By: Jordan Abu-Sirriya
The past 19 months, Palestinians, Israelis, and a number of Arab states anticipated President Trump’s Middle East peace plan.[i] During this waiting period, Trump acknowledged Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, cut humanitarian aid to the United Nations Relief Work Agency (UNRWA) which supports Palestinians, and most recently, closed the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Mission in Washington, DC.[ii] Trump’s actions have resulted in Palestinian riots, protests, and a resurgence in support for Hamas. The closure of the PLO mission and cutting of UNRWA aid will continue to destabilize the Middle East peace process and further fuel violence in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel.
On September 10, the White House announced the closure of the PLO Mission in Washington, DC, which resulted in a diplomatic standoff and violent protests.[iii] Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat stated that Palestinian diplomats “will put on hold all our communication with this American administration,” while President Trump’s team admitted that they may need to move forward without the Palestinians.[iv] [v] In a different statement, Saeb Erekat described this decision as “another affirmation of the Trump Administration’s policy to collectively punish the Palestinian people.”[vi] Trump’s actions and Erekat’s responses demonstrate to the Palestinian people that Palestinian statehood is far from a reality. As a result, more than 10,000 Palestinians protested on the Gaza-Israel border on September 21st by launching grenades and explosive devices over the Israeli border. Israeli Defense Forces fired on the protesters, killing one and wounding over 300 others.[vii]
A loss of hope in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process results in Palestinians, specifically Gazans, turning to Israel’s nemesis Hamas.[viii] Palestinians turn to Hamas in hope that the group can offer stability, money, and leadership. In turn, Hamas provides Palestinians with financial incentives to encourage their engagement in violence-inducing activities. Hamas provides this support by offering payments to Palestinians who are killed or injured in clashes with Israeli military officials; Hamas states that these payments are offered “in light of the difficult economic conditions experienced by our [Palestinian] people in the Gaza Strip as a result of the continued Israeli siege.”[ix] During the 2018 Gaza border protests, Hamas bused protesters to the Gazan-Israeli border, and paid the families of injured or murdered protesters.[x] Furthermore, the ideas of Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’s leader who promoted violent Palestinian riots on the Gaza-Israel border, have gained enormous popularity amongst Palestinians this past year as a direct result of President Trump’s decisions to close the PLO Mission and to acknowledge Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.[xi]
Trump’s cuts to UNRWA will also drive Palestinians toward Hamas and increase violence. Trump’s announcement to cut $200 billion in aid to UNRWA was detrimental to the one million Gazans who rely on UNRWA for food.[xii] Additionally, the elimination of UNRWA’s 1,000 jobs which are available to Gazans will exacerbate the current 44% unemployment rate.[xiii] As a result, thousands of Palestinians and Hamas officials protested at the Gaza UNRWA Headquarters and partially seized control of the headquarters.[xiv] A few weeks after this takeover, Israeli officials warned the U.S. that cutting UNRWA aid abruptly may provide a power vacuum for Hamas to fill.[xv] Raul Caruso, of Catholic University, and Evelina Gavrilova, of University of Turin, found a strong correlation between Palestinian youth unemployment and “both (the) emergence and brutality of Palestinian political violence.” In addition to male youth unemployment, Caruso and Gavrilova note that these brutal living conditions can also cause violence. [xvi] For these reasons, the United States and Israel should expect a spike in violence as UNRWA-provided employment and food vanish.[xvii]
President Trump’s decision to cut diplomatic ties with the PLO and aid to UNRWA ostracized Palestinians, causing Palestinian riots and increased support for Hamas. The deterioration of the peace process will continue to escalate violence as these policies reduce the will of Palestinians to achieve their objectives peacefully. Unfortunately, a downward spiral of the peace process will continue as long as these policies stand and Palestinians have no sense of hope.
[i] Michael Wilner, “White House Denies Trump Offered Abbas $5 Bil. to Enter Peace Talks,” The Jerusalem Post, September 14, 2018, https://www.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/White-House-denies-report-Trump-offered-Abbas-5-bil-to-enter-peace-talks-567163.
[ii] Heather Nauert, “Closure of the PLO Office in Washington,” U.S. Department of State. September 10, 2018. https://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2018/09/285812.htm.
[iii] Merrit Kenned, “Trump Administration To Close Palestine Liberation Organization In D.C.,” National Public Radio, September 10, 2018, https://www.npr.org/2018/09/10/646323929/trump-administration-to-close-palestine-liberation-organization-office-in-d-c
[iv] David Martin, “Palestinians Threaten to Cut Ties with US as PLO Mission in Washington Faces Closure,” DW.COM, September 19, 2018., https://www.dw.com/en/palestinians-threaten-to-cut-ties-with-us-as-plo-mission-in-washington-faces-closure/a-41440105.
[v] Michael Wilner, “Trump Peace Team in ‘pre-launch’ Phase, Completing Economic Package,” The Jerusalem Post, September 16, 2018, https://www.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/Trump-peace-plan-in-pre-launch-phase-completing-economic-package-567261.
[vi] Palestinian Liberation Organization. Negotiations Affairs Department. “Dr. Saeb Erekat on the Announcement to Close the Palestinian Mission in Washington.” News release, September 10, 2018. Negotiations Affairs Department, State of Palestine. https://www.nad.ps/en/media-room/press-releases/dr-saeb-erekat-announcement-close-palestinian-mission-washington.
[vii] Al Jazeera, “Israel forces open fire on Palestinians.” Al Jazeera, September 21, 2018, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/04/gaza-protest-latest-updates-180406092506561.html
[viii] Adam Rasgon, “Ahead of Fresh Standoff, Hamas Reveals Payouts to Injured Protesters,” The Jerusalem Post, April 05, 2018, https://www.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/gaza-news/Ahead-of-fresh-standoff-Hamas-reveals-payouts-to-injured-protesters-548990.
[ix] AFP, “Hamas offers $3,000 for families of those killed by Israel,” Arab News, April 5, 2018, http://www.arabnews.com/node/1279766/middle-east
[x] Jacob Magid, “Hamas Accused of Jailing Bus Drivers Who Refuse to Take Gazans to Protests,” The Times of Israel, April 5, 2018, https://www.timesofisrael.com/hamas-accused-of-jailing-bus-drivers-who-refuse-to-take-gazans-to-protests/.
[xi] Dina Kraft, “The riddle of Hamas’s new Gaza leader: extremist or pragmatist?” The Christian Science Monitor, June 7, 2018, https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2018/0607/The-riddle-of-Hamas-s-new-Gaza-leader-extremist-or-pragmatist
[xiii] Maram Humaid, “UNRWA Job Cuts in Gaza ‘a Massacre for Employees’,” Al Jazeera, July 29, 2018, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/07/180729105810213.html.
[xiv] TOI Staff. “Hamas Vows Support for UNRWA Workers Staging ‘mutiny’,” The Times of Israel, August 9, 2018. https://www.timesofisrael.com/hamas-vows-support-for-unrwa-workers-staging-mutiny/.
[xvi] Raul Caruso and Evelina Gavrilova, “Youth Unemployment, Terrorism and Political Violence, Evidence from the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict,” Peace Economics, Peace Science and Public Policy. 18(2). 2012: 21 from doi:10.1515/1554-8597.1254
[xvii] United Nations Relief and Works Agency. “Working At UNRWA,” UNRWA. https://www.unrwa.org/careers/working-unrwa