Category Archives: Jared Kushner

The Book of Palestine: National Liberation vs Endless Negotiations  

Those who are still hoping that the new American agenda on Palestine and Israel is temporary, or reversible, should abandon this false hope. Washington’s complete adoption of Israel’s messianic, extremist policies regarding Occupied Palestine has been a long time in the making. And it is here to stay.

Despite the unmistakable clarity in the American political discourse regarding Palestine, the Palestinian Authority (PA) is still trapped in a 25-year long, ineffectual political paradigm. Unable to move past their disproportionate reliance on American validation, and lacking any real strategic vision of their own, PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his men are operating within a clichés-centered trajectory of a ‘negotiated peace’ – a discourse that was, itself, invented and championed by Washington and its allies.

Newly-appointed (not elected) Palestinian Prime Minister, Mohammad Shtayyeh, conveyed this very sentiment in his June 24 interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. “If you look at the literature, if you look at the statements, our President has been working by the book,” he said.

What book was Shtayyeh referring to? Certainly not the book of international and humanitarian law, which has devised a clear path aimed at achieving Palestinian freedom, rights and territorial sovereignty.

It is, rather, a book that is written by Washington, from which brazen pro-Israel agenda has preceded the Donald Trump administration by decades.

This is, in fact, the core ailment of Palestinian politics, as practiced by the PA. Throughout the years, the PA has received hundreds of millions in American funds, in exchange for sidelining the UN in favor of a complete American hegemony over the so-called ‘peace process’. Abbas’ recent attempts at reviving the role of the UN and its affiliated institutions is a belated attempt at correcting a historical mistake.

What will it take for Shtayyeh, and his boss in Ramallah, to abandon the American option and, instead, to develop a rounded strategy that is founded on national unity, democratic representation and international solidarity? Much precious time has been lost subscribing to the one-sided American book, which has no room for a Palestinian discourse of national liberation, unconditional freedom and basic human rights.

While Trump’s advisor and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was referring to Palestinians as “hysterical and erratic,” following the two-day Bahrain economic conference (June 25-26), US Middle East ‘peace envoy’, Jason Greenblatt, was challenging the very terminology used by the entire international community regarding the illegal Israeli Jewish colonies in Occupied Palestine.

“People (should) stop pretending (that) settlements, or what I prefer to call ‘neighborhoods and cities,’ are the reason for the lack of peace,” the American envoy told participants at the ‘Israel Hayom Forum for US-Israeli Relations’.”

For the record, the widely-circulated right wing Israeli newspaper, ‘Israel Hayom’ which sponsored the conference, is financed by pro-Israel American casino mogul, Sheldon Adelson. The latter is known to be the primary advocate behind Trump’s misguided policies in Palestine, including Washington’s recognition of Occupied Palestinian East Jerusalem as part of Israel’s capital.

Greenblatt is but one of several unabashedly pro-Israel American politicians, who have taken the already biased US foreign policy to a whole new low. This clique also includes former US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, and Washington’s Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman.

In an interview, also with ‘Israel Hayom’ on June 11, Haley tried to assure Israelis that “Israel should not be worried,” about having to make any political concessions in exchange for Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital or of Israel’s sovereignty over the occupied Syrian Golan Heights.

“Through the Middle East plan (so-called ‘Deal of the Century’), one of the main goals that Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt focused on was to not hurt the national security interests of Israel,” Haley said. “They understand the importance of security; they understand the importance of keeping Israel safe.”

While Haley’s, Kushner’s and Greenblatt’s statements can be viewed as part of the ever-skewed, pro-Israel language emanating from Washington, one must not be too hasty. The fact is, Washington has now fully embraced the Zionist Israeli discourse without the slightest attempt at playing the role of the impartial arbitrator.

It is as if Haley et al are now members of the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu’s right wing Likud party.

But no one represents this blatant American realignment into the Israeli camp better than Ambassador Friedman, who has, in an interview with the New York Times, on June 8, backed any future Israeli annexation of parts of the Occupied West Bank.

A few weeks later, in a disturbing and highly symbolic gesture, the American Ambassador carried a sledgehammer and broke open a tunnel that snakes underneath the East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan. The tunnel, part of Israel’s expansionistic policy in Occupied Jerusalem, has already damaged the foundation of over 80 Palestinian homes.

The determined and gratified look on Friedman’s face spoke volumes about the ‘hysterical, erratic’ and extremist US foreign policy under Trump.

So what hope is left for the PA in Ramallah, now that Washington has taken all the political, financial and every other practical step to sideline Palestinians, to marginalize their rights and push them into submission? And what good will appealing to American sensibilities through CNN and any other platform do, considering that Washington’s strategy is deeply entrenched and irrevocable?

Much can be said about Palestinian failure to change course when it became repeatedly clear since the signing of the Oslo Accord in 1993, that Washington has no interest in pressuring Israel to end illegal settlement construction and to respect international law. Worse, while Washington paid lip service to ‘peace’, it supported the Israeli war machine, military occupation and settlement construction with billions of dollars.

While it is good that the PA is finally waking up to the fact that subscribing to Washington’s foreign policy book is a historic mistake, mere awareness is simply not enough.

It is time for the Palestinians to write their own book, one that is guided by the concept of national liberation, not endless negotiations; one that is predicated on unity, not mortifying factionalism; one that appeals to the whole global community, not to American handouts.

In Bahrain, the Horizon of Peace stretched Further Away from Palestinians

Donald Trump’s supposed “deal of the century”, offering the Palestinians economic bribes in return for political submission, is the endgame of western peace-making, the real goal of which has been failure, not success.

For decades, peace plans have made impossible demands of the Palestinians, forcing them to reject the terms on offer and thereby create a pretext for Israel to seize more of their homeland.

The more they have compromised, the further the diplomatic horizon has moved away – to the point now that the Trump administration expects them to forfeit any hope of statehood or a right to self-determination.

Even Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and architect of the peace plan, cannot really believe the Palestinians will be bought off with their share of the $50 billion inducement he hoped to raise in Bahrain last week.

That was why the Palestinian leadership stayed away.

But Israel’s image managers long ago coined a slogan to obscure a policy of incremental dispossession, masquerading as a peace process: “The Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”

It is worth examining what those landmark “missed opportunities” consisted of.

The first was the United Nations’ Partition Plan of late 1947. In Israel’s telling, it was Palestinian intransigence over dividing the land into separate Jewish and Arab states that triggered war, leading to the creation of a Jewish state on the ruins of most of the Palestinians’ homeland.

But the real story is rather different.

The recently formed UN was effectively under the thumb of the imperial powers of Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union. All three wanted a Jewish state as a dependent ally in the Arab-dominated Middle East.

Fueled by the dying embers of western colonialism, the Partition Plan offered the largest slice of the Palestinian homeland to a minority population of European Jews, whose recent immigration had been effectively sponsored by the British empire.

As native peoples elsewhere were being offered independence, Palestinians were required to hand over 56 per cent of their land to these new arrivals. There was no chance such terms would be accepted.

However, as Israeli scholars have noted, the Zionist leadership had no intention of abiding by the UN plan either. David Ben Gurion, Israel’s founding father, called the Jewish state proposed by the UN “tiny”. He warned that it could never accommodate the millions of Jewish immigrants he needed to attract if his new state was not rapidly to become a second Arab state because of higher Palestinian birth rates.

Ben Gurion wanted the Palestinians to reject the plan, so that he could use war as a chance to seize 78 per cent of Palestine and drive out most of the native population.

For decades, Israel was happy to entrench and, after 1967, expand its hold on historic Palestine.

In fact, it was Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat who made the biggest, unreciprocated concessions to peace. In 1988, he recognised Israel and, later, in the 1993 Olso accords, he accepted the principle of partition on even more dismal terms than the UN’s – a state on 22 per cent of historic Palestine.

Even so, the Oslo process stood no serious chance of success after Israel refused to make promised withdrawals from the occupied territories. Finally, in 2000 President Bill Clinton called together Arafat and Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak to a peace summit at Camp David.

Arafat knew Israel was unwilling to make any meaningful compromises and had to be bullied and cajoled into attending. Clinton promised the Palestinian leader he would not be blamed if the talks failed.

Israel ensured they did. According to his own advisers, Barak “blew up” the negotiations, insisting that Israel hold on to occupied East Jerusalem, including the Al Aqsa mosque, and large areas of the West Bank. Washington blamed Arafat anyway, and refashioned Israel’s intransigence as a “generous offer”.

A short time later, in 2002, Saudi Arabia’s Peace Initiative offered Israel normal relations with the Arab world in return for a minimal Palestinian state. Israel and western leaders hurriedly shunted it into the annals of forgotten history.

After Arafat’s death, secret talks through 2008-09 – revealed in the Palestine Papers leak – showed the Palestinians making unprecedented concessions. They included allowing Israel to annex large tracts of East Jerusalem, the Palestinians’ expected capital.

Negotiator Saeb Erekat was recorded saying he had agreed to “the biggest [Jerusalem] in Jewish history” as well as to only a “symbolic number of [Palestinian] refugees’ return [and a] demilitarised state … What more can I give?”

It was a good question. Tzipi Livni, Israel’s negotiator, responded, “I really appreciate it” when she saw how much the Palestinians were conceding. But still her delegation walked away.

Trump’s own doomed plan follows in the footsteps of such “peace-making”.

In a New York Times commentary last week Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, candidly encapsulated the thrust of this decades-long diplomatic approach. He called on the Palestinians to “surrender”, adding: “Surrender is the recognition that in a contest, staying the course will prove costlier than submission.”

The peace process was always leading to this moment. Trump has simply cut through the evasions and equivocations of the past to reveal where the West’s priorities truly lie.

It is hard to believe that Trump or Kushner ever believed the Palestinians would accept a promise of “money for quiet” in place of a state based on “land for peace”.

Once more, the West is trying to foist on the Palestinians an inequitable peace deal. The one certainty is that they will reject it – it is the only issue on which the Fatah and Hamas leaderships are united – again ensuring the Palestinians can be painted as the obstacle to progress.

The Palestinians may have refused this time to stumble into the trap, but they will find themselves the fall guys, whatever happens.

When Trump’s plan crashes, as it will, Washington will have the chance to exploit a supposed Palestinian rejection as justification for approving annexation by Israel of yet more tranches of occupied territory.

The Palestinians will be left with a shattered homeland. No self-determination, no viable state, no independent economy, just a series of aid-dependent ghettos. And decades of western diplomacy will finally have arrived at its preordained destination.

• First published in The National

The Day After: What if Israel Annexes the West Bank?

Calls for the annexation of the Occupied West Bank are gaining momentum in both Tel Aviv and Washington. But Israel and its American allies should be careful what they wish for. Annexing the Occupied Palestinian Territories will only reinforce the current rethink of the Palestinian strategy, as opposed to solving Israel’s self-induced problems.

Encouraged by the Donald Trump administration’s decision to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Israeli government officials feel that the time for annexing the entirety of the West Bank is now.

In fact, “there is no better time than now” was the exact phrase used by former Israeli Justice Minister, Ayelet Shaked, as she promoted annexation at a recent New York conference.

Certainly, it is election season in Israel again, as Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, failed to form a government following the last elections in April. So much saber-rattling happens during such political campaigns, as candidates talk tough in the name of ‘security’, fighting terrorism, and so on.

But Shaked’s comments cannot be dismissed as fleeting election kerfuffle. They represent so much more, if understood within the larger political context.

Indeed, since Trump’s advent to the White House, Israel has never – and I mean, never – had it so easy. It is as if the right wing government’s most radical agenda became a wish list for Israel’s allies in Washington. This list includes the US recognition of Israel’s illegal annexation of Occupied Palestinian East Jerusalem, of the Occupied Syrian Golan Heights, and the dismissal of the Palestinian refugees’ right of return altogether.

But that is not all. Statements made by influential US officials indicate initial interest in the outright annexation of the Occupied West Bank or, at least, large parts of it. The latest of such calls was made by US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman.

“Israel has the right to retain some  … of the West Bank,” Friedman said in an interview, cited in the New York Times on June 8.

Friedman is deeply involved in the so-called ‘Deal of the Century’, a political gambit championed mostly by Trump’s top advisor and son-in-law, Jared Kushner. The apparent idea behind this ‘deal’ is to dismiss the core demands of the Palestinians, while reassuring Israel regarding its quest for demographic majority and ‘security’ concerns.

Other US officials behind Washington’s efforts on behalf of Israel include US Special Envoy to the Middle East, Jason Greenblatt, and former US Ambassador to the UN, Nicki Haley. In a recent interview with the Israeli right wing newspaper, Israel Hayom, Haley said that the Israeli government “should not be worried” regarding the yet-to-be fully revealed details of the ‘Deal of the Century.’

Knowing Haley’s love-affair with – and brazen defense of – Israel at the United Nations, it should not be too difficult to fathom the subtle and obvious meaning of her words.

This is why Shaked’s call for the annexation of the West Bank cannot be dismissed as typical election season talk.

But can Israel annex the West Bank?

Practically speaking, yes, it can. True, it would be a flagrant violation of international law, but such a notion has never irked Israel, nor stopped it from annexing Palestinian or Arab territories. For example, it occupied East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights in 1980 and 1981 respectively.

Moreover, the political mood in Israel is increasingly receptive to such a step. A poll conducted by the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, last March revealed that 42% of Israelis back West Bank annexation. This number is expected to rise in the following months as Israel continues to move to the right.

It is also important to note that several steps have already been taken in that direction, including the Israeli Knesset’s (parliament) decision to apply the same civil laws to illegal Jewish settlers in the West Bank as to those living in Israel.

But that is where Israel faces its greatest dilemma.

According to a joint poll conducted by Tel Aviv University and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in August 2018, over 50% of Palestinians realize that a so-called two-state solution is no longer tenable. Moreover, a growing number of Palestinians also believe that co-existence in a single state, where Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs (Muslims and Christians, alike) live side by side, is the only possible formula for a better future.

The dichotomy for Israeli officials, who are keen on maintaining Jewish demographic majority and the marginalization of Palestinian rights, is that they no longer have good options.

First, they understand that the indefinite occupation of Palestinian territories cannot be sustained. Ongoing Palestinian resistance at home, and the rise of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement abroad is challenging Israel’s very political legitimacy across the world.

Second, they must also be aware of the fact that, from an Israeli Jewish leaders’ point of view, annexing the West Bank, along with millions of Palestinians, will multiply the very ‘demographic threat’ that they have been dreading for many years.

Third, the ethnic cleansing of whole Palestinian communities – the so-called ‘transfer’ option – as Israel has done upon its founding in 1948, and again, in 1967, is no longer possible. Neither will Arab countries open their borders for Israel’s convenient genocides, nor will Palestinians leave, however high the price. The fact that Gazans remained put, despite years of siege and brutal wars, is a case in point.

Political grandstanding aside, Israeli leaders understand that they are no longer in the driver’s seat and, despite their military and political advantage over Palestinians, it is becoming clear that firepower and Washington’s blind support are no longer enough to determine the future of the Palestinian people.

It is also clear that the Palestinian people are not, and never were, passive actors in their own fate. If Israel maintains its 52-year old Occupation, Palestinians will continue to resist. That resistance will not be weakened, or quelled, by any decision to annex the West Bank, in part or in full, the same way that Palestinian resistance in Jerusalem did not cease since its illegal annexation by Tel Aviv four decades ago.

Finally, the illegal annexation of the West Bank can only contribute to the irreversible awareness among Palestinians that their fight for freedom, human rights, justice and equality can be better served through a civil rights struggle within the borders of one single democratic state.

In her blind arrogance, Shaked and her right wing ilk are only accelerating the demise of Israel as an ethnic, racist state, while opening up the stage for better possibilities than perpetual violence and apartheid.

Palestinians Keep Their Right of Return Alive through Hope, Resistance

The United Nations’ World Refugee Day, observed annually on June 20, should not merely represent a reminder of “the courage, strength and determination of women, men and children who are forced to flee their homeland under threat of persecution, conflict and violence.”

It should also be an opportunity for the international community to truly understand and actively work towards finding a sustainable remedy to forced displacement, for no woman, man or child should be forced to endure such grueling, shattering and humiliating experience in the first place.

Palestinians who have withstood the degradation of exile for over 70 years embody the harshness of this collective experience more than any other group.

To be a refugee means living perpetually in limbo – unable to reclaim what has been lost, the beloved homeland, and unable to fashion an alternative future and a life of freedom, justice and dignity.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are currently 68.5 million people around the world who have been forced out from their homes, with 25.4 million of them classified as refugees.

Of the officially listed refugees, 5.4 million are Palestinians, registered with the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

For Palestinians, the grim reality of being a refugee is compounded through the absence of any political horizon, enough to convey a sense of hope that, 70 years after the genesis of the Palestinian refugee crisis, a remedy is at hand.

Abandoned in this seemingly eternal quest for a homeland, Palestinians hold tighter onto hope, because it is hope alone that feeds their own sense of determination, which neither time nor distance will stand between them and their Right of Return. This internationally-honored right is etched in the hearts and minds of millions of Palestinians everywhere.

The archetypal image of a refugee – a man, a woman, a child holding on to the pole of a tent, charting a path of exile to no specific place, imploring UN officials for help, and the world for mercy – is, by itself, not enough to deconstruct the complexity of that identity. To belong to a place that has ejected you, yet to seek an alternative home in places to which you do not belong, culturally and in every other way, confuses one’s sense of being. The psychological trauma alone is shattering.

While Palestinians continue to hold on to a sense of identity in their various spaces of exile – refugee camps across Palestine and the Middle East – their prolonged odyssey is seen as a ‘problem’ to be haphazardly fixed, or entirely dismissed, in order for Israeli Jews to maintain their demographic majority.

The mere fact that the Palestinian people live and multiply is a “demographic threat” to Israel, a ‘demographic bomb,’ even. This unmistakably racist notion is wholly embraced by Israel’s allies in Washington and elsewhere.

When Israel and its friends argue that the Palestinians are an “invented people“, not only are they aiming to annihilate the Palestinian collective identity, but they are also justifying in their own minds the continued killing and maiming of Palestinians, unhindered by any moral or ethical consideration.

Israel and the US will do anything in their power to trivialize the centrality of the Palestinian refugee question and its relevance to any future just peace in Palestine.

Nearly a million Palestinian were made refugees following the establishment of Israel on the ruins of historic Palestine in 1948. Hundreds of thousands more acquired that dismal status in subsequent years, especially during the Israeli war and occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza in 1967.

The 5.4 million refugees registered with UNRWA are those original refugees and their descendants.

Israel has never agreed to take responsibility for the consequences of its violent inception – the ethnic cleansing, the untold destruction of towns and villages and the very erasure of historic Palestine.

Even during the Oslo Peace Process, Israel refused to discuss the core issue of refugees, relegating it to the ‘final status negotiations’, which have never taken place and will, most likely, never actualize.

In the meantime, Palestinian refugees have been sentenced to subsist in this unfair status – neither here nor there. If there was such a status as second, third and fourth time refugees, Palestinians would have acquired that, as well.

Indeed, millions of Palestinian refugees have been exiled more than once, from Palestine to Jordan or Lebanon; from there to Syria, and back and forth.

The US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the current war in Syria have taught us that Palestinian refugees with relatively better living conditions are not safe, either.

The small Palestinian refugee community in Iraq was persecuted after the invasion, to the point that they were forced to leave, en masse, to any country willing to take them. Many of them ended up as refugees in South America.

The same sordid scenario was repeated in Syria and will, tragically, be replayed elsewhere in the future.

Instead of remedying the crisis with a degree of moral and legal accountability, successive US administrations have tried to marginalize the importance of the Right of Return.

Israel, on the other hand, has targeted refugee communities through wars and massacres, most notably during the 1982 war and invasion of Lebanon, and the subsequent Sabra and Shatila Massacre in September of that same year.

Now, with the help of the Donald Trump’s administration, Israel and the US are orchestrating even more sinister campaigns to make Palestinian refugees vanish through the very destruction of UNRWA and the redefining of the refugee status of millions of Palestinians.

By denying UNRWA urgently needed funds, Washington wants to enforce a new reality, one in which neither human rights, nor international law or morality are of any consequence.

What will become of Palestinian refugees seems to be of no importance to Trump, his son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, and other US officials. The Americans are now watching, hoping that their callous strategy will finally bring Palestinians to their knees so that they will ultimately submit to the Israeli government’s dictates.

The Israelis want the Palestinians to give up their Right of Return in order to get “peace”. The joint Israeli-American “vision” for the Palestinians basically means the imposition of apartheid and keeping Palestinian exiles in a never-ending ordeal.

The Palestinian people will never accept this injustice.

The Right of Return remains a driving force behind Palestinian resistance, as the Great March of Return demonstrated in Gaza, starting March of last year.

All the money in Washington’s coffers will not reverse what is now a deeply embedded belief in the hearts and minds of millions of refugees throughout Palestine, the Middle East and the world.

Palestinian refugees may not top the political agenda of the Middle East at the moment, but it is their persistence, determination and undying hope that will keep their cause alive until international law is respected and human rights are truly honored.

Trump Enjoys Bipartisan Support for His Plan to Eradicate the Palestinian Cause

The White House’s prolonged financial bullying of the Palestinian Authority (PA), the Palestinians’ government-in-waiting, has reached the point where there are now credible warnings that it is close to collapse. The crisis has offered critics further proof of the administration’s seemingly chaotic, often self-sabotaging approach to foreign policy matters.

Meanwhile, US officials charged with resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have demonstrated ever more blatant bias, such as the recent claims by David Friedman, the ambassador to Israel, that Israel is “on the side of God” and should have the “right to retain” much of the West Bank.

Again, critics view the Trump administration’s approach as a dangerous departure from the traditional US role of “honest broker”.

Such analyses, however common, are deeply misguided. Far from lacking a strategy, the White House has a precise and clear one for imposing a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – President Donald Trump’s so-called “deal of the century”. Even without publication so far of a formal document, the plan’s contours are coming ever more sharply into relief, as its implementation becomes observable on the ground.

Repeated delays in announcing the plan are simply an indication that Trump’s team needs more time to engineer a suitable political environment for the plan to be brought out of the shadows.

Further, the Trump administration’s vision of the future for Israelis and Palestinians – however extreme and one-sided – has wide, bipartisan support in Washington. There’s nothing especially “Trumpian” about the administration’s emerging “peace process”.

Choking off aid

Paradoxically, that was evident last week, when leading members of the US Congress from both sides of the aisle introduced a bill to boost the ailing Palestinian economy by $50m. The hope is to create a “Partnership Fund for Peace” that will offer a financial fillip to Israelis and Palestinians seeking to resolve the conflict – or, at least, that is what is being claimed.

This sudden concern for the health of the Palestinian economy is a dramatic and confusing U-turn. Congress has been an active and enthusiastic partner with the White House in choking off aid to the PA for more than a year.

Mohammad Shtayyeh, the Palestinian prime minister, told the New York Times last week that the PA was on the brink of implosion. “We are in a collapsing situation,” he told the newspaper.

The PA’s crisis comes as no surprise. Congress helped initiate it by passing the Taylor Force Act in March 2018. It requires the US to halt funding to the PA until it stops paying stipends to some 35,000 families of Palestinians jailed, killed or maimed by Israel.

On the brink of collapse

Previous US administrations might well have signed a waiver to prevent such legislation from going into effect – just as presidents until Trump blocked a congressional law passed in 1995 demanding that the US move its embassy to Jerusalem.

But the Trump White House is not interested in diplomatic face-saving or reining in the pro-Israel zealotry of US legislators. It fervently and explicitly shares the biases that have long been inherent in the US political system.

In line with the Taylor Force Act, the White House has cut off vital funds for Palestinians, including to UNRWA, the United Nations’ refugee agency for Palestinians, and to hospitals in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem.

The decision by Congress to throttle the PA has had further repercussions, leaving Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exposed domestically. Not daring to be seen as less anti-PA than US legislators, Netanyahu implemented his own version of the Taylor Force Act earlier this year.

Since February, he has withheld a portion of the taxes Israel collects on behalf of the PA, the vast bulk of its income, equal to the stipends transferred to the Palestinian families of prisoners and casualties of Israeli violence – or those who Israel and the US simple-mindedly refer to as “terrorists”.

That, in turn, has left Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, in an impossible position. He dare not be seen accepting an Israeli diktat that legitimises withholding Palestinian money, or one that defines as “terrorists” those who have sacrificed the most for the Palestinian cause. So he has refused the entire monthly tax transfer until the full amount is reinstated.

Now, just as these various blows against the PA finally threaten to topple it, the US Congress suddenly prepares to step in and bail out the Palestinian economy with $50m. What on earth is going on?

‘Money in return for quiet’

The small print is telling. The PA, the Palestinians’ fledgling government, is not eligible for any of the US Congress’s promised largesse.

If the legislation passes, the money will be handed to “Palestinian entrepreneurs and companies”, as well as non-governmental organisations, willing to work with the US and Israel on “people-to-people peace-building” programmes and “reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians”.

In other words, the legislation is actually designed as another strike against the Palestinians’ existing leadership. The PA is being bypassed yet again, as the US and Israel try to bolster an alternative economic, rather than political, leadership.

This move by US representatives is not occurring in a vacuum. Since the effective collapse of the Oslo accords nearly two decades ago, Washington has sought to downgrade a national conflict that needs a political solution into a humanitarian crisis that needs an economic one.

It is a variation on Netanyahu’s long-standing goal to smash the Palestinian national struggle and replace it with so-called “economic peace”.

Where once the goal of peacemaking was “land in exchange for peace” – that is, a Palestinian state in return for an end to hostilities – now the aim is “money in exchange for quiet”. The US is now formally supporting Israel’s efforts at economic pacification.

Outrage at new elections

The Trump administration has devised a two-stage process for neutralising Palestinians.

Firstly, Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has been tasked with winning over Arab states, particularly those in the oil-rich Gulf, to stump up money for pacifying Palestinians and their neighbours.

This is the aim of an investment conference due to be held in Bahrain later this month – the lynchpin of the “deal of the century”, not simply a prelude to it.

That was why Trump himself was so visibly outraged at the delay caused by Netanyahu’s decision to dissolve the Israeli parliament last month, a reflection of his political weakness as he faces imminent corruption trials. The new elections in Israel, Trump grumbled, were “ridiculous” and “messed up”.

The intention of the Bahrain conference is to use tens of billions of dollars raised by Washington to buy off opposition to the Trump deal, chiefly from Egypt and Jordan, which are critical to the pacification programme’s success.

Any refusal by the Palestinians to surrender, either in Gaza or the West Bank, could have major repercussions for these neighbouring states.

Search for alternative leaders

Secondly, Friedman is at the centre of efforts to identify recipients for the Gulf-funded handouts. He has been seeking to forge a new alliance between the settlers, with whom he is closely aligned, and Palestinians who may be willing to help in the pacification project. Late last year, he attended a meeting of Palestinian and Israeli business leaders in the West Bank city of Ariel.

Afterwards he tweeted that the business community was “ready, willing and able to advance joint opportunity & peaceful coexistence. People want peace and we are ready to help! Is the Palestinian leadership listening?”

Friedman has made no bones about where his – and supposedly God’s – priorities lie, throwing his weight behind the growing clamour in Israel to annex much of the territory that was once seen as integral to creating a Palestinian state. With that as the administration’s lode star, the task is now to find a Palestinian leadership prepared to stand by as the finishing touches are put on a Greater Israel ordained by God.

Concerns in Washington about the PA’s unwillingness to comply were voiced last week by Kushner, though he dressed them up as doubts about the Palestinians’ ability to govern themselves. He said of the PA: “The hope is that they, over time, will become capable of governing.” He added that the real test of the administration’s plan would be whether Palestinian areas became “investable”.

“When I speak to Palestinian people, what they want is they want the opportunity to live a better life. They want the opportunity to pay their mortgage,” he said.

Washington is therefore looking to influential families in the West Bank that could potentially be recruited with bribes to serve as an alternative, compliant leadership. In February it was reported that around 200 businesspeople, Israeli mayors and heads of Palestinian communities met in Jerusalem “to advance business partnerships between Israeli and Palestinian entrepreneurs”.

Corrupt tribal fiefdoms

It has been natural for the Trump administration to look to a business elite – one that, it hopes, will be prepared to forgo a national solution if the economic environment is liberalised enough to allow for new regional and global investment opportunities.

These individuals belong to extended families that dominate the West Bank’s major cities. Such powerful families may be prepared to assist in the elimination of the PA, in return for a corrupt patronage system allowing them to take control of their respective cities.

Palestinian analysts, like Samir Awad, a politics professor at Bir Zeit University near Ramallah, have told me that the Israeli and US vision of Palestinian “autonomy” may amount to little more than a system of tribal fiefdoms, reminiscent of Afghanistan.

There are already a few Palestinian partners emerging, such as Hebron businessman Ashraf Jabari, who is reportedly planning to attend the Bahrain conference.

He and other business leaders have been quietly developing ties with counterparts in the settler movement, such as Avi Zimmerman. Together, they have set up a joint chamber of commerce covering the West Bank.

It is precisely such initiatives that are being promoted by Friedman and would be eligible for grants from the $50m fund the US Congress is currently legislating.

Ultimately, these Palestinian business “partners” could form an elite to serve as an ostensible national address for the international community in its dealings with the Palestinian people.

Sword over PA’s head

The PA doesn’t have to be discarded for the Trump plan to progress. But alternative national and local leaderships need to be cultivated by Washington to serve both as a sword hanging over the PA’s head, to encourage it to capitulate, and as an alternative ruling class, should the PA fail to submit to the “deal of the century”.

In short, Washington is playing a game of chicken with Abbas and the PA. It is determined that the Palestinians will blink first.

Deeply implicated in Washington’s vision, even if largely out of sight, are the Arab states, whose role is to strong-arm whatever Palestinian leadership is required for the Greater Israel “deal of the century” to be implemented.

The burden of managing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will shift once again. When Israel occupied the Palestinian territories in 1967, it became directly responsible for the welfare of Palestinians living there.

Since the mid-1990s, when the Palestinian leadership was allowed to return under the Oslo accords, the PA has had to shoulder the task of keeping the territories quiet on Israel’s behalf. Now, after the PA has refused to sign off on Israel’s ambitions to take for itself East Jerusalem and much of the West Bank, the PA is increasingly seen as having outlived its usefulness.

Instead, Palestinian expectations may have to be managed via another route – through the key Arab states of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Jordan. Or, as Palestinian analyst Hani al-Masri recently noted, the Bahrain conference “foreshadows the beginning of abandoning the [Palestine Liberation Organization] as the Palestinians’ representative, thereby opening the door … for a new era of Arab patronage over the Palestinians to take hold.”

Years of imperial overreach

Under Trump, what has changed most significantly in the US approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the urgency of Washington’s efforts to set aside the Palestinian national struggle once and for all.

Since the Six-Day War of 1967, US administrations – with the possible exception of Jimmy Carter’s – had only a marginal interest in forcing a settlement on Israelis and Palestinians. Aside from lip service to peace, they were mostly content to leave the two sides to engage in an asymmetrical struggle that always favoured Israel. This was sold as “conflict management”.

But after 15 years of US imperial overreach in the Middle East – and faced with major foreign policy setbacks in Iraq and Syria, and Israel’s related failures in Lebanon – Washington desperately needs to consolidate its position against rivals and potential rivals in this oil-rich region.

Russia, China, Turkey, Iran, and even Europe, are jostling in different ways for a more assertive role in the Middle East. As it tries to counter these influences, the US wishes to bring together its main allies in the region: Israel and the key Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia.

Although secret ties between the two sides have been growing for some time, unresolved tensions remain over Israel’s demand that it be allowed to maintain regional superiority in military and intelligence matters. That has been obvious in current power battles playing out in Washington.

The Trump administration last month declared extraordinary measures to bypass Congress so that it could sell more than $8bn in weapons to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan. In retaliation, Congressional leaders close to Israel vowed they would block the arms sales.

Splinter in region’s windpipe

In the White House’s view, little further progress can be made until the Palestinian splinter stuck deep in the Middle East’s windpipe is removed.

Most Arab leaders care nothing for the Palestinian cause, and have come to bitterly resent the way the Palestinians’ enduring struggle for statehood has complicated their own dealings in the region, especially with Iran and Israel.

They would enthusiastically embrace a full partnership with the US and Israel in the region, if only they could afford to be seen doing so.

But the Palestinians’ struggle against Israel – and its powerful symbolism in a region that has experienced so much malign Western interference – continues to serve as a brake on Washington’s efforts to forge tighter and more explicit alliances with the Arab states.

Serious case of hubris

As such, the Trump administration has concluded that “conflict management” is no longer in US interests. It needs to isolate and dispose of the Palestinian splinter. Once that encumbrance is out of the way, the White House believes it can get on with forging a coalition with Israel and most of the Arab states to reassert its dominance over the Middle East.

All of this will likely prove far harder to achieve than the Trump administration imagines, as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo intimated last week in private.

But it would be wrong nonetheless to assume that the strategy behind Trump’s “deal of the century”, however unrealistic, is not clear-sighted in both its aims and methods.

It would be similarly misguided to believe that the administration’s policy is a maverick one. It is operating within the ideological constraints of the Washington foreign policy elite, even if Trump’s “peace plan” lies at the outer margins of the establishment consensus.

The Trump administration enjoys bipartisan backing from Congress both for its Jerusalem embassy move and for economic measures that threaten to crush the PA, a government-in-waiting that has already made enormous compromises in agreeing to statehood on a tiny fraction of its people’s historic homeland.

No doubt the Trump White House is suffering from a serious case of hubris in trying to eliminate the Palestinian cause for good. But that hubris, however dangerous, we should remember, is shared by much of the US political establishment.

• First published at Middle East Eye.

Kushner as a Colonial Administrator

In a TV interview on June 2, on the news docuseries “Axios” on the HBO channel, Jared Kushner opened up regarding many issues, in which his ‘Deal of the Century’ was a prime focus.

The major revelation made by Kushner, President Donald Trump’s adviser and son-in-law, was least surprising. Kushner believes that Palestinians are not capable of governing themselves.

Not surprising, because Kushner thinks he is capable of arranging the future of the Palestinian people without the inclusion of the Palestinian leadership. He has been pushing his so-called ‘Deal of the Century’ relentlessly, while including in his various meets and conferences countries such as Poland, Brazil and Croatia, but not Palestine.

Indeed, this is what transpired at the Warsaw conference on ‘peace and security’ in the Middle East. The same charade, also led by Kushner, is expected to be rebooted in Bahrain on June 25.

Much has been said about the subtle racism in Kushner’s words, reeking with the stench of old colonial discourses where the natives were seen as lesser, incapable of rational thinking beings who needed the civilized ‘whites’ of the western hemisphere to help them cope with their backwardness and inherent incompetence.

Kushner, whose credentials are merely based on his familial connections to Trump and family friendship with Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is now poised to be the colonial administrator of old, making and enforcing the law while the hapless natives have no other option but to either accommodate or receive their due punishment.

This is not an exaggeration. In fact, according to leaked information concerning Kushner’s ‘Deal of the Century,’ and published in the Israeli daily newspaper, Israel Hayom, if Palestinian groups refuse to accept the US-Israeli diktats, “the US will cancel all financial support to the Palestinians and ensure that no country transfers funds to them.”

In the HBO interview, Kushner offered the Palestinians a lifeline. They could be considered capable of governing themselves should they manage to achieve the following: “a fair judicial system … freedom of the press, freedom of expression, tolerance for all religions.”

The fact that Palestine is an occupied country, subject in every possible way to Israel’s military law, and that Israel has never been held accountable for its 52-year occupation seems to be of no relevance whatsoever, as far as Kushner is concerned.

On the contrary, the subtext in all of what Kushner has said in the interview is that Israel is the antithesis to the unquestionable Palestinian failure. Unlike Palestine, Israel needs to do little to demonstrate its ability to be a worthy peace partner.

While the term ‘US bias towards Israel’ is as old as the state of Israel itself, what is hardly discussed are the specifics of that bias, the decidedly condescending, patronizing and, often, racist view that US political classes have of Palestinians – and all Arabs and Muslims, for that matter; and the utter infatuation with Israel, which is often cited as a model for democracy, judicial transparency and successful ‘anti-terror’ tactics.

According to Kushner a ‘fair judicial system’ is a conditio sine qua non to determine a country’s ability to govern itself. But is the Israeli judicial system “fair” and “democratic”?

Israel does not have a single judicial system, but two. This duality has, in fact, defined Israeli courts from the very inception of Israel in 1948. This de facto apartheid system openly differentiates between Jews and Arabs, a fact that is true in both civil and criminal law.

“Criminal law is applied separately and unequally in the West Bank, based on nationality alone (Israeli versus Palestinian), inventively weaving its way around the contours of international law in order to preserve and develop its ‘(illegal Jewish) settlement enterprise’,” Israeli scholar, Emily Omer-Man, explained in her essay ‘Separate and Unequal’.

In practice, Palestinians and Israelis who commit the exact same crime will be judged according to two different systems, with two different procedures: “The settler will be processed according to the Israeli Penal Code (while) the Palestinian will be processed according to military order.”

This unfairness is constituent of a massively unjust judicial apparatus that has defined the Israeli legal system from the onset. Take the measure of administrative detention as an example. Palestinians can be held without trial and without any stated legal justification. Tens of thousands of Palestinians have been subjected to this undemocratic ‘law’ and hundreds of them are currently held in Israeli jails.

It is ironic that Kushner raised the issue of freedom of the press, in particular, as Israel is being derided for its dismal record in that regard. Israel has reportedly committed 811 violations against Palestinian journalists since the start of the ‘March of Return’ in Gaza in March 2018. Two journalists – Yaser Murtaja and Ahmed Abu Hussein – were killed and 155 were wounded by Israeli snipers.

Like the imbalanced Israeli judicial system, targeting the press is also a part of a protracted pattern. According to a press release issued by the Palestinian Journalists Union last May, Israel has killed 102 Palestinian journalists since 1972.

The fact that Palestinian intellectuals, poets and activists have been imprisoned for Facebook and other social media posts should tell us volumes about the limits of Israel’s freedom of press and expression.

It is also worth mentioning that in June 2018, the Israeli Knesset voted for a bill that prohibits the filming of Israeli soldiers as a way to mask their crimes and shelter them from any future legal accountability.

As for freedom of religion, despite its many shortcomings, the Palestinian Authority hardly discriminates against religious minorities. The same cannot be said about Israel.

Although discrimination against non-Jews in Israel has been the raison d’être of the very idea of Israel, the Nation-State Law of July 2018 further cemented the superiority of the Jews and inferior status of everyone else.

According to the new Basic Law, Israel is “the national home of the Jewish people” only and “the right to exercise national self-determination is unique to the Jewish people.”

Palestinians do not need to be lectured on how to meet Israeli and American expectations, nor should they ever aspire to imitate the undemocratic Israeli model. What they urgently need, instead, is international solidarity to help them win the fight against Israeli occupation, racism and apartheid.

Resurrecting the PLO is Palestine’s Best Response to the “Deal of the Century”

Palestinian groups, Fatah, Hamas and others should not confine themselves to simply rejecting the Trump Administration’s so-called ‘Deal of the Century’. Instead, they should use their resistance to the new American-Israeli plot as an opportunity to unify their ranks.

Leaked details of the ‘Deal of the Century’ confirm Palestinians’ worst fears: the ‘Deal’ is but a complete American acquiescence to the right-wing mentality that has ruled Israel for over a decade.

According to the Israeli daily newspaper, Israel Hayom, a demilitarized state, ‘New Palestine’ will be established on territorial fragments of the West Bank, as all illegal Jewish settlements would permanently become part of Israel. If Palestinians refuse to accept Washington’s diktats, according to the report, they will be punished through financial and political isolation.

This is certainly not an American peace overture, but an egregious act of bullying. However, it is hardly a deviation from previous rounds of ‘peace-making,’ where Washington always took Israel’s side, blamed Palestinians and failed to hold Israel to account. Washington has never refrained from supporting Israeli wars against Palestinians or even conditioned its ever-generous aid packages on the dismantling of the illegal Jewish settlements.

The only difference between the US ‘peace process’ of the past and today’s ‘Deal of the Century’ is in the style and tactics as opposed to the substance and details.

Undoubtedly, the ‘Deal’, championed by Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s adviser and son-in-law, will fail. Not only will it not deliver peace – this is not the intention – but it is most likely to be rejected by Israel. The formation of Israel’s new government under Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership is centered round far-right and religious parties. It is no longer politically correct in the new Israeli lexicon to even discuss the possibility of a Palestinian state, let alone agree to one.

Netanyahu, however, is likely to wait for Palestinians to reject the deal, as they certainly should. Then, with the help of pro-Israel mainstream western media, a new discourse will evolve, blaming Palestinians for missing yet another opportunity for peace, while absolving Israel from any wrongdoing. This pattern is familiar, highlighted most starkly in Bill Clinton’s Camp David II in 2000 and George W. Bush’s Road Map for Peace in 2003.

In 2000, the late Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, rejected then Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak’s ‘generous offer’, an entirely manufactured political hoax that, to this day, defines official and academic understanding of what had transpired in the secret talks then.

All Palestinians must reject the ‘Deal of the Century’, or any deal that is born out of a political discourse which is not centered on Palestinian rights as enshrined in international law, a political frame of reference that is agreed upon by every country in the world, save the US and Israel. Decades of fraudulent American ‘peace making’ prove that Washington will never fulfil its self-designated title as an ‘honest peacemaker.’

However, rejection per se, while going back to business as usual, is inadequate. While the Palestinian people are united behind the need to resist the Israeli Occupation, challenge Israeli apartheid and employ international pressure until Israel finally relents, Palestinian factions are driven by other selfish priorities. Each faction seems to rotate within the political sphere of foreign influence, whether Arab or international.

For example, Fatah, which is credited for ‘igniting the spark of the Palestinian revolution’ in 1965, has been largely consumed with the trappings of false power while dominating the Palestinian Authority, which itself operates within the space allocated to it by the Israeli military occupation in the West Bank.

Hamas, which began as an organic movement in Palestine, is forced to play regional politics in its desperation for any political validation in order to escape the suffocating siege of Gaza.

Whenever both parties verge on forming a united leadership in the hope of resurrecting the largely defunct Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), their benefactors manipulate the money and politics, thus resuming disunity and discord.

The ‘Deal of the Century’, however, offers both groups an opportunity, as they are united in rejecting the deal and equally perceive any Palestinian engagement with it as an act of treason.

More importantly, the steps taken by Washington to isolate the PA through denying Palestinians urgently needed funds, revoking the PLO’s diplomatic status in Washington and shunning the PA as a political ally  provide the opportunity to open the necessary political dialogue that could finally accomplish a serious Fatah-Hamas reconciliation.

Israel, too, by withholding tax money collected on behalf of the PA, has lost its last pressure card against Mahmoud Abbas and his government in Ramallah.

At this point, there is little else that the US and Israel could do to exert more pressure on the Palestinians.

But this political space available for Palestinians to create a new political reality will be brief. The moment the ‘Deal of the Century’ is discarded as another failed American scheme to force a Palestinian surrender, the political cards, regionally and internationally, will be mixed again, beyond the ability of Palestinian factions to control their outcome.

Therefore, it is critical that Palestinian groups at home and in the diaspora push for Palestinian dialogue, not simply for the sake of forming a unity government in Ramallah, but to revitalize the PLO as a truly representative and democratic body that includes all Palestinian political currents and communities.

It is only through the resurrection of the PLO that Palestinians could finally return to their original mission of devising a national liberation strategy that is not manipulated by money and not subjected to regional politicking.

If history is any indication, the ‘Deal of the Century’ is another sinister American attempt to manage the situation in Palestine in order to assert political dominance in the region. This ‘Deal’ is essential for American reputation, especially among its disgruntled regional allies who feel abandoned by the progressive American military and political retreat from the region.

This latest charade does not have to be at the expense of Palestinians, and Palestinian groups should recognize and grasp this unique opportunity. The ‘Deal of the Century’ will fail, but efforts to achieve Palestinian unity could finally succeed.

Trump’s Global Impact (and What Russia Could Do)

TV news anchors typically describe Donald Trump’s poll numbers as low. But a 40 percent support figure in August of the second year is actually not so unusual. (Obama’s job approval rate was 44 at this point his first term; Bill Clinton was at 41; Ronald Reagan 42; Jimmy Carter at 41.) It’s not abnormal for a president to have this level of support at this point; the amazing thing is that Trump has been able to maintain it, given his degree of repulsiveness, from his election.

This shows the world something quite horrifying: that either this 40% actually agrees with that repulsiveness, doesn’t notice it, or tolerates it thinking at least he’s bringing jobs back.

However rocked by scandals, defections, pending legal issues, etc. Trump has retained his base. He said during his campaign that he could stand in the middle of Fifth Ave. and shoot somebody and not lose one voter. He has not shot anyone to my knowledge but he has torn babies from their moms and sent the moms out of the country and done things arguably worse than shooting somebody.

Domestically Trump remains strong, with the Republican Congress almost solidly behind him. In the mid-term election Republican candidates will mobilize the base by warning that if a Democrat wins, it might lead to Trump’s impeachment. (This at least is Steve Bannon’s recommendation.) Whatever happens, I think the 40/60 ratio of ardent fans and the nauseated and alarmed community will continue in this sad country.

But what is Trump’s standing internationally? He is generally seen by foreign leaders as a boorish, ignorant, self-obsessed buffoon, a narcissist who responds well to flattery (from Jordan’s king, South Korean envoys, Emmanuel Macron sometimes, the Saudis, Abe Shinzo), an erratic unpredictable leader often at odds with his own advisors. Every world leader knows that Trump’s former secretary of state Rex Tillerson called Trump a “moron,” and former national security advisor H.R. McMaster and current White House Chief of Staff John Kelly have called him an “idiot.” Every national intelligence community has specialists who study the psychology of foreign leaders.

Surely every leader who meets Trump has been briefed in advance about his apparent malignant narcissism and coached to stoke his ego. Jordanian King Abdullah’s reference to Trump’s “grace” and “humility” in a White House press conference last June, and the Saudis’ inexplicable bestowal of the King Abdulaziz al Saud Collar on the Islamophobic Trump months after his election are a couple examples.

NATO allies note that, while not even engaging in discussion of NATO’s priorities and purposes, Trump demands that they increase their military spending. He depicts the failure of most to meet the 2% goal established several years ago as a kind of rip-off of the U.S., which has to step in to pick up the slack to keep NATO strong. The bullying pressure disturbed everyone at Brussels but NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was obliged to say, “I would like to thank President Trump for his leadership on defense spending.” It’s not clear anything else happened at that meeting before Trump flew to Helsinki.

Trump: Alienating the World

Trump’s trade wars with Europe, China, Canada and other countries raise concern about his real business savvy, or at least his grasp of international economics. His threats against North Korea, followed by his rapprochement with Kim, gravely concern the South Koreans (not because they don’t want peace, but because they’ve sometimes been left out of the loop). He has of course alienated the Mexicans. He has offended a continent by referring to African nations as “shitty countries.” He has gone from praising Turkey’s Tayyib Erdogan to punishing him with sanctions driving down the Turkish lira, all on account of one detained Christian evangelist minister from the U.S. accused of supporting Kurdish separatism. He has completely alienated the Palestinians by demonstrating he doesn’t care about them and is a total Netanyahu stooge.

He offended Angela Merkel from the outset, courted Emmanuel Macron but then alienated him, annoyed Theresa May with his insults, befriended Jinping Xi but then slammed high tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminum. He has personally offended the Australian and Canadian prime ministers. If he has not yet alienated Abe Shinzo, he has at least produced consternation. (See this photo from the last G-7 summit in Quebec, where the Japanese leader looms between a confrontational Angela and pouting boy Donald, arms folded, eyes showing worry and consternation.)

Trump’s friends in this world include the leaders of Israel, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and maybe Modi’s India (although U.S. demands that India stop importing Iranian oil are affecting the relationship). Maybe we could include the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte although he like Trump is a mercurial type and is trying to diversify military purchases and draw closer to both China and Russia. And Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who shares his anti-immigrant stance and wants to readmit Russia to the G7. But it is a small group of friends, and subject to change.

Trump increasingly isolates this country. First the withdrawal from the Paris Accord, announced with such defiance citing its unfairness to the U.S. Then the departure from UNESCO (because of its alleged anti-Israel bias). Then withdrawing from the Iran Deal, so painfully crafted by the U.S., Russia, France, U.K. and Germany. Then leaving the UN Human Rights Council (after again accusing a body of anti-Israel bias, and trying to block an investigation into Israeli use of force in Gaza). And of course the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the decision to move the U.S. embassy there.

The United Nations General Assembly vote condemning that U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last Dec. 21 was 128-9. All major U.S. allies including all other NATO members voted for the resolution or abstained (some in fear). Since the decision was opposed by some close advisors (but promoted by his son-in-law Jared Kushner, a friend of Netanyahu’s since his teens when the Israeli politician once slept in his bed), this UNGA vote can be seen as a rejection of Trump personally.

UN Ambassador Nikki Haley made a very Trumpian statement after the vote:

The United States will remember this day in which it was singled out for attack in the General Assembly for the very act of exercising our right as a sovereign nation.  We will remember it when we are called upon to once again make the world’s largest contribution to the United Nations. And we will remember it when so many countries come calling on us, as they so often do, to pay even more and to use our influence for their benefit.

Earlier she had warned the world: “At the UN, we’re constantly asked to do more and give more — in the past we have. So, when we make a decision, at the will of the American people, about where to locate OUR embassy, we don’t expect those we’ve helped to target us. On Thursday, there will be a vote at the UN criticizing our choice. And yes, the US will be taking names.”

We are taking names. Obey! Such language is not winning Trump more friends. He may feel it better to be feared than loved but he’s not scaring anybody but Guatemala, Honduras, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau, Nauru and Togo (the only countries except for the U.S. and Israel that opposed the resolution).

The photo shoots and body language in Charlevoix and Brussels suggest that Trump is a pariah, increasingly considered such, not just due to his policies but due to his manifestly unstable personality.

Putin: Courting the World

Meanwhile the other most powerful man in the world—Vladimir Putin—is busily strengthening ties with China, Japan, both Koreas, India, Iran, Turkey and even long-time foes (like Saudi Arabia). Despite EU sanctions imposed on Russia after its annexation of Crimea in response to the Maidan coup of February 2014, Vladimir Putin reaches out to European leaders, seeks to make deals (the Baltic oil pipeline to Germany), advances concrete proposals (implementation of the Minsk Agreement), engages in carefully diplomacy (the Iran Deal) and generally projects through Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov a serious approach to world affairs. (Compare Mike Pompeo, who barks utterly unacceptable demands to Iran to allow implementation of the deal, threatens all nations who trade with Iran with economic punishment, and thereby asserts the U.S.’s right to dominate the world through its banking system.)

Washington pulls out of the Iran Deal; Merkel journeys to Sochi to talk with Putin about how to preserve it despite U.S. madness.

Trump heaps sanctions on Turkey; Erdogan calls Putin and talks about diversifying Turkey’s ties. (This may have long-term implications for NATO.)

Trump threatens Merkel over the Nord Stream 2 pipeline; Merkel meets Putin in Berlin to discuss it, Iran, and other matters after the Russian leader meets the Austrian foreign minister as a guest at her wedding. They danced together; he perhaps thanked her again for her party’s opposition to EU Russian sanctions.

Putin is widely regarded as the adult on the world stage while the U.S. is led by a mischievous and unpredictable child. I don’t believe that Putin helped get Trump elected, but if he did he probably did so hoping Trump would halt NATO expansion, recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and remove the sanctions the U.S. has imposed on Russia since 2014. In fact NATO will likely expand to include Montenegro, Trump proclaims NATO “stronger than ever” (due to his bullying leadership), and sanctions have been added not removed under Trump.

But on the plus side for Russia (and I think for the world), Trump has hastened U.S. decline by weakening the Atlantic Alliance, including U.S.-Canada ties; damaging U.S.-Mexican relations;  wreaking havoc with trade wars; and conveying to African leaders a sense of racist contempt. He has inadvertently produced an atmosphere more conducive to multilateralism.

While the U.S. corporate press indulges in unprecedented Russophobia, Moscow’s stature in the world rises. That Russia annexed the Crimea Peninsula (Russian from 1783 to 1954) following a U.S.-backed regime change in Ukraine in 2014 bothers Germans and Italians less than the fact the U.S. invaded Iraq and sewed chaos throughout the Middle East resulting in Europe’s immigration crisis. Polls show Europeans trust Putin more than Trump.

It may be that world leaders, disgusted with the U.S. president and uncertain about who really makes decisions in Washington, will increasingly turn away from U.S. leadership. Merkel has said this; so has the EU president. For the first time in seven decades there is a real crisis within the U.S. imperialist bloc forged from 1945. What can Putin do to take advantage of this crisis, to encourage a more multilateral world?

Things to Do

Looking at it as a game, if I were assigned the Russia role I would during this window of opportunity, while this clown is in power, to take my cue from what Bill Clinton did when Putin’s predecessor Boris Yeltsin led Russia. Yeltsin was another mercurial incompetent fool. Clinton took the opportunity to take over much of what had been Yugoslavia and expand NATO in a provocative betrayal of the Reagan-Gorbachev agreement. The leader of Russia could return the favor now by various measures.

Some ideas:

  1. Change the relationship between Russia and Japan, your neighbor that remains the world’s third largest economy. The U.S. has consistently discouraged Tokyo from signing a treaty with Moscow formally ending the Second World War since it would throw into question the rationale for maintaining 38,000 troops in Japan, mostly in Okinawa where they are largely unwelcome.

Settle the Northern Islands dispute; split the four and arrange for joint economic development. Sign a trade deal covering Siberian timber and crude oil exports. Long-term, encourage Tokyo to terminate the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty imposed on the country in 1952. Cater in resurgent Japanese nationalism by encouraging  Japan to become a normal country as opposed to a vassal one, and to embrace neutrality.

  1. Continue to deepen the relationship with China within the Shanghai Communique Organization, cooperating on Eurasian transport infrastructure to establish the common market Putin envisions extending “from Vladivostok to Lisbon.” Eurasia is most of the world, sixty percent of its population and a fourth of its land space. Japan just signed a treaty creating a common market with the EU; this was its response to Trump’s rejection of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. East Asia is already connected to Europe and the trans-Pacific market will one day be rivaled by a Eurasian market.
  1. State clearly that NATO is unnecessary and indeed dangerous. Take advantage of the fact that candidate Trump questioned it. Use concrete examples. Ask Hungary: Why did you join in 1999—just as the U.S. and NATO were completing the destruction of Serbia—and what have you gotten from it other than economic damage when you’re forced to observe sanctions on Russia? Haven’t the sanctions cost the Hungarian economy over $ 10 billion? Hasn’t the Hungarian foreign minister protested the sanctions, saying they don’t work?

A recent poll in Hungary show 41 percent of the respondents felt NATO no longer important and a waste of money. The figures for Poland, the Czech Republic and Poland (which joined in a cluster in 1999, expanding the alliance after the Cold War) are similar.

67% of Hungarians agree that, “Current security threats are not serious enough to justify increased defense spending. The resources should instead be used for things like pensions, healthcare, and education.” Majorities in the Czech Republic and Slovakia agree. Encourage such rational sentiments during the time of Trump.

Merkel told Germans after the G-7 summit, “The era in which we could fully rely on others is over to some extent. That’s what I experienced over the past several days. We Europeans truly have to take our fate into our own hands — naturally in friendship with the United States of America, in friendship with Great Britain, as good neighbors with whoever, also with Russia and other countries. But we have to know that we Europeans must fight for our own future and destiny.” Yes!

After Trump pulled out of the Iran Deal, European Council Donald Tusk condemned Trumps “capricious assertiveness” and declared: “Looking at the latest decisions of President Trump, someone could even think with friends like that who needs enemies. But frankly speaking, Europe should be grateful to President Trump, because thanks to him we have got rid of all illusions. He has made us realise that if you need a helping hand you will find one at the end of your arm.” Yes!

  1. Continue the international effort to suppress ISIL, al-Nusra (al-Sham) and their allies in Syria, insuring the survival of a secular state (as opposed to a Gulf-funded Sunni sharia state). Carefully handle the contradictions between Turks and Kurds, Turkish-backed opposition groups and the Syrian Arab Army, Iranian and Hizbollah forces and Syrian Arab Army; U.S. forces and the Syrian Arab Army etc. Urge the U.S. forces to leave the country, as they are illegally there in the first place. Tell the Saudis their side has lost and they need to back off. Enhance the existing security cooperation with Iraq and compete for influence the country where the U.S. is extremely unpopular for obvious reasons.
  1. Enhance ties with Iran, including through barter deals that evade U.S. secondary sanctions and the sale of military equipment. Emphasize the illegality and cruelty of the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA. Encourage Turkey’s stated determination to defy the U.S. embargo on trade with Iran, purchasing crude oil and natural gas. Encourage too India’s intention to do the same. Raise rhetorically in every international forum the arrogance of the U.S. in attempting to collapse the Iranian economy and induce regime change by marshaling all who can be cowed into cooperation—all of this being in violation of international law. Actively challenge the U.S. effort to repeat the coup of 1953.
  1. Take advantage of the fact that the U.S. has no lingering credibility on the Israel-Palestine conflict; it has been slavishly devoted to Israel for five decades and in its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has left Palestinians hopeless of any peaceful solution. Russia has cordial relations with the Palestine Authority, and has high-level ties with Hamas (which it does not consider terrorist, as the U.S. does), which it urges to cooperate with Fateh (PLO). It also has good relations with Israel, in part due to cultural connections (the large population in Israel of Russian origin), the history including the Stalin-era Soviet support for Israel at its inception, booming trade (up 25% last year, while the U.S. and Europe heaped on sanctions), and strategic cooperation in Syria to keep forces separate and avoid incidents as Israel seeks to maintain Golan Heights security and sometimes hit Hizbollah targets while Russia wants to aid the regime in defeating its mainly extreme Islamist opponents.

Russia supports a two-state solution, as almost everyone does in some vague sense. But while U.S. presidents since the 1967 War (Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama, Trump) have always been responsive to a Christian Evangelical political base that thinks Israel is the fulfillment of Bible prophecy and Jesus will return there soon; plus a well organized and funded Jewish Zionist community, they have taken pains to assert U.S. even-handedness on the issue of the Occupied Territories resulting from that war. Trump doesn’t do that.

Here’s Russia’s chance to make the resolution of the problem something other than a U.S.-dictated Dayton Accord. Or a U.S.-subsidized slow suffocation of the two-state concept, under load after load of housing block concrete. There were 150,000 settlers on the West Bank when the Second Oslo Accord was signed in 1995. There are 400,000 now. The U.S. has not succeeded in forcing the Israelis to change behavior. Maybe Russia is better placed to do that, especially given warm current relations with Turkey, Iran, Israel, the Palestinian factions, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt where since 2015 Russia has enjoyed access to airbases and airspace for its warplanes.

  1. Cultivate Latin American countries abused by Trump’s U.S.  Cozy up with Mexico. Just as you cooperate with Brazil within the BRICS association, providing financial assistance for infrastructure and various projects. Don’t do in Mexico what the U.S. did in Ukraine, just smother Mexico with affection as you once did Cuba and take advantage of the fact that Trump’s anti-Mexican rants, the Wall and the immigration terror are spreading anti-U.S. sentiment in Mexico. Maintain the existing warm relationship with Cuba. Take advantage of the fact that Trump reversed the Obama relaxation on travel and business and maintains the trade embargo. The EU and the whole world deplores the U.S. embargo on Cuba. Join with the nations of Latin America in helping Cuba develop despite it.
  1. Work with China, which also enjoys good relations with both Koreas, to promote and facilitate the reunification of Korea as a confederation of two states with different systems, rid of nuclear weapons. Encourage Trump to act on his stated inclination to withdraw troops from South Korea. Argue that they serve no purpose because both Koreas have massive armies, can defend themselves from invaders and have signed a peace agreement between themselves. It’s not like the South Korean people want those 28,000 soldiers in their country.

Again, I make these recommendations as someone observing a board game. I regard Russia as an oppressive capitalist country much like the one in which I live. I would not want it to replace the U.S. as lobal hegemon but see its agency in shaking up the world order now that Trump has initiated the process.

Russia, if you’re listening…. Success in these efforts could reshuffle the world in a positive way. Not just for Russia but for everybody. Dissolution of military alliances, beginning with NATO. Withdrawal of troops. Abandonment of economic sanctions. Peace agreements ending historical conflicts.

Exploit this Trump moment to produce some good.

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.

On such a full sea are we now afloat, for sure.

Gaza without Cancer Medicine as Haley Blames Arabs for Washington’s Sins

On Sunday August 12, news from Gaza was distressing: The Ministry of Health announced that it would no longer be able to treat cancer patients in the Israel-besieged Strip.

“Colon and lung cancer, as well as lymphoma patients cannot be provided with the necessary therapy now,” said Dr. Mohammed Abu Silmiya, director of Abdulaziz Al-Rantisi Hospital for Children.

Israel is ultimately responsible for the Gaza siege which has extended for more than 11 years. With direct US backing, Israel has launched three major wars on Gaza in the name of fighting terrorism, destroying much of the tiny region’s infrastructure. A hermetic siege has punished ordinary Gazans, who are now lacking everything, including the most basic needs of clean water and electricity.

Now, even chemotherapy is no longer available.

But the war on the Palestinians has been a joint venture right from the start. The US has stood by Israel for many years and, as of late, orchestrated the demise of Gaza.

Washington has done everything in its power to isolate the impoverished Strip: It warned Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah Party against reconciliation with its Hamas rivals. It fueled and sustained the Israeli war and siege on Gaza. It backed Israel politically on every available platform to shield Tel Aviv from its war crimes in the Strip and throughout Occupied Palestinian Territories.

For many years, the US acted as if a peace broker. Although the American act failed to impress Palestinians, it perpetuated the illusion in the minds of US allies that US administrations are forces for good, standing at an equal distance between two parties in an even-handed ‘conflict’.

The advent of Donald Trump to the White House has ended the charade.

While the new administration brazenly defied international law by moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, it also took a series of measures to financially punish international bodies that extended recognition, political support or any sort of aid to Palestinians. In the course of a few months, the US took on the United Nations culture agency, UNESCO, pulled out of the UN Human Rights Council and has cut aid to the Palestinian refugee agency, UNRWA.

The attack on UN organizations was led by the US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, who has played a central role in the new, anti-Palestinian discourse.

But she is not alone. In an article for CNN, Haley, along with US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, Jared Kushner, senior adviser to the President and Jason Greenblatt,  US representative for international negotiations, articulated an American point of view that read like text book Israeli Zionist narrative.

They placed all the blame on Palestinians, and spared Israel from any wrong-doing.

“Unfortunately,” they wrote, “Hamas’ malign activity is pushing Israel to engage in increasingly significant acts of self-defense. As in the case of past conflicts, Hamas starts a clash, loses the battle and its people suffer. That is the reality that needs to change.”

That was on July 23. A day later, Haley, using twisted language, chastised Arabs for failing Palestine and the Palestinians. In an 8-minute address to the UN, Haley spoke as if a pro-Palestinian activist, agonizing over the losses and suffering of the Palestinian people.

“Country after country claims solidarity with the Palestinian people … Talk is cheap. No group of countries is more generous with their words than the Palestinians’ Arab neighbors,” she said.

She lamented: “But all of the words spoken here in New York do not feed, clothe or educate a single Palestinian child. All they do is get the international community riled up.”

Welcome to ‘post-truth’ America.

While the Arabs are expected – in fact, required – to stand in solidarity with their Palestinian brethren, the primary reason for the subjugation of the Palestinian people is the continued US support for Israel.

Since 1999, the US has supported Israel through 10-year long Memorandums of Understanding. According to these arrangements, support for Israel does not require Senate approval and, despite the massive aid, it still does not include missile defense funding.

The last US president to sign a decade-long commitment of funding to Israel, which is set to last between 2019-2028, was President Barack Obama, who provided Israel with more money than any other president in US history.

According to US Congressional Research Service, as of April 2018, “Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II.” This means that, to date, “the United States has provided Israel $134.7 billion in bilateral assistance and missile defense funding.”

Most of that military assistance has been used to fight Palestinians and Arab neighbors, to support the Israeli military Occupation of Palestine and to reinforce the Israeli blockade of Gaza. For Haley to rebuke Arabs for not doing enough to help Palestinians is simply disingenuous.

As harmful as US military support for Israel and the manipulation of the comparatively limited aid to Palestinians as it has been, US interference in Palestinian political affairs has been equally destructive.

The blatant American interference in Palestinian politics is juxtaposed with complete insubordination to the Israeli government, regardless of the fact that Tel Aviv has moved sharply to the right, and is increasingly shedding any claims to true democracy.

Considering that the US anti-Palestinian and pro-Israel stances have accentuated in recent months, one is hardly moved by Haley’s false sympathy with Gaza and the Palestinians.

Only weeks before she criticized the lack of Arab support, she lectured the international community on Israel’s benevolent approach to what she saw as Palestinian violence.

“No country in this chamber would act with more restraint than Israel has,” she said on May 15, shortly after many UN ambassadors stood up for a minute’s silence to mourn 60 Palestinians who were killed while peacefully protesting the siege at the fence separating Gaza from Israel.

Haley’s peculiar attacks on unsupportive Arab governments is designed to distract from the US’ own role that has emboldened Israel and held Palestinians prisoners to military Occupation and an inhumane siege for far too long.

“Deal of the Century” is Not New and the PA Leadership is Not a Victim

Donald Trump’s ‘deal of the century’ will fail. Palestinians will not exchange their 70-year long struggle for freedom for Jared Kushner’s cash; nor will Israel accept even if there is a demilitarized Palestinian state in the West Bank.

The order of that anticipated failure is likely to go something like this: the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah is likely to reject the deal once the full details of the US administration’s plan are revealed; Israel is likely to withhold its decision till Palestinians rejection is exploited thoroughly by pro-Israel US media.

The reality is that, considering the massive surge of the Right and ultra-nationalist forces in Israel, an independent Palestinian state even on one percent of historic Palestine will not be acceptable by Israel’s current political standards.

There is more to consider: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s troubled career as a long-serving leader is being dogged by accusations of corruption and several police investigations. His position is too weak to even guarantee his own survival until the next general elections, let alone champion a ‘deal of the century.’

However, the embattled Israeli leader is expected to play along to win more favor with his American allies, distract the Israeli public from his own corruption, and hold Palestinians accountable for the political fiasco that this is sure to unleash.

It is Bill Clinton’s Camp David II and George W. Bush’s ‘Road Map for Peace’ all over again. Both initiatives, as unfair as they were to Palestinians, were never accepted by Israel in the first place, yet in many history books, it is written that the ungrateful Palestinian leadership had torpedoed US-Israeli peace efforts. Netanyahu is keen on maintaining this misconception.

The Israel leader, who has received the ultimate American gift of the relocation of US embassy to Jerusalem, knows how important this ‘deal’ is to the Trump Administration.

Before assuming his role as President, Trump spoke early on of his ‘ultimate deal’ in an interview with the Wall Street Journal on November 1, 2016. He offered no details, aside from the claim that he is able “to do … the deal that cannot be made … for humanity’s sake’.

Since then, we have relied on occasional leaks, starting in November 2017, up to recently. We learned that a demilitarized Palestinian state would be established on a small part of the West Bank, without Occupied East Jerusalem as its capital; that Israel will keep all of Jerusalem and will annex illegal Jewish settlements and even keep control of the Jordan Valley, and so on.

Palestinians will still have a ‘Jerusalem’, albeit an invented one, where the neighborhood of Abu Dis will simply be called Jerusalem.

Despite the hype, nothing is truly new here. The ‘deal of the century’ promises to be a rehash of previous American proposals that catered to Israel’s needs and interests.

Remarks by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in an interview with the Palestinian newspaper ‘Al-Quds’, corroborate this view. He claimed that the Palestinian people are “less invested in the politician’s talking points than they are in seeking how a deal will give them and their future generations new opportunities, more and better paying jobs.”

Where did we hear this before? Oh, yes, Netanyahu’s so-called ‘economic peace’ which he has been peddling for over a decade. Certainly, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has proven that its political will is a commodity to be bought and sold, but to expect the Palestinian people to follow suit is an illusion without historical precedent.

Indeed, the PA has grown to be an obstacle to Palestinian freedom. A recent survey conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey indicated that the majority of Palestinians put the blame mostly on Israel and the PA for the Gaza siege, and that they mostly believe that the PA has “become a burden on the Palestinian people.”

It is hardly surprising that as of March 2018, 68% of all Palestinians want PA President Mahmoud Abbas to resign.

While Israel deserves most of the blame for its decades-long military Occupation, successive wars and lethal sieges, the US too stands accountable for backing and financing Israel’s colonial endeavors. However, the PA cannot play the role of the hapless victim.

What makes the ‘deal of the century’ particularity dangerous is the truth that the PA cannot be trusted. It has played its role, assigned by Israel and the US, so well and for so long. PA policy served as the local arm in the subjugation of Palestinians, thwarting their protests and ensuring the demise of any political initiative that does not revolve around the glorifying of Abbas and his goons.

It is hardly an achievement when much of PA foreign policy in recent years was invested to ensure the complete economic and political isolation of impoverished Gaza, as opposed to unifying the Palestinian people around a collective fight to end the horrific Israeli Occupation.

For PA officials to decry the ‘deal of the century’ as an infringement on Palestinian rights, while they have done little to respect these rights in the first place, is the very definition of hypocrisy. No wonder Kushner thinks the US can simply buy Palestinians with money in a “cash-in-your-chips, go-for-broke, take-it-or-leave-it (type of) deal’,” in the words of Robert Fisk.

What can the PA do now? It is trapped in its own imprudence. On the one hand, the PA’s financial sponsor in DC is turning off the money source, while on the other, the Palestinian people have lost the last iota of respect for its so-called ‘leadership’.

Trump’s ‘deal of the century’ may inadvertently mix up the cards leading to a “much-needed reckoning for all other parties involved”, argued Anders Persson. One option available for the Palestinian people is the expansion of the popular mobilization model which has been manifesting itself at the Gaza-Israel fence for many weeks.

The US-PA fallout and the looming destruction of the status quo might be the chance the Palestinian people need to unleash their power through mass mobilization and popular resistance at home, coupled with an active role for Palestinian communities in the diaspora.