The Power Politics Behind Trump’s Jerusalem Declaration – Raja Shehadeh | The New Yorker

The Power Politics Behind Trump’s Jerusalem Declaration

Raja Shehadeh | The New Yorker

Letter from Ramallah:  A few days after President Trump announced that the United States of America would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, I went to a friend’s house in Ramallah for dinner. We were by no means a cross-section of Palestinian society:

I am a lawyer, and among the group was an architect, a professor, a researcher, and a former employee of an investment fund that aided Palestinian small businesses. Nonetheless, we represented a group that is largely disengaged from the Palestinian national movement. For years, apathy and avoidance had caused us to rarely discuss the dire state of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, or Palestinian politics in general — but we found ourselves doing it over dinner.     

One of the guests, a journalist who had covered the demonstrations that took place after Trump’s declaration, had recorded images of the protests on his phone that he wanted us to see.

“Look at how the police arrested this seventeen-year-old Palestinian, clamped his hands and dragged him,” he told us. “Yes, literally dragged him from the French cultural center all the way to the post office at the other end of the long shopping street. Look how the horse-mounted policemen attacked these women. Can you just see the fear on their faces as they back up against the shut door of one of the stores observing a commercial strike? Look, just look, at this informer disguised as an Arab demonstrator as he moves around taking pictures of the activists. He sends these to the police and they swarm at them and now that they have the evidence, they arrest them. And look how careful they are to hurt but not kill these demonstrators. They don’t want casualties.”

As I looked, I thought that one has to give the Israeli police credit. Clearly, they were applying lessons that they had learned from decades of demonstrations. With their ability to adapt, I had no doubt that the Israeli police would eventually succeed in containing the demonstrations denouncing Trump’s declaration. Clearly, they had the power and means to do it.

Next, our journalist friend insisted that we listen to the protesters’ chants. They included one against Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority, demanding that he leave office. They expressed it with contempt, openly taunting the moderate Palestinian leader and demanding, “Abbas, abandon your basta,” using a word that normally means a peddler’s stall. They chanted against the Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, as well, denouncing his handling of the peace process, which they declared dead.

During our long discussion after dinner, we concluded, together, that Israel and its ally, the U.S.A., had made a vast mistake. For Palestinians, Trump’s Jerusalem declaration ended all hopes that the long-moribund peace process might lead to an independent Palestinian state. Had Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, held off on the announcement, it might have still been possible for the status quo to continue, with Israelis claiming that they were pursuing peace while relentlessly pushing ahead with settlement construction that violated international law and made the creation of a viable Palestinian state impossible. This fortunate situation for Israel might have continued for another five or, perhaps, ten years. But after Trump’s declaration, it was over.

The announcement also may prove politically fatal for Abbas, who had built his strategy and placed his hopes on the U.S.A. reviving the peace process. In recent years, Abbas has satisfied all of Israel’s demands but has still been rejected by Netanyahu.

And now, Trump’s declaration had exposed the hopelessness of the U.S.A. serving as a fair arbiter. In an effort to regain some credibility among Palestinians, Abbas announced that Palestinians would no longer accept the U.S.A. serving as a mediator in peace talks in the wake of Trump’s decision.

“Jerusalem is and will forever be the capital of the Palestinian state,” Abbas declared at a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, in Istanbul. “We do not accept any role of the United States in the political process from now on, because it is completely biased towards Israel.”

For many years, I have watched Abbas, whom I know personally, do his best to satisfy the conditions, often ludicrous, placed on him by Netanyahu in order to restart peace negotiations. I’m not an admirer of Abbas’s negotiating skills, but I appreciate the fact that, if Abbas is forced from power, Israel would lose a leading Palestinian moderate who is a firm believer in a negotiated peace.

Yet Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders have done everything they can to discredit Abbas. And by lobbying Trump to make his declaration, Netanyahu and his supporters have likely delivered a final blow that will end Abbas’s rule.

The U.S.A., a sponsor of the Oslo Accords, has openly violated one of its paramount provisions: that the status of Jerusalem be decided in final-status negotiations. Any pretense of Trump’s impartiality is gone, and, no Palestinian will be waiting to hear the promised peace plan by Jared Kushner.

On a recent afternoon, I was walking home in Ramallah and looked at the rolling hills to the north. On one side, I could see new Israeli settlements being built ever closer. On the other side, new Palestinian housing projects were doing their part to destroy the beautiful landscape that I adored when I grew up here. Three Palestinian policemen mounted on horseback rode by me and I thought that one needs to live here to keep track of the constant changes. If I would leave Ramallah for any length of time, I would find the situation too difficult, confusing, and demoralizing to understand.

Forty years ago, I left Ramallah to study law in London. Since returning home, in 1978, I have closely tracked the stream of legal changes that allowed Israeli settlements to develop near Ramallah and in numerous other parts of East Jerusalem and the West Bank. I wrote extensively about Israel’s plans to annex the areas it occupied in 1967 by gradually extending Israeli laws to its ever-growing settlements. I firmly believed that if these violations of international law became known, Israel would no longer be able to carry them out. I was wrong.

The Israeli effort to erode any official Palestinian presence in Jerusalem has been underway for many years. In 1996, Israel allowed the first Palestinian parliamentary elections to take place in Jerusalem, and local residents ran as candidates. Officials of the Palestine Liberation Organization met in Orient House with international diplomats visiting Jerusalem. Gradually, during the early 2000s, the Israelis limited Palestinian access to Jerusalem by building the separation wall. They justified it as necessary to stop suicide bombings, but none of the restrictions were reversed when security conditions improved. Palestinians concluded that the Israelis had other objectives, namely keeping Palestinians away from East Jerusalem, a city that had been an integral part of the West Bank until the Israeli occupation, in 1967.

The decades that have passed since I began practicing law here have included hopeful periods when it seemed that change could come through nonviolent activism and negotiations. And there have been years when violent resistance, in the form of two intifadas, was viewed as the only way to end the occupation.

After Trump’s speech, calls for a new intifada have greater resonance. Over time, I’ve become used to this ebb and flow and have learned that the most important lesson is to hold on, or persevere, which, in Arabic, we call sumoud. If I leave, I may find the situation here too strange and incomprehensible to endure.

At our dinner, there was one last thing that our journalist friend wanted us to see. He showed us images of the Israeli police preventing Palestinian demonstrators from flying the Palestinian flag in Jerusalem. As soon as the protesters noticed this, they challenged the police and argued that the mutual recognition established between Israel and the P.L.O. under the Oslo Accords has allowed the Palestinians to fly the flag for the past twenty-two years. They asked what had happened to change this.

Three weeks after Trump’s declaration, only one other nation, Guatemala, has followed the U.S.A. in recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Last Thursday, the U.N. General Assembly voted a hundred and twenty-eight to nine, with thirty-five abstentions, in favor of a resolution condemning Trump’s action. Egypt, normally a close Trump ally, sponsored the original resolution. Across the West Bank and in Gaza, the Israeli military is showing less restraint — a dozen Palestinians have been killed and more than three hundred injured.

In view of the fortunate position Israel was in regarding Jerusalem, what prompted its decision to rock a smoothly sailing boat?

How else can the Israelis continue to control millions of Palestinians under their rule without representation except through force?

Did it feel it no longer needed the cover of the peace process because it is now strong enough to say it wants more Palestinian territory?

Did the Israelis, perhaps, feel they had created enough settlements to make the situation irreversible and force the world to come to terms with it?

Was this behind Netanyahu’s extensive lobbying of Trump to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel?

I believe not. It is unlikely that the Israeli Cabinet carefully discussed the pros and cons of this declaration. More likely, it was another example of events being driven by power politics.

Netanyahu, threatened with looming corruption cases, needed to boost his popularity. The declaration may, at best, extend his hold on power for another few years. On the other side of the world, an obdurate U.S.A. President was eager to please his wealthy donors and his political base, particularly evangelicals. Surely, neither politician is a statesman and neither is thinking of the good of his country.

It is important to remember that the Palestinians have consistently called for Jerusalem to remain undivided, and urged that when it became the capital of both states, Israel and Palestine, it would remain an open city. After a peace settlement, the city would serve as a model of coëxistence. Instead of furthering this objective, Trump and Netanyahu have condemned us, both peoples, Israeli and Palestinian, to perpetual conflict.

Watching the images of the police in action in East Jerusalem on my friend’s phone, I had no doubt that they will continue to successfully quell demonstrations. But what I, as well as many other Palestinians and Israelis, wish for is to end violence as the modus operandi between our two peoples.

I refuse to be cured of my naïvety. I refuse to believe that power politics alone will determine the future of our suffering region and nations. I have always believed, and will continue to believe, that peace will allow us to do much together. Trump’s intervention only takes us further from that dream.

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  • Clyde Duncan  On 12/29/2017 at 4:09 pm

    The Man Who Jumped


    Uri Avnery

    NOBODY DESCRIBED the outbreak of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict better than the historian Isaac Deutscher.

    A man lives in a house that catches fire. To save his life, he jumps out of the window. He lands on a passer-by in the street below and injures him grievously. Between the two a bitter enmity arises. Who is to blame?

    Of course, no parable can reflect reality exactly. The man who jumped out of the burning house did not land on this particular passer-by by chance. The passer-by became an invalid for life. But on the whole, this parable is better than any other I know.

    Deutscher did not provide an answer to the question of how to solve the conflict.

    Are the two condemned to fight each other forever? Is there a solution at all?

    COMMON SENSE would say: Of course there is.

    True, the injured person cannot be restored to his former condition. The man who caused the injury cannot return to his former home, which was destroyed by the fire. But…

    But the man can – and must – apologize to his victim. That is the minimum. He can – and must – pay him compensation. That is what justice demands.

    And then the two can become friends. Perhaps even partners.

    Instead, the man continues to harm the victim. He invades the victim’s home and throws him out. The victim’s sons try to evict the man. And so it goes on.

    Deutscher himself, who fled the Nazis from Poland to England in time, did not see the continuation of the story. He died a few days after the Six-day War.

    INSTEAD OF quarreling endlessly about who was right and who was wrong,
    quarreling about how wonderful we are and how abhorrent the others are, we should think about the future.

    What do we want? What kind of a state do we want to live in? How do we end the occupation, and what will come after?

    Israel is divided between “Left” and “Right”. I don’t like these terms – they are obvious misnomers. They were created in the French National Assembly more than two hundred years ago by the accidental seating of the parties in the hall at the time, as seen by the speaker. But let’s use them for convenience sake.

    The real division is between those who prefer the people to the land, and those who prefer the land to the people. Which is more sacred?

    In the early days of the state there was a joke making the rounds.

    God summoned David Ben-Gurion and told him: You have done great things for my people, make a wish and I shall grant it.

    Ben-Gurion answered: I wish that Israel will be a Jewish state, that it will encompass all the country between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River and that it be a just state.

    “That is too much even for me,” God said. “But I will grant you two of your three wishes.”

    Since then we have the choice between a Jewish and just state in part of the country; or a Jewish state in all the country that will not be just; or a greater and just state, that will not be Jewish.

    Ben-Gurion must be weeping in his grave.

    SO WHAT are the solutions proposed by the two major forces in Israeli politics?

    The “Left” has by now an orderly program. I am proud of having contributed to it. It says, more or less:

    1. A State of Palestine will come into being next to the State of Israel.
    2. Between the two states there will be peace, based on an agreement that will provide for open borders and close mutual relations.
    3. There will be joint institutions as necessary, by consent.
    4. The united city of Jerusalem will be the capital of both states, West Jerusalem the capital of Israel and East Jerusalem the capital of Palestine.
    5. There will be a limited, agreed, one-to-one exchange of territory.
    6. There will be a limited, symbolic return of refugees to Israel, all other refugees will receive generous compensation and “return” to the State of Palestine or remain where they are.
    7. Israel will remain a mainly Jewish state, with Hebrew as its first official language and open for Jewish immigration according to its laws.
    8. Both states will join regional institutions.

    This is a clear picture of the future. Both ardent Zionists and non-Zionists can accept it wholeheartedly.

    WHAT IS the program of the “Right”? How do its ideologues see the future?

    The simple fact is that the Right has no picture of the future, no program, not even a dream. Only vague sentiments.

    That may be its strength. Sentiments are a strong force in the life of nations.

    What the Right would really like is the endless continuation of the present situation:

    The military occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the indirect occupation of the Gaza Strip, enforced by blockade.

    Cold logic says that this is an unnatural situation that cannot go on forever.

    Sooner or later it has to be institutionalized. How?

    There are two possibilities, and only two:

    An Apartheid State or a bi-National State.

    That is so obvious, that even the most fanatical right-winger cannot deny it. No one even tries to.

    There is a vague hope that the Arabs in Palestine will somehow pack up and just go away. That will not happen. The unique circumstances of 1948 will not and cannot repeat themselves.

    A few well-to-do Palestinians may actually leave for London or Rio de Janeiro, but their demographic weight will remain negligible. The mass of people will remain where they are – and multiply.

    Already now, there live between the sea and the river, in the Greater Israel of the dream, according to the last count (July 2016): 6,510,894 Arabs and 6,114,546 Jews. The Arab birthrate is bound to fall, but so will the Jewish one (except for the Orthodox).

    What would life be like in the Israeli apartheid state?

    One thing is certain: it would not attract masses of Jews. The split between Jewish Israelis and Jews in the USA and other countries would widen slowly and inexorably.

    Sooner or later, the disenfranchised majority would rise, world opinion would condemn and boycott Israel, and the apartheid system would break down.

    What would remain?

    What would remain is the thing almost all Israelis dread: The bi-National State.

    One person – one vote.

    A country very different from Israel, as we know it today. A country from which many Israeli Jews would depart, either slowly or rapidly.

    This is not propaganda, but simple fact. If there is a right-wing ideologue somewhere who has an answer to this – let them stand up now, before it is too late.

    I CANNOT resist the temptation of telling again the old joke:

    A drunken British lady stands on the deck of the Titanic, with a glass of whisky in her hand, and sees the approaching iceberg. “I did ask for some ice,” she exclaims, “but this is ridiculous!”

  • Clyde Duncan  On 12/29/2017 at 4:18 pm

    “Patriotism is the virtue of the vicious.” – Oscar Wilde.

    What message was Wilde trying to convey when he said this?

    Jaclyn Eagle, B.S Philosophy, Kent State University (2020)

    When we let our love of our country, the stories we hear, and make action without an investigation or even thinking really … we can make ghastly mistakes.

    While a story may really make us sad. It doesn’t make it true!

    It is good to love your country … but the people who lead it and live in it are NOT all the same.

  • Gigi  On 01/02/2018 at 6:40 pm

    My first thought was along the same lines as the author that Netanyahu’s action was to deflect attention away from the blatant corrupt behavior resulting in charges being brought against both him and his wife. Israelis are known to pursue convicting and jailing corrupt politicians – Moshe Katsav, Ehud Olmert, Hanegbi, Hirschon, Ramon, Seger, Mordechi, Sharon, Lieberman among many others. Also driving Netanyahu’s actions, with the full support of zealous Zionists, are the spectacular losses/defeats by Syria and its allies against the combined US/Israel alliance that instigated the Syrian war. This Palestine attack is to Israel what Grenada was to the US under Reagan; vulgar bullyism on steroids to save face from a humiliating defeat. And to deflect from yet another major self imposed blundering humiliation of Israel but notably the US by the UN, we are now witnessing the beginnings of civil unrest taking place in Iran by the two to save face yet again. This is what the world has to look forward to by two most renowned megalomaniacs of an epicene disposition crudely hidden behind exaggerated but dangerous bellicosity.

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