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Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley speaks during a UN Security Council meeting on the Israel–Palestine conflict on July 24, 2018, in New York City. Photo: Drew Angerer via Getty Images

Press reports this week have suggested the Trump Administration is preparing to take some action, potentially including defunding, against the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the much-maligned organization created in 1949 to provide assistance to Palestinian refugees. UN Ambassador Nikki Haley agreed on Tuesday that Palestinian refugees’ right of return — a demand critical to Palestinians and anathema to Israel — ought to be off the table.

The big picture: The administration may be ramping up pressure on the Palestinians ahead of rolling out Trump’s peace plan — his so-called Ultimate Deal. But criticism of UNRWA — an object of derision for Jared Kushner and other members of Trump’s peace team— might instead be part of a campaign to completely reset U.S. policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Indeed, the administration has long demonstrated a pattern of walking back — even disassociating — the U.S. from its past adherence to a two-state solution, and has sought to align its position more closely with the views of the Israeli Government and domestic constituencies. Beyond refugees and the right of return (which previous administrations steered clear of), two other tenets of the U.S. posture have been fundamentally recast:

  1. Two-state solution: Trump has refused to endorse the idea, let alone base it on June 1967 lines, even with substantial territorial modifications. The administration’s use of the term “Palestinian state” has been grudging and qualified at best. Instead, the administration appears to favor some kind of Palestinian statelet, with Israel retaining large portions of the West Bank.
  2. Jerusalem: Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and decision to open a U.S. embassy there was a major reframing of the traditional U.S. policy premised on Jerusalem as the undivided capital of two states, not one. In announcing this decision, the administration did also call for negotiation on the city’s borders and sovereignty. But there’s no indication that Washington, much less Israel, is prepared to support east Jerusalem hosting a real Palestinian capital, with Palestinian control over parts of the Old City and Palestinian neighborhoods.

The bottom line: Taken together, the administration’s recent actions reflect an intent to redefine the parameters of U.S. policy in a way that will virtually assure rejection by Palestinians and key Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, thereby relieving pressure on Israel. This redefinition comes at a time when the chances of a serious two-state negotiation are already minuscule.

Yes, but: Perhaps that’s the point. After all, Kushner has often said that nothing has worked before. So with little hope of launching serious negotiations, why not shake things up? But whatever the administration believes such a shake-up will achieve, it’s hard to imagine that either peace or security for Israelis or Palestinians is among them.

Aaron David Miller is vice president for new initiatives and director of the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center and a former Middle East analyst and negotiator at the State Department.

Go deeper

Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults

A vaccination center installed at the Barbara Chapel of St Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, Austria. Photo: Alex Halada/AFP via Getty Images

Austria's lower house of parliament voted on Thursday in favor of making COVID-19 vaccinations compulsory for most adults from next month.

Why it matters: The bill is expected to soon pass the upper house and be signed by President Alexander Van der Bellen in order for the law to take effect Feb. 1, per Reuters. It'd make Austria the first EU nation to impose such a sweeping mandate.

Hope King, author of Closer
Updated 4 hours ago - Economy & Business

Peloton pumps its brakes

Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

Peloton’s popularity is falling as swiftly as it shot up.

Why it matters: Not all pandemic habits stick around. Peloton's trajectory over the past two years exemplifies how challenging it's been for companies to gauge shifts in consumer demand — particularly in sectors heavily altered by the pandemic.

Mitch McConnell's remarks on Black voters raise ire

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell during a Capitol Hill news conference earlier this year. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has been widely criticized for comments he made this week about Black American voters.

Driving the news: When asked by a reporter Wednesday about concerns among voters of color, McConnell said "the concern is misplaced, because if you look at the statistics, Black American voters are voting in just as high a percentage as Americans."