Last week, President Donald Trump’s Middle East team signaled a shift in the administration’s policy for contending with Hamas-controlled Gaza — one no prior administration had the courage to make.
On July 19, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, his special representative for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt, and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman published a joint op-ed in the Washington Post in which they made clear that they are walking away from their earlier efforts to rebuild Gaza’s economy as a means of advancing the prospects for a broader peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
(This columnist had argued for exactly that policy just two days before.)
Noting that the blame for Gaza’s humanitarian crisis rests squarely on the shoulders of the Hamas regime, the three wrote:
International donors are conflicted: Should they try to help the people directly, at the certain risk of enriching terrorists, or withhold funding to Hamas and watch the people it is supposed to govern suffer? In the past, investments in badly needed infrastructure have been diverted for weapons and other malign uses, and even the projects that are built are often destroyed as a consequence of Hamas’ aggression. Until governance changes or Hamas recognizes the state of Israel, abides by previous diplomatic agreements and renounces violence, there is no good option.
Kushner, Greenblatt and Friedman acknowledged as well that “the international community also bears some blame.”
“More countries want to simply talk and condemn than are willing to confront reality, propose realistic solutions and write meaningful checks,” they wrote.
The President’s Middle East policy team concluded by noting that the time has come for the international community to base its policy towards Gaza on reality rather than platitudes. In their words, Hamas is the root cause of the endless rounds of war with Israel and the suffering of the people in Gaza.
“Hamas leadership is holding the Palestinians of Gaza captive,” they explained.
“This problem must be recognized and resolved or we will witness yet another disastrous cycle [of war].”
The only inaccuracy in the Trump team’s analysis is their claim that so long as Hamas refuses to abandon its war against Israel, “there is no good option” for easing the suffering of the residents of Gaza and advancing the cause of peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
There is a very good option for achieving both objectives. And like the administration’s assessment of the true obstacle to peace, it is based on reality.
The way to accomplish both objectives is to advance along the trajectory of the work the Trump administration is already doing at the United Nations. That work was spelled out in a second op-ed that Kushner, Greenblatt and Friedman co-authored with UN Ambassador Nikki Haley on Sunday at CNN.com.
In the second article, the four senior administration officials argued that due to the spotlight the Trump administration has shone on the UN’s institutional anti-Israel bias, the ground is beginning to shift at Turtle Bay.
Specifically, the four applauded a UN General Assembly vote last month on an American amendment to an anti-Israel resolution put forward by Tunisia. The U.S. amendment specifically singled Hamas out for condemnation for its responsibility in fomenting the past three months of violence along Gaza’s border with Israel. It was the first time that Hamas was specifically condemned in a General Assembly resolution. And more member nations voted for the U.S. amendment than against it.
Although the amendment was dropped for technical reasons, in their words, “For the first time in the United Nations, more nations than not acknowledged that peace between Israel and the Palestinian people must be built on a foundation of truth regarding Hamas. … And part of that reality is recognizing the primary responsibility Hamas bears in perpetuating the suffering of the people of Gaza.”
The four presented the vote tally as a “paradigm shift” in the way the UN treats Israel.
They may have overstated the vote’s significance. But it is certainly worth checking if there can be practical benefits to the incipient willingness of a significant number of member nations to revisit their automatic opposition to Israel and support for the Palestinians in their 70-year war to destroy Israel.
That brings us back to the Hamas terror regime and the humanitarian disaster it has caused in Gaza.
As Kushner, Greenblatt and Friedman noted in their Post article, “Despite the billions of dollars invested for the benefit of Palestinians in Gaza over the past 70 years, 53 percent of the people there live below the poverty level, and the unemployment rate is a crippling 49 percent.”
According to the UN, Gaza’s total population is 1.9 million. Of those, 1.3 million Gazans, or 68 percent of the population, are registered as refugees with the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the UN agency responsible for the Palestinians.
In other words, nearly 70 percent of Gazans are effectively wards of the UN — just as much, if not more, than they are captives of Hamas.
UNRWA was founded in the wake of the pan-Arab invasion of Israel in 1948-49. Although it is presented as a refugee aid agency, UNRWA was set up to prevent the Arab refugees who left Israel during the course of that invasion from being resettled by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN agency established to help refugees worldwide to be resettled in new lands.
UNRWA’s purpose, since its inception, has been to perpetuate the suffering of the Arabswho left Israel in 1948 and 1949 and their descendants. While the State Department is reportedly refusing to make public its determination that there are a mere 20,000 Arabs alive today who left Israel during that invasion, UNRWA today is responsible for supporting more than 5 million “Palestinian refugees.”
This is the case because for four generations, descendants of those that left Israel have been registered as UNRWA refugees. As such, they have been denied the rights granted to refugees under the 1951 Refugee Convention, which relates to all refugees registered with the UNHCR. Those rights include the right to be granted asylum in a third country.
The first step to solving the humanitarian crisis in Gaza – while weakening the Hamas terror regime – involves enabling UNRWA-registered refugees to receive the rights conferred on all refugees under the Refugee Convention. In other words, the Palestinians should be granted the right to be resettled and naturalized in third countries. According to the past decade of polling data, more than half of the population of Gaza wishes to emigrate. But due to UN discrimination against Palestinians, they are barred from doing so, and are doomed instead to hopeless lives as captives of Hamas.
While working to end the UN’s institutional discrimination against Palestinians, the administration should strongly encourage the Egyptian government to permit the UNRWA-registered refugees in Gaza to leave the region through the Gaza border with Egypt. The Egyptians and the administration should work with third countries to enable the Gazan emigrés to receive asylum, in accordance with the Refugee Convention.
By permitting the refugees of Gaza to resettle, the U.S. would advance the cause of peace and regional security in several ways.
First, it would right the historic wrong done to the people of Gaza, who have been denied the basic rights of all refugee groups.
Second, it would end the ongoing Palestinian delusion, propagated by Palestinian leaders and advanced by anti-Israel groups in the West, that these fifth-generation “refugees” will one day “return” to Israel and so destroy the Jewish state.
The centrality of the belief that Israel will be destroyed and overrun to Palestinian identity was demonstrated graphically at a rally in Gaza on July 12. At the event, which was televised on Qatar’s al Jazeera network, Fathi Hammad, a senior Hamas apparatchik, told the crowd that by 2022, “the cleansing of Palestine of the filth of the Jews, and their uprooting from it,” would take place.
He added that “after the nation has been healed of its cancer – the Jews – Allah willing,” the “Caliphate will be established.”
As Kushner, Greenblatt and Friedman noted, the largest obstacle to peace between Israel and the Palestinians is the Palestinian leadership’s refusal to come to terms with the fact that Israel is a permanent reality. This delusion stands at the base of the Palestinians’ conviction that it is reasonable to dedicate their lives to working towards Israel’s destruction.
By enabling the Gazans who are registered as refugees with UNRWA to emigrate to third countries, the U.S. and its partners will end this delusion by providing the people of Gaza with an option for a better life.
Finally, by facilitating the emigration of Hamas’s captive population, the U.S. would vastly diminish Hamas’s capacity to threaten Israel and to use terror and violence against it.
Hamas’s most dangerous weapon in its war against Israel is not its arsenal of missiles, mortar, and rockets. It isn’t its infrastructure of subterranean attack tunnels that traverse Gaza’s border with Israel. It isn’t its inventory of arson kites and balloons, which it has used in recent months to burn large swathes of southern Israel.
Hamas’s most dangerous, lethal weapon is its captive civilian population. It uses them as human shields.
Hamas launches missile strikes against Israel from schoolyards. It orders civilians to participate in mass demonstrations along the Gaza border with Israel.
Hamas terrorists use the civilians, particularly children, as shields behind which they launch assaults on Israel.
Hamas’s military headquarters are even located in Shifa Hospital in Gaza.
The exploitation and deliberate imperilment of civilians forms the foundation of all of Hamas’s terror operations.
By enabling Hamas’s captives to emigrate, the U.S. would degrade, if not destroy outright, Hamas’s most formidable weapon in its never-ending war against Israel.
The administration is to be congratulated for its determination to base its policies on reality. This alone distinguishes it from the past three administrations who preferred wishful thinking to fact.
Reality demonstrates that long-held convictions regarding the shape of future peace between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors were utterly unhinged. But it also opens new options for moving forward.
The most important of those options is to end five generations of UN discrimination against the Palestinians, and to permit them to emigrate and be granted citizenship in new lands, instead of being doomed to eternity as pawns in an endless war to annihilate Israel.