Hubristic Israeli hawks risk losing everything
One of the most striking comments from last week’s “Peace to Prosperity” workshop in Bahrain was Jared Kushner remarking that the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative was not viable. The Arab initiative envisaged Jerusalem as a shared capital, the restoration of occupied land, and the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state. These universally recognised, fundamental pillars of the peace process are only “unviable” because the Trump administration has done so much to try and uproot them. Arab officials are often struck by Kushner’s superficial grasp of the Palestinian issue.
Donald Trump simply enjoys being perceived as staunchly pro-Israel. The one ideologue in this administration whose views matter is David Friedman, Trump’s ambassador to Israel. Like Kushner, Friedman is an Orthodox Jew who has close ties with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. During Trump’s presidential campaign, Friedman steered him toward rabidly pro-Israel rhetoric, he was the architect of the US Embassy’s relocation to Jerusalem, and the voice whispering in Trump’s ear over the occupied Golan Heights.
Friedman openly advocates the illegal annexation of vast areas of the West Bank. Why is Kushner so reluctant to unveil his proposed deal? Because it would be so virulently unacceptable to Arabs and all those who believe in international law and Palestinian rights. With Friedman and Netanyahu colluding to dispossess Palestinians of their lands and rights in advance of this deal, what further “painful concessions” does Kushner imagine Palestinians making, short of voluntarily throwing themselves into the Red Sea?
To illustrate how far outside the political mainstream US policymaking has strayed, despite its threats, cajoling and pressure, how many states have relocated their embassies to Jerusalem? Only Guatemala — somewhere most people would struggle to find on a map. The aspiration for $50 billion in Palestinian funding is all very well, but the US refuses to financially contribute to its own initiative. Instead, it slashed about $360 million annually from UNRWA, and $60 million for Palestinian policing, with cuts to other pro-Palestinian entities. The Palestinian Authority (PA) hasn’t been able to pay salaries for the past year and is approaching financial meltdown.
Gulf states like Saudi Arabia (which has poured more than $6 billion into the PA since 2000) are again expected to foot the bill. Yet, with the Palestinian economy paralysed by closures, roadblocks and military incursions, any amount of investment cannot miraculously create a flourishing economy or make life under occupation seem bearable. Israeli hawks like former Education Minister Naftali Bennett envisage much of the rural West Bank being unilaterally incorporated into Israeli settlements, leaving Palestinians holed up in densely populated urban cantons.
Since the 1970s, new settlements have been meticulously located to cut the West Bank into ribbons, with dense belts of construction severing Jerusalem from its hinterland. Friedman and Bennett simply represent a radicalisation of existing far-right orthodoxy, intended to annihilate the Palestinians as a nation. Nevertheless, these apartheid policies cannot make Palestinians magically disappear. It is a long-recognised cliche that an Israel that incorporates millions of disenfranchised Palestinians cannot be a genuine democracy, and may be forced to mutate further toward militarised autocracy to sustain such racially striated injustices.
Israel is no more a democracy than the rest of the Middle East, given its appalling human rights record, disenfranchisement of non-Jews, and monopolisation of power within an extreme-right elite in the cause of perpetuating the occupation. When all hopes for Palestinian statehood are blocked, a new popular intifada becomes only a matter of time, particularly after Palestinian leaders rendered themselves irrelevant. When the choice is between risking death at the hands of the Israeli army or national extinction — what do Palestinians have to lose? Netanyahu views the Trump administration as a gift granted by God, yet it is striking how fragile Trump’s overturning of decades of peace process orthodoxy is.
Democratic Party candidates competing in the 2020 US presidential elections have voiced unprecedented criticism of Netanyahu’s policies. Europe and America used to maintain the facade of a united front, but are today openly at loggerheads over Middle Eastern policies. Friedman’s bombastic claim that there is “no scenario” in which Israel would leave the entire West Bank not only rejects the reality of international law, but also contradicts the official stance of 99 percent of the world’s nations.
If Israel continues annexing stolen land, converting non-Jews into non-citizens, and forcibly denying Palestinian rights, it risks losing the final grains of international sympathy — perhaps even with the mighty US, upon which Israel is financially dependent, including for about $4 billion in annual military funding.
America’s Jewish population is only slightly smaller than that of Israel, yet the emerging consensus among progressive US Jewry is that Trump’s approach has been disastrous for Israel’s global standing. Netanyahu has been forced to call new elections. Given his discredited legal and moral position, and Israel’s volatile politics, it isn’t inconceivable that a centre ground coalition could perform slightly better than in April and win the opportunity to form a government for the first time in two decades. Palestinians have watched many US administrations come and go.
They are patient in their quest for justice; even if it takes another 70 years. Those whose children were killed, maimed or imprisoned won’t simply abandon their cause for an illusory economic windfall. The pages of history are littered with leaders who hubristically believed that, rather than peacefully coexisting with their neighbours, they could exploit their temporary military superiority to conquer everything.
The common denominator of these empires is how rapidly they imploded under the weight of their own contradictions. Unlike most Jews, who recognise the inevitability of “land for peace,” Netanyahu and Friedman want to exploit their fleeting moment of omnipotence to devour the land in its entirety. They fail to realise that, the minute the international geopolitical winds change direction, they risk losing everything.