The US plans huge cuts to its humanitarian aid to Palestinians. The cuts have plausibly been linked to the Trump administration's attempt to force the Palestinian Authority into accepting a new “peace deal”.
The cuts follow the Palestinian Authority suspension of contact with the US administration which in turn follow the US's decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
The cuts amount to around $300 million. Specifically the US has said it would end all its funding of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) which provides aid to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. The cut represents about 30% of UNRWA's yearly budget.
There is now a crisis in Gaza. 171 Palestinians have been killed this year at demonstrations near the border with Israel. Israel has tightened restrictions on access to Gaza via Karem Shalom, the main commercial crossing. Egypt's border with Gaza is only sporadically opened. Israel has banned all goods from exiting. Materials banned from entering include construction materials, water pumps, spare parts, generators, clothing, blankets and mattresses. Fuel and cooking gas has also been severely restricted. These restrictions have badly affected projects aimed at improving water facilities.
According to the Palestinian Authority figures 34% of Gazans live on less than $3.60 per day, and 49% are unemployed.
These cuts will make the blockade of Gaza worse, but the aim is, in fact, the underminng of Palestinian political life. Strong criticisms can be made of the respective political forces in charge in those places — Hamas’s repressive theocratic politics and violent hostility to the existence of Israel and Fatah’s undemocratic and corrupt political practices. But collective punishment of the Palestinians for any perceived and real crimes of political leaders is unjust and immoral. Moreover, the US's policy is aimed at destroying Palestinian self-determination and the now very precarious hope of an independent state.
Trump’s “peace deal”, which he has called “the Deal of the Century”, has not yet been unveiled but is reported to be an economic development programme for Gaza and West Bank as long as the Palestinians concede permanent control over Jerusalem, a large settlement zones for Israelis and a continuation of the limited “self government” they now have. The idea then is a vile tactic of stick followed by carrot — starve the Palestinians, then offer them some money.
The further cut in aid is being made alongside proposed legislation which would seek to change the official definition of Palestinian refugees, stripping the descendants of the 1948 expulsion and restricting it only to surviving refugees. This will undercut the Palestinian demand for the “right of return”. Such a demand could only have ever be a negotiating point — the return of all refugees and their descendants would make the state of Israel unviable.
Even so the Palestinian diaspora surely has the right to demand compensation and potentially for some thousands of descendants of refugees to resettle in either a new Palestinian state or in an Israel, existing alongside that Palestinian state.
It is not clear that the US can achieve its plan unilaterally without backing from Arab governments. That gives a little hope. Whatever, it is a long way from a just two-states settlement. International labour movements must oppose these cuts in aid which signal a radical turning away from “two states”.