By Diana Buttu
As U.S. President Donald Trump stepped up to speak at the White House Tuesday, it was flagged as the announcement of much-delayed plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Far from offering a path to peace, Trump’s “vision for peace and prosperity and a brighter future” will instead cement the long-term subjugation of Palestinians at Israel’s hands.
Israel will not be required to dismantle its illegal settlements. Palestinians will be required to renounce their internationally-recognized right to return to their homeland. Palestinians will have little access to Jerusalem. Israel will be allowed, in violation of international law, to annex parts of the West Bank.
To the unengaged outside observer this may not mean much, but for Palestinians, and indeed for the international community, this plan speaks volumes. It does away with the international legal system as we know it and replaces it with a system in which “might is right” – where power, and not law, is supreme.
Let’s be clear: this is not a peace plan but rather ticking off Israeli PM Netanyahu’s wish list: in violation of international law Trump he has handed Netanyahu Jerusalem, Trump has recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and now Trump has given a green light to Israel’s partial annexation of the West Bank – while simultaneously turning a blind eye to Israeli bombing campaigns, Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes and Israel’s continued blockade on Gaza. The closure of the PLO office in Washington DC and cutting off aid to Palestinians is fully in line with Netanyahu’s wishes. It is unsurprising that Netanyahu welcomes this plan with open arms.
Twenty years ago this week marked one of the last rounds of direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in Taba, Egypt. I was a legal advisor to the Palestinian negotiating team at the time.
When those negotiations ended without an agreement, Palestinians were asked by the Israeli and the international community to behave as though we had come “close” to achieving an agreement, when reality could not have been more different: rather than seek to end its military rule, Israel sought to repackage it by continuing to maintain control over Palestinian lives and freedom through its control over land, resources and our ability to develop as a country. We would have had no control over our airspace, over our natural resources or over our borders.
Twenty years later, these same ideas remain on the table, with Israel and the United States not only refusing to recognize Palestinians as equals, but also expecting our gratitude that Trump is even looking our way. In that time Israel has expanded settlements at breakneck speed, with barely a word of condemnation coming from the international community.
Some have even criticized Palestinians for not engaging with Trump’s team on the plan. The absurdity of this speaks volumes: just as we would never ask a victim of domestic abuse to engage with her abuser in the false belief that this may ease his abuse, so too we should not be asking Palestinians to engage in a process we know will simply seek to lead to further Israeli abuse over Palestinian lives.
Peace requires treating others with equality; it can never be achieved through subjugation, as Israel and the U.S. are attempting to do. Refusing to engage with this U.S. administration is not only necessary for Palestinians, but sends the strong message to the international community that international law, and not power, must remain supreme.
Following Trump’s announcement all eyes should now remain firmly on the international community’s response. Will the international community send the U.S. and Israel a definitive message: Your bullying will no longer be accepted, or will it continue, as it has done for decades, to submit to Israeli dictates.
For this is not simply about Palestine, but about the international legal system as we know it. Rewarding Israel for building settlements send the clear message to other dictatorships around the world that they, too, can do as they please and that they, too, will be rewarded. The ramifications are unimaginable: every country under threat around the world will hear that they too can be invaded, their land stolen and their people deprived of rights. This is a recipe for war, not peace and should be treated as such.
For Palestinians, the next steps are clear: instead of shying away from holding Israel accountable, as the Palestinian Authority has done in the past, we must now begin pressing to ensure that Israel faces consequences for continuing to deny us our freedom and steal our land, just as the South African anti-apartheid activists pushed for an end to South African apartheid.
The fiction of negotiations and the reality of Israeli bullying must come to an end – and with it the sense that Israel, with America’s enthusiastic backing, can do with us whatever it pleases.
Diana Buttu is a Ramallah-based analyst and activist, and a former adviser to Mahmoud Abbas and the negotiating team of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.