Trump’s unprecedented break with longstanding US policy should finally mean an international rejection of the farcical promises of the “peace process.”
2018 will mark the 25th anniversary of the Declaration of Principles (DOP), the culmination of political negotiations – often termed the “Oslo process” – that took place between the Israelis and the Palestinians beginning in 1993. The signing of the declaration was headlined by a picturesque handshake on the lawn of the White House between then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat.
Overwhelmingly, Oslo was hailed as a revolutionary and unprecedented breakthrough in the bilateral pursuit of a lasting political solution in historic Palestine. This dominant assumption produced an enormous body of literature, written by diplomats, negotiators, politicians, and academics alike. To offer just one example, in his book The Process: 1,100 Days that Changed the Middle East, Israeli negotiator Uri Savir claimed that Oslo was “not just a pragmatic effort at peacemaking after having exhausted all other alternatives” but that it was “a revolutionary development...a reversal of historical, social, and cultural trends within both Israeli and Palestinian societies. Shaking hands and building a partnership meant not only the renunciation of past hostility but a break with traditions deeply ingrained in each of our societies.”
This dominant narrative around Oslo helped form what historian Ilan Pappé terms the “peace orthodoxy” – an international and “almost religious belief in the two-state solution.” Since then, the orthodoxy has been central in allowing Israel to navigate several paradoxes that have been produced by its subsequent policy decisions. One of these paradoxes is the ever-widening gap between global public opinion, which is increasingly critical of Israeli policy, and the unwavering support for the Jewish state offered by political and economic elites in the West.
Enter Donald Trump, who's erratic and reactionary political agenda has now centered historic Palestine in its sights. Contravening what amounts to a global position on the status of Jerusalem, particularly as it relates to East Jerusalem as the future capital of a Palestinian state, Trump has notified Israeli and Palestinian political leadership that he intends to officially recognize the entirety of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. This move by Trump should be seen as precisely what it is – the final spotlight illuminating the theatre of absurdity that has been the Middle East “peace process.”
As the shining moment of this process, the Oslo Accords were anchored in two particular aspects of the agreement's structure – mutual recognition and the reliance on interim arrangements to bring about final status agreements. These “final status issues” were clearly delineated within the DOP: security arrangements, settlements, borders, refugees, and the status of Jerusalem. Since the signing of the agreements, security and economic arrangements meant to buttress Israel’s position of strength have remained the center of attention and effort. The Israeli settler population in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has nearly tripled. Israel's borders, which have never been officially declared, remain fluid, accompanied by serious discussion of formal annexation of the West Bank initiated by top-level Israeli political leaders such as Naftali Bennett. Finally, to no surprise, Israel has made no substantial move toward rectifying the refugee issue it created by employing ethnic cleansing as the means to forge its state in 1948.
And now, finally, the United States — Israel's steadfast arms dealer and protector from rightful international condemnation — will codify a formal rejection of the international consensus on Jerusalem. For many liberals in the US, this will fall in line with Trump's position on the Paris Agreement; that is, as nothing more than an uncalculated maneuver by a President who seems stubbornly committed to controversial policy decisions, if even merely for their own sake. For Palestinians, however, this development takes what has been collectively understood for decades – that Israel and the US are happy to collude in denying Palestinian self-determination – and moves it into the headlines of the mainstream press.
If there is anything productive that can come from Trump's decision regarding Jerusalem it is that, perhaps finally, those who are interested in reaching a just political solution in historic Palestine can relinquish their investment in the peace orthodoxy. Those who could not muster the same foresight offered by the brilliance of Edward Said who, as early as 1995, described the Oslo process as a way for Israel to “repackage” its system of domination in Palestine, finally have all of the evidence in front of them. It can now be stated, without any doubt, that the entirety of the so-called “peace process” was constructed as part of the denial of a Palestinian state.
This realization allows us to shed the confines of the peace orthodoxy in order to finally initiate an honest debate about the contemporary reality within historic Palestine. What has happened in this territory since the arrival of thousands of settler-immigrants in the late nineteenth century is not accurately reflected in the structure nor the lexicon of the “peace process.” This is not a situation that can be solved under the false impression of political negotiations between two national parties. What is taking place in Palestine – indeed, what has been taking place – is an anti-colonial struggle against a settler colonial powerhouse.
Since the imposition of its political project upon historic Palestine, the Zionist goal has been crystal clear – to control as much of historic Palestine with as few Palestinians living in the territory as is possible. It is this history, the one that exists before the revisionist historical red lines imposed by the peace process, that is absolutely fundamental in our ability to accurately assess the contemporary political situation in Palestine. Along with developing severe structural impediments to the establishment of a Palestinian state, the peace process also insists upon Oslo as a new starting point for observing and diagnosing any problems still existing within Palestine. That is, this peace process, its lexicon, and its orthodoxy work to assert a false reality of mutual national struggle, which in turn erases the legacy of Israeli foundational violence and, therefore, the anti-colonial Palestinian struggle.
As I have previously asserted, the “peace process” purportedly, or at least rhetorically, seeks the establishment of a Palestinian state while Israeli settler colonialism explicitly denies that possibility. There is no room for a viable and sovereign Palestinian state within the Zionist – and now Israeli – political imaginary. It cannot exist. In other words, as has long been argued by those examining the prospects critically, this twenty-five year exercise has always meant to be heavy on the “process” and ambiguous on the “peace.”
Palestinians do not need U.S. brokerage of meager political or economic gains through asymmetrical negotiations. It is not Trump nor Israel who hold legitimacy as an arbiter of Palestinian rights. What Palestinians need – indeed, what the world needs – is the comprehensive dismantlement of Israeli settler domination in historic Palestine. As Trump prepares for his move to Jerusalem, it has never been more clear that the path toward this dismantlement was never to be located within this “peace process.”