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Trump’s Accidental Good Deed

Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump in Israel. (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs / CC BY-NC 2.0)

What exactly is this “peace process” President Trump is supposedly destroying with his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital?

Yes, Trump’s move is disastrous. It shows that the settler wing of his administration – Jared Kushner, Middle East negotiator Jason Greenblatt, and actual settler and U.S. Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman – has full control of the president’s extremist agenda.   And yes, it is a terrible provocation, leading already to violent clashes in the streets of the Old City and across the West Bank. The decision disregards centuries-long Muslim ties to East Jerusalem’s holy sites, not to mention the ancient daily rhythms of Palestinian peddlers, with their mounds of spices, baskets of figs, giant tins of olive oil, and the aroma of Arabic coffee wafting from the narrow warrens of the Old City. Perhaps most important, Trump‘s action undermines long-standing Palestinian aspirations to East Jerusalem as the capital of an independent state, standing side by side in peace with Israel.

And so, strictly speaking, yes, the president’s decision shreds decades of U.S. policy and represents a “final, devastating blow” to the so-called two state solution.

Yet it is false to claim that the president is killing a “peace process” that had any hope of producing a meaningful “solution” to the century-old tragedy between Arab and Jew. The two-state solution has been dead for years. Complicit in its demise: a succession of American administrations that, hand in hand with Congress, acted as enablers for Israel’s bad behavior.

Since the Oslo peace process began in 1993, the Israeli West Bank settler population, not including East Jerusalem, has nearly quadrupled, to about 400,000. More than a dozen Jewish settlements now ring East Jerusalem, undermining the dream of Palestinian statehood. (This, of course, long before Trump’s election.) Fully 60 percent of the West Bank remains under Israeli military control, with hundreds of barriers forcing Palestinian families into an archipelago of isolated cantons, essentially imprisoning them in a half-century-long human rights disaster.   Israel maintains de facto control of so-called Palestinian autonomous zones, too, with checkpoints at the entrances of most Palestinian towns, and frequent night raids, which the military implements with impunity.  In one incident straight out of the Jim Crow south, soldiers took over a swimming pool, forcing Palestinians out of the water so that settlers could take a dip.

All this as pundits, diplomats, and politicians gave lip service to the two-state solution. But on the ground, the reality is a single state, with sharply diverging sets of civil and human rights, depending on your nationality and (lack of) citizenship.  U.S. and Israeli leaders, from Ehud Olmert to Ehud Barak to John Kerry, have warned of the coming apartheid if Israel doesn’t solve its moral crisis of colonial land acquisition.  Sadly, that deed is done.  The “A word” already applies.

Nearly all of this has happened under Oslo’s derelict watch. The Oslo Declaration of Principles, which mentions security 12 times but never once independence, sovereignty, freedom, or Palestine, were never designed to stop such expansion. Rather, tacit American support helped accelerate it.  A succession of complicit U.S. presidents and secretaries of state stood by as Israel built exclusive Jewish enclaves, settlers-only roads, military posts and surveillance stations, colonizing a would-be Palestine. American officials issued the occasional diplomatic scolding but never threatened to withhold aid to Israel if it didn’t halt settlement expansion.

That hasn’t happened since 1991, well before Oslo, when James Baker, secretary of state under the first President Bush, challenged Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. It worked then, and probably would now, but today, with Congress and the White House in the moneyed thrall of AIPAC and other big pro-Israeli donors, such action is dutifully deemed a “non-starter.” Democrats have been no better than Republicans. Recall Hillary Clinton’s embrace of billionaire benefactor Haim Saban, long hell-bent on shutting down open discussion of Israel’s human rights disaster in the Israeli-occupied territories. For Saban’s millions, Clinton was happy to equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, largely through condemnation of BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions), a nonviolent movement to confront Israel’s human rights abuses through direct economic and political pressure. President Obama continued the hypocrisy of American leaders by calling for “peace” in Israel/Palestine while simultaneously inking a 10-year, $38-billion pledge to renew Israel’s arsenal of weaponry, some of which, of course, will be used against Palestinians.

And so here we are again, lamenting the loss of the “peace process” as blood flows and smoke rises from the Holy City and the occupied West Bank. Everyone from moderate Israelis to the Palestinian Authority, from failed U.S. negotiator Dennis Ross to diplomats meeting in emergency session at the U.N. Security Council, seems to fear the end of a peace process that never earned its name. No matter the hopeful aspirations of a generation ago, Oslo delivered far more confinement than peace; far more misery than justice.

Now, however unintentionally, President Trump has stripped away those illusions. “Trump has finally ended the United States’ double-speak,” writes the Palestinian American human rights attorney Noura Erakat, “and should have ended any faith that the US will deliver Palestinian independence, or that Israel is interested in giving up its territorial holdings captured in war.”

In the short term, the illusions are giving way to chaos and clashes. Some analysts forecast a full-blown Palestinian uprising, or Intifada, followed perhaps by the defunding of the Palestinian Authority by Congress, which could in turn lead to its collapse. Others believe the hard right in power in Israel, backed by the settlement wing in the White House, could use the clashes as an excuse to implement a forced “transfer” of West Bank Palestinians across the border into Jordan. Implausible as that may seem, things are likely to get a lot worse before they get better.

Yet in the wake of Trump’s declaration, there’s opportunity. The demise of the two-state idea, and the acknowledgment that the reality on the ground is not sustainable, can also make room for alternatives long muscled out by the two-state machinery. This means, finally, the embrace of a broad campaign of nonviolent resistance, by shedding light on Israel’s bad behavior and by boycotting companies that benefit from the occupation – like Caterpillar, whose D-9 bulldozers have contributed to the demolition of tens of thousands of Palestinian homes. And it means being open to new political solutions, like proposals for a bi-national stateparallel states, or a single democratic state, rooted in the pragmatic values of justice, human rights, security, safety and freedom of movement for all Israelis and Palestinians.

Frightening as it may be to consider how these alternative strategies might work, it’s better than pretending that a return to the bankrupt Oslo process will lead us anywhere new. In that, Donald Trump has done us all a favor.

Sandy Tolan
Contributor
Sandy Tolan is the author of "Children of the Stone: The Power of Music in a Hard Land," a finalist for a 2015 Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the international best seller, "The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew,…
Sandy Tolan

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