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.
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.
“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.