When assessing the geopolitical damage done by US President Donald Trump’s during his initial term in office, Palestine and the fate of the Palestinian people must be given a prominent place. In recent decades, US governments have not only declared their uncompromising fealty to Israel but, to a large degree, they have also tolerated Israel’s aggressive actions against the Palestinian population, even while adopting a tone of gentle reproach.
Broadly speaking, and across multiple administrations leading up to Trump’s election in 2016, the US strategy has accomplished its goal of perpetuating an unstable status quo, creating an illusion of stability through permanent low-level conflict. By affirming its toleration of Israeli assertiveness, the US has contributed to the progressive weakening of Palestinian resistance, even as the outrageous arrogance of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has grown over time.
That illusory equilibrium disappeared under Trump. The US had assumed a consistent position of opposing the idea of Israel annexing Palestinian territories even while allowing it to happen. Since he has been in office, Trump has shown that he not only accepts but encourages Israel’s campaigns for annexation.
With Trump’s Peace Plan on the Table, Palestinians Face an Existential Decision
In the past year, there have been three successive elections in Israel, with no clear outcome, and a fourth avoided only through a shaky compromise. The confusion of electoral politics in Israel should have led the Israelis to conclude that prudence and caution are preferable to insolence and arrogance. But Netanyahu’s political skills and the continued presence of Trump in the White House turned the balance in favor of the prime minister’s patented approach to decision-making: insolence and arrogance.
In a move worthy of Houdini, Netanyahu, indicted for corruption on three counts in January, has managed to guarantee his own temporary immunity and survival by assuming the role of unelected prime minister for the next 18 months within a coalition government that defies any serious form of political logic. Should we call this Israeli exceptionalism?
The Guardian highlights the risky situation that now prevails in Israel. It cites the proponent of annexation, Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, who in a confidential briefing in Washington is reported to have made this statement: “We must advance annexation now because we don’t know what will happen in the US presidential elections. [Democratic candidate Joe] Biden could win.”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
A form of land and culture theft aimed not just at material gain secured by depriving an entire group of people of their traditional lands, but also by subjecting them to extreme humiliation, an effect achieved by restricting civil rights and denying them a political voice.
If anyone doubted the umbilical connection between US and Israeli politics, Dermer’s remark clarifies two equally disturbing aspects of that dependence. The obvious one relates to Trump’s undisguised enthusiasm for the most obviously impudent and illegal actions of the Israeli government. It may appear extreme, but people expect little else from the personality of President Trump. And it has the merit of transparency. The second is Dermer’s implicit acknowledgment of the fact that, for decades, the US has effectively controlled which crimes Israel can get away with.
For three years, Trump entertained the world’s suspense by promising a “peace plan” that he finally delivered in January 2020. Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst, Marwan Bishara, describes the plan as a blueprint for the simple capitulation of the Palestinians and the establishment of Israeli hegemony. “Accepting the so-called ‘deal of the century’ put forward by US President Donald Trump and his ally Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to surrender to Israeli hegemony,” Bishara writes. “It means living in captivity in perpetuity.” For that very reason, it has no chance of being implemented.
Dermer fears that if Biden is elected in November, US protection of Israel’s continued encroachment on Palestinian lands may be compromised. But it may not. Just this week, The New York Times reported Biden’s reassuring words to his Jewish donors that “my commitment to Israel is absolutely unshakable.” At the same time, he promised to restore “diplomatic relationships with the Palestinian Authority” and criticized Trump’s decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem in May 2018. But he also said that he would not move it back to Tel Aviv.
In other words, Biden is promising a return to the status quo ante Trump, a state of affairs that for decades has allowed Israel to expand gradually through a series of minor faits accomplis. The Israeli government obviously prefers the blank check Trump has signed allowing them to do as they please under the protection of the US. But, at his worst, Biden will only ask them to slow down the pace of their quest for hegemony rather than bring it to a halt. The Times explained: “Mr. Biden himself said he was disappointed in Mr. Netanyahu for having moved ‘so, so far to the right’ and called for Israel to ‘stop the threat of annexation’ of West Bank territories.”
In other words, Biden supports Israeli’s shift to the right so long as it isn’t “so, so” extreme and he opposes “the threat of annexation.” It sounds as if it’s the threat that bothers him, not annexation itself, so long as it takes place gradually as it has been doing for decades.
In his article with the title, “Palestine: The Third Way Forward,” Marwan Bishara describes how the game orchestrated by the US has played out over the years in a series of gradual incursions. “Israel‘s appetite for expansion has grown with every Palestinian concession, and now its delusion of invincibility is driving it to illegally annex almost a third of what the Palestinians assumed would be their future state,” he writes.
How did Israel secure the concessions from the Palestinians that Bishara refers to? Before Donald Trump, every US president cultivated the gestures and the rhetoric of a noble arbiter intent on playing the theatrical role of an “honest broker.” Simultaneously with this dramatic posturing, the US voted systematically against the multiple UN resolutions reprimanding Israel for its violations of international law. Every US administration used its veto in the United Nations Security Council to quash any action the UN might be impelled to implement against Israel.
When Trump, the presidential candidate, was campaigning in 2016 against his Republican rivals, he attempted to play the traditional neutral role by denying any favoritism between the two sides in the Middle East. He vowed to be the honest broker. He even framed his neutrality in a new way, claiming to be so open-minded that he could support a one-state solution. In doing so, he earned the wrath of a competing candidate, Senator Marco Rubio, who claimed that the moral responsibility of the US is to side with Israel.
When, after three years of suspense, Trump finally revealed his vaunted peace plan in January of this year, he abusively called it a two-state solution. The Arab News commented: “What the Trump administration has set out to do, first and foremost, is redefine and corrupt the meaning of the two-state solution.” Trump was offering the Palestinians simply to accept the status of a vassal state under perpetual occupation. The plan put this over as an equitable two-state solution by twisting the meanings of the fundamental terms of sovereignty. As the Arab News points out, to accomplish this, it simply had to “stretch the definitions of statehood and independence well past their logical limits.”
With the Palestinians disorganized and a presidential election impending in the US, Israel’s annexation of Palestinian territories looks increasingly likely. But history tells us that Israel could only begin its enduring campaign to annex territory by first annexing — or simply hijacking — the US Congress and then counting on the cooperation of US presidents. The strategy has been working for decades, though it has mostly played out discreetly in the background. With Trump’s election in 2016, it hit the jackpot and took center stage.
Is there any chance that a Joe Biden presidency will end the increasingly bold pattern of Israeli annexations? The Democratic candidate appears to be leading in the polls. Voters might ask themselves: If Trump could switch from honest broker to paid hustler after his election, mightn’t Biden be able to pull off the opposite trick? Or will he simply return to the old status quo, as Barack Obama did? The second seems much more likely.
*[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.