This week marks 25 years since Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization signed the Oslo agreement on the White House lawn. It was also the week in which the United States effectively severed diplomatic relations with the Palestinians by ordering the closure of the PLO mission in Washington, DC, capping a series of punitive measures that have included the termination of US funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), the elimination of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) program in the occupied Palestinian territories, and the cessation of an American program that supports Palestinian hospitals in occupied East Jerusalem. At the same time, Washington has pointedly maintained US funding and assistance programs for the security forces of the Palestinian Authority, and Palestinian intelligence chief Majid Faraj was recently hosted by the Central Intelligence Agency.
Of greater significance than the above measures, the Trump administration has recognized Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem and relocated the US embassy to Israel to the Holy City—both of which are in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions. The administration has also ceased to refer to the occupied Palestinian territories as occupied territories, effectively renounced US endorsement of a two-state settlement, and adopted a number of additional policies and informal measures intended to promote and normalize perpetual Israeli domination over the Palestinian people.
To denounce President Trump and his government for seeking to eliminate the Palestinian quest for self-determination and destroy the prospects of Israeli-Palestinian coexistence is of course entirely appropriate, but the administration’s actions over the past 18 months hardly constitute a reversal of US policy. While previous Republican and Democratic administrations have generally eschewed the shock-jock approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict currently in vogue in the White House, we are not in uncharted waters. Washington’s political class has for decades had UNRWA in its sights. And despite its illegality under international law, the unilateral US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem is rooted in congressional legislation passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. Similarly, the United States has never rescinded the 1987 Anti-Terrorism Act that defines the PLO as a terrorist organization and makes it illegal for the organization to operate in the United States in any way, shape, or form. The difference is that, whereas previous US administrations either, as in the case of UNRWA, ultimately made concessions to reality or, in the case of Jerusalem and the PLO mission, issued various waivers in order to operate more effectively in the Middle East, Team Trump has a predilection for disruptive gestures and magical thinking.
Indeed, Washington in 2018 seems to genuinely believe that it can eliminate the Palestinian-refugee question by starving UNRWA of funds in order to compel it to either redefine Palestinian refugees so that they no longer exist or itself cease to exist. Similarly, the administration seems entirely convinced that it has resolved the future status of Jerusalem by pronouncing it “off the table,” and that the Palestinians will submit to Trump’s will in order to restore $200 million in USAID programs and an office in the US capital.