Will continued pummeling of the Palestinians bring them to heel? Or, more specifically, will additional sanctions bring them to the peace table to sign the “deal of the century?” The Trump administration seems to think so.
Let’s review recent history: Over very vocal Palestinian protests, the United States moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem some four months ago. Last month, the administration cut all U.S. funding ($368 million) to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which runs schools and health-care facilities for Palestinians. Next was a cutoff of $200 million to the U.S. Agency for International Development for infrastructure projects in Palestinian-controlled sectors of the West Bank, as well as $25 million for hospitals in East Jerusalem.
And then, last week, coinciding with the 25th anniversary of the Oslo Accords that set up a structure for Israeli-Palestinian recognition and peacemaking and the creation of a Palestinian state, the Trump administration announced the closure of the Washington mission of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the group representing Palestinians worldwide. “The PLO has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel,” the State Department said in a statement explaining the move.
Palestinian leaders have called the cuts in humanitarian aid in particular “collective punishment.” But in an interview with The New York Times, Trump son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner argued that such moves will hasten the arrival of peace “by stripping away the ‘false realities’ that surround Middle East peacemaking.”
These are concrete steps of retribution that many friends of Israel have long been quietly hoping for, and some loudly demanding. And there are good arguments to support each of the moves. Indeed, for those who challenge much of the Palestinian narrative or decry things like the Palestinian education program that ignores the existence of Israel and calls for death to Jews, these are proper responses for a people that prefers terrorism to peace and rejection to reconciliation.
But the reality is that the moves won’t likely solve any of the problems. Instead, it is more likely that the status quo will continue, with the United States supporting Israeli and Palestinian security cooperation — the one thing both sides agree on.
According to most pundits, Trump’s much-anticipated but as yet unrevealed peace plan is dead on arrival. So, the argument goes, severed ties with the Palestinians won’t make much difference. But what if the plan makes some sense? What’s the motivator for the Palestinians to engage?
No matter how justified you find the mounting U.S. pressure and sanctions to be, we agree with pro-Israel conservative columnist Max Boot, who recently observed that while the U.S. and Israeli governments are more closely linked than at any time in history, “Trump’s bear hug risks crushing Israel. … By gratuitously insulting and defunding the most moderate Palestinian faction, Trump is opening the door to the radicals.”
Best case scenario: Things don’t get worse.