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Palestine is the testbed for Trump’s plan to tear up the rules-based international order

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Washington’s decision to intensify swingeing aid cuts to the Palestinians – the latest targets include cancer patients and peace groups – reveals more than a simple determination to strong-arm the Palestinian leadership to the negotiating table.

Under cover of a supposed peace effort, or “deal of the century”, the Trump administration hopes to solve problems closer to home. It wants finally to shake off the burden of international humanitarian law, and the potential for war crimes trials, that have overshadowed US actions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria – and may yet prove treacherous in dealings with Iran.

The Palestinians have been thrust into the centre of this battle for good reason. They are the most troublesome legacy of a post-war, rules-based international order that the US is now committed to sweeping away. Amputate the Palestinian cause, an injustice festering for more than seven decades, and America’s hand will be freer elsewhere. Might will again be right.

An assault on the already fragile international order as it relates to the Palestinians began in earnest last month. The US stopped all aid to UNRWA, the United Nations refugee agency that helps more than five million Palestinians languishing in camps across the Middle East.

The pressure sharpened last week when $25m in aid was blocked to hospitals in East Jerusalem that provide a lifeline to Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank, whose health services have withered under a belligerent Israeli occupation.

Then at the weekend, the US revealed it would no longer hand over $10m to peace groups fostering ties between Israelis and Palestinians.

The only significant transfer the US still makes is $60m annually to the Palestinian security services, which effectively enforce the occupation on Israel’s behalf. In short, that money benefits Israel, not the Palestinians.

At the same time, the Trump administration revoked the US visa of the Palestinian ambassador to Washington, Husam Zomlot, shortly after shuttering his diplomatic mission. The Palestinians have been cast fully out into the cold.

Most observers wrongly assume that the screws are simply being tightened to force the Palestinians to engage with Trump’s peace plan, even though it is nowhere in sight. Like an unwanted tin can, it has been kicked ever further down the road over the past year. A reasonable presumption is that it will never be unveiled. While the US keeps everyone distracted with empty talk, Israel gets on with its unilateral solutions.

The world is watching, nonetheless. The Palestinian community of Khan Al Ahmar, outside Jerusalem, appears to be days away from demolition. Israel intends to ethnically cleanse its inhabitants to clear the way for more illegal Jewish settlements in a key area that would eradicate any hope of a Palestinian state.

Trump’s recent punitive actions are designed to choke into submission the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, just as Israel once secretly put Palestinians in Gaza on a starvation “diet” to make them more compliant. Israel’s long-standing collective punishment of Palestinians – constituting a war crime under the Fourth Geneva Convention – has now been supplemented by similar types of collective punishment by the US, against Palestinian refugees and cancer patients.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, admitted as much at the weekend. He told the New York Times that the cuts in aid were punishment for the Palestinian leadership “vilifying the [US] administration”.

In an apparent coded reference to international law, Kushner added that it was time to change “false realities”. However feeble international institutions have proved, the Trump administration, like Israel, prefers to be without them.

In particular, both detest the potential constraints imposed by the International Criminal Court at The Hague, which is empowered to prosecute war crimes. Although it was established only in 2002, it draws on a body of international law and notions of human rights that date back to the immediate period after the Second World War.

The crimes committed by Zionist leaders in establishing Israel on the ruins of the Palestinians’ homeland occurred in 1948, just as international law was being born. The Palestinians were among the first, and are still the most glaring, violation of that new rules-based global order.

Righting those historic wrongs is the biggest test of whether international law will ever amount to more than jailing the odd African dictator.

That the Palestinian cause continues to loom large was underscored this month by two challenges conducted in international forums.

Legislators from Israel’s large Palestinian minority have appealed to the United Nations to sanction Israel for recently passing the apartheid-like Nation-State Basic Law. It gives constitutional standing to institutionalised discrimination against the fifth of the population who are not Jewish.

And the Palestinian Authority has alerted the Hague court to the imminent destruction by Israel of Khan Al Ahmar. The ICC is already examining whether to bring a case against Israel over the settlements built on occupied land.

The US State Department has said the aid cuts and closure of the Palestinian embassy were prompted partly by “concerns” over the Hague referral. John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, meanwhile, has vowed to shield Israel from any war crimes trials.

Sitting on the fence have been the Europeans. Last week the European parliament passed a resolution warning that Khan Al Ahmar’s destruction and the “forcible transfer” of its inhabitants would be a “grave breach” of international law. In an unusual move, it also threatened to demand compensation from Israel for any damage to infrastructure in Khan Al Ahmar funded by Europe.

Europe’s leading states anxiously wish to uphold the semblance of an international order they believe has prevented their region’s descent into a Third World War. Israel and the US, on the other hand, are determined to use Palestine as the testbed for dismantling these protections.

The Israeli bulldozers sent to Khan Al Ahmar will also launch an assault on Europe and its resolve to defend international law and the Palestinians. When push comes to shove, will Europe’s nerve hold?

A version of this article first appeared in the National, Abu Dhabi.

Jonathan Cook

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His new website is

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17 Responses

  1. HarryLaw on September 20, 2018, 12:33 pm

    International law is dead, ask the Iraqi’s, Iranian’s, Syrians, Libyan’s and Yemenis, thanks to the veto of the US in the UNSC on behalf of Israel and Saudi Arabia. There is just no political will on the part of European states, to them, going along with breaches of International law is the easiest and safest option, the last I heard the ICC may take many years to bring Israeli politicians to court, if ever.
    The best option would have been a simple case based on the settlement enterprise already decided 15 judges to zero in an advisory opinion at the ICJ [the World court in the ‘wall case’ 2004] a slam dunk at the ICC. Why are not Palestinians putting pressure on the Prosecutors to get things moving, justice delayed is justice denied. One threat the ICC may have taken on board is the US ASPA which authorizes the U.S. president to use “all means necessary and appropriate to bring about the release of any U.S. or allied personnel being detained or imprisoned by, on behalf of, or at the request of the International Criminal Court.” This authorization has led the act to be nicknamed the “Hague Invasion Act”, because the freeing of U.S. citizens by force might be possible only through an invasion of The Hague, Netherlands, the seat of several international criminal courts and of the Dutch government.

    • pabelmont on September 20, 2018, 6:01 pm

      Thanks, Harry.

    • Misterioso on September 21, 2018, 10:55 am

      Speaking of “International law” –

      “Israel has granted a U.S. company the first license to explore for oil and gas in the OCCUPIED [my emphasis] Golan Heights, John Reed of the Financial Times reports.

      “A local subsidiary of the New York-listed company Genie Energy — which is advised by former vice president Dick Cheney and whose shareholders include Jacob Rothschild and Rupert Murdoch — will now have exclusive rights to a 153-square mile radius in the southern part of the Golan Heights.

      “That geographic location will likely prove controversial. Israel seized the Golan Heights in the Six-Day War in 1967 and annexed the territory in 1981. Its administration of the area — which is not recognized by international law — has been mostly peaceful until the Syrian civil war broke out 23 months ago. ‘This action is mostly political – it’s an attempt to deepen Israeli commitment to the occupied Golan Heights,’ Israeli political analyst Yaron Ezrahi told FT. ‘The timing is directly related to the fact that the Syrian government is dealing with violence and chaos and is not free to deal with this problem.'”

      “There are about 20,000 Israeli settlers in the Golan Heights. Wikimedia Commons

      “Earlier this month we reported that Israel is considering creating a buffer zone reaching up to 10 miles from Golan into Syria to secure the 47-mile border against the threat of Islamic radicals in the area.

      “The move would overtake the UN Disengagement Observer Force Zone that was established in 1973 to end the Yom Kippur War and to provide a buffer zone between the two countries.”

  2. HarryLaw on September 20, 2018, 1:16 pm

    It must be pointed out that Johnathon Cook is a self confessed Anti-Semite, here is why…
    “That thought spurred me to cast an eye over my back-catalogue of journalism. I have been based in Nazareth, in Israel’s Galilee, since 2001. In that time I have written – according to my website – more than 900 articles (plus another few hundred blog posts) on Israel, as well as three peer-reviewed books and a clutch of chapters in edited collections. That’s a lot of writing. Many more than a million words about Israel over nearly two decades.
    What shocked me, however, as I started to pore over these articles was that almost all of them – except for a handful dealing with internal Palestinian politics – would fall foul of at least one of these four additional IHRA examples Labour is about to adopt.
    After 17 years of writing about Israel, after winning a respected journalism prize for being “one of the reliable truth-tellers in the Middle East”, the Labour party is about to declare that I, and many others like me, are irredeemable anti-semites”.

    • Citizen on September 21, 2018, 8:48 am

      Anti-Semite only as defined by official IHRA examples. Why do you point this out?

      • HarryLaw on September 21, 2018, 10:43 am

        Oh dear Citizen, I thought you, of all people would not miss my sarcasm. You should know we are all Anti-Semites now [sarc].

      • Citizen on September 23, 2018, 10:40 pm

        Harry, I was momentarily befuddled. Sorry–I didn’t really miss your sarcasm, but I needed to be sure.

  3. Boomer on September 21, 2018, 8:29 am

    As far as I know, the Trump Administration has not published its proposed “deal,” so we must for now infer Trump’s plan from his actions. Your inferences may be correct. From my perspective, his actions don’t seem very constructive, or helpful to the U.S. or to Palestinians.

    Some readers may be interested in a new study from two respected “think tanks” of attitudes among Israelis and Palestinians. As far as I know, this study was not requested by anyone in power in Israel or in Washington, DC. I don’t think it contains any big surprises to people who frequent this site, but it does provide some new polling data and analysis.

  4. Misterioso on September 21, 2018, 10:38 am

    “Trump official wants students prosecuted for Israel protests”
    By Ali Abunimah The Electronic Intifada 19 September 2018.

    “The Trump administration’s top civil rights enforcer at the US Department of Education wanted students who did nothing but hold a noisy protest in support of Palestinian rights to be criminally prosecuted.

    “Kenneth Marcus was captured on camera during a September 2016 meeting with an undercover reporter working on Al Jazeera’s explosive documentary about the US Israel lobby.

    “The documentary has never been broadcast due to censorship by Qatar, which funds Al Jazeera, following pressure from pro-Israel organizations.

    “The above video obtained by The Electronic Intifada is the latest excerpt to leak from the documentary. It shows Marcus speaking to the undercover reporter.

    “At the time, Marcus was director of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, an Israel lobby group unaffiliated with Brandeis University. The Brandeis Center specializes in lawfare – the use of legal proceedings to harass and silence Israel’s critics.

    “In that role, Marcus spearheaded the Israel lobby strategy of filing complaints to the Department of Education under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, claiming that universities fail to protect Jewish students by not cracking down on Palestine solidarity activism.

    “In June, Marcus was confirmed as the director of the Office for Civil Rights at the US Department of Education. This means he is now in charge of investigating alleged violations of the civil rights law.

    “He has quickly fulfilled the worst fears of civil liberties defenders by reopening a bogus complaint against Rutgers University made by the Zionist Organization of America.

    “That complaint was thrown out by the Office for Civil Rights in 2014 for lack of evidence.
    Marcus also informed the ZOA by letter that he has decided to enforce an official definition of anti-Semitism that conflates criticism of Israel and Zionism with anti-Jewish bigotry.
    The move, made without public discussion or congressional notice, could have a profoundly chilling effect on academic freedom and free speech.”

  5. Misterioso on September 21, 2018, 10:46 am

    “Israel’s Irreconcilable Differences With U.S. Jews and the Democratic Party May Soon Lead to Final Divorce”

    “Netanyahu is accelerating the pace of his country’s estrangement from everyone but ethnocentric and anti-democratic nationalists and xenophobes”
    By Chemi Shalev, Sept. 16/18, Haaretz.

    “These are some of the events concerning Israel that have recently made headlines in the U.S. and the West: Paul Manafort reveals an Israeli accomplice to his Ukrainian dirty tricks; the prime minister’s spokesperson stands accused of serial sexual harassment, a charge downplayed and ignored by the Israeli ambassador to Washington; the universally-opposed impending evacuation of Bedouin outpost Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank; humanitarian crisis in Gaza and massive bloodshed on its fence; wild cheers for Donald Trump’s harsh measures against the Palestinians; the nation-state law and anti-democratic legislation; political filtering of critics at the airport; and a prime minister mired in corruption charges who James Comey’s his police chief for taking his job too seriously.

    “And so on and so forth, for the list is long. Israelis may still believe they are a chosen and embattled people, a light unto start-up nations, a paragon of morality and virtue and the most unfairly maligned country on the face of the earth, but Israel is having an increasingly hard time convincing anyone who is not a right-wing ideologue or Evangelical believer of these supposedly self-evident truths. For all the rest, in varying degrees, Israel’s stature has steadily deteriorated from good to bad to worse.”

  6. brent on September 21, 2018, 11:09 am

    I find it unsettling Palestine’s intelligentsia is not engaging today’s situation with some self-reflection. Had Erekat and Abbas studied how other political leaders deal with Trump, its possible today’s circumstances could be different. Getting into a spitting match is something no other adversary has done. Trump takes things personally and Palestinians have suffered. Considering the unnecessary rebuke, it could well be the case the cause of Palestine has been severely set back. Certainly, its support system worldwide has been dealt a blow. Especially if Trump is re-elected.

    America is a system of competing interests where any cause can win or lose depending on how the game is played. Thankfully, throwing rocks at the Ferguson police was condemned by those seeking a positive outcome.

    Trump clearly said to Netanyahu, one state or two, so long as both agree, he was good with it. He said he intended to bring peace not only to Jerusalem but to the greater ME. He has the war state and Israel refusing either. He backed off the “Assad must go” capitulation of Obama. Every Administration kissed up to Israel expecting to cash in later. Dennis Ross, etc.

    An Israeli soldier responded when I gave him a hard time about firing at rock throwers, “Look, we cannot give them what is rightfully theirs until they learn how to take it”. Study American politics and media for starters. And make clear that co-existence with positive neighborly relations is the end game, in one state or two.

    • Mooser on September 21, 2018, 3:16 pm

      “An Israeli soldier…/…one state or two.”

      OMFin’G!! That’s right, remind the Palestinians to be merciful and fair with the poor Israelis they are oppressing.

      “until they learn how to take it. Study American…”


      • brent on September 22, 2018, 9:00 pm


        You have missed the points entirely. It is not about being good and expect good results. It is about doing politics without power. Engaging the double game in an effective manner that enables politicians to dislodge the bit in their mouth. Impacting the narrative thats been so effective against you.

        Perhaps you have a theory to articulate that could be effective?

      • Mooser on September 23, 2018, 1:06 pm

        Maybe I just don’t have your faith in Zionism’s longevity. Or its power.

      • Maghlawatan on September 24, 2018, 2:28 am

        Maybe it’s a system issue, Mooser. Maybe Israel is running low on margins. Maybe they should have spent the settler money on Education and skills development. Maybe G-d lost interest.

  7. Maghlawatan on September 24, 2018, 2:23 am

    Trump is taking on a huge risk by attacking China. He is a beggar my neighbor merchant. The GOP is now beggar my neigbor too. Mitch McConnell refused to follow procedure on Obama’s Supreme Court nominee after Scalia died. Shortly afterwards the GOP voted to change confirmation from two thirds to a simple majority jes’ Cos they could. Beggar my neighbor is part of deflation and economic collapse.

    Zionism needs bipartisanship to survive. Beggar my neighbor is beggar bipartisanship.
    Zionism is no longer a belief greased by money. It is a political issue.

    Israel should have embedded itself in the region rather than getting involved in DC. Or maybe it was always hopeless. Maybe there was no other way. Entropy may be Gds way of speaking again to her people.

    Things are getting very interesting.

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