The U.S. announcement Friday that it is cutting all funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestine refugees proves the Trump administration already has set in motion its diplomatic plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and its goal is to decimate the Palestinian national movement.
The Palestinian leadership, with its many factions and despite its divisions, agrees that the decision to freeze assistance to UNRWA was coordinated between the White House and the Israeli government, and aligns with the much broader plan spearheaded by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: to shelve any two-state solution based on the 1967 borders, and to remove the core issues from any future negotiations, chief among them the status of Jerusalem, followed by the right of return.
The plan’s outlines are already clear and bold. First is the increase of construction in the settlements, within and without the blocs, as well as in the Jerusalem area, including the A1 region linking Jerusalem with Ma’aleh Adumim. This would terminate any Palestinian geographic contiguity and rule out the idea of Palestinian sovereignty over territory in the West Bank. Israel’s insistence on evicting the West Bank community of Khan al-Ahmar only strengthens this scenario.
Second is the Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Moving the embassy helped solidify another key aspect of the plan, so the discourse around Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine is taken off the table by the U.S., and any future division of the city can be shot down in light of the reality in the field.
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The hope is that both Palestinians and the Arab world will accept this reality, and the administrative capital of the Palestinians, if there is one, will remain in Ramallah. Perhaps it will be in one of the neighborhoods of Abu Dis, or even in Gaza, but never under any circumstances in Jerusalem.
Third is the issue of Palestinian refugees, and specifically the right of return, one of the most complicated disputes in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Every Israeli government, since the state’s inception, vehemently opposed the idea of a Palestinian right of return, claiming it would end the Zionist project. Despite this opposition, the refugee problem remains alive and kicking.
For the U.S. and Israel, one of the main reasons for this is UNRWA, which they view as an international body that perpetuates the problem by assisting countries that took in Palestinian refugees (Jordan, Lebanon, Syria) to avoid assimilating and naturalizing them, thus preserving their status as refugees.
The same goes for those living in camps in the West Bank and Gaza, which makes it impossible for any Palestinian or Arab leader to ignore their presence, or the need to have their status resolved by any diplomatic formula proffered to end the conflict.
According to this view, diminishing UNRWA’s potency, altering its mandate and perhaps eventually shutting it down will force refugees, the Palestinian Authority and other countries to seek financial and humanitarian solutions for those in the West Bank and Gaza, or to grant citizenship to those living in places like Jordan.
This could lead to assimilating thousands residing in Arab and Western countries with financial aid packages, thus stifling the right of return into Israel for second- and third-generation descendants of the Nakba, so that the Palestinian dream shrivels into a besieged regime in the Gaza Strip and an expanded civil administration in the West Bank.
On the face of it, it seems Netanyahu and Trump’s plan has entered the phase of implementation, with talk of promoting projects in Gaza and improving the humanitarian status in the Strip affirming this assessment.
Even though they see through the Netanyahu-Trump plan, the Palestinian public and leadership are having a hard time coming up with a counter-proposal. The next few months will tell if the international community, mainly Europe and the Arab world, will intervene to supply a financial safety net to UNRWA.
Otherwise, the refugees will have to start fending for themselves, and the Palestinian pressure cooker will reach a critical boiling point. Not just in the West Bank and Gaza, but also in countries like Jordan, Lebanon and even Syria, putting the entire region at risk.