On January 31, Gary Grappo, a former diplomat and Fair Observer’s chairman of the Board, grudgingly came to the defense of the Trump administration’s “deal of the century” that many feel has abusively been referred to as a “peace plan.” Grappo begins by admitting that it is unambiguously “an Israeli plan.”
His reasoning nevertheless echoes US President Donald Trump’s explicit message when he warns that “this could be the last opportunity they will ever have.” It also echoes US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman’s assertion that the terms are non-negotiable: “They’re not going to get more by holding a day of rage.”
With Trump’s Peace Plan on the Table, Palestinians Face an Existential Decision
Grappo, the former US ambassador to Oman, is certainly right in thinking that the Israelis on their own will never offer the Palestinians anything better than this plan by Trump and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and adviser. But does it make sense for the US, supposedly in its role as an honest broker, simply to align itself with what Israel is willing to offer?
Referring to one of the most sensitive issues, the Palestinians’ right of return, which is peremptorily dismissed by the authors of the plan, Grappo writes: “[T]he Palestinian leadership had always held out this empty promise to the Palestinian refugee diaspora as a kind of sop. It was never to be, and anyone familiar with the matter knew it.” He then adds this extraordinary assertion: “The Trump plan merely codifies this.”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
Transform existing patterns of behavior — even brazen and unsanctioned violations of universally recognized principles — into law through the use of intimidation or crushing force when the power to do so exists, even when any moral authority is clearly lacking
The literal meaning of codify is, quite simply, to settle on a formal, legally recognized definition of a practice or a relationship. Grappo has taken a shortcut by equating with a codified law a totally one-sided plan that has never been openly discussed among the interested parties. Perhaps he should have used the IT term “coded” rather than “codified.” In effect, Kushner, Trump and Friedman have attempted to write the code of a new operating system for the Middle East. What they haven’t done, which any vendor of software is professionally obliged to do before releasing it to the public, is to attempt to debug it.
In the phrase, “the Trump plan merely codifies this,” “this” refers to the refusal of the Israelis to even consider a right of return, even though Israel as a nation is founded on the right of Jewish people to return to a land they and most of their ancestors never lived in. Not only is “codifies” inaccurate, but adding “merely” makes it doubly suspect. There is nothing mere about what the plan does. In politics, one should always beware of assertions that appeal to the idea of “merely.” The term can permit a thinly-disguised denial of the obvious, something far more consequential and worth pondering than the speaker or writer wants us to believe.
And what should we think of another assertion that assumes something that was clearly never true? Grappo writes: “When the Palestinians recklessly launched the Second Intifada, they lost the trust of the Israeli people.” Can Grappo or anyone else cite a period or even a moment when the Palestinians had the trust of the Israelis? Black slaves in the antebellum South in the US or in apartheid South Africa had the trust of their masters so long as they did what they were told to do and accepted their fate. So had it been in Israel until the First Intifada in 1987. Is that the kind of trust that Grappo has in mind?
Of course, on one key point, Grappo is fundamentally right. History, as it plays out in the real world, has never been a moral construct. It is built on a long series of faits accomplis, a term so embarrassing in the English-speaking world that there’s no truly equivalent translation of the French term. Imposing one’s will while expecting one’s victims to consider it the norm and adapt to it may be shameful, but most of the time it works.
It may violate everyone’s sense of morality, especially in political regimes that claim to be democratic, but historical reality has always been about another French term people are squeamish about translating correctly: rapport de force. Official translations tend to settle on the “balance of power.” But any French speaker will tell you that “rapport de force” designates an unbalance of power or even an aggressive display of power. It describes how things are managed favorably to one side and unfavorably to the other.
Perhaps now that Brexit is official, Europeans should think about bringing back French as the universal language of diplomacy. It could make it easier to understand the interactions between political powers. If the leaders and diplomats admit that their position has little to do with morality and everything to do with competitive advantage, even the media might begin to interpret events more honestly than they do today.
The English language has offered the world a culture of unparalleled cynicism and hypocrisy. It prefers to invoke human rights, rule of law, democratic principles and numerous other moralizing slogans to describe actions that are the fulfillment of a simple rapport de force designed to result in faits accomplis. Always holier than thou in our Anglo-Saxon certitude, we reserve the immoral sounding stuff for the French language.
In his article, Gary Grappo rapidly lists the failed attempts at pushing the now mythical (because never codified) two-state solution between the Israelis and Palestinians, from 1947 to the present. The litany of failures allows him to conclude: “But this is the reality. There is little with which to negotiate now.” He explains that the Palestinians no longer have most of the influential Arab states backing them. Isolated, they have no choice but to capitulate.
He then adds another argument in favor of the fatalistic acceptance of the status quo: “Moreover, Israel … is the regional power now and a reliable counterbalance to the real threat — Iran.” Describing the same situation, Ramzy Baroud, a Palestinian author and journalist, observes: “Some Arabs have completely forsaken Palestine and are embracing Israel to fend against an imaginary Iranian threat.” So, which is it? Is the threat “real” or “imaginary?”
In the age of the “global war on terror” that clicked in a decade after the end of the Cold War, politicians in our democracies have elevated political paranoia to the status of what, at least locally, turns out to be an effective electoral strategy. Identifying threats and warning the public against them serves to stir the emotions of the electorate, who end up seeing policies of aggressive action against other populations as indispensable for their own protection and defense. Seeking to understand when threats are real or imaginary has become a lost art, banished from public debate, since the media themselves have every interest to amplify their importance.
In the US, it has become a dogma to consider Iran, like Russia (for very different reasons), to be an unqualified threat. But, of course, all recent polls show that most people across the globe see the US as the greatest threat to peace. To take seriously the idea that Iran threatens the US requires a truly psychedelic stretch of the imagination. Even the business world doesn’t see Iran as a threat, which is why Donald Trump had to threaten businesses across the globe with sanctions against doing deals with Iran.
Michael Doran, a conservative analyst and former official of the Bush administration, very frankly expresses his fear of the threat to what he calls the “American security system in the region.” He is undoubtedly correct. But this statement stands as a clear admission that the US sees itself as a global empire with the right to threaten and punish whomever it chooses, even halfway across the globe, for failing to conform to its wishes.
And what does it mean to assert that tiny Israel is “the regional power” (which, by the way, implies that there is only one)? Grappo seems to be suggesting that Israel’s military strength — backed, as everyone knows, by the US — endows it with some form of natural authority over the region. The same observation would have applied just as accurately to Germany in 1939, apart from the difference in size of the two countries. But does that military clout justify codifying the status quo and elevating the dominant and aggressive regime to the status of unique regional power?
The article continues by presenting another concept that requires some further examination. We learn that Israel is “a reliable counterbalance to [Iran’s] threat.” What do the ideas of “balance” and “counterbalance” represent? Like rapport de force, the terms “balance” and “counterbalance” tend to be used to describe permanently unhealthy situations, states of conflict, instability and insecurity. They make sense in contexts where balance, when it occurs, will usually be perceived as precarious and ephemeral. Is it fair to the populations concerned to apply this kind of geopolitical game theory approach to what for them is an existential question concerning their identity and survival? That’s what empires do but is it appropriate to a nation that champions democracy? This kind of analysis implies a complacent acceptance of a situation in which initiatives or demands for justice or equality will be systematically opposed as factors that may potentially “upset the balance.”
In insisting that this is a real opportunity for Palestinians to attain their fundamental goal of autonomy, Grappo also chooses to ignore what most lucid observers have noticed and at least one Israeli, Akiva Eldar — a senior columnist for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse — has expressed: “Netanyahu’s pro-Israel friends in the Trump administration, chief among them US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and White House adviser Jared Kushner, helped sow numerous landmines among the pages of the ‘plan’ to ensure the Palestinians will not even be tempted to discuss it.” If the authors designed it to be rejected, can there be any sense in the argument that the Palestinians would be wise to accept it?
Following Kushner and Friedman, Grappo instructs the Palestinians: “But it is time to be realistic.” Far more realistically, Eldar reasons: “If the Palestinian Authority will be tempted to accept this, it will lead to a Palestinian civil war.” Paradoxically, both Grappo and Eldar are right in the sense that what we’re seeing is part of a predictable pattern in recent history. Whether it’s Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia or other countries where the US has stepped in to propose what in Washington were seen as “realistic” solutions designed to change the rapports de force, the result has been chaos and never-ending civil war.
Now we learn that not only has the Palestinian Authority categorically rejected the Kushner plan, but also that the Arab League has made the decision “not to .. cooperate with the US administration to implement this plan.” As with every initiative of the US in the Middle East over the past 20 years, futility and inevitable failure seem to be written into the program. Accepting the fait accompli, as Grappo suggests in the interest of peace and prosperity now seems out of the question. Not even the self-interested complicity of the two despotic regimes in Saudi Arabia and Egypt is likely to make a difference.
The “pent-up fury” that Al Jazeera’s Marwan Bishara forecast last week and that Akiva Eldar confirms appears to be the most likely consequence of the rejected deal. Nobody can predict just how pent-up and how furious it may become.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.