Trump's bold moves just might jolt the Palestinians to finally negotiate with Israel

President Trump has sent a loud and clear message to leaders of the Palestinian Authority: Stop treating the United States like a giant ATM, withdrawing billions of dollars in aid without engaging in peace negotiations with Israel and being willing to make mutual compromises.

Has this message upset Palestinian leaders and their supporters? Absolutely.

But maybe – just maybe – President Trump’s bold and unconventional message will act like a shock treatment and jumpstart new talks between Palestinians and Israelis. If this happens – and it is far from certain – the president’s departure from past policies could go down as an historic turning point in what seems like a never-ending and frozen “peace process.” 

The State Department reports that America has provided more than $5.2 billion from the U.S. Agency for International Development to the Palestinians since 1994, including $290 million in 2016.

President Trump apparently isn’t ready to accept the status quo in the Holy Land.

In addition, the U.S. has provided billions more to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine (UNRWA), which has aided Palestinian “refugees” in several countries in the Middle East since 1949. This aid includes $355 million from American taxpayers in 2016 alone. America also provided an additional $55 million to Palestinians in 2016 for law enforcement.

The term “refugees” includes children, grandchildren and great grandchildren of people who left Israel when the nation became independent 70 years ago.

The president tweeted Tuesday: “… we pay the Palestinians HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect. They don’t even want to negotiate a long overdue peace treaty with Israel…. But with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”

President Trump’s tweet comes on the heels of his announcement last month that the U.S. recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – and our United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley’s threat to make deep cuts to America’s financial contributions to the world body.

As result of these comments, there is a growing chorus of governments, diplomats, and pundits (including some Israelis) who are convinced that President Trump is a one-man wrecking crew.

President Trump’s recklessness, his critics assert, is killing off the Middle East peace process and any flickering hopes for a two-state solution, in which a Jewish state of Israel and an Arab state of Palestine would live side by side in peace.

Worse still, the president’s critics say a cutoff of U.S. funds to the Palestinian Authority carries the threat that the Palestinian governing body could implode for lack of funding. That would leave Israel with the onerous and unwanted burden of ruling millions of Palestinians.

But conventional wisdom about the Middle East has not yielded much progress towards the elusive two-state solution. Instead, it has created and sustained a status quo that dumps more and more money, year after year, into a corrupt Palestinian Authority.

And all that American aid has done nothing to challenge the terrorist group Hamas’ grip on power in Gaza and turned the unaccountable UNWRA into biggest employer there, with 25,000 Palestinians on its payroll.

The U.N. Human Rights Council; the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); and the U.N. General Assembly have all but been hijacked to denigrate and demonize Israel.

And the U.N. and its agencies also deny Jewish and Christian history in the land where Jews have lived for 3,000 years and where Christianity began. This makes as much sense as saying Native Americans arrived in the U.S. long after Christopher Columbus and other Europeans settled the land first.

President Trump apparently isn’t ready to accept the status quo in the Holy Land.

There were predictions after President Trump’s announcement recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital that he would ignite a new intifada and sustained worldwide protests by Arabs and Muslims. But that didn’t happen, despite the best efforts of the Palestinians, Hezbollah, Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood.  

Instead, protests were small and fleeting because the Palestinian issue no longer holds a veto over the priorities of Arab nations. The Gulf States and Egypt, for example, worry about a burgeoning existential threat from Iran.

Beyond the Iranian threat, Saudi Arabia is mapping out a new economic plans to create jobs for it younger generation, as the world becomes less dependent on Arab oil. All this signals a new willingness to deal with the Jewish state’s dynamic economic startup opportunities.

In his speech on Jerusalem, President Trump did not speak of borders or sovereignty. So he did not attempt to dictate whether the Old City in East Jerusalem – filled with holy sites for Jews, Christians and Muslims – will ultimately be part of Israel or a future Palestinian state.

But the president signaled two things to the Palestinians.

First, the status quo between Israel and Palestinians will never lead to peace. And second, if you don’t like what I did, get up and negotiate your own deal with the Israelis.

Now, with his threat of a cutoff of aid to the Palestinian Authority, President Trump is sending additional signals.

The current Palestinian Authority budget – over the objections of the U.S. Congress – has allocated $344 million to reward families of terrorists who have murdered and maimed innocent civilians in Israel, including American Taylor Force. This amounts to about half of all international aid the Palestinian Authority receives each year. America no longer wants to help incentivize Palestinian terrorism.

The president may also be calling into question the massive U.S. funding of UNWRA, an agency created to be part of the solution in the Middle East but that in 2018 is clearly part of the problem.

It’s clear that 82-year-old Mahmoud Abbas, who heads the Palestinian Authority, is unlikely to make the compromises needed to make peace with Israel – especially if the cash flow from Uncle Sam keeps on coming.

Abbas was elected in 2005 to serve as Palestinian president until 2009, but has never relinquished power or allowed new elections. As long as he keeps collecting U.S. money for doing nothing to make peace a reality, why should we expect him to change?

But perhaps President Trump’s tweets aren’t meant for Abbas. Perhaps they are meant to shake up the next generation of Palestinians, who know all too well that they have not been well-served by the status quo or their leaders.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is Associate Dean, Director of Global Social Action Agenda at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. Follow the Simon Wiesenthal Center on Facebook and on Twitter