Israel–Palestine Peace Process: Why Donald Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’ is Not Adequate

Donald Trump’s flawed foreign policy will have disastrous consequences for the future of the Palestinian people.

Donald Trump’s ability to make deals has always been suspect. More often than not, he has leveraged the United States’ (US) political and economic clout to bully smaller nations to accept terms on trade deals that would make his rich nation richer. Geopolitics and diplomacy, however, are wildly different. Trump continually emphasises how right-wing leaders are his “good friends.” This validation often ignores the persecution and disenfranchisement of minorities that such leaders endorse. However, his bonhomie with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—both of them consider each other to be “great friends”—has consequences that are dangerously real.   

Trump’s “deal of the century,” recently announced at the White House, with the express approval of Netanyahu, claims to “solve” the decades-long Israel–Palestine conflict, but in reality, it would signal the end of the Palestinian demand for a homeland: the plan accepts Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel, recognises the annexed West Bank as Israeli territory, proposes a “land swap” so that Palestinians may have some land, which would be primarily desert area. Moreover, Palestinians would have to relinquish their right to ever return to their homes in this expanded Israeli state, and the “new” Palestinian state would not be entitled to an army and would have to rely upon the Israeli government for security. 

Netanyahu, since assuming office in 2009, has steadily expanded the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory and, through his Zionist rhetoric, has reinforced the notion that Palestinians are second-class citizens. For him, the notion that Israel illegally occupies Palestinian land is “the big lie.” As prime minister, he has enacted numerous laws that favour Jewish people at the cost of the rights of the Palestinians. 

Dissent against the legitimacy of the Israeli state is illegal, and the Jewish Nation-state Law, passed in 2018, states that the right to self-determination is “unique to the Jewish people.” During his re-election campaign last year, Netanyahu unveiled a plan to annex up to a third of the West Bank territory currently under Palestinian control, commenting that such an opportunity may not present itself again for “another 50 years.”

While the US has historically used its clout to legitimise the actions of the Israeli state while also maintaining a neutral approach at international fora, the Trump administration, with its support base of right-wing, orthodox American Jews, has been explicit in its support towards Netanyahu’s discriminatory policies. In 2017, the White House recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and ordered the US Embassy to be shifted there. Trump has also ended aid to Palestinian refugees in West Bank and Gaza, and his offensive against Iran has been backed by Netanyahu, who sees the West Asian country as a security threat.  

What happens to Palestine after this “deal” is anyone’s guess. The creation of the Israeli state was a bloody affair, and efforts to capture and create settlements on Palestinian land have not been without bloodshed. The Israeli Constitution allows for the Jewish diaspora to “return” to Israel, even though most of them never even lived there. Space for “Greater Israel,” as an EPW editorial points out, cannot be made while adhering to the idea of a two-state solution. 

The illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory has been well documented for its disenfranchisement of Palestinians and for the neglect of fundamental human rights. Through this reading list, we examine the US role in supporting the expansion of Israeli territory, the everyday realities of living under Israeli occupation, and also look at why the peace process, if it ever comes about, will exclude the Palestinians’ voice.

1) Ethnic Politics in the US

In the US, the Jewish community is considered a “minority,” signifying social, economic, and political disadvantages. Theodore P Wright Jr writes that US parties, mainly  the Democrats and Republicans, have banked on the “Jewish vote” during elections, which has led to the White House’s public support of Israel and Zionist policies over the years.

American Jews, on the contrary, despite large-scale job and social discrimination until the Second World War, have risen in the past generation to the point where they enjoy the highest per capita income of any religious denomination or ethnicity in the United States… As to size, the Jewish community in the United States is a much smaller group (2%–3%) than Muslims are in India (11%–12%) but are strategically located in large states (New York, Illinois, California) with disproportionate weight in presidential elections because of the electoral college system of winner-take-all. 

2) Living in occupied Land

Ritu Menon writes that today’s Palestine is nearly entirely occupied by Israeli forces, and even in the areas that are “free” for Palestinians are overshadowed by the presence of Jewish settlers.

I doubt that I will ever again be able to utter that innocuous word “Occupation” with equanimity. In Palestine it hits you smack between the eyes, trips you up, ties you down. You can never get enough distance between it and yourself. It is hard, when 90% of your land is under the Israelis, and only 10% can be claimed as your own—with their permission. When the colour of your Identity Card—blue for Jerusalem, green for the West Bank, brown, for Gaza—determines your mobility within your own country, when there are 570 checkpoints controlled by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) in the tiny area of the West Bank. 

Menon also says that the discrimination towards Palestinians is blatant. Besides controlling the flow of essential goods and services, which makes Palestinians dependent on Israel for their sustenance, movement for them is also at the behest of Israeli diktat. 

Israeli roads are barred to Palestinians, Palestinians cannot repair or tar their roads without Israel’s permission … At traffic intersections, the speeding cars of settlers have right of way, even though the roads have been built on Palestinian land and paid for with Palestinian taxes … Bethlehem, so sacred to Christians and Jews and of such ancient piety, is almost completely encircled by the Wall, choking it off from the surrounding areas, scarring the landscape, cutting right through the town in arbitrary twists and turns. Homes find themselves enclosed, their inhabitants having to make a detour of up to 10- 12 kms to reach places that are literally, a few yards away. 

3) The Utopia of Independent Palestine

The peace talks held between Israel and Palestine prior to the Second Intifada in 2000 were a hypocritical process aimed only at acquiring more land under the pretence of “peace,” argues Nigel Harris.

What was supposedly a preparation for peace was in fact just an Israeli strategic preparation for continued war. Barak’s opening position for talks included a prior appropriation of 12 per cent of the land of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (without any matching concession to the Palestinians); and a refusal to refrain from expanding the existing Israeli settlements and starting new ones in the Occupied Territories (let alone evacuating the existing settlements, returning to the status quo of 1967). 

Further, Harris contends that Israel will loathe to accede to any form of actual autonomy for Palestine. Israelis fear an independent Palestine as a security threat that would want to reclaim the settlement land. This thinking, says Harris, has turned Israel into a military state. 

The politics of the country are dominated by ex-generals, by military networks between serving officers and veterans, following a principle attributed to [Ariel] Sharon: “Where force won’t do, use even more force.” It is the logic of gangsters—always respond with over-kill, try always to kill many more than you lose … The military obsession is with war (or, in the mealy mouthed language of the time, ‘security’, the mirror image of ‘terrorism’), preparing for it and waging it. Thus, the Palestinian question is pre-eminently a strategic one—how much of the Occupied Territories is required to hold it under control and to fight the next war? 

Is there any hope left for Palestine? Pierre Beaudet, writing during the Second Intifada in 2001, says that an independent Palestinian state is now a utopia, considering the power of the Israeli government, and its refusal to negotiate. Baudet argues that the Palestinian left needs to reinvent itself if it is going to provide a tactical alternative to a mass uprising.

Talking about joint struggles with democratic Israelis cannot obscure the fact that the national struggle of the Palestinians will have to lead that battle to its final conclusion. But no dream will come through if the Palestinian left is unable to regroup and reinvent itself. In lots of backrooms and cafes in Gaza and the West Bank, discussions abound on that topic because the fact cannot be hidden anymore. The agenda is complex and not only on longterm objectives and strategies, but also on organisational processes and decisionmaking. As one local leader of the PFLP [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine] in Bethlehem puts it, “we will not go anywhere in our revolution unless we start by revolutionising ourselves. The time of the big leaders and their oral exploits is over.” 

4) Demarcating Borders

By isolating the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip from the rest of Palestine, Ninan Koshy argues that two “mini states” of Palestine have been created, which will cause to alienate Palestinians from each other. Koshy says that the US-backed move to enforce a blockade on the Gaza Strip will only generate more violence in the coming years. 

What is also important to point out is that rival governments in the West Bank and Gaza would formalise the split and push prospects for a negotiated settlement further away … Alvaro de Soto in his report gives an insightful and careful assessment of both Hamas and Fatah. He says, “Hamas is deep-rooted, has struck many chords including its contempt for the Oslo process, and is not likely to disappear. Erroneous treatment of Hamas would have repercussions far beyond the Occupied Palestinian Territories because of its links to the Muslim brotherhood, whose millions of supporters Islam-wide, might be led to conclude that peaceful and democratic means are not the way to go. Hamas is in effervescence and can potentially evolve in progressive direction that would allow for a two-state solution—but only if handled right.”  

5) ‘Palestine is Dead, Long Live Israel’

By moving its embassy to Jerusalem, the US signalled that the peace process, or at least one that considered Palestine’s position, was dead. Nigel Harris says that the extension of settlements in the West Bank, the monopolisation of water resources, and the physical destruction of Palestinian homes, among other actions, have already made the existence of an independent Palestinian state nearly impossible. The more relevant issue for the Israeli government is what to do with Palestinians in a singular Israel.

[Ariel] Sharon has destroyed the possibility of a separate Palestinian state and therefore of the Palestinians administering themselves as Israeli proxies. He cannot absorb the Palestinians into Israel along with their territories since, combined with the Israeli Arabs, they would come to represent in the medium term a Palestinian majority in the Jewish state …  even if Sharon thinks he has at last secured US backing to expropriate the whole of the West Bank and not just the 58 per cent he has already tried to claim—at the token price of disengaging from the Gaza Strip—the central problem remains unresolved: the stubborn refusal of the Palestinians to commit collective suicide. 

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