Trump, Jerusalem and the Need for a Rebranded Palestinian Leadership

Earlier this week, US Vice-President Mike Pence visited the Knesset confirming both his President’s resolve on the status of the Holy City, and America’s exit from the Peace Process.

This comes weeks after US President Donald Trump declared Jerusalem, full and undivided, as the capital of Israel, and days after the US decided to withhold $65 million of the $125 million it was meant to give the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

UNRWA provides essential life-support and relocates some five million Palestinians displaced in Gaza, the occupied West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

The European Union and broader international community have condemned these decisions, reflected in the UN General Assembly’s (UNGA) 10th Emergency Session, which passed Resolution ES-10/L.22 declaring the status of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital “null and void.”

Drafted largely by Yemen and Turkey, the Resolution passed by 128 votes to 9 against with 35 abstentions.

UNGA Resolutions are non-binding, and so are widely perceived as performative. But this particular performance demonstrates two seismic shifts in current world politics. First is a confirmation of the US’ ostracism from the liberal international community.

With an abstention from Canada and votes in favor from the majority of the EU and all BRICS members, the US and Israel stand out as pariah states similar to Afghanistan and Iran on previous occasions.

This quick succession of heavy blows delivered to Palestine confirms Pence’s alarming proclamation that the current formulation of the Peace Process, and its illusions of progress, as mediated by the US, has ended.

And with the demise of this so-called Peace Process, the foundation of US foreign policy in the Middle East has also been dismantled.

New Allies, Same Old Tricks

By recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a key Netanyahu demand, has the US killed off the peace process? [Xinhua]

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has called the Jerusalem decision the biggest
‘slap of the century’, but in the face of this post-US world, we see that the Palestinian leadership and the Palestinian people have responded in very different ways.

The Trump Administration approached the Palestinian issue in 2017 seemingly intent on unwinding Barack Obama’s legacy, which ended with Security Council Resolution 2334 in December 2016 that declared the status of illegal Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories in flagrant violation of international law.

Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, which Israel is party to, explicitly prohibits the forcible transfer of peoples into occupied territories, but without international enforcement, Israel went well underway in constructing 6000 new settlements last year.

Although under President Obama the aid package to Israel redoubled, the Resolution instilled in the Palestinian Authority (PA) the belief that the US was easing away from its hardline pro-Israel attitude.

Yet with Trump, any such pretense dissolved with the decision to sign the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, which relocates the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to the Holy City.

Trump has also appointed right-wing extremists such as David Friedman as US Ambassador to Israel, who has repeatedly confirmed his support for Israel and all its little settlements, which saw an unprecedented proliferation in 2017.

The leadership must now engage in an effort to construct a new political setup that does not include the US, which has been a key player in the contested region since the Oslo Accords.

Abbas has so far turned to the EU, asking for their hand in a tripartite deal to recognize Palestine on its 1967 borders, declare Jerusalem as its capital, and bolster aid to compensate for the void left by the US.

While the EU seems intent on salvaging peace talks, with Israel’s intransigence and backed by US support, it is unlikely that the EU with all its diplomatic savoire faire can bulge the Jewish State.

A New Role for the Palestinian Leadership

And while Abbas makes overtures to Palestine’s international allies, the Palestinian people continue to suffer from the daily episodes of violence that unfold in life under occupation, the most controversial of which has been the arrest of 16 year old activist Ahed Tamimi.

Israel has also seized the opportunity to further escalate its apartheid policies, shifting gear toward erecting a ethnocentric nation-state.

Aside from continuous settlement expansion, the Knesset is currently in the process of passing various bills that jeopardize the lives of the already precarious Palestinians.

One such bill is the Jewish Nation-State Bill, which defines Israel exclusively as the “nation home of the Jewish people,” thereby legally outcasting the millions of Palestinian Arabs living in the Occupied Territories.

The bill also proposes the expansion of Israel’s policies into the West Bank, formally annexing what were and continue to be illegal settlements, uniting Jerusalem and encroaching upon Gaza.

The unity agreement signed between Hamas and Fatah in Cairo last October has not yet yielded any results for the two million besieged Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, which was previously Fatah territory but has been subject to an Israeli military siege since 2012.

The Palestinian leadership must move beyond its obsession with political validation and its appeal to monetary support in favor of putting its dispossessed peoples first.

If the leadership fails to transition itself into a new role and brace the implications the US’ withdrawal heralds, it will find itself on the brink of confrontation with the Palestinian people.

Death of Oslo: Goodbye, Good Riddance

As Abbas gives up on the US, there is an increasing concern that the Palestinians have given up on him. Members of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) are calling on Abbas to withdraw any recognition of Israel and dismantle the security cooperation the PA shares with Israel in the Occupied Territories.

Assembled during the Oslo Process, the agreement demarcates various areas of control. Area C, which constitutes approximately 72 percent of the West Bank, falls under complete Israel administration.

What was meant to be a temporary settlement allowed Israel to overextend itself into the Occupied Territories and speed up its settler-colonial process of land grabbing, settlement building and territorial accumulation.

Israel has deployed a number of strategic avenues provided for by Oslo to implement a number of regulations and orders, erect official institutions and create new plans that often work in parallel to their illegal activities.

Each worked toward creating a politics of waiting. Each created a new space for negotiation, and in doing so, each delayed any potential conclusion.

But the PLO and the Palestinians at large are ready to move to a whole new struggle, one that rejects the waiting, the pretense of progress and the settler-colonialism implicit in the “two-state solution.”

Vive Le Racisme? Monsieur Macron and Africa’s ‘Civilizational’ Malaise

Now that the dust has settled and global media is no longer focusing on the handshakes of an American president, we look back at the G20 Summit (early July) and find it memorable for a number of reasons:

The riots in Hamburg, German Chancellor Merkel’s viral eye-roll at Russia’s President Putin, Ivanka Trump’s controversial sit-in for her father or perhaps French President Macron’s open, blatant racism.

Let’s look at the latter.

Responding to a reporter’s question about the possibility of a Marshall Plan for Africa, Macron insisted that Africa’s problems were “much deeper.”

Unlike postwar Europe, he said, “le defi de l’Afrique est civilisationnel. Injecting billions of Euros will do little to ease a demographic transition where countries “still have 7 to 8 children per woman”.

“You will stabilize nothing,” he added.

Whereas colonialist rhetoric like this would be expected of his notoriously xenophobic former opponent Marine Le Pen, the fact that they came from a neo-“liberal” centrist is all the more disturbing.

But it ultimately points to an inherited mentality towards Africa that appears time and again within the Western political fabric.

Let us not forget Hillary Clinton enjoining Africans to “just get over” their colonial heritage, or her admission to practicing modern slave labor.

The Persistence of Colonial Diplomacy

Yet we shouldn’t see Marcon’s comments as an anomaly, but more so a predictable step in the history of European colonialism and capital expansion.

By resurrecting such an archaic term, Macron has made it all the more obvious that Europe has yet to shift away from its imperial tendencies.

The emergence of the term ‘civilization’ can be traced directly back to Europe’s encounters with Africa. The time the word came into being almost exactly coincides with the ‘mission civilisatrice’ (civilizing mission) rhetoric used to justify conquest abroad.

The idea that humanity is categorized into neat, linear stages (uncivilized – semi-civilized – civilized) positioned Europe at the top of this ladder.

Entities such as China, Japan and the Ottoman Empire were afforded semi-civilized status, and were recognized by the colonial powers but only to the extent that their capital could be siphoned.

Africa, however, was placed at the outskirts of this system of exclusion.

Imagining Africa: The Heart of Darkness

This mentality was pervasive in European society, and later became intrinsic to their own self-identification.

In 1899, Joseph Conrad wrote Heart of Darkness, in which a young voyager is shocked by images of exploitation in Africa.

He contrasts London and the Congo as “places of darkness” – the former being plagued with “civilizational” maladies, and the latter by the lack of “civilization”.

Conrad was among the first to reflect on the human condition under industrialization, but was trapped within the racist framework of his time; his novella denies Africans their humanity and uses their ‘savagery’ to bring out the worst in European culture.

“There you could look at a thing monstrous and free. It was unearthly and the men were …. No they were not inhuman. Well, you know that was the worst of it — this suspicion of their not being inhuman. It would come slowly to one. They howled and leaped and spun and made horrid faces, but what thrilled you, was just the thought of their humanity — like yours — the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar. Ugly.”

And yet according to this worldview, Europe was under a moral obligation to export its own notion of “civilization” to the rest of the world, and through this, legitimized, rationalized and legalized colonial policy, during which Africa would be drained, plundered and desecrated.

The aftermath of the First World War institutionalized these practices even further, under the auspices of the League of Nations.

Article 22 of its Covenant established the Mandate System that employed the moralistic language and policy of the civilizing mission.

As Japan and the Ottoman Empire came to realize during the 19th century, the only path into the club was economic, political and legal reform in the image of European society – a cultural erasure of sorts.

After decolonization, new forms of maintaining imperial rule flourished, particularly in the parasitic shapes of development agencies such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

This neo-colonialism, as it is often referred, adopted new tools of exploitation including bilateral investment treaties, public-private partnerships, military intervention and free-market economies – all of which Macron suggested were solutions to Africa’s malaise.

‘Alternative Facts’, You Too, Monsieur Macron?

Macron’s remarks point to the resilience of imperialist thought and the effort to restructure capital both in the West and abroad.

But even when taken literally, Macron’s claim that Africa’s women have 7 or 8 children hindering its development is also inaccurate when it comes to every single African state.

And this isn’t another simple inaccuracy, it’s a full-blown racialized effort in stereotyping and perpetuating an image already firmly established within the colonial imaginary.

Because Europe wasn’t the neat picture with “its borders and its stability” that Macron tried to paint either.

Its Southeast theater was ravaged by vicious proxy wars, fueled by the US’ Truman Doctrine and anticommunist intervention leading up to the Cold War.

By repainting postwar Europe as a stable and ‘civilized’ political space, Macron is engaging the most egregious kind of historical revisionism.

This supposedly prosperous Europe is directly contrasted by the ‘dark’ continent’s image of chaos, violence, radicalism and perpetual underdevelopment.

Macron diagnoses Africa’s developmental problems as stemming not from economic maladies, but from “civilizational” afflictions. This is to say that “saving” Africa is beyond the reach of Europe’s vast monetary resources.

This is juxtaposed to postwar Europe’s problems, which even after the bloodiest war in human history, were still only ever economic and never truly “civilizational.”

His comments reflect not a statement of facts, but an intention to recreate a bygone era.