T IS AN ACCEPTED fact that U.S. policy in Israel/Palestine has been pro-Israel from the days of Harry Truman’s presidency all the way to Barack Obama’s. Even so, from time to time the United States could be critical of Israeli policies and have threatened to punish Israel for violating international law. Several U.S. presidents followed through on threats, including Republicans George H.W. Bush, who opposed loan guarantees and new Israeli settlements, and Ronald Reagan, who suspended a strategic cooperation agreement after Israel illegally annexed the Golan Heights in 1981. However, with Donald Trump occupying the White House, a shift has taken place in U.S. policy toward the Israel-Palestine dispute. Now, U.S. policy is no longer merely pro-Israel, but rather fully right-wing Israeli. Whatever Binyamin Netanyahu and his far-right government ask the United States to do for them, Trump complies and hands it to them on a silver platter.
Here is the Israeli wish list that other U.S. administrations refused to grant and Trump’s administration has handed over, asking nothing in return:
Recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel;
Move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem;
Declare that the future of Jerusalem is off the negotiating table;
Call for the dismantlement of United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and an end to all U.S. contributions to the U.N. agency. The U.S. was paying more than a quarter of the agency’s $1.2 billion annual budget.
Call for removal of the refugee issue (the right of return of Palestinian refugees) from future negotiations;
Support the redefinition of the term “Palestinian refugee” so that children of Palestinian refugees do not retain refugee status (which is contrary to UNHCR guidelines that refugee dependents “are normally granted refugee status according to the principle of family unity”);
Reduce significantly U.S. annual support to the Palestinian Authority;
Cut $25 million in U.S. aid to Palestinian hospitals, including those in East Jerusalem;
Consistently withhold criticism of Israel’s human rights violations and brutality against Palestinians, especially in international forums like the U.N. Security Council;
Close the Palestine Liberation Organization’s mission in Washington, DC, leaving the Palestinians without a formal presence in the U.S. capital.
What is behind this shift in U.S. policy toward the Palestinians?
While there are many reasons for the U.S. policy shift, I will highlight the following:
The Evangelical voting bloc. While running for the presidency, Trump—who is everything but an Evangelical—was able to court Evangelicals. He promised them that after he won the election, he would return the favors. Evangelicals voted for him in masses; without their vote, he wouldn’t be in the White House. Among other things, their leaders wanted a pro-Israel policy, recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel, a move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, and a halt to the critique of the settlement movement in the West Bank. Their demands have now become current U.S. policy toward Israel and the Palestinians.
Sheldon Adelson’s billions. Adelson, the American Jewish billionaire who is a close ally and supporter of Netanyahu and a staunch advocate of far-right Israeli policies, became a strong supporter of Trump during the 2016 race for the White House. Adelson has enough money and power to tell both Netanyahu and Trump what to do, and they will comply, even though some of his demands—in the long run—may not be good for either country and could certainly be detrimental to peace and stability in the world. Adelson’s support of congressional representatives who are in office or running for office corresponds with the level of their support of Israel’s far-right policies. The desire to keep Adelson’s checks flowing into their campaign coffers is what keeps many U.S. elected officials from protesting this administration’s new leaning to Israel’s right-wing agenda.
Trump’s appointments to create the “deal of the century.” Trump promised the American people that he had in his quiver what he called “the deal of the century” to forge peace between Israelis and Palestinians. When Trump formed the team of experts who would translate his vision into reality, international observers realized that “the deal” would be better called the disappointment of the century.
He picked men and women who are well-known for their bias to Israel’s agenda. For U.S. ambassador to Israel, he appointed David Friedman, an ardent right-wing supporter of the settlement movement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and of the U.S. Embassy move to Jerusalem. For launching peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, Trump appointed his special adviser on the Middle East, son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is a close friend of Netanyahu and a big donor to the settlement movement. For the position of chief negotiator, he appointed Jason Greenblatt, another supporter of the right-wing Israeli agenda. All three are either Zionist millionaires or billionaires. For U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, he appointed Nikki Haley, whose statements at the U.N. staunchly mirror the policies of her boss—who echoes the positions of Netanyahu and Adelson. Haley sees no good in Palestinians and no evil in Israelis. With such appointments, who could imagine that negotiations would lead anywhere but to disaster?
The cumulative effect of these forces against Palestine and the Palestinians is to push the peace process further into oblivion. In January 2017 I wrote:
If Trump does announce such a move [of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem]—God forbid—he may as well simultaneously announce the death of the ailing peace process and the end of the role of the U.S. as a broker in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. The U.S. can’t deliver Jerusalem to Israel with one hand and summon Palestinians to peace talks with the other hand. Christians who pray for “the peace of Jerusalem” and for “peace on earth” need to discern that this move would not promote peace but rather hate, violence, bloodshed and perhaps wars.
The Palestinians, whose political muscle is no match for the U.S. president and whose finances pale in comparison with the wealth of extreme Zionist billionaires, did the only thing they could do: withdraw from any future peace talks that would be sponsored by Washington, DC. This decision frustrated Trump and now he is looking for ways to discipline the Palestinians and force them back into U.S.-controlled negotiations.
During the Obama era, Israelis resisted all efforts to sit with Palestinians and negotiate peace, even under U.S. sponsorship. Secretary of State John Kerry openly criticized Israel for frustrating the path to peace. With President Trump and his chosen team of right-wing advisers in power, the Israelis are euphoric, knowing they could never again have a U.S. administration that would provide more favorable terms leading to a better deal for the State of Israel.
Recently, Washington has been inflicting all kinds of punishments against the Palestinians—in particular, economic ones—hoping to weaken their resolve and beat them into submission. Will the Palestinians declare defeat, crawl on their knees, and submit to U.S. and Israeli dictates, or will they patiently endure until a friendlier administration controls the White House? Speaking to Ma’an News Agency, member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Dr. Hanan Ashrawi responded with, “Palestinians will not surrender and…no amount of coercion or unwarranted collective punitive measures will bring the Palestinian leadership or people to their knees.”
Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy minced no words when he wrote in his article “Shame on you, America”: “America has declared a war on the Palestinians.” He concluded the article with, “But the new America has lost its shame, too; it no longer even wants to pretend to be the honest broker, or take care of the world’s needy, as its position obliges it to do. Let us say, then, shame on you, America.”
Rev. Dr. Alex Awad is a retired United Methodist Missionary. He and his wife, Brenda, served in Jerusalem and in Bethlehem for more than 25 years. Rev. Awad served as pastor of East Jerusalem Baptist Church, dean of students at Bethlehem Bible College, and director of the Shepherd Society. Awad has written two books, Through the Eyes of the Victims and Palestinian Memories. Rev. Awad is a member of Palestinian Christian Alliance for Peace (PCAP).