Even Israeli officials are warning that Trump’s moves against Palestinians may backfire


President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and his advisor Jared Kushner

Jared Kushner has yet to formally unveil his highly touted peace plan for resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict. But in the past weeks and months, its outlines have become increasingly clear. Recent moves by the United States to recognize Israel’s capital in Jerusalem and deprive Palestinians of refugee status have taken key issues off the table before any future peace negotiation even begins. The Trump administration has announced a steady stream of cuts in aid for Palestinians, including reported plans to stop all funding for the United National Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the agency which provides healthcare and schooling for Palestinian refugees, as well as cutting $200 million in economic aid to the West Bank and Gaza. These moves are helping clarify the Trump administration’s strategy for getting to peace in the region: imposing maximum pain on the Palestinians as a means of bullying them into submission.

But this strategy may backfire, including against a Netanyahu government that has enthusiastically supported Trump’s get-tough approach. Even former Israeli military officials have begun raising the alarm that the Trump administration’s punitive actions against the Palestinians, rather than bringing peace, are leading the region toward a new era of conflict. In an article this week in Ha’aretz, former Israeli Defense Forces spokesperson Peter Lerner criticized the administration’s attempts to “blackmail” the Palestinians, stating that such a strategy would lead to a power vacuum in the West Bank, warning that “hardballing the Palestinian into submission is likely to blow up on Israel’s doorstep.” Lerner’s warning echoes previous reports from Israeli military officials that funding cuts are likely to lead to a humanitarian crisis and further unrest in the occupied territories.

The Trump administration’s unapologetically anti-Palestinian posture, famously symbolized this May by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley walking out of a U.N. Security Council meeting to avoid even hearing a speech by the Palestinian envoy, is in many ways something new in the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict. While the United States has never been seen as a neutral arbiter on the conflict — famously characterized as “Israel’s lawyer” even by U.S. officials who have taken part in negotiations — the Trump administration’s actions have risen to a new level of overt hostility to Palestinian claims. Going back to the administrations of Woodrow Wilson and Harry Truman, successive U.S. presidents have shown a willingness to downplay the right of self-determination for the Arab people living in Palestine, while supporting Israeli expansion.

But experts say that even weighed against this shabby historical standard, the Trump administration’s approach is unique for its single-minded focus on satisfying short-term Israeli goals and political constituencies in the U.S., even at the cost of U.S. interests.

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