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Trump is right about one thing: US aid should serve US interests Open in fullscreen

Daoud Kuttab

Trump is right about one thing: US aid should serve US interests

The Israeli foreign ministry also flatly opposes the idea of cutting UNRWA funding [Getty]

Date of publication: 2 February, 2018

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Comment: Freedom for Palestinians is in the long-term interest of the United States. And even Israel agrees, writes Daoud Kuttab.
In his first State of the Union speech, US President Donald Trump did make one positive remark. He told the joint session of Congress that they should issue legislation that would regulate foreign aid. 

President Trump stated that in 2016, American taxpayers generously sent more than $20 billion in aid to other countries. His point that American funding should "always serve American interests" is a valid one. 

Since foreign aid is branded as "from the American people" it makes perfect sense that the decision of who and what to fund, is decided by the people's representatives - that's to say Congress - rather than the executive branch.

Trump, who has acted against the wishes of millions of his citizens, and most of the rest of the world in opposing the Paris Climate Agreement, should not to be left alone to decide what is and what isn't serving the American interest.

Egypt is a good example. Support to Cairo is considered in the US interest, regardless of how Egypt voted on the Jerusalem resolution. In addition to its peace treaty with Israel, Egypt acts as a strategic bridge between Asia and Africa, and plays an important role in opposing violent extremists.

Jordan is one of the most stable strategic Arab allies, despite the violent conflicts burning in neighbouring countries, and maintaining good relations is therefore beneficial to the US.

Vice President Mike Pence said during his recent visit to Jordan that the US would "continue to respect Jordan's role as the custodian of holy sites". Pence said that the US and Jordan "agreed to disagree on the decision by the United States to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel".

If both executive and legislative branches are fine with support to Egypt and Jordan, what about Palestine?

The message behind this statement was understood to mean that the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan will not be punished financially for its vote at the UN. In other words, support for Jordan "serves American interests", regardless of Amman's position on Jerusalem.

The US and Jordan are in the final stages of negotiating a memorandum of understanding that will guarantee about $1.6 billion in annual aid for a country that has played a major part in absorbing the exodus of Syrian refugees.

So, if the representatives of the American people are entrusted with deciding what constitutes "serving American interests", and if both executive and legislative branches are fine with support to Egypt and Jordan, what about Palestine?

President Trump and his Christian Zionist vice-president are adamant that Palestinians must return to a non-existent negotiating table with Israel, or risk being punished financially.

The Trump administration is also seen as hypocritical in its point blank refusal to utter the words "two state solution", claiming it would only support such a plan if both sides were to agree.

Palestinians counter this statement by asking why the same approach is not applicable to Jerusalem? Why would Washington violate the UN partition plan of 1947, which considered the holy city "corpus separtum", and decide on its future through unilateral acts? 

Either both Jerusalem and the two-state solution need to be decided on in negotiations, or not. Ruling unilaterally on Jerusalem, and then when it comes to the long-term solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resorting to whatever Israel wants, is inconsistent and unjust. 

This "financial" punishment is being made at the same time as the current administration backtracks from the two-state solution accepted by previous administrations, the international community, and much of Israel.

The interest of the US is not to reward aggression, occupation and illegal settlement

Despite Israeli public statements of support to the Trump-Haley attempts to cut the UNRWA budget, the reality on the ground is much different. The Times of Israel reported on 4 January that Netanyahu is anxious to avoid further destabilising Gaza.

He "wants to steer between the desire to publicly back Trump and to prevent a disaster in Gaza", the Israeli paper reported.

The Israeli foreign ministry also flatly opposes the idea of cutting UNRWA funding. "Professional sources in the foreign ministry are 'determinedly opposed' to ending aid to UNRWA," it said, quoting these sources as arguing that a cut would "make matters worse" and could lead to a "humanitarian catastrophe, especially in Gaza".

Read more: What did Trump's SOTU say about the Middle East?

Similar statements were credited to Israeli army officers in the Israeli media.

So, if President Trump genuinely wants Congress to decide what serves US interests, and if Israelis feel that cutting aid to refugees will "destabilise" America's most important Middle East ally, it makes sense that such financial punishment is counter-productive to the intended purpose.

Support for Jordan 'serves American interests,' regardless of Amman's position on Jerusalem

President Trump's offer to have Congress decide what serves American interests is a step in the right direction, on the condition that such support is given based on the true long-term interests of America, as well as those of its Middle East allies.

Republican and Democratic administrations have both argued the importance of a balanced approach needed to solve the conflict.

Republican George HW Bush spoke of exchanging land for peace. His son, also a Republican president, called for a contiguous Palestinian state. Presidents Carter, Reagan Clinton and Obama all opposed the illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.

The interests of the US are not served by rewarding aggression, occupation and illegal settlement-building. In the same way President Trump supported the people of Iran against the tyranny of the religious regime, Washington needs to support the rights of the Palestinian people along with its support for Israel and its security.

This will serve US interests more than the current one-sided policy.

Daoud Kuttab is an award-winning Palestinian journalist and former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. 

Follow him on Twitter: @daoudkuttab

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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