Palestinians have nothing to gain from Pence’s visit
So, POTUS Donald Trump is sending to the Middle East the man who stood on his right as he threw Palestinians under the bus to ‘unscramble’ the omelette or ‘unmuddy’ the waters. This is the same Vice POTUS Pence who, if reports from the US are to be believed is the Christian Evangelicals and Right-wing Republicans’ deployee to the White House. It’s punted, deceptively so, that Trump’s decision to implement the 22-years-old Jerusalem Act was meant to appease them.
Now, in his impending Middle East trip, Pence, the beneficiary by constituency, of this move is scheduled to also meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The PA’s knee-jack reaction is that they no longer recognise the US’s role in ‘peace’ negotiations with Israel and will not host Pence when he arrives in the region. However, some of us who know Abbas and his Fatah faction in the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) better know that he will eventually cave in and shake Pence and Trump’s son-in-law and his Middle East envoy and settlement funder Jared Kushner’s hands.
Trump’s act of announcing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel then arrange a meeting with Abbas is like a husband beating his partner then tease her by pinching her ears and nose to seduce laughter. It’s called abuse.
When the PLO announced that Abbas will not meet Pence the White House put out a statement claiming ‘it will be counter-productive’ for Palestinians to abandon the US. The spin in Washington is that the PA has no choice because they are paying salaries of thousands of PA public servants and the Palestinian Security forces. This is only a valid spin on those who have little comprehension of the nuts and bolts of that misappropriation of US taxpayer funds.
Here is a story many people are not told. The US pays, through donations, salaries of thousands of PA employees (nurses, doctors, teachers etc) in the West Bank not because it is doing Palestinians a favour. The West Bank is occupied by Israel and the 1907 Hague Regulations and the Fourth Geneva Convention says, “the occupying power must take measures to restore and ensure, as far as possible, public order and safety”. It further says “To the fullest extent of the means available to it, the occupying power must ensure sufficient hygiene and public health standards, as well as the provision of food and medical care to the population under occupation”
Simply put this means that Israel, by virtue of being an occupying power is supposed to be the one paying those salaries from its national fiscus. Israelis are supposed to be feeling the pinch of the occupation through sharing resources with people they are occupying. In this equation, through US funding to the PA, Israel is getting away with a cost-free occupation. It explains why it will not end its occupation because it costs it nothing to carry out.
The US retaliating to Pence’s snub by Palestinians by closing the tap will help Palestinians. It will transfer the cost on the occupier and the taxpayers of that occupying power. Sanctions only work when they bite ordinary citizens who choose governments. While right-wing Israelis support their country’s occupation, they will not support it if it means they have to pay for it.
Two; the US threatens to cut pay for Palestinian security forces who number around 20 000 lightly armed men whose main task is to clamp down on Palestinian resistance from organisations such as Islamic Jihad and Hamas. That’s two of their three briefs; protect the PA leadership and infrastructure and keep the lid tight on resistance. Their third brief is to co-operate with Israeli occupation forces and share intelligence in their duty to protect settlements.
The US spends billions maintaining that status quo. Following the Oslo Accord of 1993 the US has managed to get Palestinians to agree to complain about settlement expansion while shedding blood to protect the same settlements. Former US President Bill Clinton established that framework to benefit Israel. Palestinians have been bending backward because salaries earned have created a dependence on the US for their families’ upkeep.
The international law of occupation does not allow for occupied people to have security forces; it gives them the right to resist an occupation by any means necessary. The occupying power should provide security and policing to the people it occupies; which then means it has to pay salaries and provide infrastructure.
To clarify this point, Palestinian security forces are not allowed to stop Israeli soldiers from launching night raids on Palestinian homes. They are not allowed to stop Israeli soldiers from shooting, demolishing houses or arresting Palestinians. They are not allowed to arrest Israeli settlers who attack Palestinians and destroy their olive trees and desecrate graves. They are not allowed to drive on the same roads as Israeli settlers. But they remain loyal to the US because it uses its money to subsidise Israeli occupation. They are US employees.
Now, with the Jerusalem announcement and that of moving the US embassy there Washington flexing its muscles to remind Palestinians who is really responsible for their suffering. And by snubbing a visit by Pence they would have indicated to Washington its role as both the ‘broker’ of peace and Israel’s lawyer are finished. Their situation will not be improved by their continued subservience to the US, which has never voted in their favour at the UN Security Council or any international fora where their steps brings them closer to a Palestinian state.
Thus, let them snub Pence and let’s see what the US will do. Washington has no card left to play that will advantage them.
People have been asking why Trump made this unpopular move which has been postponed by successive US administrations since 1995. The White House spin is that ‘it will advance peace’. Al Jazeera Political Analyst Marwan Bishara angrily asked, I paraphrase, ‘how does unilaterally taking contested land and giving it to one party advance peace? It’s like (the late General Ariel) Sharon saying that building settlements in East Jerusalem and West Bank advances peace. What logic is that?’
JD Gordon, a former Trump adviser told Al Jazeera the move was done to appease Christian evangelicals who Trump has promised the embassy move in his campaign. It’s difficult to understand how some guy in a trucker cap and a pick-up truck will be chilling in Texas with a map of Palestine and calling a radio station arguing that moving the US embassy to Jerusalem will strengthen his faith. That is inconceivable given that most Americans are hardly familiar with the map of the world, let alone a small piece of real estate called Israel.
Some pundits argue that Trump did it to divert attention from the Robert Mueller led Russia inquiry currently underway in the US. They claim that Trump wants the media and the people to focus on something but him and his son-in-law Jared Kushner’s alleged links to the Kremlin. That’s a lie. If Trump wanted to divert US attention he would have sent a strategic bomber from Guam to stage a fly-over a few miles off the North Korean coast. That would have diverted attention and actually rallied patriots around him. Also, an average American hardly cares about what’s going on at Capitol Hill. They are unaware of the Russia probe.
The reason for the timing of the decision, apart from the six months’ timeframe could be put squarely at the unity deal reached between Palestinian factions months ago. The agreement resulted in Hamas handing over control of the Gaza Strip, which it won in a 2006 legislative election to the PA. The complete handover happened last week and what better way to scupper it than to drive a wedge between the PA and Hamas.
You may ask how does that benefit the US? It doesn’t, it benefits Israel because as long as Palestinian factions are divided it will continue to make the argument that it does not have a partner to negotiate with since it can’t agree with one faction when others might reject it later. This is Plan B after they failed to put pressure on Hamas to disband its 25 000 men strong armed force which the US and Israel made a precondition for recognising the unity government.
Palestinian political unity is the biggest threat to the occupation. And demanding that Hamas disarm is the biggest threat to the unity agreement between Palestinian factions.
That explains why the calculation in Washington and pro-Zionist think tanks is that declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel will anger Hamas and Islamic Jihad to the point they pull out of the agreement and stall the complete handover of Gaza which will give Israel an opportunity to launch another war on the strip and refocus the world’s attention. That Hamas agreed to the return of its arch-foe Mohammad Dahlan to represent the PA in Gaza while it keeps its arms is a sore point for those who once backed him in his failed bid to topple Hamas in 2007. The closing of ranks wanted a spoiler and it came on Wednesday.
Hamas chief Ismail Haniya called for the third intifada following the Jerusalem announcement. Strategists in Israel and the US hope Abbas calls for something else after meeting Pence. Pence is being sent to the Middle East to extort a differing marching order from Abbas, a marching order in direct conflict with Hamas. That, will split the resistance, they hope.
The PA and PLO will regain a little credibility by living up to their bluff to boycott Pence, a bluff they are unlikely to see through. Because from whatever direction you look at it, Palestinians have nothing to gain from their cooperation with the US.