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The trope of an ‘Arab-Israeli conflict’ is an anti-Palestinian fallacy

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The so-called “Deal of the Century,” i.e. the Trump administration’s latest approach towards Palestinians, appears as yet another colonial endeavor. In line with traditional U.S. concepts of the Middle East, the Trump administration is continuously trying to silence Palestinians, and is increasingly receiving support from its Gulf Arab allies. United in their shared aversion to Iran, Saudi Arabia and its allies are stepping up their gradual normalization with Israel. In the current intertwining of U.S., Arab, and Israeli geo-political, ideological, and capitalist interests, Palestinians find themselves even more isolated. Still, more often than not, their fate is being further dismissed under the guise of an alleged “Arab-Israeli conflict.”

The “Deal of the Century”

The Trump administration intends to soon announce the details of its “Deal of the Century” that is supposed to trigger a solution to the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Under the title “Peace to Prosperity,” a workshop introducing the economic component of this plan is scheduled to take place in Manama on June 25 and 26. According to a joint statement issued by the United States and Bahrain, the event will “facilitate discussions on an ambitious, achievable vision and framework for a prosperous future for the Palestinian people and the region[.]” It aims to strengthen economic governance, develop human capital and facilitate the growth of the private sector. “If implemented,” the United States and Bahrain claim, “this vision has the potential to radically transform lives and put the region on a path toward a brighter future.“

There is hardly anything radical about these intentions. The “Deal of the Century” was designed by proud Zionists close to Donald Trump, i.e. his son-in-law Jared Kushner, Middle East advisor Jason Greenblatt, and U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who supports settlement expansion and annexation. Palestinians were not consulted.

Effectively, the United States is offering an economic sugarcoating of the brutal U.S.-enabled Israeli occupation of Palestine in order to deflect attention from the Palestinian struggle.

Palestinian representatives protested. The PLO announced that it would not attend:

“We reiterate that we did not mandate anyone to negotiate on our behalf. Those concerned and want to serve the interest of the Palestinian people should respect this collective position. Palestine’s full economic potential can only be achieved by ending the Israeli occupation, respecting international law and UN resolutions.”

Palestinian political representatives and influential economists have furthermore accused the United States of trying to bribe and buy off Palestinians through the exchange of large sums of money for a halt to resistance effort.

U.S.-Arab-Israeli Engagement

The circumstances around these current diplomatic efforts underscore the subjugation of Palestinians under a joint U.S.-Arab approach.

Despite being Israel’s staunchest protector at the international stage, the United States has for decades presented itself as a so-called “honest broker” between the colonizer and the colonized. U.S. policies implemented a peace for the Israeli project only, enabling the expanding colonization of Palestine.

While previous U.S. governments at times pretended to be balanced, the Trump administration’s honesty about its staunch endorsement of the Israeli far-right has made more obvious than ever that U.S. support for Israel is not necessarily depending on individual political action, but that it is a pre-political, structural affinity instead.

Arab-Israeli Harmony and Anti-Iranian Incitement

A normalization between Saudi Arabia, its allies, and Israel has been ongoing for a while. While the term “conflict” is still used as a reference for the relation between Israel and Arab governments, the reality of an Arab-Israeli harmony is by now difficult to ignore. Currently, the interests of Israel and Saudi Arabia intersect most visible in a common anti-Iranian ideology that is shared and backed by the United States.

As Emirati businessperson Khalaf Al Habtoor wrote for Israeli newspaper Haaretz: “Reducing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians will end 70 years of misery – and enable the Gulf states and Israel to halt our common enemy: Iran” His argument is emblematic of the broader approach: Palestinian suffering should be less visible, while Israel’s oppressive policies continue.

A hyperbolic construction of Iran as an existential threat in Israel, the United States and Saudi Arabia has been accompanied by a celebration of Saudi Arabia in U.S. media and an increasing embrace of Israel by Saudi Arabia and its allies.

In order to broaden consent for anti-Iranian engagement, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) has at times been glorified as a revolutionary in mainstream U.S. media, which has commanded his alleged modernization efforts and progress with women’s rights, despite Saudi Arabia’s ongoing disastrous human rights record. Israel has increasingly promoted its alliance with the Saudi regime, aware that it necessitates a strong U.S.-aligned Saudi Arabia with a positive image in order to better market their common approach against Iran.

During the anti-Iranian conference in Warsaw in February 2019, Netanyahu bragged about his new friendship with Arab leaders as a “historic change” while aggressively promoting war with Iran.

“This conference in which you have brought together some sixty foreign ministers and Arab foreign ministers with an Israeli prime minister for the first time to stand together against Iran in such clarity, such unity. I think that this is something that we deeply appreciate.”

The presentation of Iran as a religiously extremist, destructive and expansionist force oftentimes entails projections of a second Holocaust. In Warsaw, Mike Pence claimed that “the Iranian regime openly advocates another Holocaust and it seeks the means to achieve it.”  MBS used his privileged access to mainstream U.S. media to engage in anti-Iranian rants. In an interview with TIME, he claimed: “If you see any problem in the Middle East, you will find Iran.” Aware of popular Zionist rhetoric, on multiple occasions said that Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was worse than Hitler.

Israel’s anti-Iranian propaganda has at times included sectarian hate speech, inciting Sunni Muslims to fight against an alleged Iranian and Shia threat. Israel has invested efforts in simplifying and rebranding any resistance against its policies as an Iranian conspiracy, implying that Palestinians would not protest against their own subjugation and fight for their survival if Iran did not incite them to.

These dynamics and ambitions leave Palestinians as an obstacle to full relations between Saudi Arabia, its allies, and Israel. The Deal of the Century can thus be comprehended as a measure to appease Palestinians.

The Fallacy of a “Conflict”

This framing of the Palestinian struggle within diplomatic language as a “conflict” that could be resolved through economic measures and political negotiations bears manifold fallacies.

The argument employs the liberal Zionist trope of a “conflict” between two parties. An “Arab-Israeli” or “Palestinian-Israeli” conflict has been a common reference in English-language media coverage on the “Deal of the Century.” For decades, such an assumption has formed the standard discourse in U.S. and European politics and has effectively helped to extend Israeli colonialism by obscuring it.

Israel is the colonizer, occupier, and hegemon. No matter what Palestinians do, if they resist peacefully, defend themselves, engage in armed struggle, collaborate with Israel, or embrace their own death, they remain colonial victims within a transnational network of violent policies. “Conflict,” however, serves to convert settler-colonial violence and genocidal erasure of the indigenous people into a diplomatic dispute.

The term also serves to impose a binary between a collective Arab world and Israel, in portraying the two as monolithic and mutually exclusive political concepts. The idea that there is an Arab-Israeli conflict is a dangerous simplification that enforces an anti-Palestinian reading of the reality in the Middle East, which is effectively one of considerably broad and more or less visible Arab-Israeli harmony and an ongoing Palestinian Nakba.

The category of a collective “Arab” as the Oriental “Other” has been a desired construct in Zionism, as the presentation of civilizational binaries has been crucial to Israel’s still ongoing nation-building process. In presenting Palestinians as mere members of a broader Arab political, national and/or ethnic unity, Israel has officially upheld a denial of a distinct Palestinian national identity and history. The notion of an “Arab-Israeli” conflict can further obscure the colonial and imperial dimensions and structures of Palestinian subjugation and erase the specificity of the Palestinian struggle.

The Manama Conference’s insistence on economic factors also bears the danger of wrongfully historicizing the so-called “conflict.” Even if one viewed the struggle over Palestine within a diplomatic framework, that very “conflict” is still ongoing. While the United States and some Gulf Arab governments are engaging in talks about economy, Israel is continuing its structural oppression of Palestinians, while the political discourse in Israel currently entails discussions over annexation.

Doomed to Fail

Like previous U.S. approaches to Palestine, the latest measures do not address Palestinian suffering. They ignore the struggle for self-determination and put Palestinian goals, such as an end to occupation, the dismantling of apartheid, decolonization, or, merely freedom, into further distance. Instead, they perpetuate the status quo, and are likely to further normalize an acceptability of the subjugation of Palestinians in parts of the Arab World. The latest developments could, however, further a process in which “Palestinian” and “Arab” become political antonyms and indeed end the so-called “Arab-Israeli” conflict. And as long as settler-colonial erasure remains the underlying structure, no economic relief or political measure could effectively benefit Palestinians.

Denijal Jegić

Denijal Jegić is a postdoctoral scholar. He holds a PhD from the Institute for Transnational American Studies, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz). You can follow him on Twitter @denijeg.

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2 Responses

  1. DaBakr on June 25, 2019, 11:27 pm

    I guess while persuing your doctorate you missed out on the definition of the word “conflict”. You can not just snap your fingers and change the definition of a word simply because the passage of time has rounded out some formerly sharp points. You might as well call the ‘conflict’ between Britain France and Germany in the 30s a “trope”. However, as irritating agi-prop for the socalled progressive far left – it succeeds and plays right into their mindset.

  2. Misterioso on June 26, 2019, 10:51 am

    Re: “The presentation of Iran as a religiously extremist, destructive and expansionist force oftentimes entails projections of a second Holocaust. In Warsaw, Mike Pence claimed that ‘the Iranian regime openly advocates another Holocaust and it seeks the means to achieve it.'”

    Trump caught in Iran War Trap of his own Making
    By MOHAMMED NURUZZAMAN, June 24/19, Informed Comment

    Kuwait City (Informed Comment) – “Iran–US tensions have reached the tipping point. The downing of a Global Hawk RQ4C surveillance drone, a high prized US military asset, by the IRGC air defense forces on June 21, has pushed the two enemy nations to the brink of war. A shooting war may break out at any time. This is no more a fantasy, a very high probability indeed.

    “President Trump, in fact, declared a war on Iran on the very day (May 8, 2018) he scrapped the Iran deal, unilaterally re-imposed illegal sanctions on Iran and threatened actions against any nations that would engage in trade or financial transactions with Iran, including oil purchases. The desired outcome of this so-called ‘maximum pressure’ policy is to coerce Iran into complete submission, to force Iran to scale back its involvements in Iraq, Syria and Yemen and to dismantle its ballistic missile programs that pose threats to US interests in the Middle East and choke off its regional allies.

    “The ‘maximum pressure’ policy has started backfiring; and more importantly, it has resulted in a ‘counter-maximum pressure’ policy Iran is currently pursuing. Iranians have dubbed harsh US sanctions as ‘economic terrorism’, a sort of new terrorism that simultaneously violates all international laws and is slowly strangling the Iranian economy. This is a terrorism that avowedly aims to pauperize all Iranians, multiply their sufferings day by day and slowly kill them all, sans the direct use of force triggering a hot war.

    “Iran’s ‘counter-maximum pressure’ policy, evident in recent nerve-wracking developments like shooting down of the US high-tech military drone, the threat of withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal and a strong refusal to negotiate with the Trump regime, is a self defense policy with an offensive component. The coercive US sanctions have seriously reduced Iran’s economic capacity and maneuverability putting its survival at risk. The Iranian government is pushed hard to the wall with two options left at its disposal – either surrender to the Trump regime’s dictates or confront the Trump regime to break its grip on the Gulf and the Middle East for the preservation of Iran’s independence. As it is clear, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has chosen the second option – to face off the Trump regime and its regional allies, even if that means an open conflict.

    “The ‘counter-maximum pressure’ policy rests on some significant components that give Iran a competitive strategic edge in the tense standoff with the US. Iran’s major strategic assets are its regional allies – Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, and the Houthi rebels in Yemen. Hezbollah fighters, with many of them currently deployed in Syria, and Palestinian armed groups in Gaza are capable of engaging the Israeli IDF and holding it back from coming to US military aid, in case a war breaks out with Iran. The Houthi forces are regularly hamstringing the Saudi-led coalition inside and outside Yemen, with a recent escalation in the salvos of missile attacks hitting vital Saudi economic and strategic targets like airports, oil pumping stations and water desalination plants. Riyadh is failing to cripple the Houthi missile power, let alone eliminate it. All this is a part of Iran’s counter-strategy to inflict deep damages on US’ Persian Gulf allies and dissuade them from tying the knot with the US in the future.

    “Iran’s most powerful weapon is its threat, backed by credible military capabilities, to shut down the Strait of Hormuz. Time and again, the Iranian leaders have threatened to close the Strait but never really did so. This time the threat sounds real as President Hassan Rouhani made it clear a few weeks ago that if Iran was not allowed to export oil, no oil would pass through the Hormuz. And Iran can actually stop oil shipments from the Gulf to wreak havoc on the global economy without resorting to force.

    “At its narrowest point, the Strait of Hormuz is just 21 nautical miles wide. As per international law, Iran can legally claim 12 nautical miles as its territorial waters; so is the case with Oman located on the other side of the narrowest point. Legally speaking, nothing will go wrong if Iran, citing threats to its national security, decides to ban the movements of commercial and military vessels of enemy nations through its territorial waters. And a war between Iran and the US will encourage no commercial ship to sail through the Strait of Hormuz at all. The global oil markets will experience an acute shortage of 30% of oil supplies that pass through the Hormuz pushing up uncontrollable upticks in oil prices. National economies around the world are most likely to experience a freefall with dangerous threats of energy crisis, downward GDP growth rates, economic dislocations, social and political violence etc.

    “Trump’s Limited Options
    “President Trump and his neoconservative warmongers – National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo comfortably thought that economic hardships would leave Iran no option but to come to the negotiating table. They were living in a fool’s paradise and did not learn from the disastrous war experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hardly did they make any rational assessment of the prospects of success of the ‘maximum pressure’ policy; nor could they figure out the unfolding consequences of the policy which are spiraling out of control now. Iran’s ‘counter-maximum pressure’ policy has caught them off-guard, to say it right.

    “The backlash of the ‘maximum pressure’ policy has convinced Trump to bank on diplomacy to find a way out of the standoff with Iran. Last week Pompeo proposed to negotiate with Iran with no preconditions; Trump has also reiterated his readiness to talk to Iran absent preconditions. The Iranian response has been totally lukewarm and it refuses to pursue the fruitless North Korean diplomatic path. In his meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who attempted an abortive mediation role between Tehran and Washington, Ayatollah Khamenei said he did not consider Trump worthy of a message. This was an utter expression of Iran’s huge distrust in Trump and a slap in his face, to say the least. Iran insists the road to diplomacy is closed unless and until Trump returns to the 2015 nuclear deal and lifts all illegal sanctions imposed after May 8, 2018.

    “If diplomacy is not what Iran prefers as a productive option with the US, what other alternatives remain available to President Trump? A war with Iran, at last? That sounds unrealistic not only because it will set the global economy on an explosive course, also there is no guarantee that the US will win the war against Iran. History testifies that the US did not win any war after World War II. The so-called superpower has been battling the Taliban for almost two decades with no victory in sight; it was forced to withdraw from Iraq in 2011 after sustaining huge material and human costs. A new military clash with Iran, a country many times larger and militarily more powerful than Iraq, will be much more devastating and this may be America’s last episode in the imperial ‘Game of Thrones.’ What’s the point of fighting a war that will further sink the US deep under the sands of Middle Eastern deserts? This point exactly explains why Trump has been quite reluctant to respond to Iranian actions against US military drone.

    “The story circulated by the New York Times that the president approved and then abruptly called off military strikes on Iranian targets sounds like a fiction. It was at best a face saving public stunt. The US did not pull back from invading Iraq in 2003 or launching air strikes on Libya in 2011 and on Syria last year knowing well that there would be high civilian and military casualties. Trump’s sudden concern for the loss of 150 Iranian lives from the strikes convinced him to walk back the strike approval is unconvincing. The real purpose was somewhere else: to restrain Iran from further attacks on American targets and find a diplomatic way to negotiate with Iran.

    “What’s Next?
    “Trump is caught in a dangerous crisis he chose to create at will by ditching the Iran deal and now hardly has a way to get out of it. In a sense, the current standoff with Iran is the logical culmination of the intense hostilities between the two adversaries since the 1979 Iranian Revolution. The 2015 nuclear deal, spurred partially by the Islamic State menace, was a temporary arrangement to manage the never-ending tensions between them for a while. The deal did not address the deep strategic and political divergences between the two hostile parties – it did not achieve America’s expectations of a cooperative Iran; neither did it bring for Iran a recognition of its pre-eminence in the Gulf neighborhood and the Middle East region. If war becomes the ultimate option to resolve the deep divergences, as Clausewitz said war is the continuation of politics by other means, everybody will be the loser regardless of who emerges victorious at the end of the day.”

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