Once again the Trump Administration is taking a bad rap for making good on a threat to redirect funding from the Palestinian Authority if PA leader Mahmoud Abbas chooses to continue to reject all attempts to engage his people in peace-making. Most English-language media ran headlines accusing the White House of “cutting” millions of dollars in coexistence programming.
The New York Times reported Friday that “the United States is blocking millions of dollars to programs that build relationships between Israelis and Palestinians” in a move to “prevent Palestinians — including, in many cases, children — from benefiting” from… the last remaining channel of American aid to Palestinian civilians.”
According to the report, the designated $10 million had been allocated for the year ending this month, technically FY 2017.
USAID said in a statement Friday it is “currently unable to engage Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza as a result of the administration’s recent decision on Palestinian assistance,” but was “continuing its support for civil society working on these issues within Israel” supporting programs linking Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews. Reading the article in The New York Times, one would think USAID was faced with Hobson’s Choice. However, multi-year programs that were already funded were still slated to receive all their monies.
One of the people complaining the loudest about this was Father Josh Thomas, executive director of Kids4Peace, a group which the NYT said sees “huge demand from Palestinian and Israeli families.”
Kids4Peace has chapters in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Qalandiya and Hebron, and in the United States and Canada as well. It was founded in 2002 by the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem and the Middle East and is currently non-sectarian although is strongly supported by the Church.
“Our youth are asking tough questions now, and they ask them at a younger age. Through media, peer influence and personal experience, the hard issues of violence and conflict are already part of their lives by age 12 or 13.
“It is no longer possible to create a community of friends outside of conflict. Instead, we are building this community in the midst of conflict,” Fr. Thomas writes in a message on the website.
“Today, we face a new reality,” he adds, “…a deteriorating political landscape, and the lack of negotiations bring a new mandate for peace organizations….”
And that message, friends, was written on December 15, 2015, more than a year before the start of the Trump Administration, and nearly three years prior to the current funding crisis.
The point is this: When one speaks about funding crises, and their impact on fostering intercultural and interfaith dialogue and hope in the Middle East, there are always certain “givens.”
There is always a crisis. There is always a “deteriorating political landscape.” There is always a lack of negotiations, or a threat to peace, or a threat to talks, or no talks at all. Or back-channel talks going on, but no one knows about them. There is always a conflict. Or several. And always a threat of war waiting in the wings. And all of this is terrific fodder for grant-writing.
What is really sad is that all of it is true, and it affects the population in myriad ways, which is why there is such a high prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder in the region.
There is also the question of personal responsibility, and the question of where government funding has to end, and personal action has to begin. There should be a point at which Palestinian Authority Arabs say hello to their Jewish neighbors just because they are neighbors, and not because they want to set them up for death. And Jews should reach out to their Arab neighbors because they are neighbors, and not because they may secretly fear being killed if they don’t.
And as for the latest funding crisis: If you clear away the smoke and mirrors, you are likely to find very few children will be left without services in Judea and Samaria on either side of the border, because there are many different ways to channel funds in the Middle East, and diplomats are nothing if not creative. Ask any Jew who survived the Holocaust.