Opinion |

Trump's Hardball Policy on the Palestinians Will Blow Up in Israel's Face

Israelis shouldn't celebrate the Trump administration's decision to slash funds for the Palestinians. It's a radicalizing gift for terrorists - and a ticking time bomb for Israel's security

Peter Lerner
Peter Lerner
A poster of the U.S. President Donald Trump is set on fire during the annual anti-Israeli Al-Quds, Jerusalem, Day rally in Tehran, Iran. June 8, 2018
A poster of the U.S. President Donald Trump is set on fire during the annual anti-Israeli Al-Quds, Jerusalem, Day rally in Tehran, Iran. June 8, 2018Credit: Ebrahim Noroozi,AP
Peter Lerner
Peter Lerner

"I believe in spending what you have to. But I also believe in not spending more than you should." Donald Trump, The Art of the Deal

Over the weekend two indicators of the Trump Doctrine for the Middle East emerged.

The first was an announcement from the U.S. Department of State that $200 million earmarked for the aid for the Palestinians will be "redirected" from the West Bank and Gaza and be spent in accordance with U.S. national interests. USAID has been involved in developing Palestinian agriculture and infrastructure development - roads, and water supply and treatment.

The second, a leaked report that the Trump administration will announce at the beginning of September 2018 that it will cut its financial support for the operations of the UN’s Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in the West Bank. The beneficiaries of these operations include include 809,738 registered refugees, 19 refugee camps, 96 schools with 48,956 pupils, two vocational and technical training centers, 43 primary health centers, 15 community rehabilitation centers and 19 women’s program centers.

Also, the U.S. is expected to suggest a new definition of "Palestinian refugee" status to streamline the criteria and coincide with the definition used for other refugees worldwide by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

The leak also suggested that the Trump administration will encourage Israel to review its agreements regarding UN operations in the West Bank so that Arab states don't step in to fund and perpetuate the current refuge definition and status.

Many in Israel are celebrating these policies. Trump's redirection of U.S. policy converges with the ongoing frustration of many Israelis that blind American financial support for the Palestinian Authority has severe repercussions. They welcome the declaration that aid must be linked to progress towards a peace process, accountability for ongoing Palestinian incitement, and the cessation of monthly wages for terrorists and their families.

A Palestinian man walks near a billboard describing now-suspended USAID infrastructure funding in the village of al-Badhan, north of Nablus in the West Bank. August 25, 2018Credit: AFP

Indeed, the Trump Doctrine is heavily dependent on reciprocation. Just as with the demands he's made from China, Mexico and Europe, Trump's message to the Palestinians is clear: the U.S. gives the Palestinians huge amounts of money annually, and the Palestinians do little to justify that ongoing financial support. For that aid to continue, the expectation is that the Palestinians Authority will come to the table, and seek to close the "deal of the century."

Trump's business mentality informs his policy. He wants value for money - a quid pro quo for U.S. funding from the Palestinians. But his business equation is incomplete: it's an inadequate way of thinking in terms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

There are critical inputs he doesn't include - human and humanitarian needs – and a dangerous consequence he doesn't factor in either: the detrimental effect on Israel's security.

>> Less American Aid to Palestinians Means More Violence Against Israelis | Opinion >> Hamas Is Desperate for a Deal With Israel. Here’s Proof | Opinion

In the West Bank, by contrast, while the economic and security situation is far from rosy, it is staying afloat; security is reasonably stable, the intifada-era suicide bombings are a distant memory, and Palestinians there are far more engaged by daily life than with violence.

This drastic improvement can be attributed to the very international aid distributed by USAID, UNRWA and other international organizations that President Trump intends to slash.

All the while, there are attempts to undermine that security by radical Palestinian and Islamist elements. The IDF combats those attempts on a daily basis - and the Palestinian security forces combat them too.

Palestinian women walk next to graffiti showing U.S. President Donald Trump with a footprint on his face and Arabic that reads, "For al-Quds (Jerusalem) and the right of return we resist." Gaza City, Credit: Khalil Hamra,AP

The question is: will this doctrine bring peace, or will more, and potentially escalated, violence prevail? After all, in our region, poverty has been a breeding ground for radical recruitment, violence, and terrorism.

Who stands to gain from the bankruptcy and demise of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank? A leadership vacuum will always be filled. And it's Hamas in Gaza and other one-staters – who have no vision of coexistence alongside Israel – who will rush to fill that vacuum.

>> ISIS Wants to Build a Base in Palestine. Donald Trump's Just Given It the Best Recruiting Tool | Opinion

When the Palestinian Authority collapses, who is likely to pick up the pieces? Israel? Israel has no interest in the international, financial or security burden of re-enforcing a civil-military administration over Gaza. Hamas? Hamas would love to gain full control and solidify its power over the West Bank.

I would suggest the Trump White House pause to consider a much more strategic attitude towards the conflict, a roadmap that uses aid not as blackmail, not as a rushed dictation of terms, but to build an infrastructure for a Palestinian civilian life worth living, and a peace process worth engaging in.

While it is Trump's prerogative to pick and choose whom to support, and how to support them, the ramifications of these abrupt steps will only empower the radicals. The deal of the century can't be made with Israel alone, and hardballing the Palestinian into submission is likely to blow up on Israel’s doorstep.

Lieutenant Colonel (ret.) Peter Lerner is a crisis communications consultant. He served for 25 years in the IDF as a spokesperson and a liaison officer to international organizations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Twitter: @LTCPeterLerner

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