Opinion: Trump approach may not help Israel/Palestine peace process
By Ghassan Michel Rubeiz
West Palm Beach,
February 14, 2017
The peace process between Israel and the Palestinians has been dormant for almost two years. President Trump has promised to reactivate negotiations. However, by sending alarming messages to Iran and, in contrast, conveying seductive rhetoric to Israel, the new US president does not seem predisposed to calm the Middle East.
Had Trump been cognizant of what it takes to resolve this conflict, he would not have assigned the task of mediation to his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. His background does not make Kushner the new Kissinger. Had Trump been serious about peace mediation, he would not have chosen the pro-settlement activist David Friedman to be the next US Ambassador in Israel.
This is a conflict between two parties who are incapable of appreciating how the other side feels and thinks. The Israelis are too comfortable in their livelihood to respond to a subjugated nation of equal size to their own. And the Palestinians are too fractured and demoralized to effectively exploit the moral strength of their cause to achieve statehood. Priorities need to be reviewed on both sides: Israel’s current government wrongly believes that what it needs for security is more land, while Palestinian leaders, not focused on the glaring pathology of their own disunity, cry for more international support to achieve independence.
Israel should commit to end its festering occupation and the Palestinians to democratic state building. Israel’s land grab in the occupied territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem has led to a demographic quagmire: two nations thrust to live together but unwilling and unable to divide or share contested land.
The Jewish state has been very efficient in state building but it has not been clear-eyed about the future. The Israelis have created a modern state in record time- less than twenty years. Instead of consolidating this modern state its leaders went after land expansion beyond internationally recognized borders.
How did this expansion occur? In 1967 Israel fought with its Arab neighbors and occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Syrian Golan Heights. The occupation has lasted for fifty years. In 1981, Israel annexed the Golan Heights. Thinking of likely Arab retaliation in the future, Israel acquired the atomic bomb in the 1970s. France has helped Israel become the first and only Middle East state to acquire nuclear defense weapons.
Israel’s 1967 occupation has not been simply an act of subjugation. Israel has been building Israeli settlements on Palestinian land since the 1980s. Over 620 thousand Israelis currently live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. More illegal housing is planned for the future.
On February 6, Israel passed historic legislation to legalize building on private Palestinian land. It is also lobbying the US to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a symbolic act to legitimize the annexation of East Jerusalem. Anticipating additional accommodation from the Trump administration, Israel is keen on accelerating the creation of new political facts to strengthen its negotiation stance. All this rush to legitimize the occupation is carried out without a realistic plan for Israel’s future security. Land acquisition and military superiority have given Israel a false sense of security.
As the occupation drags on, Israel’s current leaders are not paying enough attention to growing side effects, pressures and threats impacting the nation. Despite their inspiring nature, Israel’s prophetic voices are being ignored.
Here is a list of such scary developments: A dangerous militia culture is spreading among the Israeli settlers and their supporters. The settlers resemble Islamists in their justification of land grabbing on religious and historical grounds. There is already a sobering balance in demography between Jews and Arabs in the land between the River and the Sea. Palestinians’ memory of historical Palestine is not fading away with the passage of time. Their attachment to the land is deep. Their nationalism is vibrant.
The international mood regarding the occupation is changing. Israel is testing the patience of some critical allies. The leadership of the European Union is questioning Israel’s defiant contravention of international law by holding on to the occupation, and persistence in settlement building. US polls show increased sympathy for Palestinian suffering among Democrats and moderate Republicans. In Israel, critics have not given up on challenging the occupation; many experts on national security call for ending the occupation. The Jewish Diaspora remains solid behind Israel’s foreign policy, but the young American Jewish voice is growing louder in calling for moderation and recognition of Palestinian rights. Finally, many are perturbed about Israel’s shift to the right; some wonder if the Zionist project is gradually morphing into an experiment in hyper-nationalism.
In identifying the roadblocks to peace, however, it would be unfair to focus the blame on one side. The Palestinians have their share of responsibility for the impasse. Let us identify some of the ways Palestinians have hurt their cause. This is not to deny formidable achievements in coping with a regional superpower.
The first mistake Palestinians made was to start a militarized guerrilla struggle against Israel from their base in vulnerable, urban, refugee-hosting Lebanon. In Beirut, the Palestinian Liberation Organization was more muscle than brain. With the birth of Hamas in the late 1980s, the character of the struggle changed somewhat from “national resistance” to “Islamic Jihad”. Initially, the Palestinian Liberation Organization was energizing Arab societies to think of Palestine in the context of Arab unity. Regretfully, that is not the case any longer. The PLO has turned into a militia-like structure, serving Israel’s short term security more than Palestinian aspirations. The political and ideological split between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority ( PLO affiliate and parallel structure) has arrested the process of state building. The Palestinian leadership has turned Palestine into a “two-state” fiefdom, one in Ramallah and one in Gaza. This division at the top attenuated the support of the international community for the Palestine cause. The constant shifting between non-violent resistance and futile armed struggle has gravely taxed the energy of Palestinian society. Episodic acts of terror have played into Israel’s unfair narrative that Palestinians, after all, are Islamist Arabs who want to throw the Jews into the sea.
The leadership of Palestinians has weakened Palestine’s case. Just as Israel is under severe threat, the Palestine case is facing mounting stress from within and from the outside. Here some disturbing thoughts which keep Palestinian activists awake at night: a third wave of demographic expulsion from the land through a war with Iran, Hezbollah and Palestinian forces; normalization of separation between Gaza and the West Bank; extension of the occupation for several decades; transforming Palestine advocacy of national liberation into a sectarian struggle; and possibly the transition of Israel from a democracy into a Messianic autocracy.
The chances for a war with Iran have dramatically increased with a Trump Administration. International pressure over Israel’s foreign policy is vital to peace-making. Palestinian unity is a requirement for peace negotiation. Resolving the Iran-Saudi crisis will very much advance the cause of peace in the region, particularly peace with Israel.