Rubbing salt into Palestine’s wounds
President Donald Trump meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House, March 5. | Evan Vucci / AP

Having announced his intention to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in December of last year, reversing years of U.S. policy and violating international law, President Donald Trump seems determined to further rub salt in the wound.

He announced weeks ago that the new embassy would open on May 15. No more provocative a date could have been chosen.

May 15 marks 70 years since the state of Israel was established in a process that saw 750,000 Palestinians expelled from their homes and over 450 towns and villages destroyed.

Last week, sitting beside the beaming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the White House, Trump said that he would probably attend the opening in person.

When the Palestinian Authority (PA) responded to his December announcement by indicating that it would not participate in future peace talks brokered by the U.S., Trump proceeded to threaten United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) with a 50 percent funding cut as a crude and inhumane punishment for the refusal of the PA to sit at the table.

This cut is further justified as part of a process of redefining who counts as a refugee and who doesn’t, which is a specific aim to deny refugee status to the descendants of those expelled in 1948.

Trump’s posturing is, in part, an attempt to play to his domestic base of support, but beyond that his actions need to be understood within the context of the wider “peace deal” that he has rather ostentatiously framed as the deal of the century.

The basic shape of this deal has been leaked. Palestinians, it seems, are to be offered 40 percent of the occupied West Bank (Areas A and B under the Oslo Accords). The 60 percent that comprises Area C, where the Israeli state has unlawfully built homes for 350,000 Jewish settlers, will become part of the state of Israel.

Jerusalem is, according to Trump, off the table for Palestinians. It will become the undivided capital of Israel, at last consolidating Israel’s illegal annexation of East Jerusalem.

For the Palestinians, the U.S. has allocated as their capital the village of Abu Dis in a suburb of Jerusalem, a village cut off from East Jerusalem by Israel’s unlawful separation wall.

The rest of the independent Palestinian state will comprise Gaza and an adjacent strip of land in the Sinai desert.

This deal is, it appears, being cooked up with the co-operation of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the Gulf States. It will be presented to Palestinians on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.

In a recent press conference, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that U.S.-Israeli relations have never been closer.

Though he was right, even a cursory analysis shows that the dynamic that has informed both U.S. and Israeli policy has not fundamentally altered.

The U.S. has historically sought to impose a solution on Palestinians according to what Israel is willing to offer, which has too remained relatively unaltered—no independent state, no right of return, and no renunciation of Israel’s claims to sovereignty of all of Jerusalem.

Even Yitzhak Rabin, hailed by the West as the great Israeli peacemaker, declared in 1995 that what was on offer to the Palestinians was “less than a state.” Further, as the Israeli academic Tanya Reinhardt revealed in 2003, a Palestinian capital in Abu Dis was included in Ehud Barak’s “generous offer” at Camp David in 2002.

In Trump, Israel may have found a partner willing to give full backing to the Israeli vision of peace, unconstrained by normal diplomatic protocols and the need to pay lip service to international law.

This provides for the Palestinians both risk and opportunity. The risk is clear. With U.S. backing, Israel might persuade the watching world that the deal on offer to Palestinians is proportionate and acceptable.

It may too persuade the world that Palestinians are rejectionists in the hope that the world then walks away from the Israel-Palestine “conflict.”

The opportunity arises when one considers that, in allowing the U.S. to present such a deal, Israel has made a fundamental strategic mistake. In order to sustain a level of diplomatic credibility since the Oslo Accords, Israel has had to sustain the myth of its willingness to negotiate a two-state solution.

Presenting this deal will illuminate for the international community that Israel is not truly pursuing a viable, independent, Palestinian state but rather, an apartheid-style bantustan.

This is an abridged version of an article that originally appeared in Morning Star.


Ben Jamal
Ben Jamal

Ben Jamal is director of the London based Palestine Solidarity Campaign.