Whilst world-wide criticism of the ‘ultimate deal’ announced by Trump has abounded, Asa Winstanley argues that rather than the exception, this so-called deal is in fact more of the same in the history of treachery against the Palestinian cause. Realising this is key to the project of Palestinian liberation.
The “Peace to Prosperity” document released by Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner in January had long been trailed in the media as the “Ultimate Deal” between the “sides” in the “conflict” over Palestine. Over the course of 181 pages, the US administration laid out in black and white a detailed plan for the liquidation of the Palestinians as a people and as a nation. That the document was sold as a “peace plan” was a cruel joke. In a nutshell, the plan gives everything to the Israelis and nothing to the Palestinians. It is no coincidence that not a single Palestinian was involved in the planning or unveiling of the document. In historical terms, that was quite an accomplishment in ineptitude on the part of Kushner and Trump.
Most empires and settler-colonial enterprises manage to recruit token individuals from among the native populations of the countries they seek to exploit and occupy as useful agents, compradors and puppets. In North America, the European settlers recruited indigenous trackers and even in some cases whole nations and tribes to set against other first nations’ peoples in the course of their wars of extermination and conquest. In South Africa, the white supremacist regime in the 1970s and 80s set up the bantustans – the black “homelands” where the indigenous people were corralled and relocated. There, they lived under the control of corrupt and dictatorial regimes run by black figureheads, who were in fact the agents of the apartheid system.
In Palestine too, the Zionist project has, over the course of its 130-year-long history, consistently managed to recruit native agents and collaborators to serve its settler-colonial agenda. The current manifestation of this trend is the Palestinian Authority. Since its inception in the early 1990s, the only purpose of the PA has been to serve as an agent of the Israeli occupation. The PA’s budget is almost entirely given over to the “policing” of the Palestinian population. The PA’s only reason for existence is to prevent and thwart Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation – both armed and unarmed. In 2014, former PA president Mahmoud Abbas infamously declared that the “coordination” of his security forces with Israeli occupation troops was, for him, a “holy” principle. Abbas also infamously declined his right to return to live in his home of Safad – the Palestinian city in present-day Israel from which Zionist militias expelled him and his family when he was a child in 1948.
But native collaborators with the occupier can only work within certain politically expedient bounds, if they wish to survive in the long term – as the PA clearly does. So preposterous and unjust was the “Peace to Prosperity” plan, and the “Ultimate Deal” negotiations which led to it, that not even the collaborationist PA took part in it. Abbas responded to its launch in January by declaring that he was giving it, “A thousand noes”.
Maintaining a racist supremacy
The document is quite staggering in its racist treatment of the Palestinians and the aid it gives to the decades-long Israeli takeover of Palestine. The maps in Appendix One of the document give an immediate impression of why this is so. The supposed “vision for peace” gives the Palestinians (who now form about half the population in historic Palestine, and may in fact may be once again a narrow majority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea) a series of non-contiguous scraps of land to live on, while large portions of the West Bank will be annexed to Israel. (It is worth remembering that even the entire West Bank and Gaza Strip form only 22 percent of historic Palestine. This is not a compromise but a total humiliation.) Current Jews-only settlements in the West Bank would not only remain intact but would be fully legitimized and annexed to Israel. The Jordan Valley, including the entire border of the West Bank with the state of Jordan, would be annexed to Israel. The map drew widespread, and justified, comparisons with the South African apartheid regime’s bantustans. Supposedly independent “homelands” for the “Bantu people”, these scraps of discontinuous land were con jobs which were in reality intended to increase the white supremacist regime’s control of the native black population by forcibly removing them from “white” areas from in and around urban centres. (Note coincidentally, the only state in the world to recognise the bantustans as legitimate was fellow apartheid state Israel).
The second map in the Appendix details what it calls “A Future State of Palestine”. But earlier in the document the authors make it plain that what they desire to create is a Palestinian state in name only, with none of the usual powers of a sovereign state. That much is clear from the map alone, lacking as it does any border with a state other than Israel. In the introduction, the document approvingly cites the precedent of previous Israeli plans for the West Bank, which sought to introduce “Palestinian civil autonomy” which nonetheless would be something “less than a state”. The plan claims this is one of the necessary “limitations of certain sovereign powers” to keep the murderous Palestinians in check.
Under the plan, the occupation, Israel’s current military dictatorship in the West Bank, would remain. This is cynically referred to in the document as the “maintenance of Israeli security responsibility”. What is most commonly referred to as the Israeli occupation of the West Bank should perhaps be better understood as a military dictatorship. While Israel grants its Jewish citizens relative democratic freedom, the millions of Palestinians it rules in the West Bank have lived under a system of unadulterated military rule since 1967. Furthermore, this military dictatorship is a racist military dictatorship. Due to the racial rules of Israel’s apartheid regime, the Jewish settlers who live in the same territory are not subjected to the military laws that rule Palestinian life. Israelis living in the West Bank charged with any crime (rare as such charges are) are subjected to Israeli civilian law and have the right to access to lawyers and civilian judges. Palestinians in the same territory on the other hand are subject to military courts, whose conviction rate is 99.7 percent. In this kangaroo court system, both prosecutor and judge are uniformed Israeli army officers. Until relatively recently, they need not even have had any legal training. This is the racist system of injustice that the Trump-Kushner plan intends to entrench permanently.
Also, according to the plan, the Gaza Strip should be reconquered by Israel’s puppet regime, the Palestinian Authority “or another body acceptable to Israel”. The plan also raises the spectre of stripping Palestinians living in present-day Israel of their (inferior under law) Israeli citizenship, and forcibly transferring them to the “Palestinian [non] state” – in an almost identical fashion to apartheid South Africa.
Finally, the millions of Palestinian refugees from 1948, forcibly living outside of Palestine today, will not be permitted to return to their homes. Despite attempted abrogations by collaborationists like Abbas, the right of refugees to return to their homes after a war is an inalienable human right which cannot be nullified or traded away. Despite internal division within the Palestinian body politic, the right of return is one of the few unambiguously agreed areas of Palestinian national consensus. Over the course of more than 70 years, all genuine Palestinian political currents have made the right of return the primary demand of the liberation struggle. And the Palestinian people themselves have never given up or conceded this right, despite enormous international pressure to do so.
In whose interest two states?
The reaction to the Trump-Kushner-Netanyahu plan among liberal elites in the West was overwhelmingly hostile. But it is worth noting the narrow terms of such opposition, some of which I will review in what follows below. In a nutshell, such criticism was not based on principled support for Palestinian rights. Rather it was couched in terms of the threat the Trump-Kushner “peace plan” posed to the so-called “two state solution” and to Israeli “interests”. It is worth remembering that this supposed solution is in fact an apartheid solution, one also intended to lead to the dissolution of the Palestinians as a people.
In the 1970s and 80s, Fatah, the leading faction of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, began to give up on its proposal for the liberation of Palestine, and on a just settlement of the war between the Zionist movement and the indigenous people. Instead, under US pressure, it moved towards the so-called “two-state solution”. This supposed solution would have in fact been no solution at all for the Palestinian refugees expelled between 1947 and 1949, and successively ever since then by, at first, the Zionist militias and later the Israeli military. The refugees and their millions of descendants (who are also refugees under international law) form the majority of the Palestinian people; they have been systematically denied return to their homes because of one reason only, one thing deemed a crime in the eyes of the Zionist movement: they are not Jewish.
Prior to this capitulation by Fatah (which was opposed by some leftist factions, such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and by the newer Islamic factions such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad) the PLO had been united in a just compromise to redress the Zionist movement’s crimes against the Palestinian people. The contours of this compromise were always clear: full return of the refugees, the end of Israeli military occupation (including of the Arab territories of Syria and other neighbouring countries) and full equality in a unitary democratic state comprised of everyone living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. The Zionist settlers would be allowed to remain, but their settler-colonial privileges would end. The democratic state of Palestine was long smeared in Israeli propaganda and in the West as “pushing the Jews into the sea” – when it fact it was quite the opposite. With the dawning end of the cold war in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and the end of the apartheid regime in South Africa at around the same time, the more far-sighted among the Zionist movement knew they would have to adapt if their settler-colonial regime were to survive. And so some among them began to adopt the language of the “two state solution” and even in some cases of a “Palestinian state” – even while in practice, and sometimes explicitly, they actually meant something “less than a state,” strikingly similar to the Trump-Kushner plan (a matter to which we will return).
This turn by Fatah (with the acquiescence of the leftist factions, some of whom in theory opposed it) ultimately ended up in the dissolution of the PLO, except on paper only. After the Oslo Accords, it was transformed into a new body, the Palestinian Authority. The PLO’s armed cadres – who had won several important guerrilla victories against Israeli forces over the decades – were either dissolved or absorbed into the new police forces of the PA, who worked under the jurisdiction of the Israeli military in order to suppress Palestinian resistance in the West Bank and Gaza – especially that of the new Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas.
Illusions aside, the Oslo Accords never once committed Israel to anything: not to a Palestinian state, not to sovereignty, not to the dismantlement of the West Bank settlements, not to the end of occupation. The PLO essentially agreed to dissolve itself in exchange for a flag and some of the trappings of power, so that its leaders and bureaucrats could pose as the rulers of a fake government, petty tyrants of an “authority” which has no real authority outside that which Israel decrees. This is a fact that the more foresighted among the Palestinian intellectuals long recognised, almost none sooner than the late Edward Said. He began speaking and writing against the unjustness of the Oslo Accords almost immediately after they were signed on that Whitehouse lawn in September 1993, calling the agreement “an instrument of Palestinian surrender, a Palestinian Versailles.”
It is worth bearing all this in mind as we turn now to some examples of that reaction by liberals in the West in January. In its leading editorial, The Guardian, the UK’s leading liberal newspaper had this to say about the “Peace to Prosperity” document when it was finally unveiled: “Donald Trump’s Arab-Israeli peace plan rests upon the absurdity of the Palestinians accepting a state in name alone.” This was a true enough statement on its own, but the piece continued to describe Trump’s position on the “Ultimate Deal” as some sort or outlier, something totally new to a US which had until then honestly sought to make peace. The Guardian claimed that “a two-state solution was the result of American peacemaking within a rules-based world order.” In reality, this supposed “rules-based world order” promoted by the US had actually armed Israel to the teeth for decades to the tune of untold billions of dollars’ worth of free American arms, not to mention the immense political and diplomatic support for Israel by every US President and Congress. All of this has only grown in recent years, including under liberal champions like the former US President Barack Obama who, until succeeded by Trump, was the most pro-Israel US president in history. One of Obama’s last acts in office was to sign off a ten-year military aid deal worth $38 billion. Yet The Guardian continued lying to its readers, claiming that “Mr Trump detests” the supposed rules-based order “because it is inimical to the raw power that he prefers to govern global affairs” – as opposed to his predecessors, we were intended to think.
Other liberal commentators in the West spewed out similar self-regarding deceptions. Noted Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland lamented that Trump was moving “the conflict” away from “the two-state solution that has long been the international consensus and towards an arrangement that will allow Israel to annex all the bits of the West Bank it wants.” He sardonically noted that Trump probably supposed that “if only Obama, Bush Jr, Clinton, Bush Sr, Reagan or Carter had realised that success meant simply giving one side all it wanted, why, they could have negotiated a historic breakthrough decades ago.” All this again frames the Trump-Kushner deal as an outlier, and an aberration to the well-intended wishes of Western imperialism to act as an “honest broker” when in fact the US, the UK and Europe have been anything but. In Israel too, liberal Zionists echoed such self-congratulatory illusions. Chemi Shalev, a veteran correspondent for the Israeli daily Haaretz, described the plan as “a dramatic, pro-Israel shift in US foreign policy.”
Such commentators, however, either seem not to have read the Trump-Kushner document itself or, what is worse, are intent on covering up its true nature. For in fact the “Peace to Prosperity” plan has a great degree of continuity with successive Israeli-American plans for the liquidation of the Palestinian people, especially those put forward by the “peacemaking” heroes of liberal Zionism, such as Israeli Labor Party Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. In fact, the Trump-Kushner document itself explicitly makes such links in its introduction, drawing on the precedent of the Oslo Accords. To be fair to Trump and Kushner, they very much have a point here. If the Trump-Kushner plan represents the endorsement of “a series of extreme-right ideas” (as SOAS’s senior lecturer in Israeli studies argued) then the earlier Oslo Accords – championed by the so-called “Israeli left” – in fact also represented a series of extreme-right ideas: such as the inherent inferiority of “lesser” races like the Palestinians. And if that is indeed the case (which it is) that is because the entire edifice of Zionism (from its supposed “left” wing all the way to its right wing) is in reality a reactionary, anti-socialist, racist settler-colonial movement for the dispossession, expulsion or eradication of the indigenous people of Palestine.
A ‘state’ of dispossession
As we have already noted, the “Peace to Prosperity” document makes it clear in its introduction that when it uses the phrase “Palestinian state” in what is to follow, what it actually means is something “less than a state,” leading to “the limitations of certain sovereign powers in the Palestinian areas (henceforth referred to as the ‘Palestinian State’)”. It is worth now quoting this passage at greater length (my emphasis):
“In 1993, the State of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization reached the first of several interim agreements, known collectively as the Oslo Accords. Prime Minister Yitzchak [sic] Rabin, who signed the Oslo Accords and who in 1995 gave his life to the cause of peace, outlined in his last speech to the Israeli Knesset his vision regarding the ultimate resolution of the conflict. He envisioned Jerusalem remaining united under Israeli rule, the portions of the West Bank with large Jewish populations and the Jordan Valley being incorporated into Israel, and the remainder of the West Bank, along with Gaza, becoming subject to Palestinian civil autonomy in what he said would be something “less than a state.” Rabin’s vision was the basis upon which the Knesset approved the Oslo Accords, and it was not rejected by the Palestinian leadership at the time.”
The document is entirely correct to argue for this continuity. Liberal-left Zionist plans for the gradual annexation of the West Bank vary strategically from right wing Zionist plans for the gradual annexation of the West Bank, and not in principle. The map of the Allon Plan of 1967, for example, drawn up by leading Israeli Labor Party minister Yigal Allon, in the immediate aftermath of the conquest of the West Bank, bears a striking resemblance to the maps in the Appendix of “Peace to Prosperity”. In fact, the latter’s maps are arguably slightly less extreme than the vast Jordan Valley annexation proposed by the supposedly “leftist” Israeli leader. In reality, Rabin and Allon were both major war criminals and murderers of the indigenous Palestinian population. During their military careers, both directly participated in the ethnic cleansing of 1948, when their forces expelled 800,000 Palestinians. Rabin personally signed the order for the expulsion of the Palestinian Arab civilians of Lydda, which resulted in the infamous Lydda Death March of Palestinian refugees driven at gunpoint into the West Bank, with many dying of thirst in the July heat. Israel later built a major international airport in Lydda, and renamed the town in Hebrew as “Lod”. This is today’s “Tel Aviv Ben Gurion Airport”.
Not a conclusion but clarity
If such continuity between liberal Zionist plans and the current right-wing Trump-Kushner-Netanyahu plan exists in reality, what then explains the vehemence of the liberal Zionist opposition to the “Peace to Prosperity” document? For a hint towards the answer, we can turn to an opinion piece in The Independent by Maya Ilany, the deputy-director of Yachad, a liberal Zionist group in the UK. She wrote that “true friends of Israel” would not support the “dangerous plan” that “does not serve” any of Israel’s “interests”. In this conception, then, the plan does not serve Israel’s “interests” because it, in its very open anti-Palestinians frankness, exposes the hollow sham that the “two state solution” has always been. It also reveals the deceptions that lie behind successive decades of the Israeli-American “peace process”.
In exposing and in accelerating this process, Trump has once again proven himself to be the leader of a world empire in slow but terminal decline. Not through his own design, but through his sheer incompetence and corruption, the sham is being laid bare for all to see. The Palestinians will go through harder times yet to come. But they have been through much worse and stood up to higher foes than this empty document. They will defeat this enemy too.
Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist living in London who writes about Palestine and the Middle East. He has been visiting Palestine since 2004. He writes for the award-winning Palestinian news site The Electronic Intifada where he is an associate editor. He is co-host of The Electronic Intifada Podcast, with Nora Barrow-Friedman.