth.  He also developed a keen interest in languages and Middle East studies.  Rodinson never tried to ignore the Palestinian question: in the West, talking about the Palestinian question from a non-Zionist, or anti-Zionist, perspective can result in enormous pressures and negative consequences.  To this very day, many Western academics choose to either champion Zionism or to ignore the Arab-Israeli conflict altogether (many of the Western academics who feigned concern for the Syrian people in recent years had never written or said a word about Palestinians).

‘Most Famous Anti-Zionist in France’

Rodinson became (in his own words) “the most famous anti-Zionist in France” (“Cult, Ghetto, and State,” p. 23).  His piece for Jean-Paul Sartre’s Les Temps Modernes in 1967 made Rodinson a target of Zionist forces worldwide.  His article (later published as a book, including in Arabic) was titled “Israel: A Colonial-Settler State?”  While Rodinson answered his question in a sophisticated argument in the affirmative, he qualified the answer with an attempt to provide Israeli founding with extenuating circumstances. In other words, Rodinson’s stance on the Palestinian question was not as radical as it was reputed to be although his arguments about the nature of the Zionist project were quite radical — and accurate.

Linfield finds Rodinson’s characterization of anti-Semitism among Arabs to be apologetic, while he was clearly critical of the plight of non-Muslims under Muslim rule historically.  But Rodinson lived among the Arabs, and was accepted by them, in the 1940s, when Jews (regardless whether they were practicing or not) were being exterminated in Europe.  Rodinson knows more about Arab attitudes toward Jews than Linfield. Rodinson rightly pointed out that the creation of Israel triggered the rise of anti-Semitism among Arabs and resulted in the translation of some Western works of anti-Semitism (even Bernard Lewis concedes that Arab anti-Semitism is political).

In May 1972, Rodinson gave an interview to Shu`un Filastiniyyah in which he gave an accounting of his views of the conflict (it was reprinted in “Cult, Ghetto, and State”).  In that interview, Rodinson (commenting on a remark by the late professor Ismail Faruqi to the effect that a Zionist state is objectionable even if it was established on the moon) said that he would not object to a Jewish state on the moon.  But should not a secular Marxist object to any state with a religious identify and which is founded on the principle of the juridical supremacy of one religious group over others?  Rodinson’s point was to remind readers that his objection to the Jewish state was not in principle but was due to the displacement of the native Palestinian population and the harm that Israel has inflicted on them.

Israel’s Founding 

Having said that, Rodinson in his book, “Israel: A Colonial-Settler State,” does not shy away from answering in the affirmative. The extenuating circumstances that he provides to the Zionist argument are that: No. 1) the immigration of Jews from Europe due to Nazi crimes was a matter of survival; No. 2) the socialist character of the Yishuv; No. 3) he talks about the sale of land to the Jews and says that it was “to the benefit of the seller and the agricultural development of the country” (p. 87). 

But the immigration of Jews into Palestine took place without the consent of the native population, and it was forced either by the British government or by illegal immigration of Jews: and Western governments that were generous with their support for Jewish immigration into Palestine were strict about their restriction on Jewish immigration into their lands.

Furthermore, the question of land sale is not really salient to the discussion of the creation of Israel because Israel became a Jewish state by force and not by legal transactions (the percentage of land sold to the Jews was minuscule in comparison to the forced theft of Palestinian land). 

Finally, the socialist character of the Yishuv should be irrelevant to a discussion of a colonial subjugation of a people: what does it matter to the victims if their oppressors and killers were socialist or capitalists?  (This while the socialist character of the Yishuv has been highly exaggerated and the experiment ended in an ultra-capitalist state, and Western socialists have never been free of racism and prejudice). Zionists began to abuse the natives and practice discrimination against them from early on. (The ideal of “Hebrew labor” referred to the deliberate exclusion of Arab workers from Jewish enterprises).

Rodinson agrees that Zionist settlement amounted to colonialism but then proceeds to suggest that Israel was a peculiar kind of colonialism because the occupiers wanted to rule over a territory but not a population. But how can you rule over a territory and not rule over a population, most of whom were expelled by force in 1948? And does that argument make a difference to the victims? To rule over a territory and not bother with the population is the worst kind of colonialism.

Rodinson makes a strong case against Israel but then provides weak solutions that are not commensurate with the crimes that he helped expose.  While he says that Arabs should determine the outcome of the struggle themselves, he advises against military solutions.  How did history treat those who called on the French living under Nazi occupation (or blacks under Apartheid South Africa) to practice pacifism?

Rodinson maintains that there are two distinct communities in Palestine that have to be represented in two separate political entities, i.e. two-state (non-solution).  It is ironic that Rodinson’s powerful refutation of Zionist claims concludes with a weak call for Palestinian accommodation of Zionist occupation over 78 percent of historic Palestine. But Rodinson also said (in “Israel and the Arabs”): “On the other hand, a total victory for the Arabs some day is not out of the question.  Israel’s military superiority will not last forever, or, at least, will not be absolute forever” (p. 352).  If only Rodinson had been around to watch the Israeli humiliation in South Lebanon in 2006.

As’ad AbuKhalil is a Lebanese-American professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus. He is the author of the “Historical Dictionary of Lebanon” (1998), “Bin Laden, Islam and America’s New War on Terrorism” (2002), and “The Battle for Saudi Arabia” (2004). He tweets as @asadabukhalil

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Evangelical Christians Risk Setting Middle East on Fire

Jonathan Cook explains why the wave of pro-Zionist preachers taking an interest in Israel is bad news for Palestinians and loaded with ominous historic precedent.  

On Monday Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addressed the annual summit of Christians United for Israel, espousing Christian Zionist support for the state of Israel.  Jonathan Cook takes a deep look into this phenomenon. 

By JonathanCook
in Nazareth

The recent arrival of Africa’s most popular televangelist preacher, TB Joshua, to address thousands of foreign pilgrims in Nazareth produced a mix of consternation and anger in the city of Jesus’s childhood.

There was widespread opposition from Nazareth’s political movements, as well as from community groups and church leaders, who called for a boycott of his two rallies. They were joined by the council of muftis, which described the events as “a red line for faith in religious values.”

Joshua’s gatherings, which included public exorcisms, took place in an open-air amphitheater on a hill above Nazareth that was originally built for papal masses. The site was used by Pope Benedict in 2009.

The Nigerian pastor, who has millions of followers worldwide and calls himself a prophet, aroused local hostility not only because his brand of Christianity strays far from the more traditional doctrines of Middle Eastern churches. He also represents a trend of foreign Christians, driven by apocalyptic readings of the Bible, interfering ever more explicitly in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories – and in ways that directly aid the policies of Israel’s far-right government.

Much-Needed Tourism Boost

Nazareth is the largest of the Palestinian communities in Israel that survived the Nakba, or catastrophe, of 1948, which forced most of the native population out of the bulk of their homeland and replaced it with a Jewish state. Today, 1-in-5 Israeli citizens are Palestinian.

The city and its immediate environs include the highest concentration of Palestinian Christians in the region. But it has long suffered from the hostility of Israeli officials, who have starved Nazareth of resources to prevent it from becoming a political, economic or cultural capital for the Palestinian minority.

The city has almost no land for growth or industrial areas to expand its income base, and Israel has tightly constrained its ability to develop a proper tourism industry. Most pilgrims pass through briefly to visit its Basilica of the Annunciation, the site where the angel Gabriel reputedly told Mary she was carrying Jesus.

Nazareth’s municipal officials leapt at the chance to exploit the publicity, and income, provided by Joshua’s visit. The municipality’s longer-term hope is that, if the city can attract even a small proportion of the more than 60 million Christian evangelicals in the U.S. and millions more in Africa and Europe, it will provide an enormous boost to the city’s economy.

Recent figures show evangelical tourism to Israel has been steadily rising, now accounting for about 1-in-7  of all overseas visitors.

Playing with Fire

But as the fallout over Joshua’s visit indicates, Nazareth may be playing with fire by encouraging these types of pilgrims to take a greater interest in the region. Most local Christians understand that Joshua’s teachings are not directed at them – and, in fact, are likely to harm them.

The Nigerian pastor chose Nazareth to spread his gospel, but faced vocal opposition from those who believe he is using the city simply as the backdrop to his bigger mission – one that appears entirely indifferent to the plight of Palestinians, whether those living inside Israel in places such as Nazareth, or those under occupation.

Political factions in Nazareth noted Joshua’s “ties to far-right and settlers circles in Israel.” He is reported to have had meetings about opening operations in the Jordan Valley, the reputed site of Jesus’ baptism but also the agricultural backbone of the West Bank. The area is being targeted by the far-right government of Benjamin Netanyahu for settlement expansion and possible annexation, thereby dooming efforts to create a Palestinian state.

A View of Armageddon

During his visits to Israel, Joshua has also enjoyed access to key government figures such as Yariv Levin, a close ally of Netanyahu’s, who has been in charge of two portfolios viewed as critical by the evangelical community: tourism, and the absorption into Israel of new Jewish immigrants from the U.S. and Europe.

Many in the evangelical community, including Joshua, believe it is their duty to encourage Jews to move from their home countries to the Promised Land to bring forward an end-times supposedly prophesied in the Bible.

This is the Rapture, when Jesus returns to build his kingdom on earth and righteous Christians take their place alongside him. Everyone else, including unrepentant Jews, it is implied, will burn in Hell’s eternal fires.

The cliff above the Jezreel Valley where Joshua and his disciples congregated offers views over Tel Megiddo, the modern name of the biblical site of Armageddon, where many evangelicals believe the end of the world will soon happen.

Speeding up the Second Coming

These Christians are not simply observers of an unfolding divine plan; they are active participants trying to bring the end-times closer.

In fact, the traumas of the Israel-Palestine conflict – the decades of bloodshed, violent colonization and expulsions of Palestinians – cannot be understood separately from the interference of Western Christian leaders in the Middle East over the past century. In many ways, they engineered the Israel we know today.

The first Zionists, after all, were not Jews, but Christians. A vigorous Christian Zionist movement – known then as “restorationism” – emerged in the early 19th century, predating and heavily influencing its subsequent Jewish counterpart.

The restorationists’ peculiar reading of the Bible meant that they believed the Messiah’s second coming could be accelerated if God’s chosen people, the Jews, returned to the Promised Land after 2,000 years of a supposed exile.

Charles Taze Russell, a U.S. pastor from Pennsylvania, travelled the world from the 1870s onwards imploring Jews to establish a national home for themselves in what was then Palestine. He even produced a plan for how a Jewish state might be created there.

He did so nearly 20 years before the Jewish Viennese journalist Theodor Herzl published his famous book outlining a Jewish state.

The secular Herzl didn’t much care where such a Jewish state was built. But his later followers – deeply aware of the hold of Christian Zionism in Western capitals – focused their attention on Palestine, the biblical Promised Land, in the hope of winning powerful allies in Europe and the U.S.

Rallying Cry for Herzl’s Followers

Imperial Britain’s support was especially prized. In 1840, Lord Shaftesbury, who was connected through marriage to Lord Palmerston, a later prime minister, published an advert in the London Times urging the return of Jews to Palestine.

Christian Zionism was an important factor influencing the British government in 1917 to issue the Balfour Declaration – effectively a promissory note from Britain that became the blueprint for creating a Jewish state on the ruins of the native population’s homeland.

Writing of the declaration, Israeli historian Tom Segev has observed: “The men who sired it were Christian and Zionist and, in many cases, anti-Semitic.” That was because Christian Zionism took as its premise that Jews should not integrate into their own countries. Rather, they should serve as instruments of God’s will, moving to the Middle East so that Christians could achieve redemption.

Edwin Montagu was the only British cabinet minister to oppose the Balfour Declaration, and he was also its sole Jewish member. He warned – for good reason – that the document would “prove a rallying ground for anti-Semites in every country in the world.”

‘Struggle Until the Rapture’

While Jewish Zionists looked to the imperial powerhouse of Britain for sponsorship a century ago, today, their chief patron is the U.S. The standard-bearers of Christian Zionism have been enjoying growing influence in Washington since the Six-Day War of 1967.

That process has reached its apotheosis under President Donald Trump. He has surrounded himself with a mix of extreme Jewish and Christian Zionists. His ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, and Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt, are fervent Jewish supporters of the illegal settlements. But so too, it seems, are key Christians in the White House, such as Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Before he entered government, Pompeo was clear about his evangelical beliefs. Back in 2015, he told a congregation: “It is a never-ending struggle … until the Rapture. Be part of it. Be in the fight.”

This past March, he backed the idea that Trump might have been sent by God to save Israel from threats such as Iran. “I am confident that the Lord is at work here,” he told the Christian Broadcasting Network.

Pence, meanwhile, has said: “My passion for Israel springs from my Christian faith … It’s really the greatest privilege of my life to serve as vice-president to a president who cares so deeply for our most cherished ally.”

Sleeping Giant Awakens

Trump’s relocation last year of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, pre-empting any negotiated settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict, was designed to pander to his Christian Zionist base. Some 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for him in 2016, and he will need their support again in 2020 if he hopes to be re-elected.

Not surprisingly, the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem was consecrated by two prominent televangelist pastors, John Hagee and Robert Jeffress, known for their fanatical support for Israel – as well as occasional anti-Semitic outbursts.

More than a decade ago, Hagee, the founder of Christians United for Israel, told delegates at a conference organized by AIPAC, Israel’s main political lobby in Washington: “The sleeping giant of Christian Zionism has awakened. There are 50 million Christians standing up and applauding the state of Israel.”

The Hagee group’s activities include lobbying in Congress for hardline pro-Israel legislation, such as the recent Taylor Force Act that slashes U.S. funding to the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinians’ government-in-waiting. The group is also active in helping to push through legislation at the state and federal levels, penalizing anyone who boycotts Israel.

For U.S. evangelicals, and those elsewhere, Israel is increasingly a key issue. A 2015 poll showed some three-quarters believe that developments in Israel were prophesied in the Bible’s Book of Revelation.

Many expect Trump to complete a chain of events set in motion by British officials a century ago – and more and more of them are getting directly involved, in hopes of speeding along that process.

Closer Ties to Settlers

Israel’s vision of an “ingathering of the exiles” – encouraging Jews from around the world to move to the region under the Law of Return – fits neatly with Christian Zionism’s beliefs in a divine plan for the Middle East.

The efforts of extremist Jewish settlers to colonize the West Bank, the bulk of any future Palestinian state, also chimes with Christian Zionists’ understanding of the West Bank as the “biblical heartland,” an area Jews must possess before Jesus returns.

For these reasons, evangelicals are developing ever-closer ties with Israeli Jewish religious extremists, especially in the settlements. Recent initiatives have included online and face-to-face Bible studies programs run by Orthodox Jews, often settlers, targeted specifically at evangelical Christians. The tutorials are designed to bolster the settlers’ narrative, as well as demonizing Muslims and, by extension, Palestinians.

The most popular course offered by Root Source, one such venture, is titled “Islam – Insights and Deceptions.” It uses the Old and New Testaments to make the case that Islam “is extremely dangerous.”

A few months ago, Haaretz, Israel’s leading liberal newspaper, published an investigation into the growing flow of evangelical volunteers and money into the West Bank’s illegal settlements – the chief obstacle to achieving a two-state solution.

One U.S. organization alone, Hayovel, has brought more than 1,700 Christian volunteers over the past 10 years to help in a settlement close to Nablus, in the heart of the West Bank.

Infusion of Evangelical Money

An increasing number of similar initiatives have been aided by new rules introduced last year by the Israeli government to pay Christian Zionist groups such as Hayovel to advocate abroad for the settlements.

It is much harder to know exactly how much evangelical money is pouring into the settlements, because of a lack of transparency regarding U.S. donations made by churches and charities. But the Haaretz investigation estimates that over the past decade, as much as $65 million has flowed in.

Ariel, a settler town sitting in the very center of the West Bank, received $8 million for a sports center from John Hagee Ministries a decade ago. Another evangelical outfit, J H Israel, has spent $2 million there on a national leadership center.

Other Christian charities that have historically funded projects inside Israel are reported to be increasingly considering assisting the settlements too.

Should a Trump peace plan – touted for publication later this year – back annexation of parts of the West Bank, as is widely expected, it would likely unleash a new and even greater wave of evangelical money into the settlements.

Immune to Reason

This is precisely the problem for Palestinians, and the wider Middle East. Christian Zionists are meddling yet again, whether they be government officials, church leaders or their congregations. Evangelical influence is to be found from the U.S. and Brazil to Europe, Africa and Southeast Asia.

Western governments typically have more practical and pressing concerns than realizing biblical prophecy to justify divide-and-rule policies in the Middle East. Chiefly, they want control over the region’s oil resources, and can secure it only by projecting military power there to prevent rival nations from gaining a foothold.

But the uncritical support of tens of millions of Christians around the world, whose passion for Israel is immune to reason, makes the job of these governments selling wars and resource grabs all the easier.

Both Israel and the West have benefited from cultivating an image of a plucky Jewish state surrounded by barbaric Arabs and Muslims determined to destroy it. As a result, Israel has enjoyed ever greater integration into a Western power bloc, while Western governments have been offered easy pretexts either to interfere in the region directly or delegate such interference to Israel.

The payoff for Israel has been unstinting support from the U.S. and Europe, as it oppresses and drives the Palestinians off their lands.

With an evangelical base behind him, Trump has no need to offer plausible arguments before he acts. He can move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, or approve the annexation of the West Bank, or attack Iran.

Standing Against Israel’s Enemies

Seen this way, any enemy Israel claims to have – whether the Palestinians or Iran – automatically becomes the sworn enemy of tens of millions of evangelical Christians.

Netanyahu understands the growing importance of this uncritical overseas lobby as his and Israel’s standing drops precipitously among liberal U.S. Jews, appalled by the rightward lurch of successive governments.

In 2017, Netanyahu told a crowd of evangelicals in Washington: “When I say we have no greater friends than Christian supporters of Israel, I know you’ve always stood with us.”

For Palestinians, this is bad news. Most of these evangelicals, such as T B Joshua, are largely indifferent or hostile to the fate of the Palestinians – even Palestinian Christians, such as those in Nazareth.

A recent editorial in Haaretz noted that Netanyahu and his officials were now “endeavoring to make evangelicals – who support Israel’s hawkish rejectionism regarding the Palestinians – the sole foundation of American support for Israel.”

The truth is that these Christian Zionists view the region through a single, exclusive prism: whatever aids the imminent arrival of the Messiah is welcomed. The only issue is how soon God’s “chosen people” will congregate in the Promised Land.

If the Palestinians stand in Israel’s way, these tens of millions of foreign Christians will be quite happy to see the native population driven out once again – as they were in 1948 and 1967.

Jonathan Cook is a freelance journalist based in Nazareth.

This article is from his blog at Jonathan

On The New York Times Cartoon Ban

Daniel Lazare looks into the Times’ overreaction to charges of anti-Semitism. 

By Daniel Lazare
Special to Consortium News

The New York Times was so sorry last month for publishing an allegedly anti-Semitic cartoon showing Benjamin Netanyahu as a guide dog leading a blind Donald Trump, that it’s decided never to run any satirical cartoon on any topic again.

Based on five minutes of googling, the consensus seems to be that it’s a gross overreaction. But the reason the Times can’t stop apologizing is that the cartoon shows the Israeli prime minister with a blue Star of David around his neck and Trump with a yarmulke atop his orange hairdo.  Using such symbols in this way makes many people uncomfortable, which is understandable. 

But imagine, if you will, a cartoon showing Canadian President Justin Trudeau with a maple leaf on his shirt, Angela Merkel with a German eagle, France’s Emmanuel Macron dressed up like Napoleon, or Britain’s Theresa May draped in a British flag?  Why don’t any of those stir an outcry?

The reason, one might counter, is that those images are political whereas the Star of David is religious. True, but that’s precisely the point. Canada, France, and Germany are all secular societies in which church and state are firmly separate.  (Britain is a bit more complicated thanks to the queen’s role as head of the Church of England, but that’s another story.)  But the upshot is zero overlap as far as political and religious imagery are concerned.

Indeed, for all its sins, the same is true even for the United States.  Think of America and what comes to mind – Uncle Sam, a bald eagle, or a missile-laden F-16?  Perhaps. What does not come to mind is the cross even though 75 percent of Americans identify as Christian, a higher portion than Canadians (67.3 percent), Germans (64.2), Brits (59.5), or French (51.1).  Thanks to the First Amendment and a succession of Supreme Court cases dealing with things like school prayer, the U.S. government has been de-religionized and the very idea of America has been de-religionized as well.

But it’s not true for Israel. To the contrary, the same Star of David that appears in the cartoon also appears on the national flag while the yarmulke is also virtually a national symbol thanks to the growing ultra-orthodox influence.  Instead of separation of church and state, the consequence is an ever-closer union. Back in 2003, the late historian Tony Judt stirred a hornet’s nest by pointing out that Israel has less in common in this respect with other postwar nations than it does with the ethno-religious states of the 1920s and ’30s.  As he put it in The New York Review of Books:

“At the dawn of the twentieth century, in the twilight of the continental empires, Europe’s subject peoples dreamed of forming ‘nation-states,’ territorial homelands where Poles, Czechs, Serbs, Armenians, and others might live free, masters of their own fate.  When the Habsburg and Romanov empires collapsed after World War I, their leaders seized the opportunity.  A flurry of new states emerged; and the first thing they did was set about privileging their national, ‘ethnic’ majority – defined by language, or religion, or antiquity, or all three – at the expense of inconvenient local minorities, who were consigned to second-class status: permanently resident strangers in their own home.”

Ethno States 

Ironically, the most inconvenient local minority of all was the Jews, who were all but obliterated when the same ethno-states were taken over by fascism during World War II.  Yet, under the Zionists, Israel has reduced Palestinians to strangers in their own land as well.

Indeed, the situation is far worse than when Judt wrote.  Where Israel “risks falling” into the camp of “belligerently intolerant, faith-driven ethno-states,” as he put it, it’s now the leader of the pack, a role model for up-and-coming ethno-authoritarians like Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, or, of course, Trump, as they make their way through an increasingly illiberal political landscape.

One purpose of an ethno-state is to dazzle, confuse, and disarm. There are many reasons that the Star of David appears on the Israeli flag, but one of the most important is to de-legitimize the criticism of de-legitimization by making it all but impossible to attack the Jewish state without attacking Jews.  Outsiders wind up damned if they do and damned if they don’t, spineless apologists for an increasingly brutal regime if they keep their mouths shut, and anti-Jewish bigots if they dare to speak up. 

This is the boat that António Moreira Antunes, the unfortunate Portuguese artist behind the Times cartoon, finds himself in now that he’s been branded as anti-Semite across the globe.  Antunes says he merely wanted to use Israeli national symbols to make a point, which is that “Trump’s erratic, destructive and often blind politics encouraged the expansionist radicalism of Netanyahu.”  Yet he found himself running headlong into a buzz saw of condemnation almost before he laid down his pen.

Not only does such doubled-edged symbolism make honest criticism more difficult – it also makes real anti-Semitism easier.  Traditionally, anti-Semites have hidden their bigotry behind seemingly legitimate criticism of the Jewish state.  Going on about this or that crime against the Palestinians is supposedly a way of going on and on about the Jews without quite saying so.  But as the British anti-Zionist campaigner Tony Green stein points out, today’s anti-Semites are good deal cleverer. Instead of hiding behind criticism, they hide behind support.

This is why someone like Orbán is so eager for Israeli approval even as he goes about rehabilitating Miklós Horthy, the Hungarian dictator from 1920 to 1944 who was a key Nazi ally and who, according to the historian Raphael Patai, bragged of being “an anti-Semite throughout my life.”  All Orbán wants is for Netanyahu to sprinkle him with a little holy water, so to speak, so he can continue with his neo-Horthyite goal of creating an ethnically pure Greater Hungary in which Muslim refugees are prohibited.  When the Hungarian president visited Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial last summer, furious demonstrators blocked his motorcade shouting, “Never again!” and “Shame on you!” and denouncing Yad Vashem for hosting him.

Favorite Target

Bad as this is, the real story is even worse.  Orbán’s favorite target, the key to his success in fact, turns out to be the Hungarian-American financier George Soros.  Soros is a major funder of liberal causes and organizations throughout the world, including the Free University in Budapest, a liberal bastion that has long been a thorn in Orbán’s side.  Soros also happens to be Jewish.  For the Hungarian president, therefore, he’s straight out of central casting, an international Jew who can be blamed for everything from the migrant crisis to the economic slowdown and know-it-all foreign critics.  A recent government-funded poster campaign showed Soros’s portrait along with the inscription, “Let’s not let George Soros have the last laugh” – a reference, Tony Greenstein’s suggests, to a famous speech that Hitler gave in January 1939:

“I have often been a prophet in my life and was generally laughed at. During my struggle for power, the Jews primarily received with laughter my prophecies that I would someday assume the leadership of the state and … then, among many other things, achieve a solution of the Jewish problem.  I suppose that meanwhile the then surrounding laughter of Jewry in Germany is now choking in their throats.”

Just as Hitler didn’t want Jews to have the last laugh, Orbán doesn’t want them to either.

But Orbán didn’t dream up the anti-Soros campaign on his own.  To the contrary, a pair of rightwing American Jewish political consultants named Arthur Finkelstein and George Birnbaum thought it up for him.  After Finkelstein and Birnbaum helped Netanyahu become prime minister in 1996, he returned the favor by recommending their services to his old friend in Budapest. Amid the economic devastation caused by the 2008 financial blowout, they helped him win re-election, Hannes Grassegger reports in Buzzfeed, by persuading him to target bureaucrats and foreign capital.  When Orbán needed a fresh enemy to consolidate his control, they then came up with another target.  Following their advice to the letter, Orbán sailed into Soros at the height of the 2015 refugee crisis:

“His name is perhaps the strongest example of those who support anything that weakens nation states, they support everything that changes the traditional European lifestyle.  These activists who support immigrants inadvertently become part of this international human-smuggling network.”

This was the international Jew as enemy of the nation, tradition, and Christianity – an angle of attack that a couple of Netanyahu emissaries not only inspired but designed.  Instead of defending Jews, Israel was egging on their attackers.  Not for nothing does Israeli dissident Ronnie Barkan argue that “the greatest anti-Semitic force in the world today is the state of Israel.” 

Yet the only thing The New York Times can do in response is to shoot the messenger by forever banning political cartoons from its pages.  By censoring critics, editorial page editor James Bennet, the genius behind the new policy, hopes that maybe the problem will just go away.  But it won’t of course.  He’s guilty, rather, of a hear-no-evil strategy that will only make matters worse.  The Times’s definition of “all the news that’s fit to print” grows narrower and more distortedby the day.

Daniel Lazare is the author of “The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy” (Harcourt Brace, 1996) and other books about American politics.  He has written for a wide variety of publications from The Nation to Le Monde Diplomatique and blogs about the Constitution and related matters at

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Echoes of FDR in Trump’s Bid for Palestinian Surrender

There’s nothing new about a U.S. president assuming that Palestinians can be bribed into cooperating with Zionist ambitions, writes Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

President Donald Trump’s peace plan for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, or at least the economic side of it, was discussed at a meeting in Bahrain on June 25 and 26. The plan, euphemistically entitled “Peace to Prosperity” and the “Deal of the Century” is also, inaccurately, likened to a “Marshall Plan for Palestinians.” It is based on the assumption that money, ultimately the better part of $50 billion, can lure the Palestinian people into surrender — that is, the surrender of their right to a state of their own on their stolen ancestral land as well as the right of return for the 7.5 million Palestinians who have been forced into exile. Upon surrender, according to the plan, “an ambitious, achievable … framework for a prosperous future for the Palestinian people and the region” will be put into place. How this idealized future is to be integrated into the apartheid and Bantustan system of control that constitutes the Israeli government’s “facts on the ground” is left unexplained.  

This bit of gilded bait was put together by “senior White House adviser” Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law; Jason Greenblatt, chief lawyer of the Trump Organization and now U.S. envoy for international negotiations; and David Friedman, the president’s bankruptcy lawyer who is now the U.S. ambassador to Israel. All of these men are at once unqualified for their present positions as well as Zionist supporters of Israeli expansionism. It is not surprising then that the Israeli government has welcomed this effort. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he “would listen to the American plan and hear it fairly and with openness.” On the other hand, the Palestinian West Bank leader, Mahmoud Abbas, said, “As long as there is no political [solution], we do not deal with any economic [solution].”

There are, no doubt, some Palestinians who are upset at Abbas’s position: perhaps some business people, often-unpaid bureaucrats, and a portion of the frustrated middle-class, who will be dearly tempted by the promise of all that money. These are people who, given over a century of struggle, see no hope of a just political settlement.

Caution Signs 

Nonetheless, those tempted might consider these facts: (1) All those billions of dollars are, as yet, hypothetical. The money is not in the bank, so to speak. And, it is not a given that Trump can actually raise the funds. Thus, for all those ready to trade justice for dollars, it might be premature to actually make the leap. (2) There is a prevailing belief among the Trump cabal putting this plan together that the Palestinians themselves are incapable of running the proposed development programs. They are assumed to be too corrupt or tainted with “terrorist” backgrounds to be trusted. Thus, the question of who would run this effort (Israelis? American Zionists? anyone other than those dedicated to Palestinian interests?) is left unanswered. Relative to this question, it should be kept in mind that the Israelis have made something of a science of robbing the Palestinians of their resources. They are hardly likely to stop now. (3) The raising of money for the Trump plan is in competition with a UN effort to raise $1.2 billion for UNRWA (which Trump stopped funding), the agency that supports programs for Palestinian refugees. That fund-raiser was running at the same time as the Bahrain meeting. If the Trump plan gains traction, there might well be pressure to shut down UNRWA altogether. 

Is this really an honest proposal to provide the Palestinians with prosperity? The history of “third world” development efforts sponsored by and run under the guidance of “first world” powers, be they Western governments or institutions like the IMF, is largely one of failure. There is no reason to believe that the Trump plan will fare any better. While these problematic economic efforts may eventually fall short, the political conditions almost certain to be attached to the aid will probably require immediate cessation of all anti-Zionist activities, including the relatively successful ongoing boycott of Israel. 

The Precedent

It might come as a surprise, but this is not the first time that financial bribery to procure Arab cooperation with Zionist ambitions has been tried.

There is a historical precedent for Trump’s attempted “deal of the century” that is detailed my book, America’s Palestine (cheap used copies of which are available on line). Here is how that precedent went: Back in 1942, the Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann told members of the U.S. State Department’s Division of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) that Winston Churchill wished to make the Saudi king, Ibn Saud, “the boss of bosses in the Arab World.” The only condition to this offer was that Ibn Saud must “be willing to work out with Weizmann to achieve a sane solution to the Palestine problem.” Weizmann further claimed that the U.S. president Franklin Roosevelt was “in accord on this subject.” 

The response of the head of the NEA, Wallace Murray, a man who knew the Middle East much better than did Chaim Weizmann, was one of skepticism. Murray noted that British influence over Ibn Saud was small and that he doubted the Saudi king wanted to be the Arab “boss of bosses.” Finally, he expressed doubt that anything the Zionists would consider a “solution” would be something Ibn Saud would consider to be “sane.”

Nonetheless, the Zionists persisted along these lines and soon came up with a plan where, in return for a Jewish Palestine, Ibn Saud would be made the “head of an Arab federation in control of a ‘development’ budget of 20 million British pounds.” 

At this point Murray became adamant that this would never work. He predicted that Ibn Saud would interpret the offer as a bribe — the offer of a throne in exchange for turning Palestine over to the Zionists. He would interpret the 20 million pounds as a “slush fund.” Consequently, there was every reason to believe that the Saudi ruler would see this whole plan as a personal insult. So Murray suggested that “the less we have to do with the … proposals of Dr. Weizmann the better.”

As it turned out Roosevelt disagreed with Murray and after a conversation with Weizmann in early June of 1943, authorized an approach to Ibn Saud along the lines of the Zionist plan. Why did he ignore Murray in favor of Weizmann? Because Murray’s accurate assessment of Ibn Saud conflicted with FDR’s stereotyped view of Arabs. This is revealed in the minutes of the June meeting with Weizmann wherein the president said that “he believes the Arabs are purchasable.” In other words, following a common Western view, the president saw the Arabs as a backward people who would do just about anything for the right amount of “bakshish.”

Subsequently, the entire scheme came to naught when, in the fall of 1943, Ibn Saud rejected it out of hand. He would subsequently tell FDR that the Jews should “be given the choicest lands and homes of the Germans who had oppressed them.” When the president replied that the Jews would not wish to stay in Germany after the war, Ibn Saud noted that the “allied camp” had “fifty countries” in it. Surely they could find enough open space (he even alluded to the underpopulated areas of the American West) to take in Europe’s Jewish refugees. Roosevelt came away from the exchange rather shaken. He finally understood from it that “the Arabs mean business” when it comes to Palestine.

Change and Continuity

The world has changed a lot since the 1940s. Ibn Saud has been replaced by the Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman. This can be seen as real step down in terms of personal integrity and strategic judgment. Franklin Roosevelt has been replaced with Donald Trump. I will let readers make their own judgments on this change. Actually, the thing that has stayed constant, perhaps because it was always devoid of real empathy for the Palestinians, is the nature of Zionist leadership. Thus, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, has said that the only way the Palestinians can be economically liberated is through their political surrender. But as suggested above, Israel is now a confirmed apartheid state that feels its own “security” necessitates both military and economic control of the Palestinians. Given that reality, Danon’s notion of economic liberation means about as much as Weizmann’s promise of someone else’s (i.e., Britain’s) money. And then there is the replacement of Chaim Weizmann (the Zionist pre-state leader) with Benjamin Netanyahu. The former may have had more persuasive charm than the latter, but certainly their goals were, and continue to be, the same.

It is Zionism’s ambition to possess biblical Palestine that has reduced the Palestinians to destitution. Perfectly predictable and legal Palestinian resistance is the excuse the Israelis use to cover up the segregationist and impoverishing policies that are necessitated by their ideological worldview. And now Trump and his Zionist son-in-law come forward with their plan, fully expecting the Palestinians to trust the Americans and their Israeli allies to make them “developed” and prosperous? I wonder what Ibn Saud would say to that?

Lawrence Davidson is professor of history emeritus at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He has been publishing his analyses of topics in U.S. domestic and foreign policy, international and humanitarian law and Israel/Zionist practices and policies since 2010.

This article is from his website

Trump’s Underwhelming Deal for Palestine and the Gulf Monarchies’ Complicated Ties with Israel

Giorgio Cafiero gauges the shortcomings of the U.S.-backed “Peace to Prosperity” summit in Bahrain this week.

By Giorgio Cafiero
Special to Consortium News

The U.S.-backed two-day “Peace to Prosperity” summit in Bahrain on Tuesday and Wednesday was designed to advance the Trump administration’s vision for resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But without any significant Palestinian representation at the summit, as well as the absence of any Israeli government officials, the gathering was ultimately little more than a face-saving effort on the White House’s part following two years of the administration’s “futile” peacemaking efforts.

The conference is understood to have laid the foundation for the “Deal of the Century.” The details have yet to be released, although the White House claims it will unveil the plan following Israel’s elections in September. Yet some details have leaked, leading the Palestinian Authority to declare it dead on arrival. Virtually all Palestinian factions are united in opposition to it.

Telling was the 40-page proposal put out earlier this month by the White House, which used the terms “investment” and “financing” dozens of times, yet never once mentioned “occupation.” Dan Kurtzer, who previously served as Washington’s ambassador to Israel and Egypt and is now a professor of Middle East policy studies at Princeton University, tweeted: “I would give this so-called plan a ‘C’ from an undergraduate student. The authors of the plan clearly understand nothing.”

The “workshop” in Bahrain began with President Donald Trump’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner delivering a speech in which he unveiled a $50 billion economic package intended to “unleash” the Palestinians’ potential as well as help develop neighboring Lebanon and Jordan. Kushner referred to a “bustling tourist center in Gaza” without acknowledging Israel’s siege of the coastal strip and the dire humanitarian crises in the blockaded enclave. IMF Director Christine Lagarde spoke about applying lessons from Mozambique to Palestine. Steve Schwarzman, an American billionaire whose personal wealth exceeds Palestine’s annual GDP, advised the Palestinians to follow the model of Singapore. The U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, hailed the “workshop” as an “attempt to jumpstart the Palestinian economy” and “improve the quality of life of Palestinians.”

Unrealistic and Disingenuous

Undeniably, the White House’s plans for resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict are as unrealistic as they are disingenuous. With an ongoing conflict and no clearly defined borders, it is at best naïve to imagine the Occupied Palestinian Territories fostering a climate that is ripe for foreign investment. Building a tourism sector and stimulating vibrant economic growth under occupation are also unrealistic. Whereas Kushner sought to first discuss the economic dimensions of the Palestinians’ problems while saving meetings over the political ones for later, he fails to understand how Palestine’s economic crises are linked to politics. Put simply, the Palestinians will not be able to achieve economic development through some foreign-driven technocratic plan without finding a solution to the political issues at the heart of the conflict.

The Palestinian view is that the White House is simply trying to liquidate their cause by buying them off with foreign money. Moreover, no experts believe that the Trump administration has the political or diplomatic capital to serve as a credible mediator between the Palestinians and Israel. The White House has absolutely no goodwill among Palestinians, particularly in the aftermath of the administration formally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and slashing funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

As the first U.S. administration to officially reject the two-state solution as the basis for resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the current White House represents an opportunity for Israel to cement its colonization of territory in land annexed during 1967. As such, the “Deal of the Century” is about the consolidation of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land and a way toward establishing a “second homeland” for Palestinians in Jordan and/or Egypt. The Israeli UN ambassador’s opinion piece in The New York Times, which called for a Palestinian “surrender” and was published just before the Bahrain summit kicked off, essentially summed up both the Israeli government and the Trump administration’s views on the Palestinian question.

GCC-Israel Ties

Nonetheless, although the summit did not raise important questions about Palestinian-Israeli relations, it raised some about Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member-states and Israel’s gradual normalization of ties. That this summit was held in Bahrain was not a major surprise considering that the archipelago kingdom has led the GCC in terms of moving toward normalization of relations with Israel.

Indeed, Bahrain’s openness to closer relations with the Jewish state was on display in September 2017 when Prince Nasser bin Hamad al-Khalifa attended a multinational event in Los Angeles where two American rabbis stated that the king of Bahrain had voiced his opposition to the Arab League’s economic boycott of Israel. As the “Peace to Prosperity” workshop began, the Bahraini Crown Prince welcomed delegates with a message that called the Bahraini capital, Manama, the Gulf’s most religiously diverse city and referenced its tiny Jewish community. Notably, Bahrain’s former Jewish ambassador to Washington, Houda Ezra Ebrahim Nonoo, attended the summit.

Much like the dynamics which have brought other GCC member-states closer to Israel, a mutual perception of Iran as a threat is at the heart of Bahrain’s interest in establishing warmer ties with Tel Aviv. Yet for Bahrain and other Arabian Peninsula monarchies — until the Palestinian issue is resolved — prospects for moving toward a full normalization of relations will remain complicated.

Whereas Kuwait stands out as the only country in the GCC that principally rejects this trend of Gulf states moving in the direction of normalizing ties with Israel, it is the GCC’s only semi-democracy, thus this firm “pro-Palestinian” stance partially reflects pressures from Kuwaiti public opinion. For other states in the Arabian Peninsula that are far less democratic, especially the absolute monarchies, public opinion is less relevant to foreign policy decision-making but all statesmen in the Arab world are aware that appearing too close to Israel risks making them targets.

It appears that the Gulf states that participated in this “workshop” are keen to maintain their links to Israel, which are vibrant in the domains of private enterprise, yet maintain low profiles for political reasons. Also, at a time in which the Trump administration continues applying “maximum pressure” on Iran, officials in Manama, Abu Dhabi and Riyadh find themselves in the same boat as their Israeli counterparts in terms of backing the White House’s aggressive anti-Iranian agenda.

Unquestionably, this summit reinforced the message that most in the GCC remain interested in moving toward warmer relations with Israel and there is a genuine desire in the Gulf to see the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis come to an end. Yet as The Economist put it, this summit was “an underwhelming start to the ‘ultimate’ Israeli-Palestinian deal” which has no chance of being struck through American mediation so long as the U.S. is so one-sided in this conflict.

Giorgio Cafiero (@GiorgioCafiero) is the CEO of Gulf State Analytics (@GulfStateAnalyt), a Washington-based geopolitical risk consultancy.

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Annexation: Israel Already Controls More Than Half of the West Bank

Annexation would only formalize a situation in which almost two-thirds of Palestinian territory is controlled by Israel and settlers live as Israeli citizens, writes Jonathan Cook.

By JonathanCook

A state of de facto annexation already exists on the ground in most of the occupied West Bank.

Almost two-thirds of the Palestinian territory, including most of its most fertile and resource-rich land, is under full Israeli control. About 400,000 Jewish settlers living there enjoy the full rights and privileges of Israeli citizens.

At least 60 pieces of legislation were drafted by right-wing members of the Knesset during the last parliament to move Israel from a state of de facto to de jure annexation, according to a database by Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights group.

Yesh Din points out that the very fact that some of these bills have passed as laws constitutes a form of annexation: “The Israel Knesset [now] regards itself as the legislative authority in the West Bank and the sovereign there.”

Paradoxically, many of those bills were opposed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, even though they were drafted from within his own ruling coalition.

Netanyahu argued that it would be wrong to pre-empt U.S. President Donald Trump’s peace plan, implying that annexation is high on the agenda.

Leaked details suggest that Washington is now preparing to green-light the formal annexation of at least some of that territory as part of its deal-making, though Netanyahu’s political difficulties and his decision to call another election in September could mean putting details on ice once again.

The Golan Precedent

Three recent developments have also brought the idea of Israel annexing parts or all of the West Bank onto the agenda.

In March, Trump recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, seized from Syria during the 1967 war and annexed by Israel in 1981 in violation of international law. The U.S. decision suggested a precedent whereby it might similarly approve a move by Israel to annex the West Bank.

In April, in the run-up to Israel’s general election, Netanyahu said he would use the next parliament to extend sovereignty to all illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank, using a phrase preferred by Israeli politicians to “annexation.”

About 400,000 settlers live in the West Bank in 150 official settlements and another 120 “unauthorized” outposts that have been covertly sponsored by the Israeli state since the 1990s. These settlements have jurisdiction over 42 percent of West Bank territory.

In early June, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, a stalwart supporter of the settlements and one of the architects of Trump’s supposed “deal of the century,” told the New York Times that he believed Israel was “on the side of God” and said: “Under certain circumstances, I think Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank.”

Support in Israel Growing

Support in Israel for annexation is growing, with 42 percent backing one of several variants in a recent poll, as opposed to 34 percent who were behind a two-state solution. Only 28 percent of Israelis explicitly rejected annexation.

Behind the scenes, debates about formally annexing the Palestinian territories have been rife in Israel since it occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza in 1967.

Successive Israeli governments, however, have demurred out of concern both that there would be strong international objections (most UN member states would be opposed to the annexation of territory recognized as illegally occupied in international law) and that Israel would be under pressure to give Palestinians in annexed areas citizenship, including the right to vote, that would undermine its Jewish majority.

Senior government ministers such as Moshe Dayan and Yigal Allon were among the early proponents of annexing parts of the West Bank. They drew up maps for a permanent settlement program that would allow Israel to hold on to swathes of the West Bank, especially the most fertile land and the aquifers.

Through the late 1970s and 1980s, a justice ministry official, Plia Albeck, declared large areas of the West Bank “state land,” allowing the government to treat it as effectively part of Israel and build settlements.

Speeding Tickets and Police Stations

Israel has applied its laws to the settler population and dozens of Israeli police stations located in the West Bank operate as if the territory has been annexed, issuing speeding tickets and enforcing other infractions on Palestinians. Palestinians’ ultimate recourse to adjudication on legal matters is Israel’s Supreme Court.

In 2011, that court decided that Israel was allowed to exploit more than a dozen quarries, one of the Palestinians’ key resources, because the occupation had become “prolonged” – a ruling that treated the West Bank as if it had been de facto annexed.

Since the Olso accords, Israeli leaders have tended to pay lip service to Palestinian statehood, at some distant future point. But in practice, they have encouraged the rapid expansion of the settlements. This policy is sometimes referred to as “creeping annexation.”

A number of variants have been advanced by the Israeli right, ranging from the annexation of all Palestinian territories, including Gaza, to annexation limited to certain areas of the West Bank.

How Oslo Gave Israel Control

The main framework for the Israeli debate about annexation is the Oslo process which temporarily carved up the occupied West Bank into Areas A, B and C as a prelude, it was assumed, to eventually transferring sovereignty to the Palestinian Authority.

Area C, 62 percent of the West Bank, is under full Israeli control and where the settlements are located. It is also where most of the water, agricultural and mineral resources are to be found.

Area B, 20 percent, is under Israeli security control and Palestinian civil control. And Area A – mainly Palestinian built-up areas on 18 percent of the West Bank – is nominally under full Palestinian control.

The option favored by most of Netanyahu’s Likud party involves the annexation of areas populated with settlers, or about 40 percent of the West Bank mostly located in Area C.

This option would keep West Bank Palestinians outside the annexed areas and make it easier to avoid conferring any residency or citizenship rights on them. The Palestinian Authority would be given “limited autonomy” – a kind of glorified municipal role – over the remaining fragments of the West Bank.

To the right of Likud, opinions range from annexing all of Area C to annexing the entire West Bank and Gaza, and the creation of Palestinian “Bantustans” modeled on South Africa’s racist apartheid system. Some propose a “salami” method, with Israel gradually slicing off more of the West Bank.

The Israeli center-left fears formal annexation not only violates international law but will damage Israel’s image abroad by encouraging comparisons with apartheid-era South Africa. In the absence of a Palestinian state, a minority of Jews might soon be ruling over a majority of Palestinians.

The center-left is also concerned about the costs of annexation. Commanders for Israel’s Security, a group of retired security officials, argue that annexation will lead to the inevitable collapse of the Palestinian Authority.

As a result, they believe Israel would incur annual costs of between $2.3 billion and $14.5 billion, depending on the extent of the West Bank area annexed. There would also be a loss of $2.5bn in foreign investments. Palestinian uprisings could cost Israel’s economy as much as $21 billion.

Right-wing economists like Amatzia Samkai of the Caucus for Eretz Israel say Israel will benefit economically. If Area C is annexed, only a small number of Palestinians will be entitled to Israeli welfare payments, he says. Such costs, he adds, can be more than offset by an expanded labor force and a drop in real-estate prices after West Bank land is freed up for house building by Israelis.

Knesset ‘Sovereign’ in West Bank

Of the 60 pieces of draft annexation legislation brought before the Knesset, eight have passed into law.

The main laws that have been passed include:

  • annulling a special council overseeing higher education in West Bank settlements and transferring its powers to the main Israel Council for Higher Education.
  • approving retroactively the theft of private Palestinian land used to build settlements. The previous official position was that settlements should be built only on land Israel had declared state land because it was not owned by Palestinians.
  • extending benefits available in Israel – from tax exemptions and egg production quotas to renewable energy investments – to West Bank settlements.
  • unifying the criminal register used by police in Israel and the West Bank.
  • transferring powers to adjudicate matters involving the West Bank to lower courts in Israel.
  • prohibiting businesses from refusing to supply services to West Bank settlements.

In addition, Yesh Din notes, Israel has recently shifted its diplomatic position and legal arguments to the courts in relation to the West Bank.

It has rejected the West Bank’s status as being under occupation, asserted Israel’s authority to operate there and eroded the obligation to protect the rights and property of the Palestinian population.

Another significant piece of legislation Netanyahu is known to favor – chiefly for personal reasons because it could be used to protect him from corruption indictments – is an Override Law.

The measure is being aggressively promoted by settler groups because it would strip Israel’s Supreme Court of judicial review powers to block legislation annexing the West Bank.

Palestinian Support?

On the Palestinian side, a tiny number, mostly business leaders, have backed annexation of the West Bank. They have been cultivated by the Trump administration as a potential alternative leadership to the Palestinian Authority. Most Palestinians consider them traitors or collaborators.

Hebron businessman Ashraf Jabari, for example, has entered into a partnership with settler counterparts in the “Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce,” using the settlers’ Biblical name for the West Bank.

The chamber promotes joint ventures such as shopping centers along West Bank main roads, tourism initiatives and infrastructure projects.

Jabari and others have consciously sought to package annexation on Israeli terms as similar to the one-state agenda of a growing section of the Palestinian population, especially those supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

“We have to think about this area as one entity, not two entities and two realities,” he told journalists recently.

Certainly, there are Palestinians who consider annexation and Israel’s direct re-occupation of the West Bank, unmediated by the PA, as a necessary condition for Palestinians launching a civil rights or anti-apartheid struggle to realize a genuine one-state solution.

Jonathan Cook is a freelance journalist based in Nazareth. He blogs here. 

This article is from his website

Trump’s Bipartisan Support for Eradicating the Palestinian Cause

The U.S. is now formally supporting Israel’s efforts at economic pacification, writes Jonathan Cook.

By JonathanCook

The White House’s prolonged financial bullying of the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinians’ government-in-waiting, has reached the point where there are now credible warnings that it is close to collapse. The crisis has offered critics further proof of the administration’s seemingly chaotic, often self-sabotaging approach to foreign policy matters.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials charged with resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have demonstrated ever more blatant bias, such as the recent claims by David Friedman, the ambassador to Israel, that Israel is on the side of God” and should have the right to retain much of the West Bank.

Critics view the Trump administration’s approach as a dangerous departure from the traditional U.S. role of “honest broker.”

Such analyses, however common, are deeply misguided. Far from lacking a strategy, the White House has a precise and clear one for imposing a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century.” Even without publication so far of a formal document, the plan’s contours are coming ever more sharply into relief, as its implementation becomes observable on the ground.

Repeated delays in announcing the plan are simply an indication that Trump’s team needs more time to engineer a suitable political environment for the plan to be brought out of the shadows.

Further, the Trump administration’s vision of the future for Israelis and Palestinians – however extreme and one-sided – has wide, bipartisan support in Washington. There’s nothing especially “Trumpian” about the administration’s emerging “peace process.”

Choking Off Aid

Paradoxically, that was evident last week, when leading members of the U.S. Congress from both sides of the aisle introduced a bill to boost the ailing Palestinian economy by $50m. The hope is to create a “Partnership Fund for Peace” that will offer a financial fillip to Israelis and Palestinians seeking to resolve the conflict – or, at least, that is what is being claimed.

This sudden concern for the health of the Palestinian economy is a dramatic and confusing U-turn. Congress has been an active and enthusiastic partner with the White House in choking off aid to the PA for more than a year.

Mohammad Shtayyeh, the Palestinian prime minister, told The New York Times last week that the PA was on the brink of implosion. “We are in a collapsing situation,” he told the newspaper.

The PA’s crisis comes as no surprise. Congress helped initiate it by passing the Taylor Force Act in March 2018. It requires the U.S. to halt funding to the PA until it stops paying stipends to some 35,000 families of Palestinians jailed, killed or maimed by Israel.

Brink of Collapse

Previous U.S. administrations might well have signed a waiver to prevent such legislation from going into effect – just as presidents until Trump blocked a congressional law passed in 1995 demanding that the U.S. move its embassy to Jerusalem.

But the Trump White House is not interested in diplomatic face-saving or reining in the pro-Israel zealotry of U.S. legislators. It fervently and explicitly shares the biases that have long been inherent in the U.S. political system.

In line with the Taylor Force Act, the White House has cut off vital funds for Palestinians, including to UNRWA, the United Nations’ refugee agency for Palestinians, and to hospitals in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem.

The decision by Congress to throttle the PA has had further repercussions, leaving Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exposed domestically. Not daring to be seen as less anti-PA than U.S. legislators, Netanyahu implemented his own version of the Taylor Force Act earlier this year.

Since February, he has withheld a portion of the taxes Israel collects on behalf of the PA, the vast bulk of its income, equal to the stipends transferred to the Palestinian families of prisoners and casualties of Israeli violence – or those who Israel and the U.S. simplemindedly refer to as “terrorists.”

That, in turn, has left Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, in an impossible position. He dare not be seen accepting an Israeli diktat that legitimizes withholding Palestinian money, or one that defines as “terrorists” those who have sacrificed the most for the Palestinian cause. So he has refused the entire monthly tax transfer until the full amount is reinstated.

Now, just as these various blows against the PA finally threaten to topple it, the U.S. Congress suddenly prepares to step in and bail out the Palestinian economy with $50m. What on earth is going on?

‘Money for Quiet’

The small print is telling. The PA, the Palestinians’ fledgling government, is not eligible for any of the U.S. Congress’s promised largesse.

If the legislation passes, the money will be handed to “Palestinian entrepreneurs and companies,” as well as non-governmental organizations, willing to work with the U.S. and Israel on “people-to-people peace-building” programs and “reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.”

In other words, the legislation is actually designed as another strike against the Palestinians’ existing leadership. The PA is being bypassed yet again, as the U.S. and Israel try to bolster an alternative economic, rather than political, leadership.

This move by U.S. representatives is not occurring in a vacuum. Since the effective collapse of the Oslo accords nearly two decades ago, Washington has sought to downgrade a national conflict that needs a political solution into a humanitarian crisis that needs an economic one.

It is a variation on Netanyahu’s long-standing goal to smash the Palestinian national struggle and replace it with economic peace.”

Where once the goal of peacemaking was “land in exchange for peace” – that is, a Palestinian state in return for an end to hostilities – now the aim is “money in exchange for quiet.” The U.S. is now formally supporting Israel’s efforts at economic pacification.

Outrage at New Elections

The Trump administration has devised a two-stage process for neutralizing Palestinians.

Firstly, Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has been tasked with winning over Arab states, particularly those in the oil-rich Gulf, to stump up money for pacifying Palestinians and their neighbors.

This is the aim of an investment conference due to be held in Bahrain later this month – the lynchpin of the “deal of the century,” not simply a prelude to it.

That was why Trump himself was so visibly outraged at the delay caused by Netanyahu’s decision to dissolve the Israeli parliament last month, a reflection of his political weakness as he faces imminent corruption trials. The new elections in Israel, Trump grumbled, were “ridiculous” and “messed up.”

The intention of the Bahrain conference is to use tens of billions of dollars raised by Washington to buy off opposition to the Trump deal, chiefly from Egypt and Jordan, which are critical to the pacification program’s success.

Any refusal by the Palestinians to surrender, either in Gaza or the West Bank, could have major repercussions for these neighboring states.

Alternative Leaders

Secondly, Friedman is at the center of efforts to identify recipients for the Gulf-funded handouts. He has been seeking to forge a new alliance between the settlers, with whom he is closely aligned, and Palestinians who may be willing to help in the pacification project. Late last year, he attended a meeting of Palestinian and Israeli business leaders in the West Bank city of Ariel.

Afterwards he tweeted that the business community was “ready, willing and able to advance joint opportunity & peaceful coexistence. People want peace and we are ready to help! Is the Palestinian leadership listening?”

Friedman has made no bones about where his – and supposedly God’s – priorities lie, throwing his weight behind the growing clamor in Israel to annex much of the territory that was once seen as integral to creating a Palestinian state. With that as the administration’s lode star, the task is now to find a Palestinian leadership prepared to stand by as the finishing touches are put on a Greater Israel ordained by God.

Concerns in Washington about the PA’s unwillingness to comply were voiced last week by Kushner, though he dressed them up as doubts about the Palestinians’ ability to govern themselves. He said of the PA: “The hope is that they, over time, will become capable of governing.” He added that the real test of the administration’s plan would be whether Palestinian areas became “investable.”

Kushner, second from left, in 2017, with other members of the Trump administration, arriving as honored guest of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, 2017, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (White House/ Shealah Craighead)

“When I speak to Palestinian people, what they want is they want the opportunity to live a better life. They want the opportunity to pay their mortgage,” he said.

Washington is therefore looking to influential families in the West Bank that could potentially be recruited with bribes to serve as an alternative, compliant leadership. In February it was reported that around 200 businesspeople, Israeli mayors and heads of Palestinian communities met in Jerusalem “to advance business partnerships between Israeli and Palestinian entrepreneurs”.

Corrupt Tribal Fiefdoms

It has been natural for the Trump administration to look to a business elite – one that, it hopes, will be prepared to forgo a national solution if the economic environment is liberalized enough to allow for new regional and global investment opportunities.

These individuals belong to extended families that dominate the West Bank’s major cities. Such powerful families may be prepared to assist in the elimination of the PA, in return for a corrupt patronage system allowing them to take control of their respective cities.

Palestinian analysts, like Samir Awad, a politics professor at Bir Zeit University near Ramallah, have told me that the Israeli and U.S. vision of Palestinian “autonomy” may amount to little more than a system of tribal fiefdoms, reminiscent of Afghanistan.

There are already a few Palestinian partners emerging, such as Hebron businessman Ashraf Jabari, who is reportedly planning to attend the Bahrain conference.

He and other business leaders have been quietly developing ties with counterparts in the settler movement, such as Avi Zimmerman. Together, they have set up a joint chamber of commerce covering the West Bank.

It is precisely such initiatives that are being promoted by Friedman and would be eligible for grants from the $50m fund the U.S. Congress is currently legislating.

Ultimately, these Palestinian business “partners” could form an elite to serve as an ostensible national address for the international community in its dealings with the Palestinian people.

Sword Over PA

The PA doesn’t have to be discarded for the Trump plan to progress. But alternative national and local leaderships need to be cultivated by Washington to serve both as a sword hanging over the PA’s head, to encourage it to capitulate, and as an alternative ruling class, should the PA fail to submit to the “deal of the century.”

In short, Washington is playing a game of chicken with Abbas and the PA. It is determined that the Palestinians will blink first.

Deeply implicated in Washington’s vision, even if largely out of sight, are the Arab states, whose role is to strong-arm whatever Palestinian leadership is required for the Greater Israel “deal of the century” to be implemented.

The burden of managing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will shift once again. When Israel occupied the Palestinian territories in 1967, it became directly responsible for the welfare of Palestinians living there.

Since the mid-1990s, when the Palestinian leadership was allowed to return under the Oslo accords, the PA has had to shoulder the task of keeping the territories quiet on Israel’s behalf. Now, after the PA has refused to sign off on Israel’s ambitions to take for itself East Jerusalem and much of the West Bank, the PA is increasingly seen as having outlived its usefulness.

Instead, Palestinian expectations may have to be managed via another route – through the key Arab states of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Jordan. Or, as Palestinian analyst Hani al-Masri recently noted, the Bahrain conference “foreshadows the beginning of abandoning the [Palestine Liberation Organization] as the Palestinians’ representative, thereby opening the door … for a new era of Arab patronage over the Palestinians to take hold.”

Years of Imperial Overreach

Under Trump, what has changed most significantly in the U.S. approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the urgency of Washington’s efforts to set aside the Palestinian national struggle once and for all.

Since the Six-Day War of 1967, U.S. administrations – with the possible exception of Jimmy Carter’s – had only a marginal interest in forcing a settlement on Israelis and Palestinians. Aside from lip service to peace, they were mostly content to leave the two sides to engage in an asymmetrical struggle that always favored Israel. This was sold as “conflict management.”

But after 15 years of U.S. imperial overreach in the Middle East – and faced with major foreign policy setbacks in Iraq and Syria, and Israel’s related failures in Lebanon – Washington desperately needs to consolidate its position against rivals and potential rivals in this oil-rich region.

Russia, China, Turkey, Iran, and even Europe, are jostling in different ways for a more assertive role in the Middle East. As it tries to counter these influences, the U.S. wishes to bring together its main allies in the region: Israel and the key Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia.

Although secret ties between the two sides have been growing for some time, unresolved tensions remain over Israel’s demand that it be allowed to maintain regional superiority in military and intelligence matters. That has been obvious in current power battles playing out in Washington.

The Trump administration last month declared extraordinary measures to bypass Congress so that it could sell more than $8 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan. In retaliation, Congressional leaders close to Israel vowed they would block the arms sales.

Splinter in Region’s Windpipe

In the White House’s view, little further progress can be made until the Palestinian splinter stuck deep in the Middle East’s windpipe is removed.

Most Arab leaders care nothing for the Palestinian cause, and have come to bitterly resent the way the Palestinians’ enduring struggle for statehood has complicated their own dealings in the region, especially with Iran and Israel.

They would enthusiastically embrace a full partnership with the U.S. and Israel in the region, if only they could afford to be seen doing so.

But the Palestinians’ struggle against Israel – and its powerful symbolism in a region that has experienced so much malign Western interference – continues to serve as a brake on Washington’s efforts to forge tighter and more explicit alliances with the Arab states.

Serious Case of Hubris

As such, the Trump administration has concluded that “conflict management” is no longer in U.S. interests. It needs to isolate and dispose of the Palestinian splinter. Once that encumbrance is out of the way, the White House believes it can get on with forging a coalition with Israel and most of the Arab states to reassert its dominance over the Middle East.

All of this will likely prove far harder to achieve than the Trump administration imagines, as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo intimated last week in private.

But it would be wrong nonetheless to assume that the strategy behind Trump’s “deal of the century,” however unrealistic, is not clear-sighted in both its aims and methods.

It would be similarly misguided to believe that the administration’s policy is a maverick one. It is operating within the ideological constraints of the Washington foreign policy elite, even if Trump’s “peace plan” lies at the outer margins of the establishment consensus.

The Trump administration enjoys bipartisan backing from Congress both for its Jerusalem embassy move and for economic measures that threaten to crush the PA, a government-in-waiting that has already made enormous compromises in agreeing to statehood on a tiny fraction of its people’s historic homeland.

No doubt the Trump White House is suffering from a serious case of hubris in trying to eliminate the Palestinian cause for good. But that hubris, however dangerous, we should remember, is shared by much of the U.S. political establishment.

Jonathan Cook is a freelance journalist based in Nazareth. This article is from his website, Jonathan 

US Attacks on UN Palestinian Refugee Agency Taking a Toll

Unless UNWRA can secure at least $60 million by the end of this month, food aid for over a million Palestine refugees seems uncertain, reports Charlotte Munns.  

By Charlotte Munns
at the United Nations
Inter Press Service

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has been forced to justify its existence at the United Nations ahead of a pledging conference later this month.

UNRWA came under fire by Jason Greenblatt, U.S. special envoy for international negotiations, at a Security Council meeting late last month. 

Last week, UNRWA held a press conference at the UN in an attempt to raise awareness — and funds for their work. The organization supports around 74 percent of Gaza’s population, and also has major operations in the West Bank and Jordan, where millions of Palestine refugees reside. The agency provides food aid, social services, education and infrastructure.

UNRWA requires $1.2 billion to fund all its operations in the coming year. However, fears have been raised regarding their ability to do so. Unless the agency is able to secure at least $60 million by the end of this month, its ability to provide food aid to over a million Palestine refugees seems uncertain.

The agency is funded predominantly by UN member states, the European Union and regional governments. These sources contribute 93 percent of funds. Private individuals and non-governmental sources contributed over $17 million in 2018.

School Openings Uncertain

Matthias Schmale, director of UNRWA operations in Gaza, noted at the press conference last week, “right now, strictly financially speaking, we don’t have the money to guarantee the opening of schools in the fall.”

These financial concerns have largely arisen following the United States’ refusal to continue funding the organization. Greenblatt justified Trump’s decision to the Security Council last month.

“The UNRWA model has failed the Palestinian people,” he said, describing the agency as an “irredeemably flawed operation” and a “band-aid” solution. Instead, he proposed an integration of the Agency’s services into government and non-governmental organisations’ structures.

In his explanation of the United States’ decision, he reaffirmed the country’s support of Israel, stating “the United States will always stand with Israel.”

This prompted criticism that the decision to cease funding UNRWA was a political move, rather than for issues with the agency’s functioning.

Peter Mulrean, director of UNRWA’s Representative Office in New York, said in a statement to IPS that “UNRWA regrets the U.S. decision to stop funding UNRWA after decades of being the Agency’s single largest donor and strong partner.” However, he refused to speculate on the motives behind that decision.

Greenblatt claimed the politicization of UNRWA, despite its intended neutrality, meant “year after year, Palestinians in refugee camps were not given the opportunity to build any future; they were misled and used as political pawns and commodities instead of being treated as human beings.”

In his response, Mulrean said: “UNRWA is a UN humanitarian Agency that has no political role in Palestine or anywhere else.”

Questioned About Hamas

Despite this, UNRWA was asked at the press conference to respond to claims its members have involvement with Hamas after weapons were found stored in a school, and tunnels were located beneath multiple UNRWA educational buildings. 

The Agency noted its officials reported all such incidents, and measures were taken to remove the weapons and close the tunnels.

Criticism of UNRWA seems at odds with the Security Council’s stance on the agency. 

Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for the secretary-general, said in a press briefing last week, “the Secretary General has been speaking on support of UNRWA for a long time,” adding, “his position remains unchanged, that he very much feels that UNRWA is a stabilizing force in the region through the education services it provides, through the health services, and through the support services.”

At the Security Council meeting last month it was only the United States and Israel that spoke against UNRWA. All other 14 member states reaffirmed their support for the agency.

“That is a reflection of the broad support UNRWA enjoys in the international community,” Mulrean told IPS.

Despite this, UNRWA has for years struggled to meet its budget. Last year, around 42 countries and institutions increased their contributions to erase an unprecedented deficit of $446 million.

Greenblatt noted the United States was frequently called upon to fill budget gaps. Having pledged around $6 billion to the organization over the course of its existence, he reaffirmed his government’s refusal to continue to do so.

Instead, the United States has called for a conference in Bahrain — June 25-26 — to discuss possible solutions to the Palestine refugee crisis. Many see this as compensation for withdrawing funding for UNRWA.

While Mulrean refused to take a formal position on the upcoming conference in Bahrain, he did say that UNRWA doesn’t see this as in competition with the agency’s work.

UNRWA has fought Greenblatt’s criticism before the press in order to garner support for its mandate. Within a context of escalating violence in Gaza – some saying the worst since 2014 – and ever- increasing numbers of Palestine refugees, the agency continues to seek funding from member states so as to continue its operations in the coming year.

“This is our reality,” Mulrean said, “we have schools to run, we have clinics to run, we have people to feed.”

This article is from Inter Press Service and republished with permission.

US Versus the Palestinian Refugee Agency

The Trump administration’s malevolence towards the UN relief group is a proxy attack on multilateralism and Palestinians’ right to self-determination, critics tell Thalif Deen. 

By Thalif Deen
at UN Headquarters
Inter Press Service

The Trump administration continued to display its hostility towards the United Nations and its humanitarian agencies at a meeting of the UN Security Council focused on the recent escalation of violence in Gaza.

On May 22, U.S. Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt told the Security Council it was time to dismantle the UN Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, which has supported Palestinian refugees since it began operations back in 1950.

The statement was in keeping with the administration’s relentlessly pro-Israel policymaking and its disdain for multilateralism. The U.S. has already withdrawn its contribution to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), cut $300 million in UNRWA funding and reduced $500 million  from the UN’s biennium peacekeeping budget.

At a press conference announcing her decision to step down as U.S. ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley told reporters last October that that during her two-year tenure “we cut $1.3 billion in the UN’s budget. We’ve made it stronger. We’ve made it more efficient.”

But the reduction in funds to UNRWA has been described as the unkindest cut of all — because the UN agency has been sustaining the economic survival of Palestinian refugees for the last 69 years.

Nadia Hijab, president of the Board of Directors at Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian policy network, told IPS: “If anyone is still in doubt about the Trump administration’s ‘deal of the century’ – also known as ‘Israel’s plan to end the conflict on its terms,’ Greenblatt made that very clear when he said, ‘We do not have to wait until a comprehensive solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict….’ to transition UNRWA out of existence.” 

No Reference to International Law 

And indeed, the administration has not waited for any kind of solution or made any reference to international law, she added. 

It has simply, on behalf of Israel, imposed facts on the ground with its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and its embassy move, and defunding UNRWA, Hijab said. “Now it doesn’t want anyone else to fund UNRWA but rather to focus on the supposedly bright economic future to be discussed at the economic conference in Bahrain next month.” 

What is really underway, Hijab said, is the erasure of Palestinian national and political rights, which leaves the majority of the Palestinian people in exile with the rest forced to survive under the draconian conditions of occupation, siege, and discrimination in the land of Palestine/Israel.

She pointed out it should be clear that a commitment to UNRWA goes beyond services to refugees: It is a powerful symbol of the Palestinians’ existence as a people with a right to self-determination as well as other internationally recognized rights including the right to return to their lands and homes.

Occupying Power’s Obligation

Sam Husseini, senior analyst at the Washington-based Institute for Public Accuracy, told IPS that an  occupying power is obligated to take care of people under occupation under the Geneva Conventions. 

“Israel has done anything but [that],” Husseini said. “It has subjected the Palestinian people to attack after attack and siege after siege, making anything like normal economic development impossible.”  

Husseini also pointed out that UNRWA has fulfilled a desperately needed role for generations of Palestinians.  “The fact that it’s gone on for so long is the fault of the ‘international community,’ the U.S. government first and foremost, having prevented a resolution to the conflict along lines prescribed by international law.”  

Now, the Trump administration wants  to stop deferring a final settlement to the conflict in favor of imposing one that deprives the Palestinians of virtually all their rights, in Husseini’s view. They are targeting any support that Palestinians may have to bully them into complete submission to Israel’s military dictates. UNRWA is top on that list, Husseini said. 

At the Security Council meeting, Greenblatt thanked UNRWA Commissioner General Pierre Krähenbühl for his briefing, and for his work over the years.

“But I’m afraid it is time for him — and all of you — to face the reality that the UNRWA model has failed the Palestinian people. UNRWA’s business model, which is inherently tied to an endlessly and exponentially expanding community of beneficiaries, is in permanent crisis mode,” Greenblatt said.

‘Flawed Operation’

That is why the United States decided that it will no longer commit to funding this irredeemably flawed operation, Greenblatt added.  “We did not come to this conclusion lightly. Since UNRWA’s founding, the U.S. has donated $6 billion. Let me repeat that: $6 billion – vastly more than any other country. And yet year after year, UNRWA funding fell short.”

Greenblatt called UNRWA a band-aid and said the Palestinians who use its services deserve better. “We do not have to wait until a comprehensive solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in place to address that fact,” he said.

Responding to Greenblatt’s comments, Krahenbuhl told a press conference in Gaza that UNRWA’s mandate was a matter for the entire U.N. General Assembly to consider, not  one or two individual member states. “Palestinian refugees should remember that the mandate is protected by the General Assembly, and of course we will engage with member states to ensure what we hope is a safe renewal of that mandate,” Krahenbuhl said.

Currently, over half of the 2.0 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, which is under Israeli blockade, receive food aid from UNRWA.

Meanwhile, as part of its ongoing policy against multilateralism, the U.S. has already scuttled the 2015 multilateral nuclear agreement with Iran, refused to participate in the global migration compact, pulled out of the 2015 Paris climate accord, abandoned the 12-nation Trans Pacific Partnership agreement, dismissed the relevance of the World Trade Organization, revoked the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia, and withdrew from both the Human Rights Council in Geneva and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, in Paris.

This article was first published by Inter Press Service. The author, Thalif Deen, can be contacted at

Palestinian Authority No Longer Crying Wolf

Jonathan Cook reports on the bind that Netanyahu has created by withholding tax transfers as a reelection tactic.   

By JonathanCook

We have been here many times before. However, on this occasion even the principal actors understand that the Palestinian Authority is not crying wolf as it warns of imminent collapse.

Keen to pander to hawkish public opinion in the run-up to last month’s election, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu struck a severe blow against Mahmoud Abbas and his government-in-permanent-waiting.

He announced that Israel would withhold a portion of the taxes it collects on behalf of the Palestinians, and which it is obligated under the Oslo accords to pass on to the PA, based in the West Bank.

The money deducted is the sum the PA transfers as stipends to the families of political prisoners and those killed and maimed by the Israeli army.

This is an incendiary issue, as Netanyahu well knows, given that Palestinians view these families as having made the ultimate sacrifice in the struggle to liberate their people from brutal Israeli occupation.

Abbas cannot be seen to back down, and so has refused to accept any of the monthly tax transfers until the full sum is reinstated, amounting to nearly two-thirds of the PA’s revenues.

Given how precarious Palestinian finances are, after decades of resource theft and restrictions on development imposed by Israel, the PA is already on the brink of bankruptcy.

The problem for Netanyahu and Washington is that the PA was established – under the 25-year-old Oslo accords – to take the pressure and costs off Israel of policing the Palestinian population under occupation.

If the PA collapses, so do the Palestinian security forces that have been keeping order in the West Bank as Israel has continued to plunder Palestinian land and resources.

UN Warning

Late last month the United Nations warned that the standoff had left the PA facing “unprecedented financial, security and political challenges.” Which means that, despite his recent electoral triumph, Netanyahu is in a serious bind. He cannot be seen by his even more rightwing coalition partners to be climbing down and restoring stipends to people Israelis view simply as “terrorists.” Equally, he dares not risk a Palestinian uprising in the West Bank. That would be a real possibility if the Palestinian economy implodes and there are no Palestinian security forces to suppress the resulting wave of popular anger.

A preview of the difficulties in store was given at the start of the month, when more than 600 rockets were fired out of Gaza, threatening the cancellation of the Eurovision song contest in Israel later this month. By May 5, four Israelis were reported dead, while 20 Palestinians had been killed by Israeli airstrikes. The Palestinian fatalities included two pregnant women and a toddler.

There is also the danger, from Israel’s point of view, that if Abbas’s PA collapses, the void in the West Bank will be filled by his Hamas rivals, who run Gaza. Israel has been delighted to keep the Palestinian territories divided under feuding Fatah and Hamas leaderships.

A way out – or a change of tack – is urgently required.

Israel has tried twice to quietly make partial tax transfers to the PA’s bank account, in the hope the money would be accepted. The PA returned it.

Then, the European Union stepped in. Ostensibly an “honest broker,” it appears to be occupying a role the Trump administration has formally abandoned. The EU proposed this month that the PA accept the transfers on a “provisional basis,” until the crisis can be resolved.

PA officials were dismissive. “Let the people take to the streets,” one said. “We have our backs to the wall.” The PA line is that in the current climate, if it backtracks, Israel will simply intensify unilateral measures harming the Palestinian cause.

Jonathan Cook is a freelance journalist based in Nazareth. He blogs at Jonathan