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Trump’s “Deal of the Century” Is a Brazen Land Grab

Donald Trump, Benjamin Netanyahu, and many leading Democrats are touting the administration's Middle East peace plan. But the scheme is nothing but a brazen land grab that would deepen Israeli control while depriving millions of Palestinians of basic civil rights.

Israel's separation wall can be seen next to the Palestinian Shuafat refugee camp on January 28, 2020 in Jerusalem, Israel. Lior Mizrahi / Getty

In a staged political melodrama on Tuesday, President Donald Trump, flanked by a smug Benjamin Netanyahu, released his vision for Middle East peace, hailing it as the “Deal of the Century.”

From Israel’s perspective, the Trump plan is indeed the deal of the century. As Israel’s prime minister put it: “It’s a great plan for Israel. It’s a great plan for peace.” For Palestinians, who were absent from the ceremony, the plan is nothing but a land-grabbing scheme hatched in broad daylight.

The Trump deal would place an undivided Jerusalem, including its Old City, under Israel’s control, and give Israel the right to annex all settlements as well as the Jordan Valley — nearly a fourth of the West Bank. Netanyahu has already pledged to seize all settlements and the Jordan Valley, which his government is expected to vote to annex this weekend.

The plan envisions a “conditioned” Palestinian state that will be completely demilitarized and devoid of an army and air force, and where Israel will continue to exercise full military and airspace control. This “state-minus,” as Netanyahu cynically dubbed it, would be a discontinuous, canonized archipelago in the West Bank and Gaza, surrounded by a sea of Israeli settlements and military installments. It would deprive millions of stateless Palestinians of basic civil rights.

In other words, Palestinians are being asked to repeat the same mistake they made at the 1993 Oslo Accords, where they agreed to “condition” statehood, only to see Israel turbocharge its occupation, expand its settlements, and snatch up Jerusalem. Not surprisingly, Palestinian leaders have boycotted the plan.

Israel is well aware that there are more Palestinians than Israelis living in the territory under Israel’s control. By endorsing the Israeli settlements, the plan would replace a decades-long occupation with an official apartheid system, where a Palestinian majority would be ruled by a minority of Israeli settlers, and only one ethnic group would enjoy full civil rights.

Trump’s plan is the culmination of a spate of anti-Palestinian measures his administration has taken, from moving the US embassy to Jerusalem to recognizing Israeli settlements in the West Bank to freezing all forms of funding to Palestinians.

But it isn’t just Trump. Most Democrats have either remained silent or applauded Trump’s policy. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi lauded the deal for providing “common ground” that Democrats could get behind, saying: “If there’s a possibility for peace, we want to give it a chance.” Pelosi and other mainstream Democrats still refuse to see Trump’s anti-Palestinian posture as inseparable from his broader reactionary agenda.

Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have been the only Democratic presidential candidates to speak out forcefully against the plan. Warren called it a “rubber stamp for annexation [that] offers no chance for a real Palestinian state.” Sanders warned it “will only perpetuate the conflict,” and that a peace deal “must end the Israeli occupation and enable Palestinian self-determination in an independent state.” (Joe Biden, while seemingly criticizing the plan as a “political stunt,” failed to even mention Palestinians, tweeting instead: “I’ve spent a lifetime working to advance the security & survival of a Jewish and democratic Israel. This is not the way.”)

Trump’s plan is the handiwork of cynics and right-wing evangelicals who display utter contempt for Palestinian rights, most notably Jared Kushner (Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser) and David Friedman (the US ambassador to Israel). Both men have bankrolled Israeli settlements in the West Bank for years. Friedman, a settler himself, has insisted on Israel’s right to annex the West Bank, because “Israel is on the side of God.”

Perhaps most appalling of all is the Trump team’s paternalistic rhetoric, which drips with “white man’s burden” racism. “We think we will ultimately have the support of the Palestinians,” Trump declared, as if Palestinians were unable to see what is in their interest. Or as Kushner, questioning the feasibility of independent Palestinian self-rule, put it: “The hope is that they over time can become capable of governing themselves.” The rulers of apartheid South Africa — which rested on the racist assumption that the Bantu homelands must remain under the control of whites, because the Bantu were still unable to rule themselves — couldn’t have put it any better.

Many Palestinians are reaching for another historical parallel: the Mandate system, which was imposed on Palestinians a century ago and which named the British government “trustees” until the native inhabitants were “able to stand on their own.” Just as the Balfour Declaration excluded Palestinians from the national rights it accorded to Jews, the Trump plan views Palestinian national rights as dispensable. And just as the Balfour Declaration failed to mention Palestinians by name, instead referring to them as the “non-Jewish population of Palestine,” US peacemakers continue to plan for the future of Palestinians in the absence of Palestinians.

Once again, Palestinians are faced with the grim prospect of having their destiny dictated by foreign officials who, endowed with a superpower mandate and armed with secret memos and proposals, are telling them what Lord Curzon condescendingly told the Indians more than a century ago: “You cannot do without us.”

Perhaps the only virtue of the Trump plan is that it again dispels the myth of the two-state solution. As the South African struggle reminds us, a people living under apartheid don’t need a separate state — they need justice and freedom. And for Palestinians, our next struggle is less for statehood than for democracy and civil rights.