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Sunday, February 11, 2018

Congress pushing back on Trump's reckless Mideast policies

President Trump’s disastrous policies in the Middle East could help lead to a new outbreak of fighting at one of the region's most sensitive hotspots -- Israel’s border with Gaza.
In the latest escalation in US-Palestinian tensions following the president’s December decision to “take Jerusalem off the table,” the Trump administration decided to punish them by withholding funds that help support over 1.5 million Palestinian refugees.
Slashing aid to the Palestinian refugee relief agency UNRWA cruelly hurts some of the region’s most vulnerable and neglected people. It increases the prospects for despair, unrest -- and ultimately -- violence.
There are some legitimate concerns about the ways in which UNRWA operates, and good ideas about how it could change for the better. But improving the organization’s work and funding structure will require thoughtful and deliberate reforms -- not recklessly cutting off all of its funding before that process of reform has even begun.
Trump’s move has Israel’s top security officials deeply worried. Last week, they warned the Israeli government that weakening UNRWA could push the humanitarian crisis in Gaza past its breaking point and lead to a serious new round of protests and fighting with Israeli forces all along the border.
With many Gazans unemployed and living with severely limited access to food, water and electricity, the IDF’s chief of staff this week warned the Israeli cabinet of imminent total collapse there -- and urged leaders to take steps to prevent it.
The administration’s refusal to help maintain stability or pursue real peace is only fueling more conflict. When the US abdicates leadership, it’s Israelis and Palestinians who will pay the price.
Here’s the good news: A growing number of members of Congress understand the damage that Trump and company are doing, and they’re standing up to oppose this reckless policy. Over 100 members -- including Representative Brenda L. Lawrence -- have signed a new letter to President Trump urging him to continue funding to UNRWA and bilateral aid to the Palestinian Authority.
J Street was proud to support and advocate for this urgent letter, which was led by Representatives Peter Welch and David Price. We mobilized supporters across the country to help make clear that slashing funds to vulnerable refugees is dangerous and unconscionable.
The letter sends a strong message:
“Deliberately exacerbating the hardship of the Palestinian people and reducing the ability of their government to function would only contribute to the benefit of those who reject engagement. Extremist and anti-Israel groups would be all too eager to fill in the vacuum, deepening their hold in the region and expanding their destructive influence on the prospects for a peaceful resolution of the conflict.”
The situation in Gaza is desperate -- but further suffering and conflict is not inevitable. We know that solutions are possible. Last week at an emergency conference to discuss the situation, Israel presented a billion dollar humanitarian assistance plan that could help bring new water treatment facilities, power plants and economic opportunities to the Strip.
Implementing this kind of much-needed plan takes creativity, vision and political will. A responsible US government would act now to head off disaster. Instead of bullying refugees and international institutions, it would rally Israeli and Palestinian leaders and the international community to help Gaza and prevent violence.
Right now, we have dangerous leadership in the White House. But we can’t just stand by while this administration lashes out at Palestinians and makes Israelis less safe. We can’t let a toxic mix of confrontation and negligence lead to more suffering and crisis in Gaza, the West Bank and across the region.
The Welch-Price letter is just the latest proof that a different vision of the US role in the Middle East is possible. Many of our elected officials are committed to standing up for diplomacy, partnership and humanitarianism.
At J Street, we’re determined to stand behind these pro-Israel, pro-peace members of Congress and work to elect even more leaders to stand alongside them and challenge the Trump agenda in 2018 and beyond.
Thanks for all that you do,
Jeremy Ben-Ami
President, J Street
P.S. -- You can thank Rep. Lawrence for signing the Welch-Price letter by calling her office: (202) 225-5802. It's important that we show members they have strong support from their constituents for staking out pro-Israel, pro-peace positions.

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