International politics is rife with complex problems that appear so intractable that it is difficult to even imagine what a solution might look like. The Israel-Palestine conflict is not one of these.
The two-state solution supported almost unanimously by the international community has been available for decades but has been unilaterally blocked by Israel and, much more significantly, the United States. This resistance has been at odds not only with the international consensus, but also with the views of an increasing majority of the U.S. population and a significant proportion of Israeli public opinion.
In the most recent episode of this story, the U.S. government has confirmed that it has officially stopped all aid to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, amounting to an annual loss of over $60 million for Palestinian security services. Many of the programs that will be cancelled date back to the Oslo accords of 1993. It is not clear how long this cessation of funding will remain in effect.
The change in policy is part of the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act (ATCA), which has recently come into force after being passed by the United States Congress last year. Under the ACTA, American citizens can sue foreign organizations receiving state department funding in U.S. courts over alleged complicity in so-called “acts of war.”
Ironically, the cuts in funding for the Palestinians come partly at the request of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Some members of the authority deem the U.S. funding inadequate to offset the risk of being brought before the U.S. courts.
“We do not want to receive any money if it will cause us to appear before the courts.”
Saeb Erekat, a senior PA official put it plainly: “We do not want to receive any money if it will cause us to appear before the courts.”
The possibility of the PA’s indictment under ACTA is a very real one. For one thing, Israel has frequently accused the organization of inciting militant violence, accusations the PA strongly denies. Erekat told the BBC that the PA: “will continue to participate in the fight against terrorism in the region.”
Three banks operating in Palestinian territories are currently before U.S. courts, and numerous attempts have been made to prosecute groups such as the PA and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).
Another concern among Palestinian organizations is the legal action that has already been taken against them in the U.S., action which will only be strengthened by the new legislation. Three banks operating in Palestinian territories are currently before U.S. courts, and numerous attempts have been made to prosecute groups such as the PA and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). The lawsuits have typically failed due to lack of jurisdiction, but this may very well change with the passing of the ACTA.
The passing of ACTA comes at a time when, even by historical standards, U.S. government hostility towards Palestinians is on the rise. As the BBC reported: “Last year, Washington cut hundreds of millions of dollars of aid to the Palestinians, which included funding of humanitarian projects — such as health, education and infrastructure — supported by USAID . . . . The Trump administration also ended all US funding for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA. It had previously been the largest donor to UNRWA, giving more than $360m in 2017.”
Slashing the funding for UNWRA is perhaps the most disastrous aspect of U.S. policy in terms of its impact on the Palestinian people. Many Palestinians rely on the work of UNWRA for basic amenities, particularly those living in the besieged Gaza, the deliberate starvation of whom was referred to by Israeli government advisor Dov Weisglass in 2006.
“The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger,” Weisglass is quoted as saying. This advice was heeded during the blockade of 2007-2010, when the Israeli government made precise calculations of the number of calories allowed into Gaza to achieve the desired effect.
The BBC report also included comments from a Palestinian man whose USAID-funded employment in law and order was terminated, along with that of hundreds of other workers in similar positions.
“Our work was really important. We’d made a big impact, but now we’re stopping a lot of our projects in the middle,” the man said. “We were really helping to build the capacity of the Palestinian police and prosecutors, helping them to carry out their investigations and daily work . . . . It’s a huge setback.” Scores of U.S. government scholarships awarded to Palestinian students have also been suspended.
The U.S. government and much of the western media have construed these policies as being part of a plan to re-engage Palestinian officials in peace talks, but many argue that they merely represent a continuation of the long-standing U.S. support for the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory — a position in which the U.S. is more or less isolated among the international community — a fact ignored in mainstream media such as the BBC.
The diplomatic record illuminates the history of the balance of power and geopolitics at play.
In 1976, the United States vetoed a Security Council resolution calling on Israel to withdraw from Palestinian territories. In 1980, the U.S. voted against the draft text presented by Tunisia, stressing “the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.” The U.S. has refused publicly to call on Israel to halt any of its military action against Gaza and has blocked resolutions condemning settlements in the West Bank in 1983, 1997 and 2011. This is despite the fact that the settlements are universally recognized as illegal under international law, specifically the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949.
In October 2000, the Security Council called on Israel, as an occupying power, “to abide scrupulously by its obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention.” The vote was 14-0 in favour, the U.S. abstaining, the Clinton administration presumably not wishing to veto one of the core principles of international humanitarian law. Over time, U.S. military, political and diplomatic support for Israel has been unwavering, regardless of whether a Republican or a Democratic administration has been in power.
Thus, the decision of the U.S. government to cancel all aid to Palestinians in the occupied territories should come as no surprise. While the injustice visited by the superpower on the Palestinians may seem like a law of nature (something that will simply always be), it is not. The situation will change when citizens of the U.S. and its allies begin to influence the policies of their governments and bring them in line with the overwhelming consensus of the international community and international law.