The Augusta Victoria Mistake
As a strong supporter of the Trump administration's Middle East policy, I believe the president's recent decisions dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are correct--except for one.
Everything I've seen about the peace plan that is being designed suggests it will be a sensible, tough-minded, and useful contribution to advancing peace.
The decision to cut funding to UNRWA was correct. As I argued here in Pressure Points in January, UNRWA appears dedicated to never-ending Palestinian statelessness and to ensuring that the "refugee" issue never dies. In fact I proposed cutting UNRWA funding when testifying to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in 2011.
The decision to close the PLO office in Washington was correct, and in fact I urged that step here in Pressure Points in 2013. The PLO is not a state with which we have diplomatic relations, and the PLO has a long history of support for terrorism. Today, PLO funds pay terrorists pensions and rewards in accordance with the seriousness of their crimes and the length of their sentences; that is why Congress passed the Taylor Force Act that requires an end to U.S. funding of the PA and PLO unless payments for terror stop. They have not stopped. I proposed closing the PLO office in that same 2011 testimony to Congress and think it is long overdue.
The decision to cut aid levels was correct, given the refusal of the Palestinian Authority to stop its payments to terrorists and its glorification of terror, and given its increasingly authoritarian rule in the West Bank. I testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in support of the Taylor Force Act, and aid cuts, in July, 2017. But in that testimony I argued for one exception: Augusta Victoria hospital in East Jerusalem, and the East Jerusalem Hospital Network of which it is a part. As I told the Committee then, "I would make an exception for those hospitals." Defunding them does not harm the PA or PLO, does not punish the Palestinian leadership that is making terrible decisions, does not help Israel, and does potentially harm Palestinians who have no role in Palestinian politics.
I don't actually understand why the administration decided to cut the hospital funding, especially when the Taylor Force Act contains the carve-out. That law states that "the limitation on assistance under subsection (a) shall not apply to...payments made to the East Jerusalem Hospital Network." There is even a cold, political argument for continuing the aid: in the context of wide aid cuts, the continuation of aid to Augusta Victoria would allow the United States government to say "our cuts were inevitable due to misconduct and poor governance by the PA and PLO leadership, but because we care about Palestinians more than their leaders do we decided to continue funding the hospital network."
So I believe the decision to cut the funding to the East Jerusalem Hospital Network was a mistake. Mistakes can be rectified, and in this case I hope the administration reconsiders and provides the funds.