Jun 27 2018
By Dianne Feinstein
Originially published in USA Today.
The president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner was in the Middle East last week pushing the administration’s still unannounced peace plan to leaders in the region. But notably absent from his schedule was ameeting with any members of the Palestinian leadership.
That is because President Donald Trump’s actions have made that politically impossible.
Since taking office, the president has shown little concern for the plight of the Palestinians. He incited violence by unilaterally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, remained silent on the steady expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and slashed humanitarian assistance to Gaza by $305 million — nearly two-thirds of the United Nations' budget for food aid and schools.
Those policies are helping fuel the anger and frustration that we’ve witnessed in the Palestinian territories.
In the days before the new embassy opened in Jerusalem, nearly 60 Palestinian protesters were killed when the Israeli military disproportionately responded with lethal force, the worst bloodshed in Gaza since the last major conflict in 2014.
Gaza's conditions grow worse
There isn’t any excuse for violence, and Hamas certainly played a significant role in fanning the flames of unrest. But the truth is the anger that Hamas was able to tap into is born out of growing feelings of frustration, hopelessness and despair.
Under Israeli control, Palestinians feel Gaza has become an open-air prison where the water is contaminated, the economy is in shambles and basic services are insufficient by any standard. In fact, theU.N. warned last year that Gaza may soon be unlivable.
Gaza’s economy is on the brink of collapse. Between 2006 and 2016, per capita GDP in Gaza actually declined by more than 5 percent, in marked contrast to the almost 49 percent increase in the West Bank. The poverty rate and unemployment rate both hover around 40 percent, with even higher rates for women and young workers.
The electric grid is so poor that most children have never experienced more than 12 hours of electricity a day in their lifetime.
More: I saw how West Bank Palestinians are treated like prisoners. Who will fix this?
5 Trump illusions about Middle East peace and Jared Kushner's mission impossible
If people on food stamps made Jared Kushner's paperwork mistakes, they might starve
Nine out of 10 people living in Gaza don’t have access to safe public drinking water because Gaza’s only aquifer is contaminated by untreated sewage, chemicals and salt water. And more than 1 million Palestinians in Gaza depend on U.N. food assistance.
These factors, coupled with rising population, have strained the ability to provide basic health care. The U.N. has projected that by 2020 Gaza will need an additional 800 hospital beds, 1,000 doctors and 2,000 nurses.
In 2016, the Gaza Ministry of Health made 24,616 referrals for Palestinians to seek necessary medical care outside of the territory, nearly three times as many as 10 years earlier.
Against that backdrop, President Trump’s heartless cuts to humanitarian assistance to Gaza sent a clear message that the lives of Palestinians don’t matter to his administration. And his rash decision to move the embassy forfeited our ability to appear as an independent arbitrator of this crisis.
Trump needs to back two-state solution
While only the Israelis and Palestinians can make the difficult tradeoffs necessary for peace, U.S. leadership is invaluable toward ending this conflict. Unfortunately, the president’s actions have made it impossible for Palestinian leaders to resume peace talks under American guidance.
The only way for Israel to remain a Jewish, democratic and secure state is through the creation of an independent Palestine by its side. Yet President Trump has refused to advocate for a two-state solution, the only option that can guarantee Palestinian self-determination, retain Israel’s Jewish character and bring lasting security to both sides.
President Trump has called brokering peace between the Israelis and Palestinians the “ultimate deal.” If the president is serious about brokering the ultimate deal, he’ll begin to repair some of the damage created by his policies.
He should start by demanding that Israel halt West Bank settlement expansion and efforts to demolish Palestinian villages like Susiya and Khan al-Ahmar. He should then restore humanitarian assistance and lead the world in rebuilding Gaza.
Absent concrete American leadership, we will only witness continued violence in a conflict that has gone on for far too long.
Dianne Feinstein is a Democratic senator from California.