First published by TRT World on 15 May 2020
The catastrophe that Palestinians first faced 72 years ago seems to only worsen with time.
The Palestinian people commemorate the 72nd anniversary of their Nakba (catastrophe) on the 15th of May, one day after Israel celebrated the 72nd anniversary of its independence. The contrast could not be starker.
Yes, Israel can say that it is undoubtedly strong and is supported by the world’s only superpower, the United States, and many countries claiming to uphold values of democracy and the rule of law. But Israel continues its oppressive policies, the most prolonged ‘temporary’ occupation in history – and through the Nation-State Law in 2018 has declared itself to be the 21st century’s only apartheid state.
For this law adopted by the Knesset, the symbol of its tainted democracy, gives Jews and only Jews the right of self-determination in its yet undeclared borders while denying this to the indigenous Palestinians on whose land it was created through violence, dispossession and expulsion in 1948.
Israel’s GDP stands at $363 Billion, while that of Palestine is $14 Billion. In 2019, Israel ranked as the world’s 8th largest exporter of arms with its sales amounting to 3 percent of the global arms industry.
In its case, it proudly markets its military hardware as ‘battle-tested’, code for their use to oppress and punish Palestinians, particularly in multiple wars against Gaza.
Ronen Nadir confirmed this claim, a military commander specialising in missile development before establishing his company who said: “In Israel all the people (in the industry) are ex-army soldiers, officers. The engineers who work on the development of the systems are actually operating the UAVs in the (military) reserves, in actual service. Then they come back to the office with actual and real-time feedback.”
The Palestinians, on the other hand, remain, at best, second class citizens in Israel, under occupation in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Gaza, in particular, has been under a tight siege for thirteen years with the UN declaring that it today exists as an unliveable place for 2 million people, deprived of their fundamental human rights including freedom of movement.
I recall hearing a Palestinian scholar in Gaza claiming during Israel’s 2014 war against Gaza that it would take 300 years for every Palestinian to leave Gaza for any reason, based on the limited opportunities to travel out of the strip either through Israel or the Rafah crossing with Egypt which remains generally closed.
Appetite for expansion
The story of the continuing Palestinian Nakba does not end at the borders of historic Palestine. An equal number of Palestinians – around 6.5 million – to those that still cling onto their place in their historic homeland, live abroad as refugees or members of the diaspora.
While the Palestinians proudly claim to be one of the most educated people in the Middle East, Israel does not see them as people of the land with rights, but rather as a demographic threat to the Jewish nature of the state of Israel.
While Palestinians claim rights enshrined in international law and their leadership clings to a two-state solution on the 1967 borders, Israel’s right-wing claims the whole land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea claiming that it’s scripture provides that notion legitimacy. That view is supported by Christian Zionists who see its continued existence as a precondition for Christ’s return.
In the United States, a powerful pro-Israel lobby has been working for decades to inform and influence American policy in support of Israel. It is important to note that this support not only comes from a large proportion of Jewish Americans but from millions of Christian Zionists as well.
While successive US presidents and administrations have supported Israel, none has done as much in such a short time to embolden its right-wing settler-led colonialist government than Donald Trump.
Soon after his election he took the Palestine and Israel conflict away from the State Department and created a team whose belief in Israel and Zionism means that what Israel wants Israel gets.
It receives half of America’s annual aid budget, has had an American president recognise its illegal annexation of East Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan Heights, has ended all aid to the Palestinians, including their UN refugee agency, UNRWA and with more to come.
Never has a US Ambassador – David Friedman, in this case – done more for Zionism and Israel than the current one. He is a former Trump bankruptcy lawyer, funder of the settlement of Beit El and now a chief proponent of the illegal annexation of large swathes of the West Bank, including the Israeli colonies.
Friedman believes there is no occupation and Israel has every right to annex parts of the West Bank to meet what he claims are its security needs, but in reality, is an endless appetite for expansion.
Working with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and former Trump Chief Negotiator for the Middle East, Jason Greenblatt, they mapped out what they called ‘the deal of the century’ but what the Palestinians saw as a surrender note. They dressed it up as something the Palestinians would be mad to refuse.
After all, how can anyone refuse a ‘Peace to Prosperity’ deal?
The next few months will be extremely dangerous for the Palestinian cause. A new government is taking form in Israel bringing a close to three attempts to elect a functioning government in Israel.
Current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the leader of Blue and White have agreed to a 3-year power-sharing agreement that allows Netanyahu first bite at leading before handing power to Benny Gantz.
At the heart of that agreement is the illegal annexation of large swathes of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley and the Northern Dead Sea. This is seen not only as an Israeli interest but an American interest. Israel annexes and then America recognises as it did with East Jerusalem and the Golan, except this, will be done at a record pace.
This is conveniently expected to coincide with November 2020, when America elects its next president (unless the global pandemic derails that). Deprived of his 2-3 rallies per day, and failing to get on top of the Covid-19 pandemic, Trump can please his Christian Zionist supporters by taking action thousands of miles away, recognising Israeli annexation.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s first overseas visit since the pandemic was for a few hours to meet Netanyahu and Gantz. While the reason given for the visit was said to be the continuing Iranian threat and coordination on Covid-19 – we can be sure that annexation was on the agenda.
Pompeo did not meet Palestinian leaders during his trip, who have stood steadfast since declaring it was breaking all contact with the Americans after Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017.
As they commemorate the Nakba, Palestinians will lick their ever-deepening wounds as they continue to fight for their rights. The road to attaining these starts with unity and reform of the ailing Palestinian institutions, including the PLO and the passing of the leadership baton to fresh young leadership.
As they fight to halt annexation, they should worry about the next stage of Israel’s agenda.