The Demise of the Palestinian Question

Israel’s 70th Independence Day marked a change. What began with the establishment of the State of Israel by David Ben-Gurion is ending abruptly with none other than Donald Trump. Declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel was not just the “right and natural thing,” as Trump claimed, but an opening shot in a drastic, aggressive and uncompromising effort to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Even before the rollout of the “Deal of the Century”, its general guidelines are clear. Jerusalem is off the table; defunding UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees) solved the refugee problem; a confederation with Jordan will replace Palestinian sovereignty over the West Bank; and the closure of the PLO’s mission in Washington effectively removes the PLO as a partner for negotiations with Israel.

In Israel, Trump’s impulsiveness enjoys across-the-board approval. The ruling coalition is overjoyed, and the opposition is silent. After all, how can the latter oppose the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, or the sleight-of-hand trick to resolve the issue of the right of return? Why should the opposition oppose sanctions against the Palestinian Authority? Moreover, what Israeli could even contemplate the removal of an American president who fulfils the Zionist vision of a Greater Israel via his three wise men – Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt and David Friedman, along with the hawkish national security adviser John Bolton?

In fact, one finds it difficult to know where the Israeli government ends and the Trump administration begins. Trump promotes policies so far to the right that they probably wouldn’t make it through the Knesset or even the cabinet. He knows better than Israelis do how to conduct negotiations (The Art of the Deal!), and how to reach the finish line: power, more power, extortion, threats, fraud, and deceit are the accepted rules in Trump’s shadowy world.

Although Trump’s decisions receive wall-to-wall acceptance in Israel, in the United States Trump is perceived as a national security risk. His own administration is doing everything it can to thwart his agenda, especially with regard to foreign relations. Books such as Fearby Bob Woodward, or Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff reflect the terror that has taken hold of the American political, security and media establishment. Viewing Trump’s Twitter page suffices to show the depth of the crisis in American and global politics.

Investigations into and convictions of some of his close associates, his sordid sex affairs, his hallucinatory press conference with Putin in Helsinki (where he announced that he believed the Russian dictator and not his security services), and the incessant evidence of his impulsive nature and comprehensive ignorance testify to the nature of Trump’s strange decisions and distorted judgment. However, in Israel, as in the Philippines, Russia, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia, there are those who love Trump and view him as an asset, giving them an excellent opportunity to reinforce their political status. Usually, these tyrants and dictators maintain aggressive regimes and stamp out opposition.

Israel is not a dictatorial state. It still enjoys a democratic regime and a vibrant and critical press. This, however, raises the question: how is it possible that Trump’s delusional steps regarding the conflict with the Palestinians are accepted with such complacency? If the problem of Jerusalem could be removed from the negotiating table with such alacrity, why was it not done before? What was the problem that prevented the cancellation of the right of return by simply abolishing UNRWA? Why take the trouble to finance the Palestinian Authority if it can simply vanish by closing the money tap? How can it be that no previous US administration, conservative or liberal, Democratic or Republican, thought of this before? And why have Israeli governments lived with this situation for 70 years? Either Trump is the genius of the generation, or he is the fool of the century.

If we examine Trump’s policies, we will soon conclude that they are bad and will only aggravate the present situation. The PLO mission in Washington opened after the PLO recognized Israel and signed the Oslo Accords. From that moment on, the Palestinian Authority replaced the Israeli Civil Administration. The PA became Israel’s security sub-contractor in the occupied territories, especially in the densely populated cities of the West Bank and Gaza. Does Israel have another alternative—a more reliable partner to manage and maintain order in the occupied territories? It is true to say today that, despite the complete freeze in negotiations, the PA continues to provide economic and security benefits for Israel. According to Abu Mazen himself, there is a 99% agreement between him and Israel’s security service.

Does ending financial aid to UNRWA solve anything? American funding for the UN agency was never due to generosity, but to coldly calculated political considerations. The purpose was to “maintain” the refugees and keep them from becoming a factor that could shock and destabilize Arab countries, especially Jordan and Lebanon, as well as the West Bank and Gaza. Who will fund the education of almost a quarter million Palestinian children, and who will benefit if, instead of attending school, these youngsters roam the squalid refugee camps and throw stones at Israeli soldiers?

Trump’s latest moves reveal, more than anything does, the surrealistic nature of the Israeli Right and the weakness of the opposition. It is increasingly clear that not only Jerusalem has been taken off the negotiating table, but also the other sticking points of the Oslo Accords, which were supposed to be resolved in the final status negotiations. Now, interim agreements are frozen, and a permanent agreement is not on the horizon. There are no more topics to discuss, so there is no need to negotiate. That is the true meaning behind the closing of the PLO mission in Washington.

It seems that Trump and Netanyahu believe, and in this, they are probably right, that the PA’s political and economic interest to continue living off external handouts, and off the transfer of customs duties from Israel, is greater than its desire to end the occupation. Anyone who has watched the current series “The Oslo Diaries,” gets the impression that the PLO would have accepted any Israeli conditions that gave them a foothold, if only limited, in the occupied territories. Therefore, if the PA wants to continue to exist, even as a straw man, it must accept the situation.

The message of “The Oslo Diaries” is very clear: Likud and Hamas—the two players that today set the tone of the conflict—are living in a symbiotic relationship. The Baruch Goldstein massacre at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in 1994 was a trigger to the wave of terrorism by Hamas, and Yigal Amir finished the job with the murder of Yitzhak Rabin. Both Likud and Hamas rely on messianic religious doctrines – Israeli-Jewish religious law and Palestinian-Islamic extremism. They cannot defeat each other, even though the balance of power is always in favor of the Israeli side.

The Israeli Right has thus far succeeded in preserving economic well-being while conducting a cruel and bloody war of attrition. In the shadow of its futile war against the Palestinians, the Right has opened another front against Israeli liberalism, as expressed in its nation-state law, its measures to change the nature of the Supreme Court, and its steps to rein in human rights organizations. There is currently a Palestinian-Israeli consensus that this conflict has no foreseeable solution and that the occupation will continue along with the siege of Gaza. Therefore, Israel forfeits peace and democracy, and the Palestinians give up the possibility to live in dignity and freedom.

Thus, an American president who sees democracy as a danger and believes peace to be a simpleton’s pipe dream will continue to make new and delusional proclamations. The “Deal of the Century” remains unpublished, and it is doubtful whether it will ever be. However, published or not, it endangers the lives of Israelis and Palestinians.

* Translated from the Hebrew by Robert Goldman

About Yacov Ben Efrat