Last week, an impeached US president revealed his plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace, with an indicted Israeli prime minister at his side. Yet far from being a “historic” peace plan, Donald Trump’s initiative is merely the repackaging of ideas from previous failed negotiations, including from the days in which I served as a legal adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team.
Then, as now, Israeli plans had the same aim: to confine as many Palestinians as possible on as little land as possible, while legalising Israel’s illegal settlements and depriving Palestinians their guaranteed right to return to their homeland. This is not a plan for peace but a demand that Palestinians agree to their perpetual subjugation.
It would give Israel large swathes of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley, so it need not dismantle any of its illegal settlements. It provides that Jerusalem will be the undivided capital of Israel, with Palestinians relegated to some suburb as their capital. It demands that Palestinians give up the right of return and accept Israel as a “Jewish state”.
The Palestinian “state” envisioned will be a collection of ghettoes, devoid of control over borders, airspace or natural resources. This plan has given the green light to Israel’s drive for annexation and, indeed, last week Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he would begin the process of illegally annexing the West Bank.
Leading up to the plan’s announcement, the US had all but outsourced it to the Israeli prime minister, ticking off item after item on his wishlist, including moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, declaring that the occupied Syrian Golan Heights are part of Israel, cutting off aid to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East and the Palestinian Authority, and the closure of the PLO office in the US. It is therefore unsurprising that Netanyahu could not contain his glee, labelling the Trump plan as among the most important days in Israel’s history.
The problems are not just with the content of the plan but also its process. Of the 13 million Palestinians worldwide, Trump and his team could not find even a handful to endorse his plan. Yet for Trump and his advisers, all of whom are supportive of Israel’s settlements and expansionist policies, what Palestinians think and what law stipulates do not matter – all that matters is Israel.
Throughout all of the negotiations of the past two decades, Israeli desires were always placed ahead of Palestinian rights. Israel always disguised its insatiable appetite for Palestinian land as being a “security” or “demographic” concern – a polite way of saying that Israel does not want any non-Jewish Palestinians in its midst, which Palestinians were always required to accommodate. For example, while ample attention was always paid to Israeli security, Palestinians were to be content living in a demilitarised state, with no means of defence and with Israel and its armed settlers retaining the right to invade Palestinian cities as it pleases. Israel’s “demographic concerns” are to be met by redrawing boundaries in order to accommodate illegal Israeli settlements while denying Palestinians the right to return simply because they are not Jewish. Israel’s desire to have Jerusalem as its “undivided, eternal capital” results in international law being ignored, and Palestine’s capital is in a distant suburb cut off from holy sites and its economic hub.
This attitude is reflected in the Trump plan’s vision for Palestinian citizens of Israel as well. Since the establishment of Israel on 78% of Mandate Palestine in 1948, some leading Israelis have lamented that they did not expel all Palestinians, with 150,000 remaining in what became Israel. Those 150,000 now number 1.8 million, amounting to 21% of Israel’s population, treated as a fifth column, with more than 60 laws discriminating against them.
The Trump plan provides that major Palestinian towns inside Israel will become part of the “Palestinian state”. No Palestinians in Israel were consulted over the plan and Israeli officials appear shocked that Palestinians are not wholeheartedly endorsing this idea.
Rewarding Israel for ethnically cleansing the indigenous Palestinian population will have untold consequences
This colonial attitude – in which Israel and the US know what is best for Palestinians – remained unchallenged for decades, during which time I often heard Israelis balk at the thought of equality, with representatives of the EU and other countries following suit. We were told how “unrealistic” it was to require Israel to comply with international law and how “necessary” the US was in securing an agreement. Allowing this colonial attitude to prevail has led to more than five decades of Palestinians requiring Israeli permission for virtually all of life’s necessities and pleasures – including things as commonplace as seeing loved ones, getting an education, accessing medical care, building a home or seeing the sea. It is cruel that Palestinians have had to endure this colonial arrogance, only to appease Israel’s insatiable appetite for Palestinian land.
To be clear, this is not just about Palestine, but about international legal order as we know it. Rewarding Israel for stealing Palestinian land and aiding Israel in ethnically cleansing the indigenous Palestinian population will have untold consequences internationally, with dictatorships around the world being sent the message that they, too, can do as they please and that they, too, will be rewarded.
The world’s colonial history and Israel’s colonial present must become a thing of the past. But it isn’t just Israel that must be held to account: all states that have ever demanded that Palestinians make “concessions” for the sake of “peace” should understand that peace cannot come through accommodating Israeli desires but by embracing equality.
Just as the world would never accept that Tel Aviv become tradeable, so too Palestinian cities, towns and land are not tradeable. Just as the world would never accept a demilitarised Israel, it should not demand that Palestinians be unable to defend themselves from an aggressive Israel.
As Israel pushes ahead with annexing the West Bank, I fear I will continue to hear the same international condemnations I’ve heard for the past 25 years, since the start of the Oslo process. These will do nothing to change the colonial mentality of Israel and the US and will only continue to demonstrate to Palestinians that force, might and bullying – and not law – are paramount.