Explaining the Trump-Netanyahu ‘Peace-to-Prosperity’ plan last week, the White House made a revealing point: past failure to recognise political reality distorts contemporary perceptions. Hence the call for everyone to wake up and acknowledge the real state of affairs in Israel-Palestine. Or, more succinctly, to agree Might is Right. What seemed surreal in this travesty of a peace plan was simply ‘the new real’ of Realpolitik.
We inhabit a global landscape in which considerations of morality or international order are being discarded as utopian visions. The flagrant disregard of the rights of Palestinians to genuine self-determination, to anything resembling normal statehood, the legalising and entrenchment of Israeli contempt for UN Resolutions and international law, are today barely considered worthy of comment by Western governments, let alone robustly denounced. Have we become inured to injustice, terrified of the charge of anti-Semitism, guilty bystanders, watching the values shoring up the infrastructure of our international order daily eroded?
Not so the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land, a body including the region’s Roman Catholic bishops and patriarchs of the ancient Christian Rites in communion with Rome. Their reaction to the plan was straightforward. “It does not give dignity and rights to the Palestinians. It is to be considered a unilateral initiative, since it endorses almost all the demands of one side, the Israeli one, and its political agenda. On the other hand, this plan does not really take into considerations the just demands of the Palestinian people for their homeland, their rights and dignified life”. They foresaw the consequences no less clearly: “The plan will bring no solution but rather will create more tensions and probably more violence and bloodshed”. That is the truth of Might is Right.
Trump doubtless learnt at his father’s feet that Might, understood as money plus power, is Right. And when it comes to the Palestinians, “losers” in his vocabulary, Trump the Peacemaker presents it as “the deal of the century”. Of course the mature political Trump would also be hearing the voice of a core element of his voter base: 81% of US Evangelicals who support him, many of whom espouse Christian Zionism, the belief that the State of Israel is the fulfilment of biblical prophecies, and, for some, the sign of the End Times. A much smaller percentage of American Jewish voters support Trump’s current policy and are uncritical of Israel’s human rights record.
Trump’s motivations are complex. But he thinks like a politician who knows from experience how important big blocs of ethnic and religious votes can be in winning the next Presidential election. He may even have hopes of a Nobel Peace Prize. That Obama got there first will rankle with him.
The Trump-Netanyahu double-act in Washington on 28 January was a chilling performance. Netanyahu gloating and thundering that the USA not only rejected the illegality of Israeli settlements in contravention of UN resolutions, but that the legality of his “facts on the ground” were now recognised in a formal peace plan.
The Arab League meeting in Cairo on Saturday rejected the plan; it did “not meet the minimum rights and aspirations of Palestinian people”. In the words of B’Tselem, the Jerusalem and Washington-based Human Rights Group, Palestine was to be reduced to the structure of a Swiss cheese: “the cheese being offered to the Israelis and the holes to the Palestinians”. The annexations would become permanent features enabling the total encirclement of 15 Palestinian enclaves by the exclusive Jewish Religious/Ethnic State and its military. Job done for Netanyahu.
Peace, it is often said, is in everyone’s interests. But peace in this ‘peace plan’ means that the Palestinians, in exchange for a promise of a large cash injection, would have to accept greater fragmentation of their territory than the Bantustans of former apartheid South Africa It is well known to most peace negotiators that offering money, $50 billion apparently on the table, in exchange for compromising core religious values, in this case the sanctity of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Dome on the Rock, and Jerusalem itself – not some grubby suburb - as the Palestinian capital, will be regarded as a profound insult. People’s religious values are not for sale. Far from this being a peace plan, it is a knock-out blow to future dialogue, and most likely the beginning of a prolonged insurgency in the fashion of South Africa from the 1960s to 1990s, resulting in a single rather than a two-state ‘solution’ as the outcome.
Sometimes an event sharpens our perception of a whole period. It is a truism that domestic politics are always a dimension of foreign policy decisions. Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement in the 1930s was a direct response to British public opinion as much as an expression of British government concern for international order. But it is rare for a major piece of foreign/international policy to be entirely for domestic consumption in the manner of this Trumpian ‘peace-to-prosperity plan’. This does not stop it doing irreparable damage to future peace processes in the region. As the Catholic bishops wrote, to ignore the human dignity and the rights of the Palestinian people is not a peace plan but a recipe for growing violence.
See also TheArticle 05/02/20