A Palestinian man walks in front of closed shops during a general strike in protest of the recently passed Jewish nation state law in Israel in the old city of Nablus in the West Bank, Oct. 1, 2018. Majdi Mohammed | AP
“A plan to redirect U.S. foreign aid from supporting Palestinian refugees through UNRWA to paying Palestinians to leave the West Bank so that Israel’s own radical religious right can annex the occupied territory is morally outrageous and destined to fail.” – Debra Shushan, Americans for Peace Now
According to a recent interview between Paul Liberman, the executive director of the Alliance for Israel Advocacy (AIA), and journalist Lee Fang at the Intercept, Liberman’s organization claims to have met with key figures in the Trump administration – including Jason Greenblatt, President Donald Trump’s chief adviser on Israel-related issues; Victoria Coates, an official with the National Security Council; Tom Rose, a top adviser to Pence – as well as several members of Congress, to promote controversial legislation that would use U.S. funds to pay Palestinians in the West Bank to move abroad.
Most recently, Liberman pitched the plan at the Council for National Policy, which was attended by donors and activists of the religious right and by Nikki Haley, current U.S. ambassador to the U.N., who is set to leave her post by year’s end.
Despite the fact that AIA is not a well-known organization, some have credited its ability to secure meetings with top government officials to its employment of Fidelis Government Relations, a lobbying firm that currently employs one of Pence’s closest aides and his former chief of staff, Bill Smith. According to public records cited by the Intercept, AIA hired the firm in order to build relationships with the White House and the vice president’s office.
If AIA’s efforts go as planned, legislation will be introduced when the next Congress convenes that would aim to redirect U.S. funding formerly dedicated to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency fund (UNRWA) in Palestine to a fund managed by the Israeli government that would offer West Bank families “vouchers” that would give them cash to resettle abroad. As the Intercept noted, the plan “is a bid to reshape the ethnic and religious population of territories controlled by Israel.” Liberman told the Intercept that Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH) would likely sponsor and introduce the legislation next year. In 2017, the U.S. provided $364 million to UNRWA. President Trump abruptly cut off payments to the agency earlier this year in August.
US Taxpayers footing the bill for ethnic cleansing in Palestine?
Liberman, a Messianic Jew whose pro-Israel position is based on his interpretation of the Bible, described the proposed legislation to the Intercept as follows:
Our organization advocates, and it’s in our proposed legislation, we say, let’s offer sponsorship if there are any Palestinian residents who wish to leave and go to other countries, we will provide funds for you to leave. The only rights the Palestinians have are squatter’s rights. If there are any Palestinian residents who wish to leave, we will provide funds for you to leave, with the hopes … to change the demography of the West Bank towards an eventual annexation.”
Israel’s government has long sought to annex the West Bank but those efforts have gone into overdrive in recent years, with the UNwarning this past July that Israel is “getting closer to enacting legislation that will formally annex parts of the West Bank.”
Unsurprisingly, according to Liberman, AIA’s plan to essentially bribe Palestinians to leave their homeland has been met with an enthusiastic response by Israeli politicians. Liberman claims to have met with Tzachi Hanegbi, a senior figure in the Likud Party, as well as top figures in the Israel Home Party, including current Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Moti Yogev. Liberman told the Intercept that Yogev – who recently called on all Palestinian-Israeli lawmakers to leave Israel – gave him his explicit support for the West Bank “voucher” plan.
While the proposal has been well received by politicians associated with the religious right in both the U.S. and Israel, human-rights groups have slammed the proposal. Mike Merryman-Lotze, the Middle East program director for the American Friends Service Committee, told the Intercept via email:
Any reallocation of U.S. funding from aid given to the UN for humanitarian work towards a voucher system set up to encourage Palestinians to leave their homes would represent support by the U.S. for ethnic cleansing.”
Merryman-Lotze correctly notes that the plan would constitute support for the ethnic cleansing of the West Bank, as it fits perfectly with the most recent UN definition of the term: “the deliberate and systematic removal of a racial, political, or cultural group from a specific geographical area.”
Debra Shushan, the policy director at the group Americans for Peace Now, told the Intercept:
A plan to redirect U.S. foreign aid from supporting Palestinian refugees through UNRWA to paying Palestinians to leave the West Bank so that Israel’s own radical religious right can annex the occupied territory is morally outrageous and destined to fail.”
Normalizing the outrageous
Shushan also noted that, under the Trump administration, measures once considered outrageous are quickly becoming policy in regards to Israel and Palestine.
Indeed, since coming into office, Trump has taken a markedly pro-Israel stance that has resulted in his being called the “most pro-Israel president in U.S. history.” This is not only the result of the fact that Trump has long shared close, personal ties to Zionists — such as his son-in-law Jared Kushner and his long-time personal attorney and now current U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman — but also due to the policy demands of his top donor, Zionist billionaire Sheldon Adelson.
Adelson, now the top donor to both Trump and the Republican Party, helped orchestrate many of Trump’s pro-Israel policies, including the U.S. Embassy move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the Iran deal, Trump’s decision to stop funding UNRWA, and the hiring of pro-Israel stalwart John Bolton to be the new national security adviser earlier this year.
If the AIA’s legislation is introduced next year and Adelson throws his support behind the plan, his strong connections to Trump and the Republican Party could result in the piece becoming law, especially given the fact that many Democratic lawmakers are just as pro-Israel as their Republican counterparts.