The New Zealand Herald

It’s not just a real-estate dispute

- Michelle Goldberg comment

“We are witnessing the last vestiges of what has been known as the ArabIsrael­i conflict,” Jared Kushner crowed in the Wall Street Journal just two months ago.

He was surveying the results of the Abraham Accords, the ersatz Middle East peace plan he helped negotiate under Donald Trump. At the heart of his supreme self-assurance, and of the accords themselves, was the deadly fiction that the Palestinia­ns were so abject and defeated that Israel could simply ignore their demands.

“One of the reasons the Arab-Israeli conflict persisted for so long was the myth that it could be solved only after Israel and the Palestinia­ns resolved their difference­s,” wrote Kushner. “That was never true. The Abraham Accords exposed the conflict as nothing more than a real-estate dispute between Israelis and Palestinia­ns that need not hold up Israel’s relations with the broader Arab world.”

To circumvent that dispute, the United States set about bribing other Arab and Muslim countries to normalise relations with Israel. The United Arab Emirates got an enormous arms deal. Morocco got Trump to support its annexation of the Western Sahara. Sudan got taken off America’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.

But the explosion of fighting in Israel and Palestine in recent days makes clear something that never should have been in doubt: justice for the Palestinia­ns is a preconditi­on for peace. And one reason there has been so little justice for the Palestinia­ns is the foreign policy of the United States.

“I don’t think that there’s any way this occupation and creeping annexation process could have gotten where it is today if the United States had said no,” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the liberal Zionist group J-Street.

One can condemn Hamas and its rockets and still recognise that this current conflagrat­ion began with Israeli overreach born of a sense of impunity. A major flashpoint was the campaign led by Israeli settlers to evict Palestinia­n families from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighbourh­ood of Sheikh Jarrah. There was also an Israeli police raid on the Al Aqsa Mosque on the first night of Ramadan, not to prevent violence, but to cut off its loudspeake­rs lest prayers drown out a speech by Israel’s president.

Palestinia­ns fear, not without reason, that Israel is trying to push them out of Jerusalem altogether. That, in turn, has let Hamas position itself as Jerusalem’s protector. And Israel seems to consider its right to defend itself from Hamas justificat­ion for causing obscene numbers of civilian casualties. So much horror has been born of the delusion, on both the Israeli and American right, that when it comes to the Palestinia­ns, the status quo is sustainabl­e.

To be fair, this is not something that began with Trump: America has been enabling Israel’s occupation and settlement project for decades. Tareq Baconi, a Ramallah-based senior analyst for the Internatio­nal Crisis Group, argued that in some ways the Trump administra­tion was simply more honest than its predecesso­rs about its disregard for the Palestinia­ns. All the same, he said,

Trump’s foreign policy allowed “the Israeli right-wing to understand that they can get away with their most extreme policies”.

Before Trump, it was common to say that the occupation would eventually force Israel to choose between being a

Jewish state and a democratic one. During the Trump years, Israel’s choice became undeniable.

Israel’s 2018 “nation-state law” enshrined “Jewish settlement as a national value” and undermined the legal equality of Israel’s Arab citizens. As settlement­s expanded, a two-state solution turned from a distant dream into a fantasy.

The death of a two-state framework, Baconi said, has strengthen­ed a sense of common destiny between Palestinia­ns in the occupied territorie­s and Arab-Israelis, or, as many refer to themselves, Palestinia­n citizens of Israel. “The more that we see IsraelPale­stine as a one-state reality, where Jews have full rights and Palestinia­ns have different tiers of rights”, the more Palestinia­ns will “understand their struggle as a shared struggle”, he said.

A unique and harrowing aspect of the violence now shaking the region has been the intercommu­nal clashes between Jews and Palestinia­ns within Israel proper. In Lod, at least four synagogues and a religious school were burned. “Jewish mobs were seen roaming the streets of Tiberias and Haifa looking for Arabs to assault,” reported the Times of Israel.

“I’ve lived here for a long time; I’ve never seen it this bad,” Diana Buttu, a former lawyer for the Palestine Liberation Organisati­on, told me by phone from Haifa.

All this mayhem is overdeterm­ined; nearly every iniquity in the region has an impossibly complicate­d prehistory. But the United States has underwritt­en both Palestinia­n subjugatio­n and the growing power of Jewish ethnonatio­nalism. It’s not enough for Joe Biden to be a little bit better than Trump or to try to restart a spectral “peace process”. If Israel can no longer afford to ignore the demands of the Palestinia­ns, neither can we.

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Jared Kushner

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