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The ‘Deal of the Century’ endorses Zionist ethno-religious claims

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President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” released last month was not about so much a peace plan as it was a presidential executive order that confers legitimacy and acceptance to the core founding tenets and claims of Zionism. Indeed, the deal represents the wish list for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and settler-colonial forces of Zionism in Israel and in the U.S. It is a deal both between Netanyahu and Trump on the one hand and between Netanyahu and Jewish Israeli settlers in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) on the other, about the extent to which Zionist ethno-religious underpinnings and biblical claims of the land are going to be implemented.

In essence, Trump’s peace plan is designed to appease Israeli settlers and their supporters in Israel and the United States by rejecting outright the establishment of a viable, sovereign, and independent Palestinian state–let alone recognizing Palestinians’ right to self-determination and liberty. Moreover, it endorses the Zionistethno-religious perceptions related to the conflict with Palestinians over the land.

President Trump’s deal not only caters to Israeli colonial and expansionist aspirations, but it also yields to the ethno-religious underpinnings of Zionism and Israeli claims to the Palestinian land. The plan stipulates that Israel has the right to annex all Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the Jordan Valley. It further consolidates the incremental American leanings towards Jerusalem by declaring the city “the capital of Israel.” As for the Palestinians, the plan offers “a future Palestinian state” on the remainder, shrouded and isolated areas within the West Bank, Gaza, a few East Jerusalem neighborhoods presently on the West Bank side of the wall with few exceptions, and a sliver of land that stretches into the Negev. By recognizing these underlying principles, the deal effectively endorses Israel’s  Nation-State law passed in 2018, and long-standing assertions with regard to the land and the rights, or lack thereof, for the indigenous Palestinian population.

Israel’s Nation-State law overtly states what Zionism and the state of Israel represent, that “The exercise of the right to national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish People.” Subheadlined as, “Israel is the nation state of the Jewish People,” the law defines the country’s symbols, legitimacy, language, laws, and religious customs. While not referencing the Bible outright, it is the clear fulcrum of the law’s moral justifications.

It further asserts “the development of Jewish settlement as a national value, and shall act to encourage and promote its establishment and strengthening.” Indeed, this could be interpreted to include the oPt. Therefore, the law severs any links between Palestinians and their land. Trump’s plan adopts almost literally these stipulations. For the Palestinians, and rightly so, it is a new version of the Balfour Declaration of 1917 that was based on Zionist claims to the land of Palestine. In this President Trump follows in the footsteps of President Woodrow Wilson who endorsed the Declaration at the time.

The essence of the Balfour Declaration is that Jewish Zionists and later Israelis are the only group of people who have the right to the land. The Balfour Declaration (and then the British Mandate) refers to Palestinians as“existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine” noting, “nothing shall be done which may prejudice [their] civil and religious rights.” The declaration in this sense echoes the famous Zionist claim that Palestinians are not a people, and declare them a mere group with no national rights to the land.

The Jewish population, 8 percent in 1918, and Jewish immigrants had a right recognized by the British Empire to establish a homeland. Both the Declaration and Trump’s deal do not consider the indigenous Palestinians as having national rights. The deal denies by omission any links between the Palestinians and their land whether historical, cultural or religious, while it recognizes Israeli exclusive historical links.

Zionism’s intentions from the outset of its endeavor in Palestine were explicit. In his correspondence in 1898 replying to the then-mayor of Jerusalem Yusuf Diya, Theodor Herzl wrote, “You see another difficulty, Excellency, in the existence of the non-Jewish population in Palestine. But who would think of sending them away?”

Herzl’s position was predicated on a European justification of colonialism. In the same correspondence, he makes it clear as to the benefits “non-Jewish” people will acquire from Jewish immigration to, and settlement in, Palestine. In other words, Herzl wondered if Palestinians could be convinced that Zionism would benefit them, and referred to the Palestinians as “non-Jews” the same as the Balfour Declaration.

Many years later, before becoming Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion wrote to his son in 1937 he aspired for territory outside of the limits discussed by the League of Nations.

“A state on only part of the land isn’t the end, it’s only the beginning,” reported the Jerusalem Post in a more recent comment piece calling for expanding Israel’s borders, “The establishment of a state, even if it’s only a partial one, will serve as a powerful lever in our historic efforts to redeem the entire country.” Redemption is the word most used by settler-colonialists of Israel mixing colonial tenets with ethno-national underpinnings derived from religion. In his speech in 1952 Ben-Gurion asserts in reference to UN Resolution 181: “This state is not identical to the land; this state is not identical to the people…And we must distinguish between the State of Israel and the Land of Israel.” The identification of land, people, and the state implies that Palestinians are ignored. Trump’s “deal”, if implemented, would deliver what Ben-Burion aspired to.

Ben-Gurion’s remark alludes to a very important Zionist ethnic-religious tenet regarding what expansionist call Greater Israel: many Biblical heritage sites are in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, not within the borders of Israel. Trump’s plan offers Israel a unique opportunity to consolidate its position in considering occupied Palestinian land as an inseparable part of Greater Israel, a most important view within Zionism. In his book “War Over Peace: One Hundred Years of Israel’s Militaristic Nationalism” Uri Ben-Eliezer describes the ethno-religious drives that led Israel into the war of 1967, a war that was aimed to realize the “land of Israel” beyond the borders of the state of Israel. A war that actualized Ben-Gurion’s own idea of the “land of Israel.”

The deal of the century to a large extent reflects the influence of Zionists and like-minded individuals and groups within the close circles of the Administration. The entire team behind the deal is made up of both fervent right-wing fundamentalists–including Jared Kushner. Among the most prominent figures who attended the announcement of the deal was Pastor John Hagee, head of Christians United for Israel, who advocates for “sovereignty over biblical holy sites” in the West Bank, seemingly Israeli annexation of the most of the oPt. Hagee offered the closing prayers at the 2018 opening ceremony of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.

The deal is one of the main outcomes of the coalition between right-wing Republicans, Zionist organizations, and Evangelical supporters of Israel and Trump. One only needs to look into the close ties between Trump’s team that put together the deal and two of the hardline pro-Israel groups, the Republican Jewish Coalition, or RJC, and Christians Unified for Israel, or CUFI. These ties are not a matter of political coalition only, they reflect deep beliefs. Jason Greenblatt, the former Middle East peace envoy, joined the RJC since resigning from the administration. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a past keynote speaker at CUFI, told the Christian Broadcasting Network that he is a dedicated believer and that when it comes to preserving a Jewish state, “I am confident that the Lord is at work here.” In the same interview, he further stated that Trump is “just like Queen Esther, to help save the Jewish people from an Iranian menace.”

Then there is David Friedman, the ambassador to Israel and a former fundraiser for Israeli settlements, who appears to act as a representative of Israel’s interests in the U.S. No need to review the fervently-Zionist record of Jared Kushner and his friendship with Israel’s leaders.

Trump declared that it was Kushner, Friedman, and Greenblatt who convinced him to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights “by a short lesson in history.” Friedman then responded with much zeal during his speech to the Israel lobby group AIPAC that the Golan was the gift of the “Purim” holiday. An even bigger gift was on the way then, and has now been presented to Netanyahu at the behest of Zionist and right-wing Republican cheerleaders of the Bible.

Hasan S. Ayoub

Hasan S. Ayoub is Visiting Scholar at the Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver, and Assistant Professor of Political Science department at An-Najah National University, Nablus.

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7 Responses

  1. Misterioso on February 17, 2020, 7:22 pm

    “President Trump’s deal not only caters to Israeli colonial and expansionist aspirations, but it also yields to the ethno-religious underpinnings of Zionism and Israeli claims to the Palestinian land.”

    https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/christian-zionist-archaeology-tool-palestinian-subjugation-200212120116746.html

    “Christian Zionist archaeology: A tool of Palestinian subjugation”

    “Archaeological projects in Palestine led by US evangelical Christians contribute to Palestinian dispossession.” Al Jazeera, Feb. 16/20, by Mimi Kirk.

    “About 20 kilometres (12.4 miles) north of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, just west of the Israeli settlement Shiloh, lies Tel Shiloh, an archaeological site that attracts tens of thousands of evangelical Christians every year.

    “There, Scott Stripling, an evangelical pastor from Texas, heads a dig in search of remnants of the biblical tabernacle – a portable dwelling containing a chest holding the two stone tablets of the Ten Commandments.

    “In a recent interview with the Times of Israel, Stripling says his latest find – three horns that may have adorned an altar – supports his claim that Tel Shiloh is the site of the dwelling.

    “The site and surrounding area already advance this perspective: The nearby settlement has a synagogue designed as a replica of the tabernacle, and while the site’s artefacts show a variety of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim groups residing in the area over a 3,700-year period, its attractions scarcely acknowledge anything outside the tabernacle story.

    “Stripling calls Tel Shiloh Israel’s ‘first capital’ based on the idea that Shiloh was the first capital of the Israelites for close to 400 years from the 15th century BCE. It is a claim Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also made on a visit to Tel Shiloh last year. He was accompanied by former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who tweeted at the time: ‘Shiloh is proof from 3000 yrs ago this land was home to @Israel site of ancient Tabernacle.’

    “Biblical scholars beg to differ.”

    “‘Properly credentialed biblical scholarship does not assume the historicity of anything prior to King David [ca. 1010-970 BCE],’ says Southern Methodist University Professor of Old Testament Susanne Scholz. ‘That Stripling projects the biblical stories into the historical record exposes him as a Christian fundamentalist. That’s the origin of his drive to do archaeology at Tel Shiloh.’

    “Scholz also points out that the claim that Shiloh was the capital of ancient Israel is ‘utter nonsense.’

    “‘Such statements are used to advance geopolitical goals,’ she says.

    “Indeed, as Christian Zionists, Stripling and Huckabee believe that the state of Israel is the result of biblical prophecy. The belief stems from the idea that four millennia ago God promised the land to the Jews, who will rule it until Jesus returns to Jerusalem for the rapture. While Christians will be saved upon Jesus’s return, those of other religions who do not convert to Christianity will be sent to hell.

    “About 80 percent of US evangelicals espouse Christian Zionist beliefs.

    “As a result of such beliefs, Christian Zionists support Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise in the West Bank and, indeed, any other policy – Israeli, US, or otherwise – that secures Israeli Jewish sovereignty over the land from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River and even beyond, into Jordan’s East Bank. This makes Netanyahu’s annexation pledges and Donald Trump’s annexation-friendly ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan coveted moves. Christian Zionists generally ignore Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights, even of Christian Palestinians, or see them as a necessary means to an end.

    “Despite the matter of their supposed end-of-times demise according to this view, Jewish Israeli leaders have embraced the money and influence on US foreign policy that Christian Zionists offer, particularly with adherents Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in the Trump administration and evangelicals constituting a large segment of Trump’s base (81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump in 2016).

    “The influence of Christian Zionists spurred the administration’s decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 2018, helping to cement Israel’s claim to the city.

    “And while expanding settlements, home demolitions, and a host of other strategies have been means by which Israel has seized Palestinian territory and dispossessed Palestinians, so too has archaeology.

    “For decades, the Israeli government has used archaeology to, in the words of scholar Nadia Abu El-Haj, ‘create the fact of an ancient Israelite/Jewish nation and nation state,’ shoring up the narrative of Jewish historical ties to the land while ignoring or glossing over other peoples who have inhabited the same space – and erasing Palestinian claims to and presence on the land.

    “Moreover, archaeological excavation in occupied territory is largely illegal under international law.

    “Further, while biblical archaeology, the aim of which is to prove the validity of the Bible through tangible evidence, has been around for two centuries, the recent rise of Christian Zionism as a political force in the US and the movement’s cozy relationship with the Israeli government has made it all the more influential and pervasive.

    “Former Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, for example, has proposed an economic plan to the Trump administration that includes the development of almost two dozen biblical sites, mainly in the Jordan Valley – an area both Netanyahu and his political rival Benny Gantz have promised to annex. Israeli Minister of Defence Naftali Bennet has similarly announced the creation of seven new nature reserves in the West Bank and the expansion of 12 existing reserves, including the archaeological site Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the 1940s and 1950s.

    “Barkat names Tel Shiloh, which is managed not by Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority but by the council of the nearby settlement and a private non-profit, as a model to be replicated across the West Bank. Thus a site explicitly run by and for the benefit of Israel’s settlement enterprise with the support and interest of Christian Zionists, some of whom travel thousands of miles and pay thousands of dollars to take part in Stripling’s dig, is touted as Israel’s ideal.

    “Barkat argues that the projects outlined in his plan, including the biblical sites, would provide Palestinians with jobs and higher wages than those they would make under the Palestinian Authority (PA). The opinion parallels the Trump administration’s perspective that Palestinians, if given economic incentives – termed ‘economic peace’ – will happily abandon their decades-long struggle for self-determination, freedom, and rights for a better quality of daily life, a stance that many analysts critique.

    “Ali Abunimah, a cofounder of the Electronic Intifada and policy analyst with Al-Shabaka, The Palestinian Policy Network, told Al Jazeera the US economic plan is ‘an effort to buy Palestine for peanuts and give Palestinians nothing in exchange.’

    “It is indeed clear that such plans of so-called economic peace bolster Israel’s seizure and domination of Palestinian land and the delegitimization of Palestinian rights. They also reinforce the Israeli government’s continued cynical ties with Christian Zionists. To be sure, the two ideologies – Zionism and Christian Zionism – reinforce one another and together impel a mutually beneficial, if brutal and illegal, system of Palestinian dispossession and oppression. That is, at least until the rapture.”

  2. Shiralee on February 18, 2020, 9:18 am

    “These ties are not a matter of political coalition only, they reflect deep beliefs.”

    What a pity those ‘beliefs’ are not in line with most religious ideals, humanitarian values or rule of law. During the inquisitions theft, retaliation, oppression, discrimination, murder and falsehoods qualified as religious belief. It seems that the great messianic traditions haven’t changed all that much.

  3. Vera Gottlieb on February 18, 2020, 10:37 am

    Still no reason to treat Palestinians like dogs. Still ashamed of my Jewish background. Too many similarities with Nazi-ism.

  4. Ossinev on February 18, 2020, 3:17 pm

    “Indeed, as Christian Zionists, Stripling and Huckabee believe that the state of Israel is the result of biblical prophecy. The belief stems from the idea that four millennia ago God promised the land to the Jews, who will rule it until Jesus returns to Jerusalem for the rapture. While Christians will be saved upon Jesus’s return, those of other religions who do not convert to Christianity will be sent to hell.”

    So condemning to hell Jews who do not convert to Christianity is somehow not Anti – Semitic ?
    Now I wonder why it was left out of the good old IHRA definition list.

  5. Boomer on February 23, 2020, 4:36 pm

    Friday’s WSJ has a long story about the “Trump Peace Plan” by Dov Liber. We learn that

    “After capturing the valley from Jordan in a 1967 war, Israel soon sent citizens to live there to create a civilian-led led security buffer along the once-hostile Jordanian border. Those communities created a prosperous agriculture industry, turning what was largely empty land into farms of bell peppers and succulent Majdhool dates. To work and harvest the lands, Israeli farmers have relied on Palestinian laborers, who receive wages roughly three times as large as they would for similar work in Palestinian-controlled areas.”

    What’s not to like? An empty land transformed, with the workers better off under Israelis.

    • sergioatallah on February 26, 2020, 7:55 am

      This is analogous to the Palestinians who work in construction of settlements built illegally. Not uncommon for those who owned and worked the land, then forced to plant the fields they used to own. Palestinians do what they must to survive, even if they do so on their knees.

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