The Charade of Trump’s “Deal of the Century”

Earlier this year, Donald Trump presented his so-called peace plan for the Middle East, a travesty of a scheme that seeks to rubber-stamp Israeli land grabs and shatter the project of Palestinian sovereignty. Former Knesset member for the Arab Party list Haneen Zoabi on why it must be overturned.

US president Donald J. Trump and Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands in the Oval Office of the White House March 25, 2019 in Washington, DC. Michael Reynolds - Pool / Getty

In January, Donald Trump released his vision for Middle East peace, hailing his plan as the “deal of the century.” In reality, the plan is a “deal” for one side only, granting every demand extremist right-wing Israelis have ever made — bar expulsion. It was drafted by administration officials with long-standing support for Israeli settlements, without Palestinian input, and offered Palestinians Bantustan-like enclaves in the West Bank

The deal is a list of Israeli exemptions from war crimes and crimes against humanity. Israel thus gained from the formula in which violations that are not immediately held to account slowly turn to norms by which to live.

The Deal of the Century is the expected outcome of ignoring Israel’s long-standing violations of international law.

It denies Palestinian refugees their right of return, enshrined in UN Resolution 194 and affirmed by the UN General Assembly every year since 1949, including multiple subsequent resolutions to that effect.

The deal prevents Palestinian statehood. The Palestinian state that it does talk about is fraudulent and fake. It keeps in place the exact same settlements that are an outcome of colonial conquest, and actively obstructs any form of meaningful state sovereignty.

Entity Without Sovereignty

According to the UN, settlements are part of the architecture of Israel’s war crimes that destroy the conditions of Palestinian life (whether of natural resources or land) and, in their own language, “deny Palestinians the basis for a real statehood and a viable economy.”

There is in fact no change from the ongoing apartheid and colonialist policies Israel has implemented since its establishment: maximum land and minimum Palestinians.

This explains the relative apathy with which Israeli society has reacted to the deal, which is . As Rabin made clear to the Israeli public in a speech in the Knesset on October 5, 1995: “We view a permanent solution [as involving] a Palestinian entity which is less than a state”.

That’s exactly how Israel developed the notion of a Palestinian “entity” devoid of sovereignty. To the Israeli public, the deal is not presented as withdrawal from territory, but rather the ridding of its demographic and administrative burdens over Palestinians.

The Israeli media has thus accurately presented Trump’s plan as continuous with the occupation, an extension of old Israeli plans to promote settlements in the midst of large Palestinian population centers.

Two Fundamentalisms

If the Israeli political establishment under Labour Zionists had seemed — albeit in contradiction to the facts on the ground — to be somewhat restrained in public by questions of international legitimacy, the right wing always sought to fortify territorial conquest by recourse to claims of Jewish historical and moral rights.

Now, the right wing has won the national argument. The current national consensus expresses a new convergence both in word and deed between secular Zionist fundamentalists and religious Zionist fundamentalist over the question of annexation and expropriation of vast amounts of occupied Palestinian land.

Trump’s Deal of the Century, therefore, represents the success of a settler-colonial project that seeks to substitute the settler for the native. A gift from the United States to its Middle Eastern ally, it formalizes Israeli impunity for its international crimes.

It is not a peace deal but rather a certificate of appreciation granted by the United States to Israel’s colonial project — a project that has been morally and legally condemned in various international and human rights forums around the world for many years.

Palestinians are nowhere to be seen in a plan that determines their fate and their future. For the deal constitutes a political end for the Palestinian people and their national narrative. It orders them to totally surrender to a project that is responsible for the many tragedies that have befallen them.

The settlement of the refugees in their host countries embodies political liquidation in its most striking form, and presents the Palestine question as one of mere individual material existence under minimal conditions. Such a plan requires no Palestinian consent: it’s just imposed on Palestinians unilaterally because they now seem too divided and too weak to resist it — and Arab regimes privately applaud.

A New Normal

Trump’s deal is innovative in three ways. Firstly, it substitutes terms like “peace” and “state” for “entity” and “self-government.” In this deal, Israeli security is disguised in the language of “peace.” Israel’s unilateral annexation pretends to be a two-state solution.

This resembles a therapeutic strategy which tells you that if you can’t change your reality then just change the way you look at it. Regard occupation as sovereignty, domination as freedom, oppression as justice. This is what Israeli think tanks describe as a welcome shift in conceptualizing reality.

Secondly, Trump’s deal is new in its international moral dimension. At a time when UN institutions, as well as international and Israeli human rights organizations, call on Israel to be prosecuted for war crimes, Trump has offered impunity and forgiveness, seeking to transform Israel’s violations of rights to a right of violation. That’s the deal’s most dangerous aspect: to build new international legitimacy based not on international law but on the laws of the jungle.

Even as it attempts to marginalize and liquidate the Palestinian question, Trump’s deal, in fact, internationalizes it par excellence. The cost of liquidating Palestine is the erosion, if not the destruction, of the international legal system. If Palestine falls, so will fall justice, the international order, and the democratic norms that Europe boasts about.

If the Trump deal passes — legally or morally — the world will no longer be the same. It will have changed a set of understandings and a world order that Europe has upheld since World War Two.

As a cursory look at the list of UN resolutions on Israel indicates, “Israel had been condemned in forty-five resolutions by the United Nations Human Rights Council. Since the creation of the Council in 2006, it has resolved almost more resolutions condemning Israel than it has on the rest of the world combined.

The forty-five resolutions comprise almost half (45.9 percent) of all country-specific resolutions passed by the Council. These include war crimes and apartheid crimes (the second most severe after ethnic cleansing). Between 1967 and 1989 alone, Israel has violated 131 UN Security Council resolutions.

Sustaining Israel’s international exception and exemption from punishment can only mean upholding a lawless new world order. Israel would become the legal-moral benchmark for questions of peoples’ rights and laws of war.

Indeed, since 2000, Israel has sought to change the international laws and regulations governing wars and state assassinations — further empowering state aggression against stateless people and individual human rights.

The Trump deal is thus a test for the Western world, its peoples and official institutions. Not only a conformation between Palestine and a cruel Israel, but one between Israel and international democratic norms.

Indeed, Israel will continue working to develop a legal discourse that allows the deal to appear compatible with international law, while at the same time undermining the credibility of UN resolutions that deny the deal’s legitimacy. Considering its emerging lawfare power — exhibited during the latest wars on Gaza — that seeks to legitimize killing Palestinian civilians, this is not mission impossible for Israel.

According to an extensive investigative report published in Haa’in Hashviit in 2017, Israel has been attempting to influence domestic policies in foreign states, potentially leading to an unprecedented interference in the national and international discourse of other nations. This interference is a new, previously unknown type of publicity. These operations are conducted in a manner of secrecy much similar to how military and intelligence operations are conducted.

Israel will thus utilize these powers in its fight to legitimize Trump’s deal as a framework for conflict resolution. It will attempt to demonstrate that the European Union is wrong to maintain that the deal goes against “the conventional international standards.”

And Israel will warn Europe against opposing the deal on the grounds that it could cause unrest on the Palestinian side or embolden the Israeli far right which opposes it (on the grounds that the deal does not propose a full annexation of the Palestinian territories). The choice Israel will offer to Europe will be the choice between annexation and apartheid. Thus, once the deal is presented as the only option against unilateral annexation, Europe will inevitably feel that it must call on the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table.

Thirdly: The Deal of the Century is a new paradigm For the first time, Israel has admitted — to an international audience — that apartheid is no longer simply a temporary reality. It is also the country’s long-term peace vision: ratifying Israel’s Jewish Nation-State Law, which grants self-determination to the Jewish people only in Israel-Palestine.

Israel’s true intentions are clear for all to see. There is now a fork in the road: either a continuation of the catastrophic path — begun with Oslo, and culminating in Trump’s deal — or a new path of unified struggle. It’s now time for the Palestinians to formulate their counter-project.

Our collective aim must be decolonizing the Jewish state and achieving freedom and justice for all. The Palestinians have already accepted that Israelis have nowhere else to go. It’s now time to end Israel’s colonialism and racism, and institute equality for all. That should be the new horizon for justice in Palestine.