By Dr. Saeb Erekat.
Since December 6, 2017, US President Donald Trump’s administration has recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, closed the Palestinian mission in Washington, DC, moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, and defunded humanitarian support provided by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine (UNRWA), among other steps. And yet we Palestinians are hounded by claims that the US really wants to pursue peace and that somehow the only problem has been our reluctance.
Nobody can claim that we did not engage Trump’s administration. We held almost 40 meetings during 2017, answered all questions, and put forward our vision of peace based on the two-state solution. But the US envoys always refused to engage in matters of substance. In fact, on the eve of a visit by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to Washington, the Trump administration broke its commitment not to take unilateral steps and announced the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Whatever the reason – ideological bias, lack of diplomatic experience, or both – the Trump team ended up destroying any prospects for the US to play a positive peace-making role.
People such as Vice President Mike Pence, Ambassador David Friedman, envoy Jason Greenblatt, and Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, are ideologically committed to Israel’s colonial-settlement enterprise. Judging by Pence’s address to the Israeli Knesset last year, one could assume that Israel has a “divine mandate” to violate Palestinian rights. By taking such positions, the Trump administration has brought about one main outcome over the past two years: strengthening extremists in our region.
In order to protect the prospect of a just and lasting peace, the Palestinian leadership has conducted meetings with leaders worldwide. In fact, we went to the UN Security Council calling for a peace initiative based on international law, the implementation of UN resolutions, and the participation of several countries in facilitating the process.
For the Trump team, however, international law is “unrealistic.” Palestine seems to be regarded as part of a real-estate business – a property they can devalue by closing diplomatic missions, defunding UNRWA, canceling aid to Palestinian hospitals, or withdrawing scholarships for Palestinian students. They did not calculate that the Palestinian people have dignity and national pride, just like any other nation, and will insist on being treated accordingly.
Let us be clear: The two-state solution does not mean accommodating the illegal reality of Israeli settlements; rather, it means ending this colonial enterprise. Refusing to mention the two-state solution, the statements of Trump’s team go in a different direction, more in line with Israel’s official position: one state and two systems. But no Palestinian, Arab, or responsible international leader would ever accept this design, as has been made clear in messages delivered by world leaders to the Trump administration.
Now, plans are afoot to “promote a future of peace and security in the Middle East” through a US-Polish conference in Warsaw, where Palestinians are not going to participate. To be clear: Palestine has not mandated anyone to speak on its behalf. Despite US efforts to promote normalization of diplomatic relations between Arab states and Israel, no changes in the Arab Peace Initiative will be accepted. Full normalization of ties with Israel will take place only after a final-status agreement is achieved and Israel ends its control of all Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Syria’s Golan Heights and Palestine’s East Jerusalem.
Israel has a strong ally that shares its ideological vision on many issues. But ignoring facts, especially our rights, does no one any favors. The Trump administration might believe that cutting scholarships or de-funding water projects and Palestinian-run Jerusalem hospitals will make Palestinians surrender. We shall remind the US of what the anti-apartheid hero Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said: “Israel will never get true security and safety through oppressing another people. A true peace can ultimately be built only on justice.” Justice is not an abstract or “unrealistic” concept. Justice begins by respecting the law.
Regardless of whether the US and Israeli governments truly believe they are fulfilling a divine prophecy by denying the Palestinian people their rights, or if they are merely appeasing the extremists among their electorates, they fail to address what the endgame looks like. In light of their opposition to endorsing a two-state solution based on the 1967 border, will they support a one-state solution, with equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians?
You don’t have to be an expert in foreign affairs to understand that their goal is not to end the occupation or secure equal rights for all citizens of a single democratic state. Their preferred option is apartheid.
The urgent question today, then, is straightforward: Is it wise to leave the future of the Middle East in the hands of the Trump administration? Support for the two-state solution requires concrete measures impelling Israel to end its decades-long occupation, including banning settlement products and divesting from companies involved in sustaining an illegal policy. Cutting funding sources for Israeli settlements, from banks to “charity” organizations, is a must.
The lack of vision on the part of Israel and the Trump administration underscores the need for the rest of the international community to wake up. Waiting for a “Trump deal” will do nothing but deepen Israel’s apartheid and foreclose any chance of a political solution in the foreseeable future.