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Ramona Wadi

The 'Palestinian Affairs Unit' is not about Palestine

Mike Pompeo cited 'efficiency and effectiveness' as reasons for the decision [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 14 March, 2019

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Comment: The 'Palestinian Affairs Unit' amounts to little more than a mechanism for obliterating Palestine while prioritising US relations with Israel, writes Ramona Wadi.
As the Palestinian Authority continues to grapple with its ongoing decline, in part as a result of its subjugation by Israel and the US, it's becoming clear that the Trump administration is paving the way for Palestine's political marginalisation, before revealing the details of the so-called "Deal of the Century". 

Last week saw the downgrading of the US diplomatic mission to Palestine, with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo citing "efficiency and effectiveness" as reasons for the decision.  Instead of a separate consulate in Jerusalem, a Palestinian Affairs Unit will be incorporated in the US Embassy to Israel.

This diplomatic shift is indicative of two main issues. Primarily, that the US now openly supports Israel's aims to eliminate Palestinian rights and claim to land and independence.

It also exposes the PA's irrelevance when it comes to representation and negotiation.

Former US Foreign Service officer to Jerusalem, Lara Friedman summed up the US decision thus: "At this point we are saying to Palestinians and the world - we do not see the Palestinians as a people to engage directly. They are now a minority and a subset to our relationship with Israel."  

The statement is not entirely correct. As far as the US is concerned, Palestinians have always been treated as a minority. US President Donald Trump has removed the veneer from foreign policy to the point that every decision is now analysed in isolation from the policies pursued by previous US presidents.

With the merger, the US is emphasising the PA's subservience

Yet, for example, former President Barack Obama utilised the tactics of delaying Palestinian rights by maintaining discourse on Israel's right to exist. His final gesture towards Palestinians - a symbolic concession which proved meaningless from the start - was to refuse to wield veto power over UN Security Council Resolution 2334.

Trump is overtly supporting Israel at a time when the international community has exhausted its urge to award even symbolic victories to Palestinians.

The current US administration, vilified, ridiculed and, most conveniently for Israel, compared to Obama's presidency, has unilaterally recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital, relocated its embassy, withheld funding from UNRWA, closed the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington, attempted to redefine Palestinian refugees with the intent to eliminate their right of return, and merged a Palestinian Affairs Unit into its embassy to Israel.

Building upon the 2017 alteration in its annual global human rights report, when the US State Department removed references to Israel's military occupation of the Palestinian territories, the US has now also changed its references to the Golan Heights in Syria, captured in 1967, from occupied to "Israeli-controlled".

'Instead of a separate consulate in Jerusalem, a Palestinian Affairs Unit will be incorporated
in the US Embassy to Israel.' [Getty]

All these changes point towards a public affirmation of the US support for Israel's colonial expansion.

Israel has long upheld the premise that Trump embodies a shift from previous US presidents and successfully disseminated this viewpoint at an international level. Trump is achieving what the international community has sought to do covertly, is more accurate and, as a result, the diplomatic shift has been easier to manage at a time when opposition to contentious issues is failing.

The merging of the Palestinian Affairs Unit into the US embassy to Israel is diplomatically contentious, yet it also exposes the US' disdain for the PA and Palestinians, as well as the international community's refusal to consider stepping up actions for Palestinian independence.

All these changes point towards a public affirmation of the US support for Israel's colonial expansion

The PA's autonomy is farcical, since its role has always been to implement external impositions upon Palestinians. With the merger, the US is emphasising the PA's subservience.

No matter how much PA Foreign Minister Riad al-Maliki 
claims that the US "chose bullying and arrogance" as opposed to "constructive relations", the truth is that the PA has contributed to the current scenario and is now reaping the preliminary consequences of its diplomatic isolation.

A look at the US introduction to the Palestinian Affairs Unit testifies to the underlying motives pointing towards an absence of Palestine, rather than the establishment of a Palestinian state. The strategic objective, according to the website, is to achieve "a just and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict".

Promoting "US values and interests", as well as sustaining the Palestinian private sector, are the Unit's main aims.

Working towards Palestinian independence and state-building are absent, and this is likely to be the prelude to Trump's forthcoming deal which will prioritise business interests and normalisation of relations with Israel above even the two-state compromise, let alone the Palestinian people's demands.

Read more: US officially downgrades Palestinian diplomatic mission as Jerusalem consulate closes

Politically, the PA cannot elevate its diplomatic standing. As Israel and the US have strengthened ties, the PA has done nothing but grovel to a largely unresponsive international community.

While Trump was busy lauding the Deal of the Century, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas remained tethered to the obsolete two-state paradigm as per the demands of the international community.

If the Deal of the Century is taken into consideration, the US is preparing for a scenario where it will forge ahead with its political support for Israel against Palestinians. Despite growing awareness about Israel's colonisation, diplomatic support for Palestine is basically non-existent when compared to such support for the two-state imposition.

Blurring the lines between these two is detrimental to Palestinians. Yet the PA has encouraged such inconsistency, thereby facilitating the passive politics of the international community.

There is only an illusion of choice between Trump's deal and the two-state concept

For Israel and the US, there is no better time than now to work towards a situation where there is only an illusion of choice between Trump's deal and the two-state concept.

The latter has already been declared obsolete, while Trump's plan is likely to gather traction in the region, despite Palestinian and international opposition.

As PA relations with the US deteriorate further, while those with the international community are based solely on a tacit agreement to refuse to listen to the Palestinian people, there is no longer a diplomatic choice to be made.

Israel and the US are well aware of this predicament. The loss of direct representation between the PA and the US mirrors, in many ways, the travesty of representation between the PA and the international community.

The Palestinian Affairs Unit is not about Palestine. It is merely a mechanism for obliterating Palestine that will be managed from within a diplomatic institution prioritising its relations with Israel.

We can already expect a further deterioration of the Palestinian political narrative, but it remains to be seen what other steps the US will take once the deal is revealed, and the PA comes to terms with the fact that its belated actions have facilitated the silencing of the Palestinian people's demands.

Ramona Wadi is an independent researcher, freelance journalist, book reviewer and blogger specialising in the struggle for memory in Chile and Palestine, colonial violence and the manipulation of international law. 

Follow her on Twitter: @walzerscent

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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