Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Squandering Israel's Limited Influence
The past month has been a difficult one for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for the Palestinians (UNRWA). First Palestinians in Hamas-controlled Gaza held mass protests against the agency's attempt to change its name to the United Nations Agency for Palestinian Refugees. Conspiracy theories claimed the name change was part of a secret plan to end the Palestinians' refugee status so as to block their demand to "return" to Israel.
UNRWA officials explained repeatedly to the public and to Hamas terror masters that this was not the case. The agency's devotion to the cause of "return" remained unchanged. The name change was just a bid to streamline their website to mark the agency's 60th anniversary. But to no avail. Within days, the name change was canceled.
But that didn't end UNRWA's problems. Last week, demonstrators returned to protest against the agency, this time for its cutbacks in benefits. Protesters blocked the entrance to UNRWA's offices and generally frightened its employees.
In response to the protests, UNRWA's spokesman Chris Gunness gave an interview to the Palestinian Ma'an news agency. His clear goal was to shift the blame away from UNRWA for the unpopular policies. First Gunness criticized UNRWA's donor countries. They have not answered UNRWA's call for hundreds of millions of extra aid dollars to UNRWA - whose annual budget is in excess of $1 billion.
Then Gunness shifted the blame to UNRWA's favorite bogeyman: Israel.
Israel, he claimed, is responsible for all of Gaza's economic woes because of its lawful maritime blockade of the Hamas-ruled territory's coastline. Gunness ignored the fact that despite that lawful blockade, which he falsely labeled "a clear breach of international law," Gaza has experienced overall economic growth in recent years. Its markets are full. It suffers no blockade-induced shortages in basic goods.
As he put it, "From UNRWA's point of view, it would be better for those states and organizations with the power to bring the necessary pressures to bear [on Israel] to end the collective punishment rather than pay UNRWA to deal with its disastrous impact."
THE PALESTINIAN protests against UNRWA demonstrate very clearly that from the Palestinians' perspective, UNRWA's job is to give them cash handouts in order to enable them to continue waging their war for Israel's destruction. And as UNRWA's quick capitulation to their protests against its name change, and its bid to blame their purported suffering on Israel make clear, UNRWA shares their perspective on what its role is in Palestinian society.
This state of affairs is not new. And in large part, it is UNRWA's consistent support for the Palestinian war against Israel that informed the US House Foreign Relations Committee's welcome decision last week to cut US foreign assistance to international organizations - including the UN - by 25 percent.
The US is UNRWA's largest donor. Its contributions to the agency have doubled since Hamas took over Gaza in 2007. In 2009, the US contributed $268 million in US taxpayer funds to the agency. The amount accounted for 27% of UNRWA's total budget.
UNRWA, with its role of UN enabler for the Palestinian war against Israel, was not the only target of the committee's foreign aid budget bill. Egypt, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority, Yemen and Pakistan are also targeted.
The Foreign Relations Committee bill prohibits further security assistance to Egypt until after the president certifies that it is not directly or indirectly controlled by a terrorist organization; is fully implementing its peace treaty with Israel; and is actively destroying smuggling tunnels along its border with Israel.
The bill likewise prohibits further security assistance to Lebanon until the president certifies that no members of Hezbollah hold positions in any governmental agency or outlet.
Finally it prohibits security assistance to the PA until the president certifies that no member of Hamas holds any policy position in any governmental office or outlet; that the PA is dismantling extremist infrastructure in Gaza and Judea and Samaria; that the PA has halted anti-Israel incitement; and that the PA recognizes Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state.
As committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen told The Jerusalem Post last week, "Basically, if Hamas, Hezbollah, other foreign terrorist organizations or violent extremist groups hold policy positions in their respective governments, they are not to receive US assistance."
The bill is a clear demonstration of the depth of support for Israel among members of the House of Representatives.
It is also a clear demonstration of the depth of concern House members harbor regarding Obama's policies towards Israel and the wider Middle East.
SINCE TAKING office, Obama has refused to accept the positions put forward by his predecessor George W. Bush regarding Israel's final borders and the Palestinian demand to overrun Israel with UN-financed "refugees."
Those positions were codified in Bush's 2004 letter to then-prime minister Ariel Sharon.
Bush's letter stated that the US would not support an Israeli withdrawal to the 1949 armistice lines; would not support the uprooting of all the Israeli communities built outside those lines; and rejected the Palestinian demand for the so-called "right of return" of millions of foreign born, UNRWA-supported Arabs to Israel.
The House bill codifies Bush's letter as US law. It also requires the State Department to report to Congress on steps it is taking to fight the delegitimization campaign against Israel. It ends the presidential waiver for moving the US embassy to Jerusalem in 2014. It requires the State Department to list Jerusalem as part of Israel on official US documents.
The House bill has a long road to travel before it becomes US law. Chances that it will pass as written are slight, and not merely because Obama would likely veto it if it came to his desk.
The first obstacle it faces is in the Democrat-controlled Senate. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is led by Senator John Kerry. Kerry is no friend of Israel's. And he is a passionate supporter of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.
He visited Hamas-controlled Gaza in February 2009.
In his current position, Kerry has served as a surrogate for Obama on Middle East issues. As early as March 2009, Kerry was calling for Israel to transfer control over Gaza's international borders to Hamas terrorists. He was also demanding that Israel bar Jews from building in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. Kerry has been an outspoken opponent of action against Iran's illicit nuclear installations.
He has acted as an apologist for Assad's illicit nuclear proliferation. He has also been a friendly visitor to Hezbollah/Iran-controlled Lebanon.
Given Kerry's positions, there is no chance that he will approve the House's bill.
But in opposing the bill, Kerry and his fellow Democrats will reportedly be ably assisted by Israel. Last week, the Post reported that the Democrats justify maintaining US support for the PA by arguing that they are simply doing the bidding of the Israeli government.
And speaking to the Post, an Israeli official said, "We are interested in the Palestinian Authority maintaining law and order, and strengthening their security forces and prospering. If there's no change with Hamas and Fatah [in terms of Hamas participation in a unity government], there's no reason to change the current situation."
Other media reports have claimed that the IDF General Staff opposes ending US assistance to the PA.
Moreover, in the past, Israeli leaders - first and foremost former foreign minister Tzipi Livni - have been outspoken supporters of US financial assistance to UNRWA.
Indeed, members of Congress note that if it weren't for Israeli objections, they would have ended US financial support for UNRWA years ago.
It is hard to see what Israeli interest is served by these positions. And it is even more difficult to understand how it serves the country's interest to use any of its leverage in the US Congress to lobby for the Palestinians or UNRWA.
To a large degree, these positions are the consequence of the failure and basic irrelevance of Israel's public discourse.
Controlled by the political Left, the public debate in Israel has never allowed the basic assumptions of the failed Oslo peace process with the PLO to be questioned.
Among other things, those assumptions include the view that for Israel to garner international support, it needs to be perceived as pro-peace by the international community.
And that assumed requirement has made it necessary for Israeli diplomats and policymakers to cleave to the discredited position that the Palestinians are interested in peace and should therefore be supported by the US specifically and by the international community generally.
In 1993, the embassy in Washington began lobbying Congress to approve hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance to the PA. And because the ideological and policy assumptions of the Oslo process have never been scrutinized despite the policy's abject failure, apparently, this remains the underlying policy assumption of the Foreign Ministry in its dealings with foreign governments, including the US Congress.
The IDF's support for the PA is not an indication of the PA's strategic value to Israel. Rather it is reflective of the army's confusion about its role.
US-trained and -financed PA security forces took lead roles in the Palestinian terror war against Israel from 2000 to 2004. IDF field commanders have no confidence that the new Palestinian US-trained forces deployed in Judea and Samaria will stand with Israel against their terrorist brethren in a future conflict. Indeed, several have expressed confidence that in a future conflict, these UStrained forces will again lead the fighting against Israel.
The IDF is likely defending US funding to these enemy forces because its commanders fear that if the PA collapses due to a lack of US funding, the IDF will be called on to perform its law and order functions. But again, this view is in large part the consequence of the absence of an informed public debate about Israel's policy option in light of the failure of the Oslo process.
If the PA collapses, the option of reverting to Israel's military rule of the areas is not Israel's only option. Israel can also apply Israeli law to Judea and Samaria. The police can take up the law and order functions carried out by the PA today. And the IDF can concentrate on war fighting.
The fact of the matter is that contrary to what the anti- Semites claim, Israel does not control the US Congress.
And what Israel says has limited impact on lawmakers.
Democrats who cite official Israeli support for aid to the Palestinians as the justification for their support of such aid are quick to ignore Israel's positions when it comes to moving the US embassy to Jerusalem and supporting Jewish property rights in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria.
But Israel does have some leverage on Capitol Hill. And it should be using all of it to build support for attacking Iran's nuclear installations and defending and strengthening Israel's ability and sovereign right to defend itself.
Israel certainly should not be expending any of its limited influence to maintain US support for the Palestinians or UNRWA.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.