When Donald Trump was elected US president, I tried to look for the silver lining, and declared this catastrophe acceptable, because at least now “the world will know the truth” about US racism, the rise of white nationalism, the collusion of the government with racist law enforcement, and of course, the fact that the US was never an “honest broker” in the Middle East. I, like many others, was trying to make lemonade out of lemons. “What Trump has achieved,” I wrote in December 2017, “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.”
With Trump, I explained, “the mask has come off.” Similarly, Noura Erakat, also expressed relief at Trump’s removal of the emperor’s clothes, as she explained (also in December 2017) that: “Trump has finally ended the United States’ double-speak and should have ended any faith that the United States will deliver Palestinian independence or that Israel is interested in giving up its territorial holdings captured in war.”
But the truth is, the world already knew. No one who is in any way genuinely interested in politics, rather than hearsay, is unaware of, say, Barack Obama’s love of drone warfare, or Bill Clinton’s disastrous sponsorship of the Oslo Accords, which precipitated the collapse of any Palestinian authority. What exactly did Trump do, that previous US presidents had not done? Children in cages? Mass deportations? Environmental devastation? Profit before people? Banks before homeowners? These social and political ills had all been done before, Trump only escalated them, (as indeed other presidents had done before him), rather than innovated. And anyone who is in any way genuinely interested in politics already knew, long before Trump’s presidency, that the US was no honest broker in the Middle East, and that Israel had no intention of ever granting Palestinians their human rights. We did not need Trump to help us figure that out.
We are seeing a similar attempt at making lemonade out of lemons with Benjamin Netanyahu’s reelection as Israel’s prime minister. Apparently, now the world is finally going to know that the Israeli people vote for a proud racist with expansionist ideas of a single Jewish-supremacist state, from the river to the sea. Netanyahu’s main opponent, Benny Gantz, would have been just as detrimental to Palestinian rights. However, by not claiming that he wants one state throughout historic Palestine, Gantz would have extended the shelf-life of the otherwise toxic two-state illusion.
Seriously? As if we didn’t know the two-state solution was never viable? Let me ask, again: did anyone who is in any way genuinely interested in politics, rather than hearsay, still believe up till Netanyahu’s fifth reelection, that the two-state solution is a valid option that simply requires the right Israeli prime minister?
Apparently, American liberals do. And apparently, American liberals hold such political sway that their awakening to reality is beneficial to all.
I disagree. “Liberals” are not the visionary leaders who could empower any oppressed community, and our liberation could never come through them. Liberals are the Democratic “colleagues” who attacked Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib for speaking truth to power. If Netanyahu’s reelection—another lemon–will remove their blinders, they will scurry to make more lemonade, because ultimately, their vision was never emancipatory. They value civility over civil, and for that matter, human, rights. “Liberals” are those Zionists who think the Nakba was necessary, redemptive even, and only the Naksa is a problem. Our initial dispossession, our permanent refugee status, (as those displaced in 1948 would not be allowed to return), the creation of two apartheid states where now there is only one, does not trouble their liberal dreams. I speak of two apartheid states not because Palestinians aspire to such a country, nor because I believe in the possibility, but because, in the (severely myopic) liberal vision, there is a Jewish Israel, and a Muslim Palestine, in defiance of the multiethnic, multi-confessional history of that country. And liberals would be satisfied with that.
Change cannot happen within the existing paradigms, with a switch from Republican to Democrat, conservative to liberal, Likud to Labor, or the other way around, since these are all part of the overarching structure that created, and maintains, the systems of oppression.
We can only thrive through a revolutionary imagination that breaks free from the multiple versions of solutions, accords, deals and negotiations we have suffered through for the past century, every single one of which was doomed to fail. We need to look beyond formulations of a nation-state, towards indigenous sovereignty, a respect for the tormented land and the culture it has historically fostered. No more lemonade, no more “tweaks” to the various political proposals made over the past century, every single one of them coming from an imperial mindset.
We need to abolish the settler-colonial mindset, which is at the root of the problem, indeed, its very cause. Just as revolutionary visionaries advocate prison abolition, rather than prison reform, we need to advocate indigenous liberation, not setter-colonial “reform.” To elaborate on the comparison, “prison reform” assumes that the institution of incarcerating criminals is not essentially flawed, and can be improved upon. In the settler-colonial context, “reformers” assume that the US and Israel are not fundamentally and violently racist, they can become “multiethnic democracies.” On the other hand, prison abolitionists want a world without prisons, because incarceration itself, not just the way it is currently practiced, is wrong. They argue that incarceration is never the solution, and can only have a detrimental effect on the incarcerated and society at large. Settler-colonial abolitionists, then, would seek an abolition, rather than a “reform” of the US and Israel, whose very existence hinges on indigenous genocide, so as to respect indigenous sovereignty.
We need to stop attempting to “reform” the US and Israel into kinder, gentler settler-colonial entities. People are now speaking of “Trump’s America,” and “Netanyahu’s Israel,” as if there were an “America” and an “Israel” that are not fundamentally racist. We must understand that “Trump’s America” is everyone’s America, and “Netanyahu’s Israel” is everyone’s Israel. Those two countries would not exist without settler-colonialism, and settler-colonialism cannot be harmless. Only when we grasp that truth can the real work of revolutionary imagination thrive, away from illusions that, with a different leader, the US and Israel will not be the intrinsically racist, violent countries that they are. Yes, it is an ambitious vision, but the alternative is not viable. And the transformation has already begun, with movements, activists, organizers, coming together across the continents, from Palestine to Turtle Island, united by a vision of justice, and survival. From BlackLivesMatter to the Palestine Youth Movement, to the Indigenous elders who insisted, at Standing Rock, that “water is life,” these movements, and their visionary members, are our hope for a better future.