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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 October 2018

Cruel demands to strip Palestinians of refugee status leave little faith in US role

Kushner emails pressing for change in recognition of Palestinian plight are inhumane

Jared Kushner with King Abdullah of Jordan in 2017. The Royal Hashemite Court Twitter via AP
Jared Kushner with King Abdullah of Jordan in 2017. The Royal Hashemite Court Twitter via AP

"Sometimes," wrote Jared Kushner, the man charged with finding a solution to the Middle East's most intractable conflict, "you have to strategically risk breaking things in order to get there".

What Donald Trump's son-in-law failed to recognise, with such breathtakingly blithe disregard, is that Palestinians have been living with an entirely broken system, every day, for more than 70 years.

Stripped of their basic rights as citizens, rationed to the bare minimum of basic commodities and dealt with harshly whenever they dare to protest, they have already survived every attempt to break them.

Those living on the fringes of society, in refugee camps in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza, have already had everything but their dignity taken from them.

Now Mr Kushner would wish to take one more thing from them: the refugee status that enables them to receive life-saving aid.

In emails leaked to Foreign Policy magazine, he pressed Jordan to remove refugee status from the two million Palestinians living there so that UNRWA, the UN agency that supports them, would no longer need to give funding.

There was little faith left that America could be considered an honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process after Mr Trump moved the US embassy to Jerusalem in May in a ceremony attended by Mr Kushner.

With the revelation that Mr Kushner secretly called upon Jordan to revoke the refugee status of displaced Palestinians, all doubt has surely been swept away.

Can anyone in the Trump administration seriously believe that the Palestinians' refugee status is a choice or that anyone would willingly place themselves in such a situation if any other option were open to them? Israel displaced these people and has no intention of allowing them back home.

Where would the US, which has already halved funding to the UNRWA, have them go?

The implicit inhumanity in the emails demonstrates that the US administration is no friend of the Palestinian people, nor is it capable of acting as an impartial mediator.

As the point man of America’s yet- to-be-disclosed road map for peace, it was Mr Kushner who stated in June that the US would pursue peace with or without the co-operation of Palestinians, prompting Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to publicly express his “gratitude for President Trump’s support for Israel”.

For decades, successive US presidents have sought and failed to resolve the conflict. At times they acted naively or clumsily but there has always been the hope of reconciling the objectives of Israel and the Palestinian people and ending decades of suffering.

It is tragically plain, however, that in the run-up to midterm elections, Mr Trump is interested only in playing to his domestic political gallery, stoking the prejudices and biases of the politically powerful pro-Israel lobby and white evangelical Christians, 80 per cent of whom voted for him.

For these voters, who believe in the idea of the Holy Land being ordained for the “chosen people", politics is a means to that end.

Moving the US embassy to Jerusalem as Mr Trump’s way of keeping faith with their world view. What it failed to do, however, was resolve the Palestinian question.

Hope is fading that the US can do anything more than break the spirit and will of Palestinians. It is time to find another, more honest broker.