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  February 7, 2017

Why Trump's Threat to Defund the Palestinian Authority Worries Israel

Neither Israel, Saudi Arabia, or Jordan want to see the emergence of a grassroots liberation struggle in the Palestinian territories, says TRNN correspondent Shir Hever
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Shir Hever is an economist working at The Real News Network. His economic research focuses on Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory; international aid to the Palestinians and to Israel; the effects of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories on the Israeli economy; and the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns against Israel. His first book: Political Economy of Israel's Occupation: Repression Beyond Exploitation, was published by Pluto Press.


SHARMINI PERIES: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

Last week, Palestinian sources told Haaretz newspaper, that they were warned by the U.S. consulate in Israel not to appeal to the International Criminal Court, in The Hague, about the new settlements that have been approved by the Israeli government. The warning comes after the Israeli government approved 3,000 new residences in illegal colonies in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian West Bank.

Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, announced that a new colony will be established in the West Bank as well. The U.S. consulate in Palestine threatened that if the Palestinians do file a suit against Israel over the illegal construction, the U.S. will cut its funding to the Palestinian Authority. Palestinian member of the Legislative Council, Hanan Ashrawi, commented on Israel's announcement to construct new colonies. Let's have a look.

HANAN ASHRAWI: Well, it's very clear that Netanyahu is violating, not just international law, but all the commitments that were made and is destroying the very chances of peace. Building a new settlement right now, on top of the 6,600 new settlement units that he is embarking on, is a very clear message to the rest of the world, that Israel is not only a rogue state living outside the law, but that it is bent on criminality, and lawlessness.

SHARMINI PERIES: Now joining us to discuss this issue, Shir Hever is a correspondent with The Real News Network based in Heidelberg, Germany. Thanks for joining me, Shir.

SHIR HEVER: Thanks for having me, Sharmini.

SHARMINI PERIES: Shir, why is the Israeli government's decision to build in the West Bank -- falls under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court? What would the Palestinians stand to gain from such a lawsuit in The Hague?

SHIR HEVER: According to the... Geneva Convention, building colonies and moving the population of the occupier into occupied territory, is a war crime. And the Palestinian government decided to sign their own convention, and join the International Criminal Court in The Hague, thereby bringing the Palestinian Occupied Territory, under Israeli control, to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.

So, that means that now the Palestinians can file charges against Israel for crimes committed in that territory. And because building colonies is clearly a war crime, this gives them a very good case. And also, based on the 2004 Advisory Opinion of the International Criminal Court of Justice, which ruled against the walled separation, but mentioned that colonization of an occupied territory is illegal.

What do they have to gain? Palestinians... the Palestinian government, is basically trying to convince their own public that their reason to exist is, that they can make some diplomatic achievements, some diplomatic victories for the Palestinian people, in order to establish an independent Palestinian state at some point.

Every Israeli colony in the West Bank is a nail in the coffin of that future, because with all these colonies it would be very difficult for Palestinians to have an independent state. And every colony that Israel is building will have to be evacuated in order for Palestinians to have a say in the 67 ...

SHARMINI PERIES: Right. Now, Shir, this decision to expand the colonies was taken just after Trump was inaugurated in the U.S. Why did the Israeli government take that decision right after the inauguration and Trump took over, and of course, why are they announcing this decision now, almost... into February, rather than back then?

SHIR HEVER: Yeah. The reason for this announcement is actually not because of Trump. It's because of internal developments in the Israeli political sphere. What we see now, is a very strong legal struggle within Israel, between the human rights organization representing Palestinian owners of land, against the Israeli government, claiming property... the illegal colonies.

And when the Palestinians have a direct claim over privately owned land in these colonies, they have a good case in court. Even inside the Israeli court, which has dragged the case for years. But eventually one colony has been evacuated –- last week –- the colony called Amona, and we actually spoke about this on The Real News, with Gideon Levy.

With the evacuation of Amona, this makes it seem that the Israeli government has succumbed to the pressure by the court. And this new colony is, in a way, a retaliation against the Israeli court. A move by Prime Minister Netanyahu and by Minister of Defense, Lieberman, to try to prove that they are really right wing, that they do support colonization of the West Bank. And so, that's the reason for announcing it right now.

SHARMINI PERIES: So Shir, the consulate in Israel, and the White House, doesn't seem to be in sync. We have the consulate issuing warnings to the Palestinians about not pursuing this in the courts. But on the other hand, President Trump had indicated that they shouldn't pursue these settlements here in Washington. What's going on?

SHIR HEVER: Well, it seems that the White House policy is to try to preserve the status quo, and the denouncement of the White House of the Israeli new colony; it fits within the U.S. foreign policy guidelines for years. But there is a difference, though, because in this particular denouncement, the White House said that colonies do not promote -– they call them settlements -- settlements do not promote peace, but they are not an obstacle to peace.

And that's a very interesting statement, that has already been interpreted inside Israel as to say, existing colonies would be allowed to remain in place, and Trump is not going to put any pressure on Israel to evacuate any more colonies. So, in that sense, Trump is already starting to shift.

As for the warning against the Palestinian government, that they will lose U.S. funding if they proceed to the International Court, that is a direct threat to the very existence of the Palestinian government. It is a government that is not fiscally independent. They are not able to cover all of their expenses just from taxes they collect from Palestinians. They depend very strongly on international support.

The United States plays a very important role in financing the Palestinian government's police forces and security forces, which are essential for their political stability, because there is a lot of political unhappiness among Palestinians, a lot of protest. So, there is a strong hand, there is a security apparatus that keeps the Palestinians under control.

If the White House would follow through with their threat and withdraw funding, the Palestinian government might not last for very much longer, the whole political system might collapse. And at that point, it forces the Palestinians to make a very difficult decision.

SHARMINI PERIES: Right. Then, Shir, there was some speculation that Trump's shift in his position comes from perhaps Saudi Arabia, because Saudi Arabia and Trump have done a lot of business. There's a lot of business interests, therefore their influence over the Trump administration, or Trump in particular, might be great.

There was some other speculation that the visit of the Jordanian King Abdullah, and his passionate appeals about what's happening in Palestinian, might have also influenced Trump. Which is it?

SHIR HEVER: Well, I think both the Saudi Arabian influence, and the Jordanian king's position, are that the Palestinian government is an essential part of the stability of the Middle East, and the region. Without this government -- if the government collapses -- the whole Palestinian struggle for independence and freedom is going to take a whole different direction. And it's going to be a grassroots movement, with a very strong emphasis on human rights, which is something that actually threatens both the governments in Jordan, and in Saudi Arabia. Both are not democratically elected governments.

So, they don't want to see that. They want to see the Palestinian government firmly in control. When President Trump takes a very strong position of just supporting Israel blindly, and even if it means taking the Israeli politicians at their word, when they say that the Palestinian government is the enemy, so-called enemy, then the result of that, is a serious destabilization of the area.

I think what actually is happening behind the scenes -– we cannot prove it, but it's very likely –- that the Israeli government itself is sending messages to Trump, probably Netanyahu himself, please don't take us at our word. When we say that Mahmoud Abbas is the enemy, that the Palestinian government has to be taking down a notch, we don't really mean it. Because if the White House will indeed withdraw funding from the Palestinian government, and it will collapse, it will force the Israeli government to step in it, and force the Israeli military to set up again -- the whole military governor, and structure, that controls the lives of Palestinians. And deals with things like, education and health and transportation. They just don't want to do that.

SHARMINI PERIES: Now, in anticipation of what you are saying on January 17th, the leaders of Fatah and Hamas Parties, announced in Moscow, that their commitment to a unity government, and that they're going to be going ahead with that, to govern... you know, so consolidate governing the Palestinian Territory. What do you make of this shift towards Russia, when it comes to the Palestinians? And is that some sort of a message to Washington?

SHIR HEVER: Well, yeah, the Palestinian public wants a unity government much more than the parties themselves want it. This is a very clear consensus among the Palestinian public. They want the two parties to set aside their differences. The problem is, the last time the Palestinians tried to do that, in 2014, when they announced a unity government, the Israeli government retaliated with almost unprecedented violence.

In order to prevent elections from taking place, in which both parties will cooperate to have a free and fair election, the Israeli government invaded. First the West Bank, and then the Gaza Strip, in a massive operation, that in the end took the lives of more than 2,000 Palestinian civilians. So, now the Palestinians are very careful, and have every reason to be concerned about how Israel will react to such a political move.

But within Moscow, under the protection of Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, they have more security. And as long as this move is endorsed by Russia, there is at least the hope that the United States will, under the leadership of President Trump, who is a very good friend of President Putin, will not interfere and will not undermine their efforts to form a unity government.

SHARMINI PERIES: Shir, I thank you so much for joining us today, and I hope you keep us abreast of other developments in this area.

SHIR HEVER: Thank you very much, Sharmini.

SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.




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