Mondoweiss

Trump’s ‘Lord Balfour moment’ is formal recognition the US was never an honest broker

Trump and Netanyahu

It is “the morning after,” and the world, with few exceptions, is denouncing Trump’s declaration that the US recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.  With those few exceptions, politicians globally are making vapid statements about the “dangers” of that declaration, namely that it would lead to an escalation of violence, and jeopardize the “peace process.”   There seems to be little recognition of the relentless violence of Israeli settler-colonialism, and the complete violation of the Geneva convention and international law by both Israel and the US president.   

There is something to be said about Israel’s deeply-seated need for “recognition,” of its right to exist, its right to “defend itself,” and its claim that Jerusalem is its capital city.  That need betrays the (sometimes repressed) knowledge that Israel is a usurper, that Jews globally do not have a “right” to becoming settlers, and that what Israel is “defending” is an illegal occupation.  Specifically, in the case of Jerusalem, the city is illegally annexed, with a clear system of apartheid privileging one socio-political ethnicity over the indigenous people.  It is no wonder a president, Trump, who openly aligns himself with white supremacy at home, would naturally favor Jewish supremacy in historic Palestine. This is his “Lord Balfour moment,” in which, in a gesture of imperial largesse, he presumes to hand over land that is not his, to another people. Britain’s gambit did not work out so well one hundred years ago, and neither will Trump’s gesture.  It may satisfy his own ignominious hubris, his ambition to conclude “the deal of the century,” but it cannot bring about justice.

And yet Trump’s announcement does not jeopardize the peace process. This is because “Oslo” was still-born, it just has not been buried yet.  Rather, for the past 20 years, it has been on life-support, with no chance of survival.  And there has been no “peace” during the “process,” only growing injustice, more disenfranchisement of the indigenous people, ongoing ethnic cleansing, and a genocidal siege on two million Palestinians in Gaza.  This is the “process” that led to two intifadas, and created the political context of global grassroots solidarity in the form of BDS.  

And still, politicians continue to prop up this cadaver.  The European Union, for example, holds on to the chimera of a two-state solution, and “negotiations” that will determine the fate of Jerusalem.  “There is a UN resolution on this issue and the issue of Jerusalem must be raised in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians,” the EU ambassador to Israel, Emanuele Giaufret, said, as he announced that the EU will not be moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Trump’s decision to declare Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has finally unplugged the useless apparatus.  Whether the US embassy is moved or not–and that is yet to be determined, and cannot possibly be accomplished in under two to three years–what Trump has achieved is the formal recognition that the US has never been a fair mediator, a “neutral broker,” but rather that it has always supported Israeli settler-colonialism, ethnic cleansing, and apartheid.  Democrats have been more hypocritical about it, consistently increasing their financial aid to Israel even as they criticized the settlements as an obstacle to peace.  Trump lacks any and all diplomacy, and if there is anything he is good at, it is his unabashed embrace of various oppressive systems.  His national base is white supremacists, his global base is Zionism, another form of ethnic supremacy.

The mask has come off.  Both in the US, as well as in Israel, which is open about its desire to keep on expanding. “From the river to the sea” is not only the Palestinian dream of liberation, since all of historic Palestine is occupied, it is also the Zionist vision of Greater Israel, which the settlers have been slowly but surely making a reality, with the “facts on the ground.” 

If any pain is felt today, and in the coming weeks, it is the pain that comes from removing a band-aid that has long covered up a festering wound.  The wound will certainly heal better now.  And the rage is an expression of the people’s recognition that there seems to be no end to imperial hubris in sight. Yet now is not the time to glorify the “sumoud narrative;” the pain, the rage, the outrage, are too raw.  Palestinians, especially in Jerusalem, will pay a very high price for Trumps’ declaration.  Yet we persist, because we must.

One of the earliest Zionist visionaries, Vladimir Jabotinsky, remains relevant today. In his 1923 treatise, the Iron Wall, where he laid out his vision for settler colonialism, he explains, with impressive foresight:

It may be that some individual Arabs take bribes. But that does not mean that the Arab people of Palestine as a whole will sell that fervent patriotism that they guard so jealously, and which even the Papuans will never sell. Every native population in the world resists colonists as long as it has the slightest hope of being able to rid itself of the danger of being colonised. That is what the Arabs in Palestine are doing, and what they will persist in doing as long as there remains a solitary spark of hope that they will be able to prevent the transformation of ‘Palestine’ into the ‘Land of Israel’.”

No, Trump’s declaration that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel did not kill the two-state solution.  That “solution” never had a chance. Palestine, like justice, is indivisible. Trump’s declaration merely pushed aside any pretense at objectivity, neutrality, fairness, or “process.”  It certainly did not smother the “spark of hope.”

Trump’s declaration has made clear that, just as with South Africa last century, the US government is on the wrong side of history today. And just as with apartheid South Africa, the people of the land, along with the global community, will determine the outcome. Apartheid, or one democratic state?  

Even in the searing pain of “the morning after,” as we look around, and see a clearly-demarcated strategy of resistance, and take in the multiple expressions of global solidarity with the Palestinian people, we know we will overcome, someday.