A week into the official unveiling of the Trump Administration’s “Deal of the Century,” there is no lack of analysis of how this “vision for peace to prosperity” legitimizes Israel’s numerous crimes, while fulfilling the country’s aspirations for acceptance into the region. And as we denounce this vision, it must be emphasized that it does not propose much that is novel, as much as it merely sets up an official, contractual framework for transgressions that are already “facts on the ground.”
The annexation of Jerusalem and declaring it the capital of Israel, the denial of the Palestinian refugees’ Right of Return, Israel’s control of all Palestinian borders, including the Gaza Strip’s maritime borders, the annexation of West Bank settlements, Palestinian demilitarization, the setting up of regional alliances, and putting an end to BDS, are not a bold “vision” as much as a long-standing reality, which Trump wants Palestinians to officially agree to. (Or else what? Gaza is already unlivable, BDS criminalized, protestors in the Great March of Return are shot on sight, while refugees in the global diaspora are denied return). In other words, the plan does not propose apartheid, it seeks to formalize it.
And while analysts remain busy explaining the Deal’s many offensive details, Israel is moving full steam into annexing more land, and seizing more Palestinian homes.
Here in the US, the “Deal of the Century” has reinvigorated the discourse naming Israel’s practices as apartheid—again, nothing new, the analogy is at the basis of the 2005 call for BDS. And as we welcome these belated nods of acknowledgement, we must keep pushing the discourse towards a denunciation of the entire scope of the initial catastrophe that befell Palestinians last century, rather than its recent manifestations.
Al Nakba was more than apartheid. Yet many who fancy themselves progressive do not question the settler-colonial mindset behind their support of the two-state solution, which would preserve their beloved Israel as a Jewish state. I am thinking of groups such as J Street, “the political home of pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans,” and IfNotNow, “building a movement of Jews to end Israel’s occupation,” who denounce only the 1967 occupation. And of course I have written about Bernie Sanders’ Zionism, even as I maintain that he is the best presidential candidate for Palestinians.
More than denouncing apartheid, it is time to acknowledge that Israel, in whatever form it has taken, or can take, would never have come into existence without European imperialism and settler-colonialism. If there was ever to be an Israel that is a Jewish state, in parts of what was once Palestine, that Israel could only happen through the initial expulsion, followed by the ongoing violation of the right of return of the Palestinian people to their homes, villages, towns and cities in pre-1967 Israel.
So this is a call for consistency: just as apartheid is wrong, a crime against humanity, so settler-colonialism is racism, which entails the dispossession and disenfranchisement of an indigenous people, so as to create an enclave of supremacy–of whatever size. The Zionism of 1917, (Lord Balfour’s Declaration), of 1923 (Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s “Iron Wall”) and of 1948, that is, the early Zionism which laid the foundations for the new state of Israel, was no less murderous and violently separatist than the Zionism of today’s Hebron occupiers.
Only weeks ago, “progressive Zionists” were appalled at the New York Times’ alarmist announcement (which was later proven unwarranted) that Trump would be issuing an executive order asserting that Judaism is a nationality, not just a religion. Yet if Judaism is not a nationality, then Jewish self-determination should not necessitate the trappings of a nation-state, especially one founded on stolen land, whose rightful owners remain refugees to this day.
Fifteen years since the call for BDS was issued, using South Africa as a model, there is finally broad acceptance amongst progressives that Israel is an apartheid state, not the vibrant democracy they had long assumed it to be–albeit with some post-1967 blemishes and flaws. That discursive change is important, as it is at the basis of the growing global solidarity with the Palestinian people. But we must not stop at that. We should not only push for a recognition of Israeli apartheid, we must demand the recognition that any Jewish Israeli state, whatever its boundaries within historic Palestine, is necessarily a settler-colonial state. And no form of settler-colonialism is progressive.
The modern nation-state of Israel, the one founded through an imperial “declaration” early in the twentieth century, was envisioned as an enclave of ethno-nationalist supremacy, achieved through the expulsion of the indigenous inhabitants of the land. The “Deal of the Twenty-First Century” cannot be a continuation of settler-colonialism. It must be the recognition that all settler-colonialism is wrong, and that today’s “facts on the ground” necessitate the acceptance of one state, from the river to the sea, with equal rights for all.