Next Year in Jerusalem?

Palestinian protesters clash with Israeli troops near Ramallah, December 11, 2017. (Reuters photo: Mohamad Torokman)
It is time to cut off financial support to Abbas

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas says he will no longer accept a role for the United States in the ongoing Arab–Israeli peace negotiations, which have produced little in the way of negotiation and nothing in the way of meaningful peace.

If President Abbas desires to end diplomatic relations with the United States, the United States should think seriously about obliging him.

When the Trump administration announced plans to comply with longstanding U.S. law and move — someday — the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, the country’s capital, the Arabs went nuts, but not quite as nuts as the Turks would have liked: Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan has criticized what he sees as a weak Arab response to the Trump administration’s non-initiative initiative. Turkey has its own game, and Palestinian upheaval would suit Erdogan just fine.

There were apocalyptic intimations, but in reality the response was more or less what one would expect, and if the Olympic committee ever recognizes rock-throwing as a legitimate sport, the Palestinian people will finally have found their national calling.

This is a familiar and tedious piece of performance art. The Palestinian statelet is in no way viable, and the Palestinian cause is less and less useful to the Islamic powers with each passing year. The Arab–Israeli conflict was for a time another Cold War proxy, with the Palestinian cause serving as a cat’s-paw for the Soviet Union, which meant that it was a source of real money and real power. Those days are long gone, and the Palestinian cause has in no small part devolved from instrument of civilizational conflict to instrument of ordinary grift, a phony jihad used to fortify the alliance between fanatics and financial interests that is the default model of government throughout much of the Muslim Middle East.

To keep this particular grift going, it is necessary that there be no settlement between Israel and the Palestinians and no meaningful progress toward it. That means that every little step toward resolution must be met with murder and terrorism — terrorism is in fact the main Palestinian mode of negotiation. The capital of Israel is in Jerusalem, and there is no serious proposal under which it is going to move to Tel Aviv or elsewhere. Even should East Jerusalem come to be generally recognized as the capital of the Palestinian state, such as it is, that is not going to change the fact that the west of the city is and long has been Israeli territory, and it hosts the Israeli capital. President Trump’s announcement did not change any of that, but it did represent a baby step in the general direction of resolution — and that is why it has been met with such hysteria, at least in circles of power in the Islamic world.

That’s the Palestinian way: Every step toward resolution, even small and largely symbolic ones, must be met with maximal opposition, up to and including political violence and terrorism. Whatever sympathy one may feel for the Palestinian people themselves, their leaders and the leaders of their allies are not good-faith negotiating partners and are not likely to become good-faith negotiating partners. It is difficult to negotiate a lasting peace when one side does not want peace at all.

That’s the Palestinian way: Every step toward resolution, even small and largely symbolic ones, must be met with maximal opposition, up to and including political violence and terrorism.

President Trump promises to unveil an Arab–Israeli peace plan sometime in the coming year. It is being worked up by his son-in-law, a real-estate developer whose political acumen is such that he was unable to figure out how to cast an absentee ballot in the most recent New York City mayoral election. (As the New York Daily News reported in its hilarious account, Kushner, Ivanka Trump, and the Third Lady all managed to botch their ballots to the point of nullifying them; the president himself may have invalidated his ballot, too, by getting his own birthday wrong on the paperwork. “Not since Jefferson dined alone,” and all that.)

We’ll see how that goes.

Abbas boasts that the Palestinian state and the Palestinian National Authority no longer receive U.S. aid, but that isn’t quite true. The United States is a very large contributor to UNRWA, the relief agency for Palestinian “refugees.” (There aren’t any Palestinian refugees, really, but, unlike the rest of the world’s peoples, Palestinians inherit refugee status.) The United States is also a large contributor to other U.N. programs and international organizations that provide aid to the Palestinians, who, thanks to their incompetent and malevolent leadership, have no real economy to speak of. In 2016, the United States gave more in aid to the Palestinians than any other country did.

It is time to rethink that.

UNRWA is a troubled and troubling organization on its best day, an encourager and enabler of Palestinian radicalism. The prospects for peace probably would improve if it were dissolved. But, short of that, the United States should consider accommodating President Abbas’s demand and stepping away from the situation for a while, taking our aid money with us. If President Abbas must have his obstinacy and his cheap theatrics, then let him pay the full price for them. Let’s see how much loose change Erdogan can scramble up from the cushions of his ottoman. The haul is likely to be disappointing.

The United States has global interests, and one of those is seeing to the interests of our allies, including Israel. President Abbas thinks the United States has no role in future peace negotiations in the Middle East. One could not blame Americans for thinking much the same thing about him. What’s certain is that American power and American interests will be here when President Abbas has joined the footnotes, and the powers that be in the Islamic world would do well to meditate on that fact.


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