UNDER the presidency of Donald Trump, the United States has certainly become rogue. This may seem a harsh term for the so-called torch-bearer of human rights, humanity and mortality. But the reality is that the United States has been treading the path of excessive bullying in the global arena, disregarding all the norms of decency and morality. Its decision to pull out of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) that supports Palestinian refugees is perhaps one of the harshest decisions taken by the Trump administration in the last one year or so. This comes just weeks after it said it would stop $200 million in funding for Palestine. In its statement ending the funding, the State Department criticized the “expanding community of entitled beneficiaries” served by the programme. So, Washington is toing the line of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been propagating against the “fictitious” Palestinian refugees who threaten the state of Israel by perpetuating the right of return.“The U.S. has done a very important thing by halting the financing for the refugee-perpetuation agency known as UNRWA. It is finally beginning to resolve the problem.
The funds must be taken and used to genuinely help rehabilitate the refugees, the true number of which is much smaller than the number reported by UNRWA,” is how Netanyahu expressed his venomous views supporting the US decision. This gruesome decision is likely to have a devastating impact on the lives of 526,000 children who receive a daily education from UNRWA, 3.5 million sick people who receive medical care at the clinics being run by UNRWA and almost 1.7 million food insecure people who dependent upon assistance from the agency-run outlets. Ever since the inception of this agency in 1949, the United States has been the largest donor to the UNRWA, which originally offered humanitarian support to some 750,000 Palestinians, the initial number of people displaced when Israel was created in 1948. Today, the $1.2 billion agency provides education, health care, food support and other essentials to some 5.3 million Palestinians, descendants of the original refugees, now living in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
This is a transposal of parts of the Oslo paradigm, where the European Union and other international players pledged to financially support Palestinian state-building projects. Though Oslo’s prime objective has never been the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, still there was a perception that an effort was being made to upgrade the living conditions of the impoverished Palestinians who had been forcibly pushed away from their motherland. As it turns out, the main theme of the 1993 peace accords was to transfer control of a number of institutions and policies – such as education, healthcare, and food security – to the Palestinians in order to free Israel from the responsibility of managing the daily lives of the population it had blatantly colonised. And, while abdicating itself from the responsibility for the Palestinian people, Israel has continued its pursuit of acquiring more and more land. But Trump seems to be obsessed with a highly toxic approach; he wants to simply enforce a “peace process” by sabotaging all of the institutions that modern states use to manage their population while catapulting the Palestinians to the brink of social death. The Palestinians, for obvious reasons, are already extremely resentful of President Trump’s announcement recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his decision to upend decades of US policy by moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This surely has exposed the Trump administration’s pro-Israel bias and renders it unsuitable to act as a reliable mediator at the moment for the Palestinians in general. By withdrawing financial support to the UNRWA, Donald Trump apparently wants to see if a policy of destruction and anti-humanitarian intervention can be used as a peace-making contrivance in this protracted conflict. This is what he has been trying to do in connexion with Netanyahu while challenging the long-held position of the Israeli security establishment, which has repeatedly forewarned that weakening the aid agency could have negative consequences on the stability of the region. Both Trump and Netanyahu believe that their policy of brutal intimidation will eventually coerce the helpless Palestinians to – though grudgingly – accept a peace deal on their terms and conditions.
Their second goal is to gradually erase Palestinian refugeehood status. The UNRWA was established to assist the 700,000 displaced Palestinian refugees after the creation of Israel in 1948. But, after the war had subsided, in direct violation of article 11 of UN Resolution 194, Israel refused to allow these exiled Palestinians to return to their homes. This is precisely how Israel created the refugee problem. Since it is very much clear that a viable Palestinian state is not a part of Trump’s “peace deal”, his strategy now endeavours to erase the vast majority of Palestinian refugees from the historical and contemporary record. Reinforcing Netanyahu’s accusation of “fictitious” Palestinian refugees who “threaten” the state of Israel by perpetuating the right of return, Trump is suggesting that only the people born and who had actually lived in Mandatory Palestine before the 1948 war – people who are now more than 70-years old – can be considered refugees. Their descendants cannot claim the refugee status. Obviously, if the funding to the UNRWA that assists millions of refugees is blocked, then they will no longer be considered refugees, thus paving the way for a deal on Israel’s terms.
— The writer is freelance columnist based in Karachi.