Trump Can Kill Oslo, But Not Palestinian National Aspirations

Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu (Shealah D. Craighead)Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu (Shealah D. Craighead)

by James J. Zogby

In recent weeks, the Trump administration has taken a series of drastic punitive actions against the Palestinian people. Some analysts have accepted the official White House explanation that many of the actions were done either out of displeasure with actions taken by the Palestinian leadership or as pressure forcing them “to take steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel.” I disagree. When added together, the Trump administration moves are so all-encompassing and far-reaching that I suspect a more ominous intent. 

Here’s what the administration has done:

It cut US assistance to UNWRA, congressionally authorized humanitarian, development projects and programs for the West Bank and Gaza, and ended the annual grant Congress has authorized for Palestinian hospitals operating in East Jerusalem. In addition to these cruel cuts in much needed assistance, the administration closed the Palestinian Mission in Washington and announced plans to redefine who is, in their view, a Palestinian refugee.

At the same time, the White House acquiesced to the passage of Israel’s “Jewish Nation-State Bill” and said nothing in opposition to Israel’s recent announcement of thousands of new settlement units, some in highly sensitive areas—either in Arab East Jerusalem or deep in the heart of the West Bank. They also let pass, without protest, Israel’s planned demolition of an entire Arab village and a number of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem.

In a recent interview with a Sheldon Adelson-owned Israeli newspaper, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, after gloating over his success in moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, made it clear that there is a “new day” in the US-Israel relationship. He said, “We don’t tell Israel what to do,” signaling that Israel can operate with impunity toward the Palestinians and the occupied territories because in the new US view “It’s always Israel’s decision.” In a separate and equally revealing interview, Jared Kushner termed the Trump administration’s moves as necessary to “strip away ‘false realities'”—meaning “taking Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees right of return off the table.”

All of these actions, taken together, tell me that the Trump administration has fully embraced the hardline world view of Israel’s Likud. They reject not only the Palestinian right to self-determination, they also do not accept the very idea of Palestinian “peoplehood.”

The plans they have announced would sever the West Bank from Gaza and leave East Jerusalem and the 28 Palestinian villages trapped within the Israeli-annexed “Greater Jerusalem.” Meanwhile, as a result of the Trump administration’s declared intention to economically strangle UNWRA and end this program, the Palestinians in refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan would not only be forced to give up their property rights and their “right of return,” they would be turned over the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees to be resettled in other countries.

If this Trumpian approach were to succeed, the Palestinian nation would be dismembered and dispersed. In their mind, it would cease to exist.

The Israelis, for their part, have been given carte blanche. They get: Jerusalem; an end to the “refugee problem;” the right to declare that only they are entitled to self-determination; freedom to demolish and build, as they wish, in the occupied lands; and an increasingly economically deprived Palestinian population that they hope will either submit to Israel’s will or be forced to leave.

All of this calls to mind an earlier era, when Zionists referred to Palestine as “a land without a people for a people without a land;” or Golda Meir’s “It was not as if there was a Palestinian people in Palestine… They did not exist;” or the religious Zionist claim that God gave this land to them and they should deal harshly with the “strangers” whom they find there.

This hardline Israeli rejection of Palestinians as a nation and a people with rights was to have ended with the Oslo Accords, signed 25 years ago. In the introduction to that Accords, Israel and the Palestinians recognized each other’s right to self-determination. What was left, was to find the way to implement that mutual recognition. Succeeding US administrations failed miserably in pressing the parties to implement the Accords.

For example, instead of “striking while the iron was hot,” the Clinton administration, operating with the faulty assumption that the Israelis and Palestinians could do it on their own, lost precious time, allowing hardline Israelis, Palestinians, and members of Congress to sabotage the fledgling process.

As a frequent visitor to Israel/Palestine in those early years, after seeing the expanding Israeli forms of repression, the growth of settlements, and increased Palestinian bitterness and despair brought on by dramatic spikes in unemployment and poverty, I wrote “if there’s a ‘peace process’ someone forgot to tell the Israeli occupation forces and the Palestinian people.”

The situation went from bad to worse. Israeli politics became more hardline. The “Palestinian Authority” became an economic dependency and a security force without any real control over their territory, their land and their ability to develop. The US, failing to address the asymmetry of power (Israel had it all, while the Palestinians had none), largely functioned as a self-willed impotent shepherd of a dying “peace process”—oftentimes acting less like an “honest broker” and more like the begrudging enabler of Israel’s bad behavior.

And then the peace process died an unannounced and unacknowledged death. Only the fiction of a process remained.

Now, with the Trump administration, the mask is off and the fiction has ended. As it takes shape, as revealed through this administration’s recent actions, Trump’s “ultimate deal” appears to be not a formula for a just peace, but a forced Palestinian acquiescence to the Zionist vision for Palestine. Recognizing this, an Israeli commentator recently sarcastically wrote “First Trump took Jerusalem off the table, then he took the refugees off the table, all he has to do now is take the Palestinians off the table—and I guess we’ll call it peace.”

But not so fast. Despite the dysfunctional state of the Palestinian political order, it must be remembered that it wasn’t the PLO or the Palestinian Authority or UNWRA that created and sustained Palestinian national aspirations. Rather, these bodies, in their time, have embodied those aspirations of the Palestinian people. These entities may disappear or be destroyed—but the will of the Palestinian people lives on. Those who ignore either their will or the fact that the issue of Palestine, for the Arab people, remains “the wound in the heart that never healed” should beware of the consequences of their ignorance.

James J. Zogby is the president of the Arab American Institute.

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  1. Since the proposed carve-up of the Ottoman Empire’s dying body by the British and French even before WW1 was over, the Palestinians’ fate has been sealed. By exactly the same process that North & South america, Australia, New Zealand … dispossession and marginalization of their original people. Large numbers of colonizers with effectively unlimited resources and weapons have simply demolished them. The Palestinian’s major present problem is that they have no ‘Patron’ of any power at all, while being themselves confronted by overwhelming power – mainly firepower. Aspirations are all that’s left them. Dreams and fantasies. While the UN and (a very few), politically impotent others may make tut-tuting noises, no real leverage against the Palestinians’ main adversary – Israel, unsurprisingly, aided and abetted by Trump and Kushner – is on the horizon.

    Netenyhu has made no secret of his detestation of a ‘two state’ solution since forever. Oslo, and anay other outside intervention on the Palestinian’ side, is history. To pretend otherwise is a fantasy of Trumpian dimension. is there justice in this? Of course not!

    You can see the Palestinians ‘down on the Res’ – the reservation, Native American style in Gaza. Which will of course erupt form time to time, but be contained with great barbarity and nothing but expression of sorrow from elsewhere. Once more.

    No, it’s game over for the Palestinians.The curtain of history has descended over them.

    Which is all kinds of crime from genocide down – but really, nobody of power cares enough to do anything serious.

  2. V g article on the wholesale massacre of Palestinian aspirations of Trump’s (i.e. his paymaster Israel’s) recent moves.

    But what a weak end para. – “the will of the Palestinian people lives on”. Yes I’m sure it does. But can’t you point to anything more? Do you have no more ideas?

  3. As I understand, the sanctions movement vs S Africa effectively compelled the US against Reagan’s veto to sanction white S Africa and led to its collapse.

    BDSM, properly pursued, seems to me to be the main hope of the Palestinians.

    There is one simple core here – holding another people of 4-5 million under the gun of military occupation, without basic civil rights, is a crime against humanity – a crime that has to be ended forthwith. Doesn’t matter who the land belongs to, it’s a crime.

    And the great majority of the UN recognizes this.

    So it’s a question of pressurising the settler countries with the power to change their position. This is an extremely hard task, but it is doable.

    I see it very much as a task centring on PR, marketing and rhetoric. A good question is: how would Trump market/promote the Palestinian cause? (Assume a sufficiently large donor!) He would be vastly more imaginative than Mr Zogby . It requires imagination as well as organization.

  4. P.S. There’s a v. important point there. IMO any international movement for Palestine should focus first and foremost on : “End the Occupation” and illustrate Palestinians under the gun of Israel. Not two states or one state or whatever, because once you do that, Israel will bury you in legalistic argument. You have to talk about those things, of course, but you start simply with the Occupation and the deprivation of basic civil rights – because there is no answer to that, not even from Israel. It’s a crime pure and simple, and that’s what should be focussed on, over and over

  5. Let me continue along the lines of Rafa’s approach. He takes the human rights rather than political rights [point of view. I agree with him. Given the balance of powers political rights, self-determination and sovereignty approach was doomed to failure from the beginning . Even if Palestinians were given a state in the two-state solution scheme, that state would have been a mock state, land-locked, a dependent satrap unable to stand up to much stronger Israel. But I want to go further. The main thrust of Palestinian movement in the last 70 years. should have been return of refugees and not establishing a Palestinian state. The return of refugees was a demand made of Israel in 1948. In fact, recognition of Israel by UN was to be contingent on return of refugees. Of course this was immediately sabotaged by Truman. Nonetheless, every year, UN asks Israel pro forma to let refugees in and Israel says no. She pays no price for it. Israel has hoped that this issue will be forgotten, and it has always planned to drag its feet as long as possible and confuse the issue by proclaiming that the refugee issue will be part of over all political solution of the conflict, hoodwinking Palestinian leadership along the way until an American administration comes along that buys their position that there are only a handful of refugees which is what Trump doing. This way they think they will liquidate the Palestinian refugees issues as if the issue is a matter of imagination and the problem will disappear if the refugees in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan will be convinced that they are no longer refugees!
    Among the three issues of Jerusalem, refugees and occupation, I always have thought that the second one is the key one.
    What surprises me, is the silence of Europe. The international law, human rights and basic human decency have been subject to a sledgehammer destruction by Israel and USA in the last few decades and the rest of the world has silently stood still watching the mayhem. What sort of world are we entering, I wonder. It will be the law of jungle that will reign supreme. It is scary!!

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