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Trump’s decision to close the PLO Embassy says more about the future of the US than the future of Palestine

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Trump’s decision to revoke the presence of the PLO Embassy in Washington says a lot more about the future of the US order than about the future of Palestine.

US willingness to parley with the PLO was based on the PLO’s participation in a bi-partisan charade: the peace process. Both Republican and Democratic parties have traditionally spoken in favor of a two-state settlement even while constantly undermining it. The peace process was the name given to the game of geopolitical management the US used to maintain its relationships with client states in Jordan, Egypt, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. Such relationships, in fact, were transactions. The US secured arms markets, purchases of its treasuries, sowing of anti-Shia sectarianism, and socio-political containment – in fact, social de-development – of the largest Arab working class, the Egyptians, in exchange for supporting local elites.

Internationally, the two-state settlement has been a pivot and shorthand for the entire post-World War II US order: offering lip service to international law while substantively ripping it to pieces, especially the post-WWII Nuremberg precedent, enshrined in the UN system, which set up sovereignty as a normative principle of the international order. Alongside such talk, the US committed to multilateral institutions to legitimize its dominance. As part of that process, it committed to superficial decolonization when it was forced to and rejected decolonization where it could (as in South Africa and Palestine). Alongside those policies, it sought to contain the social aspirations of a decolonizing world through the development project, and later to roll back the achievements of decolonization when possible – the project known as neo-liberalism.

That order is done. Saudi Arabia and Qatar’s open secret of alliance with Israel under the US security umbrella, and their hostility to the regional forces which either oppose or are rear-bases for opposition to Israeli policies, have been one element in that unraveling. Saudi Arabia is hated throughout the region. It can count only on the disorganization of regional radical forces and blighting the Iranian model through sectarianism.

But it is not merely the local order which is done, but the international one as well, and it is the latter whose collapse accelerates the former’s disintegration.

World-systems theorists have long argued that at this millennium’s dawn we would be entering a stage of transition, systemic instability, and systemic chaos. The end-game is a new world-system, with new rules. A new system need not mean a better one. It could easily be one which is worse – authoritarian capitalism in states like China, mixed with racist forms of social democracy and militarized borders in the US and the EU, and other countries reduced to de-developed and polluted wastelands and raw material sources.

At the core of current world-systemic instability is China’s rise, with its GDP in purchasing-power-parity adjusted terms equivalent to the US’s. A second aspect is the resurgence of Russia as a force which seeks to leverage military weight into standing as a full participant in the capitalist system. A third is the ecological crisis.

China’s rise and Russia’s re-emergence have eroded US capacity to call the shots. These nuclear-armed states have used their geopolitical and military weight to limit the amount of force the US and what Syrian former political prisoner Thaer Deeb calls the other “predators of the colonial world” have been able to bring to bear in their attempt to shift Syria away from Iran and Hezbollah – the actual reason for the aggression-by-proxy against Syria. The knowledge that Russia was prepared to play nuclear chicken to defend its interests has constrained direct US escalation (Hence, few MANPADs to Syria) and US domestic popular unease has prevented direct engagement outside the so-called “anti-ISIS” campaign which has been mostly a war on Syrian cities and an excuse for occupying Syria.

In Yemen, the Houthis and elements of the Yemeni army have fought the US-UAE-Saudi alliance to a standstill, at a cost of literally uncounted deaths – perhaps thousands or tens on the side of the US alliance, and an order of magnitude more amongst Yemeni civilians, whom nobody cares enough about to count.

Thus, throughout the Middle East, the US alliance has lost the ability to achieve maximal geopolitical aims. It can destroy – and destruction to avoid regional development is indeed one of its goals – but it cannot enfold countries into its economic and political architecture. And even its capacity for destruction is now limited. The only country whose economic policies it wishes to shift are Iran’s, since the remainder of the forces it is targeting do not have nationalist social compacts. Iran can be targeted with asphyxiating sanctions but cannot be broken militarily.

Worse from the US perspective, there is now battlefield coordination amongst forces arrayed from Lebanon to Iran. Such groups have a wide range of social visions. The Houthis draw some inspiration from the late Hugo Chávez of Venezuela. Other forces are neo-liberal – indeed, the uprising which the US and its allies weaponized in Syria has its roots in what Lebanese economist Linda Matar calls the phasing out of “traditional social support systems, particularly in the countryside.” But these elements are united in rejecting US state-shattering in the region.

Trump campaigned on escalation in some zones and de-escalation in others. In Iran, he has shifted from the Obama long-game of breaking Iran through trying to create a middle-class and upper-class willing to shift Iran’s foreign policy orientation and reverse the 1979 revolution, to a short-term strategy of social shattering through sanctions. John Bolton’s attack on the ICC is of a kind with these other policies – a desire for a shift from multilateral instruments of hegemony to unilateral instruments of simple dominance. Since the two-state manuever was a keystone of a broader long-run hegemonic strategy, breaking with it is of a piece with the move to unvarnished domination, oriented essentially to the containment and perhaps collapse of China and Iran.

Trump has ripped the veils off US government strategy. This portends little for Palestine, since the Democratic Party – Lobby or no Lobby – will disintegrate into a thousand fragments before it will push for even a whisper of justice for Palestinians. There is no hope there. However, larger shifts in turn speak to a larger question: where does Palestine and the struggles to which Palestine is increasingly linked fit into a long-term strategy for those of us who wish for a relatively more equal and just world – a world with room for many worlds?

There is, first, the question of China and Russia. Russia and China have stayed the collapse of the Syrian and perhaps beyond it, the Iranian states. The former states are pursuing independent regional agendas, which may secure an eye in the storm of US violence but are not in themselves liberatory. Indeed, Russia and China both have alliances with both Israel and Syria – a strategy which is only as contradictory as the contradictory goal of seeking inclusion in a hierarchical system falling apart in front of our eyes.

Furthermore, in both societies, capitalism dominates. Their rulers have relatively little to offer to the Palestinian struggle, nor those supporting it in the US context. Russian nuclear force has kept intact the state structures which are the scaffolding for any reconstruction in Syria. This effort is essentially conservative, and Russia does not hide that it does not share the goals of Iran and Hezbollah vis-à-vis Israel. China’s international role is more complex: it is creating the infrastructure, the Belt and Road Initiative, for a clearly hierarchical but less violent world trading system. It is both a major supporter of the US military through bond purchases, a major subcontractor for US manufacturing, and a major target of US grand area strategy and military encirclement. The complexity of China’s role especially may open political space for certain alliances or development paths, as Sam Moyo argues, but alliances presume the left’s ability to bring something to the table.

So: what of our forces?

This is not the space to address those who think US-backed elements can bring anything positive to the region or elsewhere, and I have made clear that I do not think China or Russia are “our” forces.

Locally, within the Euro-Atlantic states, there is an ever-stronger social democratic current. It is primarily the expression of the downward mobility of large portions of the Euro-American middle classes. It is also the output of the larger climate of systemic instability. From Bernie Sanders to Donald Trump, populism rules, with the tide bringing ashore expressions of large-scale unease, from Sanders to Jeremy Corbyn to Melenchon. These candidates all represent a significant break with the post-1973 neoliberal order, which can no longer provide for its white social base in the core countries.

Both possibilities and mindsets are open in a rare way, with anti-racism and anti-capitalism increasingly alluring to the newly radicalized, alongside right-wing xenophobia arcing across the Atlantic. The social terrain is unusually unsettled, shifting underfoot like magma, and preventing the crystallization of any kind of consensus about the shape of the new order or the path to take to get there. The bad news is not merely that our forces are disorganized – have been disorganized – but that the right has out-organized us. The good news is that a period of systemic instability means there is a massive discontent with the way things are in the core European-US states, and oddly, surprisingly, and beguilingly, elites are unable to channel that discontent into institutionalized channels. What may come of such discontent is a question of organization, which is to say a matter of choice.

Max Ajl

Max Ajl is an activist with the International Jewish anti-Zionist Network and an editor at Jadaliyya and Viewpoint. Follow him on Twitter: @maxajl.

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17 Responses

  1. Maghlawatan on September 17, 2018, 4:55 pm

    Great article. I am not sure that the right is winning. I was in France at the weekend and I got to read a bit about the centre right party, les Républicains. Currently 14% in the polls vs the fascists on 21%. They don’t understand the global economic model. Neither do any of the other parties. Voters are fed up of ineptitude. The system is very weak. I was thinking of Occupy back in 2011.

    Maybe it could fly now.

    Israel is ultra fragile when the tectonic plates of the world system shift. The textbook case is the fall of the Soviet Union. I am quite pessimistic about Israel’s future.

    Trump and Israël offer Palestinians nothing. Even Australia came around to the view that its native people were human. Israeli policy is incoherent.
    This is a super article about the world system :

    • Rashers2 on September 20, 2018, 4:46 am

      Link to an excellent article by Wallerstein; thanks.

      • Maghlawatan on September 20, 2018, 8:27 am

        It’s a great overview of the whole system imo. Israel is so dependent on neoliberalism continuing . I was reading about De Gaulle yesterday, a legend of the French right. He was pro demand rather than pro capital.
        Israel is goosed.

  2. RoHa on September 18, 2018, 5:54 am

    “Russia as a force which seeks to leverage military weight into standing as a full participant ”

    What does “leverage” mean here?

    • Maghlawatan on September 20, 2018, 8:59 am

      Presumably Russia is weaker economically but stronger militarily and uses this to “yank” up its standing in the world.

  3. on September 18, 2018, 9:01 am

    “What does “leverage” mean here?”

    I am not the author of the article, but I am gonna guess that it means Russia “carries a big stick” and occasionally provides views of its big stick to make adversaries such as American hawks think twice before doing anything stupid.

    • RoHa on September 18, 2018, 10:51 pm

      Thanks. It’s nice for people to explain these things in real words.

  4. Keith on September 18, 2018, 7:45 pm

    MAX AJL- “A third is the ecological crisis.”

    Well, you certainly give short shrift to the most significant determinant of the future survivability of humans on planet Earth. We are at the end of the energy intensive hydrocarbon era. “Endless” growth is at an end. Our current network of global interdependencies controlled by the private, debt money financial system is totally unsustainable. The elites are attempting to transition to a form of neofeudal rentier economy whereby the 99% will lapse into a form of debt servitude. This will probably fail as the environmental problems are so serious and getting worse at an increasingly rapid pace that the survival of the species is at stake. China’s Belt and Road Initiative only exacerbates the environmental problem and is doomed to failure. With CO2 concentrations at 410 ppm and climbing, we have, in my view, already passed the point of no return on runaway global warming. The empire is on a rampage and things will soon get even worse. I might add that the US empire has already transmogrified into the American led corporate/financial empire which is stronger than ever even as the US nation state declines. This strength is precarious and the whole system will soon collapse. The question for me is what, if anything, will survive.

  5. Marnie on September 19, 2018, 1:02 am

    That is one hideous diorama begging for a title – ‘architecting’ the end of the universe?

  6. Marnie on September 19, 2018, 1:45 am

    Texas creates the perfect curriculum for the Trump age

    by Dana Milbank
    September 18 at 7:11 PM

    “I tip my 10-gallon hat to the Texas school board, which just voted to “streamline” the public-school curriculum in a way that will surely Make America Great Again.

    The board, on which Republicans have a two-thirds majority, agreed with recommendations that it is “not necessary” for students to learn about Hillary Clinton, Helen Keller or the father of modern conservatism, Barry Goldwater, the Dallas Morning News reported.

    Eleanor Roosevelt and Betty Friedan were also deemed “not necessary” by a working group, which undertook an intriguing ranking of historical figures: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln fell short of perfect scores, but “local members of the Texas legislature” scored a perfect 20 of 20, as did “military and first responders.”

    The board decided to save 40 minutes of third-graders’ time by sparing them a lesson on how government services are paid for. But it did preserve the one teaching that “Arab rejection of the State of Israel has led to ongoing conflict.”

    My favorite: the decision to strike from the fourth-grade curriculum a lesson about “holding public officials to their word.” (Killing this topic, deemed “not being grade appropriate,” should save kids 30 minutes, the board estimates.)

    Some will take this as evidence that politicians should not write lesson plans. But I think Texas has done a great service. Indeed, if we are to survive the current era without succumbing to terminal cases of cognitive dissonance, we must eliminate all lessons, at all grade levels, on “holding public officials to their word.” (For maximum relief, it would also help to strike all lessons involving “math” or “economics.”)

    Abandoning the obsolete teaching that public officials should be held accountable would make us all feel better about current affairs. Applying the veil of ignorance to our eyes, we would no longer be troubled to discover that:

    Despite President Trump’s promise that the $1.5 trillion tax cut would not benefit rich people, the rich can now write off 100 percent of their multimillion-dollar corporate jet purchases — double their previous benefit, the Wall Street Journal reports.

    Despite Trump’s promise that corporations would devote their vast tax savings to job creation and raises for their workers, executives are instead using the windfall primarily on stock buybacks that benefit themselves and their shareholders. A Goldman Sachs report finds that repurchases of company stock (which push up share values) were up nearly 50 percent, to $384 billion, in the first half of 2018, eclipsing capital expenditures.

    Despite the Trump administration’s promise that, as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin put it, “not only will this tax plan pay for itself, but it will pay down debt,” the Congressional Budget Office reports that the government had a deficit of $895 billion over the past 11 months — up 33 percent from a year earlier — as corporate tax receipts plunged 30 percent. As The Post’s Damian Paletta and Erica Werner observed, the last time unemployment was at the current 3.9 percent, in 2000, the government ran a surplus.

    Despite Trump’s promise to eliminate the debt, it has grown from $19.9 trillion to $21.5 trillion, with trillions more set to be added by the tax cuts (House Republicans just proposed another $650 billion cut) and higher spending despite a strong economy.

    Despite Trump’s drain-the-swamp promises, FEMA Administrator William “Brock” Long is the latest person in his orbit to earn the attention of federal prosecutors — this time an inspector general’s referral over his use of taxpayer funds to commute home to North Carolina. Three Trump Cabinet officials were forced out over similar travel-related issues. Five former Trump advisers already have federal convictions for a range of wrongdoing.

    Despite Trump’s assurance a month ago that Paul Manafort “happens to be a very good person” in part because he “refused to ‘break’ ” under pressure from prosecutors, the former Trump campaign chairman has admitted that over a decade he laundered more than $30 million, cheated the United States of $15 million in taxes, secretly lobbied for a repressive government in Ukraine (attempting to enlist “Obama Jews” and Israeli officials to pressure the administration) and tampered with witnesses.

    Now Trump has escalated a trade war with China, adding tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese imports and drawing fast retaliation. Higher prices on consumer goods will follow.

    But Trump’s millionaire commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, announced on CNBC that “nobody’s going to actually notice it.” Ross, who probably won’t notice the price increases personally, previously held up a can of Campbell’s soup on TV and said nobody “in the world is going to be bothered” by increased steel prices.

    I won’t be bothered, because I’ve learned my lesson: Holding public officials to their word is no longer on the books.”

    • RoHa on September 19, 2018, 9:11 am

      “(For maximum relief, it would also help to strike all lessons involving “math” or “economics.”)”

      And certainly lessons involving logic and science. If there are any.

      But I don’t see why anyone would bother giving lessons on Hillary Clinton. She’s just another politician who failed to become president.

  7. Maghlawatan on September 19, 2018, 1:02 pm

    Trump is trying to intimidate the Palestinians into a crap deal. This is puerile.
    Israeli intimidation does not work either.
    The Palestinians are better off with sumud. Ya’ni

  8. Rashers2 on September 20, 2018, 6:08 am

    Bleak reading, Max Ajl, but a good article. When a latter-day Edward Gibbon looks back on the collapse of the US Empire, he/she may well use in the chronicle’s latter chapters that image of the unappetising quartet of f**ktards depicted as symbolising the juncture at which the mask was finally cast aside.
    @Maghlawatan, Sumud is likely to be better than the nuttin’ Kushner & the Likudniks are likely to propose. Sorry, couldn’t resist….

  9. captADKer on September 20, 2018, 10:03 am

    opportunity for y’all to focus on myanmar now that a two state “has been” haplessly forgone. there is lust to be had there too by its strong ties with israel. and i’d be eager to follow along.
    just do it!

  10. Citizen on September 20, 2018, 11:09 am

    Takeaway from Bob Woodward’s book, Fear: Rabid Jewish Zionist #JaredKushner & Helper, Ivanka determine US ForeignPolicy in ME: US blood & treasure devoted to serving #Israel’s expansion & continued hegemony: via @MiddleEastEye

  11. Boomer on September 20, 2018, 11:38 am

    I don’t know what the future holds for the US or for Palestinians, but from my perspective prospects look kinda bleak for both at the moment.

    Meanwhile, from his pundit’s chair at WaPo,, David Ignatius gives us the MSM media perspective:

    “The “peace process,” as we knew it, is dead. To speak of Palestinian rights these days is to draw scorn, or just a big yawn. The Palestinians are yesterday’s problem. Even the Arabs are tired of their fractious demands.

    “The Palestinians are among modern history’s biggest losers. You can argue that it’s their own fault — that they kept balking at the peace deal that Israel would accept in hopes that if they waited and kept agitating, they could get more. The four-year-plus “intifada” that followed the Oslo agreement was a self-destructive waste for the Palestinians, poisoning good feeling in Israel. The same is true of Gaza, which greeted Israeli evacuation with continuing, self-defeating attempts to kill Israelis.”

    • Maghlawatan on September 20, 2018, 1:58 pm

      I am guessing that David Ignatius is Shia Muslim. They have such a stranglehold on elite journalism in the US.
      He is very good on Trump but crap on IP. Israel has built up a load of unpriced tail Risk on its balance sheet. History is never over. Hegemony is rarely settled when populations are 50/50

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