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.