The irony of the celebratory mood at the opening ceremony of the US embassy in Jerusalem will not have been lost on most people as coinciding live images of protesters being massacred were broadcast on most television stations. If anything, such imagery served to demonstrate the grave imbalance that has obstructed any genuine pursuit for peace; Israel is strong, Palestine is weak. In other words, Israel and the US are strong enough to dictate the terms while the Palestinians are helpless in advocating their cause.
So, now that the US has declared its embassy in Jerusalem, which also declared it the capital of Israel, where does that leave the peace process?
The fundamental dynamics
Before understanding the implications for the peace process, it is important to understand a persistent and fundamental dynamic that has rendered the process more a political pantomime than any serious effort for peace. The foundations of the talks centre on a reality that is unfathomable not just for the Palestinians, but for those of conscious and advocates of international law; that is accepting the de facto legitimacy of violent and forced removal of a population from their land in the name of establishing a state.
Accepting this reality is non-negotiable both for the US and Israel while Palestinians believe rejecting it is absolutely central to the concept of a peace process as they pine for a return to their homeland. It is important to make a distinction; while Israel longs to displace Palestinians to claim further territory, Palestinians do not seek to oust the Jewish population. Instead, Palestinians seek to return to a status quo where Jews and Muslims lived side by side, however tense it may have been during that period. In other words, they seek a one-state solution.
However, a one-state solution runs counter to the interests of the Israeli state. The Israeli population is simply not large enough. If a one-state solution became a reality, elections and other political processes would end up being dominated by the Palestinian Arabs, rendering the solution akin to handing back seized lands. This is so undesirable for Israel that even the liberal and social justice hero Bernie Sanders objects to the idea of a one-state solution.
Moreover, the Israeli project did not end in 1948 with the establishment of the state. Instead, Israel has been on a constant expansive trajectory whereby it has tested public and international opinion over how ambitious it can be regarding its borders. Its steady encroachment further into Palestinian lands via settlements is indicative of a policy to establish an irreversible situation such that should one day the international community use irresistible force to push Israel into an agreement, it would be practically impossible, at least diplomatically, to return any of the seized lands on which settlements have been established.
This is the policy that manifested itself during the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem. As Netanyahu declared a glorious day, more than 50 Palestinians were being killed as they protested on what remains of their land. However, although drawing international condemnation, the inability of the international community to impose any significant punitive measures only serves to demonstrate the reality of what has become known as the Peace Process; Israel dictates the terms, and the world, led by the US, must follow.
What happens now?
The embassy move to Jerusalem is reflective of Donald Trump’s gung-ho approach. It is clear that the US president is averse to the relatively conciliatory approach of his predecessors who sought some sort of ostensible consensus in the pursuit of lasting peace. Instead, Trump seeks to put the Palestinians into a corner whereby they will have no option but to accept whatever terms are dictated to them.
The reality is, the current situation is conducive to such an approach. For the first time in history, Arab governments have become apathetic to the Palestinian cause as each Arab leader is embroiled in their own domestic family/political feuds to establish themselves while wrestling with ailing economies brought about by a general lack of vision over the past 30 years. Damning statements and joint Arab diplomatic efforts to stem US ‘aggression’ on Palestinians are very unlikely to be forthcoming. Instead, Trump is expecting, with good reason, to rely on these very Arab governments to tighten the noose on the Palestinian leadership to sit at the table with Israel.
Moreover, the lack of international punitive measures (sanctions, criminal court investigations, etc…) against the atrocities committed during the opening of the US embassy, as well as the inability of the international community that includes perceived global players such as France, Germany and the UK to lobby Trump to reverse such a provocative move, suggests that the only real decision makers in this matter are the US and Israel.
However, Trump’s aggressive approach, which has altered the goalposts of negotiations by forcing the declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, brings about far more problems than it solves. Even if he convinces the Palestinian leadership to sit at the table, and even if he convinces them to agree to humiliating terms, he will have neglected one of the most powerful dynamics in the whole story; the Palestinian people. The protests, although not as large as previous intifadas, are evidence of a continued desperation and desire among the Palestinian people to uphold the cause. The willingness to continue protesting, using any means available including tennis rackets, sling-shots, and stones in the face of Israeli snipers that have maimed and killed protesters, suggests an irrepressible spirit that threatens to scupper all that Kushner and Trump hope for; which is to be the US administration that finally puts the issue to bed.
In other words, even if Trump secures a coerced agreement, the Palestinian people are more likely to oust their leadership and return to war than accept a solution that does not allow them to return home.
What is clear is that Trump has a better understanding of the Palestinian people than any of his predecessors. He is aware that Palestinians do not want to accept an Israeli state. They want to reclaim their land. He is also aware that Israel does not want a Palestinian state. They want to seize the entire territory that was purportedly ‘promised’ to them more than a thousand years ago. Faced with irreconcilable approaches, Trump has decided to choose a side and exercise brute force diplomatically by declaring Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and militarily by being complicit in Israel’s massacre of protestors. Trump seeks to break the back of the Palestinian movement and force them to the table humiliated and ready to sign.
Trump forgets, however, that there is much to be feared from those who have nothing left to lose. Although the Palestinian cause is nearly 80 years old with Israel well in the ascendancy, a brief glance at the history of the region demonstrates that such causes do not die out or fade with time. After all, Algeria needed 132 years to oust the French.