Liquidating the Palestinian Question: A Historical Perspective of the Trump-Netanyahu Deal

The Doha-based Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies (ACRPS) held a talk on February 3 where Center General Director Azmi Bishara discussed “The Trump-Netanyahu Deal: A Historical Perspective of the US-Israeli plan to Liquidate the Palestinian Question.” Bishara began by going over the history of US peace initiatives after the June 1967 war, until the end of President Barack Obama’s term; starting with the Rogers Plan of 1970 and moving on to the Zbigniew Brzezinski project in 1977 and the Camp David Accords signed by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin on September 17, 1978. He also went over the initiatives following the 1982 war in Lebanon such as the Reagan Initiative and those which followed the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 such as George H.W. Bush’s vision for peace based on Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 and the principle of land for peace, which offered no proposals for a solution. Then he detailed George W. Bush’s 2002-03 Road Map for Peace and former Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempts to re-start the peace process under the Obama administration. He explained that the initiatives were generally accepted by Arabs and rejected by Israel, and that is contrary to the statements of some Arab regimes.

Bishara’s critique of the latest peace plan offered by Trump can be summarized as undermining the foundations of international law and upholding the discourse of power around the world, a major feature that has dominated Trump’s policies since his arrival in the White House. The vision is characterized by a colonial and patronizing tone, which Bishara demonstrated with quotes from the document.

The plan adopts the literal Israeli narrative of history, which means it uses the biblical version of events with the same effect as international law. The document also codifies Israeli claims of dispossession and concessions, with no mention of the Palestinian narrative, not even a reference to the Nakba or the suffering endured by the Palestinians due to the ongoing occupation. The suffering of the Palestinians is only mentioned as a consequence of the behavior and corruption of the Palestinian leadership, or Palestinian “terrorism.” In this sense, the document exonerates Israel from bearing any responsibility for Palestinian suffering and the text does not even use the term “occupation” to describe the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Bishara also noted that the plan appropriates the language of real estate developers, talking about supporting investments to build hotels, restaurants, swimming pools, and tourist sites; additional funding to improve training in the field of hospitality; and financing advertising campaigns to stimulate tourism, as if Palestine were a piece of land to be granted to companies. He pointed out that this is similar to the American rhetoric about Native Americans in North America and the development of fenced “reservations” to which the word “independent” is affixed.

Bishara made the point that the initial steps in the Trump-Netanyahu deal have been those that have been already implemented on the ground, starting with Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and subsequently the transfer of the US embassy there, the decision to legitimize the settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories with the direct permission of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the de-funding of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) on August 31, 2018, and the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office in Washington two weeks later. He also pointed out that the so-called “deal of the century” constitutes a clear break from the traditional US perspective that is already allied with Israel and fully adopts the position of the Israeli right.

Bishara mapped out the masterminds behind Trump’s peace plan: his son-in-law Jared Kushner, David Friedman, US ambassador to Israel since 2017 and Trump’s former bankruptcy lawyer, and Jason Greenblatt, former chief legal officer to Trump and his companies who was appointed as his assistant and Special Representative for International Negotiations. Greenblatt was later replaced by lawyer Avi Berkowitz, a personal friend to Jared Kushner and his former “coffee boy.”

Bishara also argued that the document carried a set of fallacies, the most important of which is the claim that Israel withdrew from at least 88 percent of the land it seized in 1967, which shows selectivity in how Arabs and Palestinians are discussed. When talking about 1967, suddenly the conversation talks about Arabs as if they were one unified party and leads the reader to believe that Israel has returned 88 percent of the land of Palestine. But it is actually talking about the Sinai, and the remaining 12 percent of the land includes the Golan, Gaza, and the West Bank. In addition, the document refers to Jews from Arab countries as refugees, but the truth, according to Bishara, is that Israel considered them “new arrivals” and the basis of building its state. The deal talks about how Israel lost money by absorbing Jewish refugees from Arab countries, and that Israel should be compensated for those losses.

Bishara describes more fallacies borne out by Trump’s plan, such as the claim that the Palestinian state will be able to use the ports of Haifa and Ashdod and portraying that as a concession, despite this being today’s status quo. Bishara argues that the Israeli interpretation of Security Council Resolution 242––which called for “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict”––as meaning that Israel does not need to withdraw from all the lands occupied in previous conflicts.

Bishara believes that another goal of the plan is to get rid of the Palestinians inside the Green Line. Israel would withdraw from the uninhabited Negev regions on the Sinai border and cede control of the Triangle communities of Kafr Qara, Ar’ara, Baqa al-Gharbiyye, Umm al Fahm, Qalansawe, Tayibe, Kafr Qasim, Tira, Kafr Bara, and Jaljulia to the Palestinian entity. However, a truce in 1949 stipulated that they be given to Jordan, but Israel did not abide by that and kept them within the territories it occupied. This would constitute a transfer and ethnic cleansing in the name of “peace.” As for the refugees’ right of return, the document stresses that “Upon the signing of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Agreement, Palestinian refugee status will cease to exist, and UNRWA will be terminated and its responsibilities transitioned to the relevant governments,” with no right of return for Palestinian refugees.

Bishara argued that the concept of the state espoused by the deal coincides with the vision of Benjamin Netanyahu expressed in his speech at Bar-Ilan University on June 14, 2009. Bishara also stated that the document deals with the concept of sovereignty in theory as a flexible, not an absolute concept, and that sovereignty is a stumbling block to peace in its justification of the idea of a state without sovereignty. This is a contradictory idea, considering that state means sovereignty. Bishara wondered why Palestinian sovereignty alone needs to be theorized and flexible. He also noted that the emerging state will be physically within the state of Israel and under its control, to the extent that Israel will interfere in the Palestinian internal security administration and will oversee international crossings and borders. Israel will even have sovereignty over space, drilling wells and water.

One of the effects of the Trump-Netanyahu deal, Bishara argued, is that it perpetuates the idea that Arabs only answer to coercion and only do what they are directly ordered to do. That is why, he believes, the Arab behavior after announcing the deal is a dangerous precedent, encouraging the Israelis to follow the same logic in the future if they so choose. He points out, however, that this logic does not mean that the Palestinian or Arab masses will remain silent. This is a form of colonialism and apartheid, and efforts to confront Zionism should focus on two pillars: the land (occupation, settlement, the Judaization of Jerusalem, etc.) and racism which makes the struggle one against the apartheid regime.

Bishara concluded his presentation by noting the urgent need to build up and rehabilitate the role of the PLO, provided that it adopts both a democratic national strategy that seeks to attract Arab and international solidarity movements and the option of resistance. On the other hand, this requires that the Palestinian Authority play its role in running the daily lives of the people in the occupied Palestinian territories and that leading the Palestinians and the strategy of struggle must be left to institutions and bodies not linked to agreements with Israel. This means that the PLO must withdraw from all the previous agreements it signed with Israel because they have become null and void and that the PA avoid making the mistake of conflating the Palestinian national project with a meaningless state and concentrate on liberation from the colonial and apartheid system.

A version of this report was first published on February 3, 2020 by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies in Doha, Qatar.