Trump-Netanyahu: Bully’s ball

When Donald Trump met with Benjamin Netanyahu last week, it was a love fest. Any online dating site could have picked up the great affinity between the two men. They are hands down the two most obnoxious, arrogant leaders of any country that calls itself a democracy.[1]

In an almost offhanded way, Trump turned decades of U.S. and international policy on its head by dropping a two-state solution as a bedrock principle of any comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians—and by extension between Israel and most of the Arab world. As usual, Trump seemed to be making it up as he went along. While Trump was telling the Israelis that a one-state solution was fine by him, Nicky Haley, Trump’s appointee as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was telling the world body that the United States “absolutely” supported a two-state solution.

While Netanyahu was delighted by Trump’s pliability, not all Israelis were amused. For some time, retired Israeli generals and other leading officers have been communicating a simple message to their fellow citizens: “If Israel does not act to separate itself from the Palestinians, it will be less secure, less democratic, and less Jewish.” (The New York Times, February 17, 2017). To dramatize their point, the group has erected a huge Arabic language billboard in Tel Aviv. It features a menacing crowd of Palestinians making the victory sign together with the words “Soon We Will Be the Majority.”

The billboard capitalizes on negative Israeli stereotypes of Palestinians and overstates the speed of the demographic changes underway in the Israel/Palestine space effectively controlled by Israel—the whole territory on both sides of the formal border between Israel and Palestinian land.

On the basic point, however, the generals are right. The population trends are clear and inexorable. Within a few decades, Palestinians will be the majority in the land Israeli hard-liners claim as Greater Israel. The choice then for Israel will be to share power with the Palestinians or to become a pariah apartheid state.

Although the South African and Israeli cases are significantly different in many ways—for one, in South Africa blacks outnumbered whites for a long time and by a much greater margin than will ever be the case in Israel/Palestine—the outlook for any apartheid state is bleak.

With Netanyahu’s Likud Party and his even more right-wing coalition parties in power, Israel is moving steadily toward the kind of global ostracism that plagued South Africa in the pre-Mandela apartheid era. By enabling Netanyahu to continue in what many Israelis themselves, including not only former generals and intelligence chiefs but also some of the country’s top writers and intellectuals, see as a race toward national suicide, Trump is doing Israel no favors. He is the kind of “friend” who tells you to ignore your doctor’s diagnosis that you have a malignant tumor and need immediate surgery. Instead, he urges you to continue with alternative medicine treatments.

And it’s not just American allies and Nicky Haley who must be scratching their heads at Trump’s about face. The media described many people in Israel, both Palestinian and Israeli, as confused about what all this mean for their future.

Netanyahu’s policies, on the other hand, have made it clear for a long time what he intends for the near future. The New York times stated it succinctly: “maintaining the current situation of Palestinian cantons divided by growing Israeli settlements and surrounded by Israeli forces.” The New York Times, however, overlooks the irony that another word for these Palestinian “cantons” is ghettos.

The creation of Israel simultaneously represented many things, good and bad. It was an idealistic socialist experiment. It was part of the West’s colonial project based on the delusion that Palestine was a land without a people, perfect for a people without a homeland—except that the Arabs were and had been there for a long time.

Later it was a refuge for people struck by the most malevolent genocide in history, people who wanted a state of their own where such horror could never happen again. Still later, it became a mini-superpower, backed almost unconditionally by the macro-superpower, throwing its weight around, ignoring international law, progressively stealing Palestinian land bite by bite, enclosing Palestinians in ghettos of various sizes (Gaza being the largest), which geographically have begun to look like a subtropical version of the Gulag archipelago.

It was never black and white and still isn’t. But what is not in doubt is that the Palestinians have always gotten the short end of a stick that keeps getting shorter and shorter. Donald Trump, without a second or even a first thought, may have just sawed off the last bit of wood from the stick.

None of this can be good for the Israelis, much less for the Palestinians. Who wants to live in a pariah state next to and in close contact to a wronged, aggrieved, and bitter people? Plus, stateless people tend to pose unending security problems. Witness the Kurds.

Palestinians had ceased believing in a two-state solution long before Trump because they see it for what it is, a distraction continued by successive Israeli right-wing governments, who never intend to grant the Palestinians a state, to mollify the U.S. and Europe and buy time until Israel can create the “facts on the ground” that would make a two-state solution impossible. That point has either already been reached or is very near.

*****

[1] I use this formulation to connote that each country lacks at least one major component of democracy. For the United States, it is majority rule. Donald Trump lost the popular vote nationally by almost three million and won the presidency. Modern democracies don’t function that way. Israelis deny Palestinians in the occupied territories almost every right, including the right to vote in elections in the country (Israel) that is their de-facto sovereign. Arabs in Israel, who are Israeli citizens, do have the right to vote, but they face discrimination at every turn in the sole non-secular “democracy” in the world.

The case for Trump’s obnoxiousness and arrogance requires no proof. As for Netanyahu, at an international meeting former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and former U.S. president Barack Obama were caught unaware exchanging complaints about Netanyahu into a live microphone. Blair made a comment about Netanyahu’s intransigence and Obama famously and wearily said: “And I have to deal with him more than you do.”

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