Trump’s magical defunding: 7 things to know for September 2
Israel media review

Trump’s magical defunding: 7 things to know for September 2

The latest US slash to Palestinian aid is celebrated by some in Israel as the beginning of the end to refugee claims, but not everyone agrees

A Palestinian man near the UNRWA relief and social program office in Gaza City on January 8, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mohammed Abed)
A Palestinian man near the UNRWA relief and social program office in Gaza City on January 8, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mohammed Abed)

1. UNRWA gets the ax: The decision by US President Donald Trump to cut  all US funding to UN agency UNRWA is being feted by official Israel and in some corners of the Hebrew-language press as a positive step.

  • “There’s widespread satisfaction,” the pro-Trump and pro-Netanyahu tabloid Israel Hayom writes, quoting a cross-section of statements from Israeli politicians in the right and center.
  • The paper’s Amnon Lord praises Trump for “continuing his policies that break old concepts and stick to the truth,” and says the Palestinians will now have to undergo a “revolution.”
  • Yedioth Ahronoth’s Ben-Dror Yemini calls it a “step in the right direction,” though he notes that it won’t solve the problem of the Palestinian refugees or the fact that descendants of refugees are still defined as such.
  • “After almost 70 years of the large refugee scam, the time for change has come,” he adds.

2. Trying to take away the dream: Not everybody thinks Ramallah will just roll over and end its claims to refugee status for millions, and some see the move as another step by the US administration trying to lay the groundwork for peace negotiations by taking Palestinian demands off the table.

  • In Haaretz, which highlights Palestinian anger over the move, columnist Jacky Khoury writes that the cut seems to be in line with Trump’s vision of “Shrinking the Palestinian dream of self-rule in the West Bank and at least a state in Gaza.”
  • “The US tried to liquidate the issue of Jerusalem by saying they were removing it from the negotiating table, now they want to kill UNRWA with the aim of killing the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland. These are actions aimed at liquidating the Palestinian issue completely while trying to normalise relations between Israel and Arab countries,” former Palestinian politician Mustafa Barghouti tells Al Jazeera.

3. Death of a thousand cuts: There also seems to be some magical thinking at play in terms of how much the move will actually accomplish, beyond forcing UNRWA to cut back services and go hat in hand to other countries.

  • Israel’s Hadashot news, citing Israeli diplomats, reports that the US plans on pressuring Arab states and other donors to cut funding with the ultimate goal of shutting down the agency. So far, though, the move has been met with public defiance, including pledges from the EU and Jordan to continue funding the body.
  • Palestinians, meanwhile, are mulling going to the UN, though what the body can do about it is unclear. The General Assembly can condemn the cut and offer support for the agency, but such a resolution would have no teeth. And there seems no chance the US would not veto any Security Council resolution that sought to compel it to return funding.

4. Interesting timing: The announcement came after days of reports that the US would be cutting UNRWA funding, and weeks after emails leaked in which Jared Kushner pushed to “disrupt” UNRWA.

  • Yet some notice that the US decision to release the decision on Friday afternoon just before a holiday weekend ( i.e., when people will be checked out and less likely to notice or care) does not exactly represent full-throated backing.

5. Back to school: It’s a holiday in Israel too, for parents of some 2.3 million children who are heading back to school after summer break.

  • While parents are thrilled to have the kids out of their hair, the first day of school is traditionally marked in Israel’s tabloid press with excitement for the kids, in the form of pro forma milquetoast columns about how great school is and that children are the future. 2018 is no exception.
  • “The kids going into first grade might not realized it, but their rapidly beating hearts surely know they are standing before a fascinating journey. A journey of words and stories,” writes President Reuven Rivlin in one, published in a number of outlets.
  • In another, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (who was recently called a fascist for comments about the importance of being strong) writes about how Israel’s existence is based on four strengths: economic, military, diplomatic and of the spirit: “The last strength, which is based on educating our children to our national and historic values, is the most important of all.”

6. The Hitla from Manila: If that’s so, some have questions about why Israel is welcoming with open arms a man who once compared himself favorably to Hitler.

  • Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte will land in Israel Sunday night, and far from ignore his part-ignorance about the Holocaust, he’ll confront it head on, with a visit to Yad Vashem and a memorial in Rishon Lezion honoring the Philippines for saving 1,300 Jews during the Holocaust.
  • During his visit to the memorial, he’ll be accompanied by two Jews saved by Manila, ToI’s Raphael Ahren reports: “One of them, Max Weisler, of Hod Hasharon, arrived in Manila in 1941 at the age of 11 years as a refugee from Germany and grew up in the Philippines. His footprints are etched in front of one of the monument’s three doors, which symbolize Manila’s ‘open doors’ policy.”
  • But Duterte will also be in Israel seeking weapons, after the US and Canada  balked at selling arms to Manila over human rights abuses.
  • Haaretz reports that while it’s not included in his public schedule, Duterte will spend a good chunk of time dealing with potential arms purchases.
  • “Several such events are expected to be on the president’s itinerary, including [a Defense Ministry] display of advanced weapons and equipment,” the paper reports.

7. Split opinion: Yedioth Ahronoth notes that Duterte hasn’t toned down his uncouth rhetoric ahead of the trip, making a rambling speech during which he noted that in Davao, “As long as there are many beautiful women, there will be more rape cases.”

  • An unscientific internet poll run by the paper finds that 53 percent of respondents think Israel should welcome Duterte and 47% think Netanyahu should put the red carpet back in the closet.
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