With much fanfare and mutual backslapping, Donald Trump and Binyamin Netanyahu launched the US government’s “peace plan” at a glitzy press conference on 28 January. In addition to the world’s media, three Gulf states sent their ambassadors: the UAE, Bahrain and Oman (although the Omani ambassador confided to the Times of Israel that he didn’t even know what was in the document).
Palestinian representatives were conspicuous by their absence — unsurprisingly as even the BBC’s veteran Middle East correspondent Jeremy Bowen called the plan they were being asked to sign up to a “surrender document”.
So what is in the Trump plan? The first important point is that it follows on from a set of pro-Israeli policies aggressively promoted by Trump and his advisers, such as his son-in-law Jared Kushner, for several years.
The plan asks the Palestinians to give up on any meaningful claim to Jerusalem. The US moved its embassy to Jerusalem in 2018, thus satisfying a long term demand of both the Israeli and US right. Under the plan, not only the existing illegal settlements in the West Bank would become part of Israel, but also the Jordan Valley, leaving the truncated Palestinian “state” in the middle completely surrounded by Israeli territory.
Not content with forcing Palestinians to give up even more of their land, Trump’s plan demands they renounce the right to defend themselves, insisting on demilitarisation of the Palestinian statelet.
Although US officials have talked about a “settlement freeze” and suggested that the Israeli side would be making concessions by finally accepting Palestinian sovereignty over some of the remainder of the West Bank and Gaza, the plan contains further gifts to the Israeli right. One of these is the idea that some Palestinians living inside Israel would be stripped of their current status as (second-class) Israeli citizens by adding the areas where they live to Palestinian territory. Essentially this endorses a proposal made by Avigdor Lieberman of the deeply racist Yisrael Beitenu party back in 2014 for “population transfer”, opening the door to even more vicious campaigns against the rights of Palestinians living inside Israel.
In addition to accepting further land grabs, Palestinians are being told they must renounce the right of return for the hundreds of thousands of refugees who fled the ethnic cleansing which created the State of Israel in 1948. On this and other so-called “final status” issues, the only option on the table would be surrender.
The response of the Israeli right to Trump’s plan was to step up its clamour for the immediate annexation of the West Bank settlements earmarked as part of the Israeli state in the maps accompanying the document.
Both Defence Minister Naftali Bennett and Transport Minister Bezalel Smotrich also made clear that the right wing parties they represent would fight to stop any Palestinian state emerging. “We continue to oppose any kind of Arab sovereignty in the Land of Israel. We do not accept the American program but take the good parts of it,” was Smotrich’s reaction to the plan.
Trump’s latest gamble in the Middle East may claim to be facilitating a “realistic two-state solution”, but in reality it simply further empowers the Israeli right’s visions of one Israeli state and the final erasure of Palestine from history.
There is an alternative: a single, secular democratic state in Palestine, with equal rights for all its citizens. That would mean dismantling the colonial apparatus of injustice which is the current religiously-defined citizenship system of the State of Israel and beginning to address the historic wrongs done to the Palestinian people by respecting the right of Palestinian refugees to return.
The Palestinian struggle against occupation and the forms of solidarity it has inspired around the world, such as the BDS movement, face difficult times, but they have a better vision of a route to real peace and justice than Trump and his allies in Israel.
The geopolitics of the ME have been tilting away from US dominance for years — the Gulf states are supportive (and there have been multiple signs of their public realignment with US/Israeli plans). Yet the Saudis are also worried about the Iranian regime’s ability to strike at economic and political interests in their own backyard (including an attack which shut down oil facilities in September) — some commentators speculate that a calculation of US weakness rather than strength was behind the relative calming of tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran in the run-up to the assassination of Qassem Soleimani by the US in January.
There is a new factor this year — the revival of mass movements from below across the region. These may appear somewhat remote from the Palestinian struggle, or even causing more of a problem for the US’s enemies. It is a mistake to view them like this. The mass movement in Iraq is a real threat to US interests as much as Iran’s (though the US assassination of Soleimani and Al-Muhandis may have finally created the conditions for pro-Iranian political parties and militias to undermine and eventually crush the movement).
When ordinary people organise and move for themselves, when they demand social justice and democratic rights, this threatens imperialist powers far more than military actions by smaller powers. The high points of Palestinian struggle are in the same tradition — mass mobilisations, protests, strikes and civil disobedience pioneered by Palestinians during the first intifada which began in 1987.
Building solidarity with Palestinians as they continue to resist Israeli occupation and annexation on the ground has never been more important.
Anne Alexander is an editor of Middle East Solidarity magazine menasolidaritynetwork.com