Originally published January 31, 2017 in CounterPunch
Move the Embassy: End the Charade
Among Donald Trump’s first acts as President was suspending Barack Obama’s last – a grant of 221 million dollars in discretionary humanitarian aid to Palestine.
But why pause before the next move against Palestine? Move the US Embassy to East Jerusalem right now and end this charade once and for all.
US politicians like to preach from on high about justice for Palestinians and Israelis alike… as if the pathway of pain for occupied and occupier is one-in-the same… as if these two dramatically different ends of the scales of justice can, indeed should, be balanced.
When it comes to Palestine, for decades the United States has hidden behind a cheap frilly veneer of neutrality all the while subsidizing, to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars, a vicious, often deadly, criminal occupation that has used impediment and stalling tactics to re-sculpt a landscape that has been home to Palestinians for the millennium.
How often do we hear from US politicians that Palestine is a complex issue? In point of fact, Palestine is very complicated only when confusion provides opportune cover for delay. Of course, ethnic cleansing knows no better cover than delay.
The debate about the whens, wheres and whys can go on and on as not much more than the allure of excuse. There are, however, certain fundamental truths about Palestine that cannot be denied even by those largely European immigrants who have become expert at rewriting history to suit a land grab of epic and on-going proportion.
While figures vary from source to source, in 1914, Palestine had a population of between 600-738,000 Palestinians (Muslim & Christian Arabs as well as other religions) and 59-94,000 Jews. In 1922, the census showed some 660-725,000 Palestinians and 84-89,000 Jews. In 1931, it is recorded that 4,075 Jews immigrated to Palestine while 1245 Christians and 213 Muslims immigrated there. In 1935 it was 61,854 Jews, 903 Arabs and 1390 Christians and others. In 1937 it was 10,500 Jews, 743 Arabs and 1196 Christians and others. By the end of 1944, the Jewish population had increased to 528,702 of which 117,226 were natural and 327,686 were immigrants. The Arab population had increased to 1,061,277 of which 453,405 were natural and 18,695 were immigrants. Christians and others increased to 149,645 of which 51,616 were natural and 18,948 were immigrant.
Four years later, in 1948, when land designated as Israel was ripped from the heartland of Palestine by UN political fiat, the two sides were ill-matched. The Jewish community in Palestine was much smaller: approximately 608-630,000 to the Arab, Christian and others 1.3-1.7 million… roughly 30 or so percent of the overall population. In spite of all Israel’s efforts, the Jewish population remains in the minority (as it has since at least the 5th century).
As of 1922 Jews owned roughly 3% of the land in Palestine which increased to some 7% of its total over the next decade. When the State of Israel was established, Jewish ownership of land stood at 8.6%, with 3.3% owned by those who were to become known as Israeli-Arabs while another 16.9% of land was abandoned by Palestinian owners who fled in advance of the war that was to come.
Following the UN pronouncement, some 700,000 Palestinians were driven from their farms and villages with estimates running as high as 20,000 civilians killed, twice as many injured and hundreds of rapes carried out by marauding terrorists from the Irgun, Stern Gang and Haganah. Hundreds of villages and towns were eradicated.
In the war that followed, another 400 to 600 Palestinian villages were sacked while urban Palestine was almost entirely extinguished. Out of about 400 Jewish settlements built post 1948, 350 were fabricated on Palestinian refugee property. Between 1948 and 1950 some 369 Palestinian villages were erased and replaced by 161 new Jewish settlements. During that same period, Israel seized two-thirds of all cultivated land which had been owned by Palestinians who were forced to flee.
Reliable estimates indicate that ultimately 80% of the Arab inhabitants, in what became Israel, left or were expelled from their homes, swept out by a colonial design that has run unabated since 1948… one in which the US has been very much a willing partner, indeed, enabler of the ethnic cleansing that has ensued.
Fast Forward 1993- The Wasted Talks
The Oslo Peace Process of 1993 was intended to lead to a final negotiated settlement between the parties within five years. Among other things, it divided the West Bank into three administrative divisions: Areas A, B, and C. The first two were the smallest and were to be home to just Palestinians subject to varying degrees of Palestinian oversight. Area C, the largest at approximately 75% of the West Bank, was “gradually” to be transferred to Palestinian jurisdiction. It also led to the creation of a Palestinian Authority (PA) with responsibility for the administration of territory under its control.
Oslo I was signed in Washington D.C., followed by Oslo II in 1995. Among other things, this agreement, also known as the Taba Agreement, called for prompt Israeli withdrawals from various Palestinian areas and expanded Palestinian self-rule.
Following Oslo I, in rapid order, came: The Gaza-Jerico Agreement also known as the Cairo Agreement (1994);The Agreement on Preparatory Transfer of Powers and Responsibilities Between Israel and the PLO ( August 1994); The Protocol on Further Transfers of Powers and Responsibilities (August 1995); The Protocol Concerning the Redeployment in Hebron (January 1997); The Wye River Memorandum (October 1998); The Sharm el-Sheik Memorandum (September 1999); The Camp David Meetings in (July, 2000); The Agreement on Movement and Access (November 2005); and, most recently, during 2013-2014, the unsuccessful attempt by now former Secretary of State Kerry to restart the so-called peace process.
Although these dozen or so hollow agreements, protocols and meetings made for powerful photo ops and fine dining, in practice they provided little more than cover… cover for Israel to steal more and more Palestinian land and moral cover for the US to speak of justice while, in reality, stoking the flames of racial and religious hatred through billions of dollars for Israeli settlements and weapons.
The Growth of Settlements
To some degree, the Oslo Accords are based upon the 1978 Camp David Agreement that resulted in a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. At the time of the agreement, there lived some 7,400 settlers in the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem), and 500 in Gaza.
Fifteen years later, at the time of the 1993 Oslo Accords, there were some 262,500 settlers in the West Bank.
Seven years later, at the Camp David Summit of 2000, there were a total of 362,945 settlers in the West bank with 169,969 in East Jerusalem.
By 2013, some 20 years after the Oslo Accords, the number of settlers grew to 520,000, across the West Bank,including 200,000 in East Jerusalem.
Today, there are approximately 250 settlements and “outposts” in the West Bank… home to some 800,000 illegal settlers… constituting approximately 13% of Israel’s population.
Among them are 13 settlements and 12 solely Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem where 200,000 Israelis live. The population of East Jerusalem is now down to 37% Palestinian. Area C of the West Bank is now 99% settler occupied.
Empowered by the election of Donald Trump and his nomination of David M. Friedman, long aligned with its settler far right, as Ambassador to Israel, it has approved more than 3,000 new units in the occupied West Bank, and signaled a green light to take what little else remains.
The Bleeding Hearts of the Whitehouse
One need not be a soothsayer to note a steady unbroken pattern of Israel swallowing more and more of the occupied West Bank even as US politicians, republican and democrats alike, convene feel good peace conferences or wax on about the need for justice for Palestinians.
As then President, Jimmy Carter noted “There has to be a homeland provided for the Palestinian refugees who have suffered for many, many years.” Ronald Reagan, spoke of “autonomy talks to pave the way for permitting the Palestinian people to exercise their legitimate rights.”
George H.W. Bush criticized the presence of illegal settlements in the West Bank noting “Outposts, yeah, they ought to go.”
President Clinton opined about the need for the creation of a new Palestinian State based on the idea of self-determination for the Palestinian people.
George W. Bush called for a halt to Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian lands needed for a state.
Several years ago Barrack Obama decried…“more aggressive settlement construction over the last couple years than we’ve seen in a very long time.”
Though these sentiments have been echoed by each occupant of the White House over the last 40 years, in reality they’ve reflected little more than a conspicuous political subterfuge to garner votes while providing Israel unlimited funds to support its endless aggression.
The cold hard reality is US politicians care far more about the domestic political mileage and influence of American Zionists than they do abstract notions of international law or justice for Palestinians.
One simply can’t have it both ways… calling out for justice while subsidizing Israeli hatred and violence with an open checkbook and empty rhetoric. It’s just not possible to be a neutral and detached arbiter at the same time courting votes.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Israel simply does not care. 68 years of its history, and counting, has shown that it has and will continue to do whatever it wishes to Palestinians unless and until the United States holds it accountable by ripping up the blank check or until the pain and suffering of its colonial enterprise becomes just too much for Israelis to bear.
Enter Donald Trump
Donald trump is a simple man with a simple mind. It’s his way or none. He loves the challenge of being the smartest, toughest and most creative thinker in the room even when he knows he’s far from it. To Trump there’s nothing like the grand dare, even when he knows he’s not up to it. And when all else fails, he simply makes up the narrative to suit his view. In Trump’s world honesty is for the weak, reality for those who can’t lie and then simply move on.
For decades presidents have determined that they could pontificate to the world about justice for Palestinians but finance Israel in its drive to purge them from the river to the sea without costs that they were unwilling to bear.
However, these same presidents discerned a bright red line beyond which they could not cross without unleashing consequences far too explosive to contemplate… namely, moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to the capital of Palestine in Jerusalem.
Apparently Donald Trump does not care.
To the politically naive, such a move would be of little practical consequence… a mere symbolic gesture. To millions of Palestinians, indeed hundreds of millions of Arabs, moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem without their specific invitation would constitute a point of no return… a veritable disaster in waiting.
In one fell swoop, it would signal an end to two separate yet related fictions that, since Oslo, have helped to enable a relative calm in Palestine even in the presence of the loss of much of it to settlers: 1) that the United States was interested in even the semblance of neutrality and 2) that the PA has the ability to represent the traditions and aspirations of the Palestinian people with meaningful capability and authority.
So, Mr. Trump, proceed at your own peril. If you feel, as Ambassador-to-be Friedman does, that Jerusalem is “Israel’s eternal capital”… proceed with your folly. Move the Embassy.
To millions of Palestinians, the only answer will be militant and fierce resistance, and it will come… as sure as the early morning call to prayer.