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US restores less than half of pre-Trump funding to UNRWA
Maureen Clare Murphy, Electronic Intifada, Apr 10 2021

An UNRWA employee distributes food aid in Khan Younis, southern Gaza, in Sep 2020.
Photo: Ashraf Amra/APA

The US will resume economic and humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians, providing a total of $235m, the State Dept announced on Wednesday. The department said that $75m would be allocated to “economic and development assistance in the West Bank and Gaza.” Another $10m would go to “peacebuilding programs.” Washington will restore $150m to UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees. That figure represents less than half of the annual funding the US sent to UNRWA before the Trump administration eliminated support to the agency in 2018. Trump cut aid to Palestinians across the board in punishment for protests against the US declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel. The aid cuts were seen as part of a wider strategy of bludgeoning Palestinians into submitting to the White House’s “peace” process. Until Trump’s cuts, the US was the largest funder to UNRWA since its establishment in 1949. Prior to 2018, the US gave $365m to the agency each year, representing nearly a third of UNRWA’s budget. The resulting deficit threw the already cash-strapped agency into an unprecedented crisis while the need for its services among the Palestinian refugee population only increased. UNRWA serves nearly 5.7m Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Philippe Lazzarini, head of UNRWA, welcomed the resumption of funding, which had been anticipated, saying:

There is no other institution that does what UNRWA does. The US contribution comes at a critical moment, as we continue to adjust to the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic presents.

Israel protested the announcement, with Gilad Erdan, its ambassador to the US, smearing UNRWA as “an anti-Semitic agency that incites against Israel.” Erdan asserted:

The twisted definition used by the agency to determine who is a ‘refugee’ only perpetuates the conflict.

UNRWA serves multiple generations of Palestinian refugees as Israel has prohibited them from exercising their right to return to the lands and homes from which they were expelled. Israeli leaders and pro-Israel hardliners, in their quest to liquidate the rights of Palestinian refugees, have long subjected UNRWA to relentless smear campaigns, falsely claiming the agency teaches anti-Israel “incitement” or harbors weapons in its schools. Meanwhile, Israel has repeatedly targeted UNRWA schools in its assaults on Gaza and has massacred Palestinian civilians, including children, who have sought shelter in them. Erdan was echoing a claim previously trotted out by Netanyahu among others, that Palestinian refugees only exist because a special UN agency, UNRWA, was created to care for them, and not because Israel denies their internationally recognized right to return.

Anti-Palestinian lawmakers in US Congress are also pushing back against the Biden administration’s resumption of funding halted by Trump. Federal law enacted in 2018 effectively prohibits assistance to the Palestinian Authority “unless it agrees to pay court judgments of sometimes up to hundreds of millions of dollars on behalf of American victims of Palestinian attacks.” Another law bans aid to the PA so long as it pays stipends to the families of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel for “acts of terrorism.” Blinken said that “all assistance will be provided consistent with US law.” The State Dept added that it was “also resuming vital security assistance programs.” The Trump administration withdrew funding from the Palestinian Authority’s security forces last year.

The $235m pledged by the Biden administration to aid Palestinians is a pittance compared to the $38b in annual military aid the US provides to Israel without restriction. That aid is used to purchase American-made weapons that are employed against Palestinians to maintain Israel’s military occupation. American weaponry has been used by Israel to perpetrate war crimes against Palestinian civilians and to destroy civilian infrastructure. The International Criminal Court launched an investigation into war crimes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip last month. Last week, the US lifted economic sanctions on ICC personnel, including the chief prosecutor, that had been imposed by the Trump administration. While removing the punitive measures, the US reiterated its opposition to the ICC’s investigation in Palestine while claiming to support the “rule of law, access to justice and accountability for mass atrocities.” Yet a State Dept spox was only able to sputter out a boilerplate commitment to the two-state solution when AP reporter Matt Lee repeatedly asked “where do they go?” given that Palestinians cannot seek justice in Israeli courts.

On Thursday, Israel announced that it will not cooperate with the ICC investigation. In March, the court had notified Israel of its intention to investigate, giving it a month to inform the ICC whether it was conducting its own probes into alleged crimes. Netanyahu’s office said that it would instead send a letter to the court “completely rejecting the claim that Israel commits war crimes.” There has been a long line of international commissions of inquiry and fact-finding missions determining that Israel has committed international crimes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The recommendations of those investigatory mechanisms have never been implemented as Israel’s impunity has been ensured by the US and other allies. Israeli lawmakers pledged to commit new war crimes on the eve of the country’s elections last month.

“High-level” Israel lobby interference in British politics, says ex-minister
Asa Winstanley, Electronic Intifada, Apr 9 2021

Alan Duncan on a 2012 visit to Gaza. (Photo: Sharif Sarhan/UNRWA)

In a new book, Britain’s former deputy foreign minister Alan Duncan accuses the Israel lobby of “disgusting interference in our public life.” Speaking to th Mail+ website this week Duncan said that lobby group Conservative Friends of Israel “interfere at a high level in British politics in the interest of Israel, on the back of donor power within the UK.” He told journalist Michael Crick that this is “a sort of buried scandal that has to stop.” Duncan’s new book In The Thick of It was serialized by the Daily Mail this week. The book comprises his diaries from his time in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Duncan writes that Conservative Friends of Israel successfully vetoed his appointment as Middle East minister in 2016. Then-Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told him that Conservative Friends of Israel were “going ballistic” at the prospect, Duncan writes. He adds:

It is for no other reason than that I believe in the rights of Palestinians and it’s quite clear that they don’t. They just want to belittle and subjugate the Palestinians.

Duncan was instead appointed as minister of state for foreign affairs, effectively deputy to the foreign secretary. Duncan’s diary records that he was offered the role, which “they insist is the most serious portfolio,” because “everyone is very concerned that I might immediately resign and cause a massive stink about this outside interference” by the Israel lobby. In his interview with Crick, Duncan said Conservative Friends of Israel push “a sort of Netanyahu-type view of Israeli politics into our foreign policy.” He added:

A lot of things do not happen in foreign policy, or a government, for fear of offending this lobby.

According to Duncan, Conservative Friends of Israel presents the issues it wants to lobby on as “too hot to handle” and as linked to donor money which comes into the Conservative Party. Duncan was a member of Parliament for 27 years before stepping down ahead of the 2019 general election. Conservative Friends of Israel has claimed in the past that 80% of Conservative MPs are members. Its funding sources are opaque, but are thought to be mostly wealthy pro-Israel businessmen in the UK. In Jan 2017, an undercover series filmed by Al Jazeera revealed that Duncan had been on a hit list of British MPs that an Israeli embassy agent wanted to “take down.” Israeli embassy spy Shai Masot and civil servant Maria Strizzolo were caught on undercover camera conspiring to engineer “a little scandal” for Duncan, who was the first openly gay Conservative MP. Masot was thrown under the bus by the embassy and sent back to Tel Aviv. Strizzolo quit her government job.

Home secretary Priti Patel. (Photo: Pippa Fowles)

Later in 2017, then-international development minister Priti Patel was forced to quit by Prime Minister Theresa May, after breaking government rules during a “holiday” to Israel. Patel, who is now back in government as home secretary, held 12 undisclosed meetings with Israeli ministers and business leaders. Her meetings included Netanyahu himself. Patel had not declared the meetings to British officials or had them minuted in the normal fashion. According to UK government rules, ministerial meetings discussing official business should be attended and recorded by civil servants, whose role is to serve the government in a non-partisan fashion. After initially lying about the affair, Patel later admitted her actions “fell below the standards of transparency and openness” expected of ministers. In his diaries recounting his view of the 2017 incident, Duncan accuses “Priti Horrendous” of being “deceitful, morally corrupt” and “quite despicable.” He writes:

She has engaged offline with a foreign government over issues of policy. It is contemptible.

Patel’s meetings were arranged by Stuart Polak, a leading Conservative Friends of Israel lobbyist. The BBC reported at the time:

Some ministers and MPs accused Ms Patel of trying to win favor with wealthy pro-Israeli Conservative donors who could fund a potential future leadership campaign.

In his book Duncan describes Polak as “the principal pro-Israel donor lobbyist in the UK.” It is Polak that Duncan excoriates for vetoing his appointment to the Middle East desk, along with fellow lobbyist and Conservative politician Eric Pickles. He writes:

Clearly Pickles and Polak have been lobbying against me. This is the most disgusting interference in our public life.

Biden picks up Trump’s Arab-Israel normalization torch
Tamara Nassar, Electronic Intifada, Apr 8 2021

The Sudanese cabinet voted to abolish a law forbidding diplomatic and business relations with Israel on Tuesday, reversing six-decade long policy. The office of Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok announced the decision on Twitter, affirming in the same breath:

Sudan’s firm stance towards the establishment of a Palestinian state within the framework of the two-state solution.

Declaring support for the moribund two-state solution is a routine cop-out used by Arab and European governments to deflect from their complicity and inaction as Israel continues to violently colonize Palestinian land. The decision needs to be approved by Sudan’s sovereign council, its interim legislature, before it can go into effect. The day before the Sudanese cabinet agreed to repeal the boycott law, Hamdok and Blinken spoke on the phone.

Blinken assured Hamdok of “the importance of Sudan’s role in achieving stability in the region,” Hamdok’s office stated. State Dept spox Ned Price said the pair discussed US support for the “transitional government’s efforts to advance the peace process,” without specifying what that refers to. Neither briefing on the phone call mentioned Israel. During his confirmation hearings in January, Blinken heaped praise on the Trump administration’s efforts to secure normalization deals between Israel and various Arab states, despite Israel’s continued denial of Palestinian rights. Blinken told senators:

I applaud the work that was done to push forward on normalization with Israel. It makes Israel and the region safer. It’s a good thing, and yes, I would hope that we can build on that as well.

Sudan’s transitional government agreed to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel last October, as part of a larger deal to bring it firmly into the American fold. Formal treaties are expected once Sudan forms a permanent government, but Israeli officials have made visits to Khartoum in recent months. Trump announced at the time of the agreement that he would remove Sudan from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism in exchange for $335m in compensation for American casualties of al-Qaeda attacks. Blinken confirmed on Mar 31 the receipt of the funds from Sudan. Blinken called the payment the beginning of “a new chapter” between the two countries. While Blinken’s statement does not mention Israel, Sudan’s agreement to make the payment in exchange for its removal from the list has been perceived as a primary motivation for normalizing relations with Israel. A Sudanese government spokesperson revealed last year that the country came under “heavy pressure” from the US to normalize ties with Israel in exchange for Sudan’s removal from the US terrorism list. Sudan’s information minister Faisal Mohamed Salih told Iran’s Press TV correspondent Ahmed Kaballo:

It was said clearly this is linked. If you want Sudan to be delisted from the [US list of state sponsors of terrorism], then you have to normalize the relationship with Israel.’ It was a very difficult situation.

There is little indication that the US strong-arming of Sudan has changed under Biden. Sudan was one of four Arab states to agree to normalize relations with Israel during Trump’s last year as president. The other three were the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco. The Trump administration used a mix of intimidation and incentives to achieve some of these deals. The Biden administration appears to be carrying the same torch. Israeli journalist Barak Ravid reported that Mauritania was close to normalizing relations with Israel and that it had “hoped to get economic incentives in return,” but Trump left office before a deal was reached. Ravid said the Biden administration hopes to broker similar normalization agreements “while securing achievements of its own through new deals.” An unnamed US official told Ravid:

Several of the newly established relationships between Israel and the four countries of the Abraham Accords are accelerating in their own right. The US will continue to encourage that dynamic.

Mauritania previously established diplomatic relations with Israel in the 1990s, but broke them off in 2010 in protest of Israel’s attacks on Palestinians in Gaza. Israeli media reported in February that Mauritania was slated to be one of the countries to receive COVID-19 vaccine doses from Israel as part of an effort by Netanyahu to curry favor with governments around the world. While those plans were suspended due to legal opposition, millions of Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation are still denied the vaccine.

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