Trump plan exposes existential roots of conflict

Mahmoud Abbas listens during a session of the UN Security Council (Luiz Rampelotto - EuropaNewswire)

Omar Karmi

The Electronic Intifada  /   February 13, 2020

There was much fury, plenty of support, but little end result.

Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas’ visit to New York and the United Nations to convince the world’s countries to reject Donald Trump’s “vision” for Palestinian-Israeli peace” did not, as PA officials had hoped, result in the isolation of the US in the Security Council.

Instead, an Indonesian-Tunisian draft resolution was pulled when it became obvious that it would not garner the required nine votes to force a US veto.

Israeli and US officials were quick to suggest that this showed that times had changed even at the UN.

The “old way of doing things” was over, one US administration official told Israeli media, and no longer would the UN “fall back on the calcified Palestinian position.”

That, under the circumstances, was a particularly one-eyed reading of events. The lack of a vote should also not mask the complete lack of international support for Trump’s plan, which was universally panned without being directly criticized.

The UK, as an example, ever the masters of the condescending put-down, humoured the Trump administration’s “genuine desire” much like you would pat a troublesome child on the head when she hasn’t had a tantrum for five minutes.

At the same time, Karen Pierce, the UK’s ambassador to the UN, reasserted her country’s position that any two-state resolution would have to be based on 1967 boundaries and see Jerusalem become the “shared capital” of both states, a far cry from the “Vision for Peace” blather the US had offered up last month.

Powerless and uninterested

Indeed, most major blocs of countries – the EU, the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the African Union – have rejected the Trump plan.

Palestinian officials could – rightly – point out that there is international consensus behind their position.

The problem is that that support is inconsequential. It has not only failed to translate into anything tangible. This time, in contrast to two years ago on Jerusalem, it didn’t even result in a symbolic vote.

There is simply not enough political will or desire in the world to stand up to Israel and the US, which is precisely why we are where we are now.

So it’s a deadlock. Whatever the rest of the world thinks, the US and Israel are happy with their plan – which is quite transparent about the “primacy” of Israel’s security and the priority of not moving a single settler out.

And deadlock suits Israel. The Trump plan has cleared the way for Israel to engage in a massive round of annexations – even if delayed until once the parameters laid out in the plan’s “conceptual maps” are clearer – and then claim it is doing so as part of its commitment to peace.

The plan, in other words, gives cover for Israel to formalize what is already the reality on the ground.

Back to basics

A post-annexation reality – the latter a word Jared Kushner seems to like – would not be much different to what it is today.

Israel long ago annexed the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem. There, Israel has built and developed as it sees fit, with no meaningful objection from any quarter, apart from occasional condemnation from the UN.

Israel’s occupation over these areas is entrenched. Israeli civilians have been encouraged to move in en masse. A fait accompli has been created.

Israel’s settlement project in the rest of the West Bank outside Jerusalem has followed the same model, just without the formal annexation.

What can Palestinians do, given that they are powerless to stop Israel annexing the settlements, given that the US position is indistinguishable from Israel’s, given that the rest of the world is simply not interested and given that any “peace process” under these circumstances will inevitably lead – has inexorably led – to exactly the kind of arrangement Trump has presented?

The first priority would seem to be to keep Palestinians on their land. Indeed, the latest poll from the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research finds that more than 80 percent of Palestinian respondents believe that the Trump plan “returns the conflict to its existential roots.”

And this is no mere economic matter nor is it panicky hyperbole.

After all, Israel’s creation as a Jewish-majority country was enabled by a massive act of ethnic cleansing in 1948. Today, with near population parity, Israel’s rampant religious/nationalist fervour has created a reality in which one set of people believe they are divinely entitled to the land over its native population, and have enshrined that entitlement in law.

There is no reason that a febrile Israel unleashed by an unhinged American president shouldn’t engage in another massive act of ethnic cleansing.

Who’s to stop that from happening? Who is stopping it in Gaza?

Stumbling into the future

It is also not clear that pursuing a two-state solution makes any political sense now (if it ever did), even for a PA whose very existence is predicated on that outcome. The idea of a “realistic solution” – in which Israel gets away with stealing land through building settlements, a war crime under international law – is taking root, as the non-action in the UN showed. It is one the world appears to be getting used to.

Indeed, the aforementioned poll finds a steep drop-off in support for a two-state solution among Palestinians and a spike in support for a one-state solution.

The problem, of course, is that if Israel doesn’t want any kind of equitable two-state solution, it most certainly won’t agree to a one-state solution where everyone is equal.

Nevertheless, Israel has in its fervour managed to create a single-state reality over all of historic Palestine in which it assumes for itself a monopoly on the use of force and enjoys complete economic control.

It is a reality in which Jews and non-Jews live under several different legal systems depending on which part of territory you are looking at. And apartheid states do not have a happy survival record. They tend to collapse under the weight of their own contradictions.

The key now for Palestinians would be to do whatever it takes to stick around for that day to come.

Whether that is with or without the Palestinian Authority, the Palestine Liberation Organization or any of the political structures we know today, is almost a secondary question.

The release of the UN’s list of companies operating in and profiting from Israeli settlements in occupied territory does point to one way forward and every effort should be made so that these businesses see their complicity in war crimes punished.

Whatever goodwill is left toward Palestinians globally must be harnessed wherever it can. Palestinians have plenty of sympathizers, but very few backers. They need to play to their strengths.

They also need to play to those few Israelis who understand that the future has to be shared, not “cleansed” and not slaughtered.

Omar Karmi is an associate editor for The Electronic Intifada and former Jerusalem and Washington, DC, correspondent for The National newspaper