Trump: the final death-knell of the Palestinian state?

religion-diplomacy-politics
Trump speaking at AIPAC (American-Israel Public Affairs Committee), the largest pro-Israel lobby.

The election of Donald Trump has had worldwide repercussions. Not least on the Palestinian question. Palestine, though not a state in practice, has been recognised as such at the UN with an overwhelming majority: 138 in favour, 9 against and 41 abstensions. Trump said in the primaries that solving the conflict would be a top foreign policy priority. He said it was:

‘… something I’d really like to do… As a single achievement, that would be a really great achievement… I’m going to be probably going over there pretty soon and I want to see him [Netanyahu], I want to see other people, I want to get some ideas on it.’

As with every issue Trump wades in on, there was a lot of confusion about his position on the Palestinian question. This was made worse by a blatant lack of knowledge on the topic, not knowing the difference between two of Israel’s Islamist enemies, Hezbollah and Hamas being one example. Hezbollah is a Lebanese political party and mostly-Shiite militia, Hamas is a Palestinian political party and militia.

Surprising in the primaries Trump balked at the question of recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital which is standard practice for both Democratic and Republican party candidates. Even to question Israel’s entitlement to all of Jerusalem is enough to render you an extremist to the American political establishment. This is despite the fact that no other country in the world recognises Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, since half of Jerusalem is occupied Palestinian land that Israel has deliberately and illegally built on.  In contrast, as stated, most countries, including the the UK, recognise Palestine. Trump was skeptical of Israel’s commitment to peace. This is perfectly rational given that settlement construction is a colossal obstacle to peace, all you need to do is look at a picture of the West Bank. If you do, you will see that Israel illegally occupies vast swathes of Palestinian land and has continued to build on it, evicting and demolishing houses in the processs. This contravenes international law, effectively colonising Palestinian land. His position of cutting a more neutral line, was understandable, suprising but ultimately opportunistic.

israel-palestine
This map from The Funambalist shows that Palestinian land has been dissected by the illegal growth of Israeli settlements which include roads and facilities Palestinians may not use.

Trump later backtracked entirely as his speech to AIPAC (American-Israel Public Affairs Committee) in March made clear. The semblance of neutrality vanished. AIPAC is a very strong pro-Israel lobby which has significant influence in Washington. By this time, it is worth noting, he had decided it was ‘appropriate’ to understand the difference between Hezbollah and Hamas. Trump stated: ‘We will move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem.’ Moving the American embassy to Jerusalem would be to virtually deprive the Palestinians of their political and legal right to half of the Holy City. It further set a precedent that would make a Palestinian state nigh on impossible. In an interview with The Daily Mail in May he said that settlement growth should ‘keep going’ and ‘keep moving forward‘.Settlement growth that is likely to consign a Palestinian state to oblivion.

The prospects of a Palestinian state look all the more dim when we take a closer look at the people around Trump. His son-in-law Jared Kushner, whom Trump said could play a key role in negotiations, comes from a family that is friendly with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and who have donated tens of thousands to extremist settlements in the West Bank. His advisor on Israel, David Friedman, would be on the far-right in Israel, he believes in expanding the settlements  and annexing the West Bank entirely. Steve Bannon, Trump’s Chief of Staff and founding member of alt-right news website Breibart, demonstrates beyond all doubt that you can be both pro-Israel, pro-settlement-building and yet antisemitic. Rudy Guiliani, the former mayor of New York tipped to be involved in the Trump administration – potentially as Secretary as State – is openly against the idea of a Palestinian state, suggesting that it would undermine US security and cause terrorism. Newt Gingrich, also tipped for a top position in the Trump administration, called Palestinians ‘terrorists’ and also doesn’t recognise the right of Palestine to exist. 

In Israel, Trump’s victory was welcomed by many Israel. One of Trump’s key backers Sheldon Adelson owns Israeli paper Israel HaYom and the positive coverage it has emitted of him has meant that Israelis are generally supportive and optimistic about a Trump administration, according to polling. His victory was also welcomed by the Israeli goverment, the most extreme far-right government in its history. Trump and Netanyahu are natural friends, maybe Trump stole his idea for a wall on the Mexico border from the ‘seperation barrier’ that Ariel Sharon built deep inside Palestinian territory back in 2003.

nigelwallstory483
The ‘Seperation barrier’ at Qalqiliya where residents are seperated from their own land and travel is blocked off.  Picture credit, Nick Parry at Electronic Intifada

Israeli cabinet ministers who represent pro-settlement parties or who live on settlements themselves couldn’t resist chiming in. Education Minister Naftali Bennet was elated:

‘Trump’s victory is a tremendous opportunity for Israel to immediately announce its intention to renege on the idea of establishing Palestine in the heart of the country – a direct blow to our security and the justice of our cause.

This is the president-elect’s outlook as it appears in his platform, and that definitely should be our way. Salient, simple and clear. The era of the Palestinian state is over.’

This is not simply hot air, extreme-right-wing lawmakers in Israel moved fast to legalise Israeli outposts deep inside Palestinian territories. Emboldened by Trump’s victory, they worked ever-harder to undermine the possibilities of the Palestinian state even as Secretary of State John Kerry arrived for peace talks.Kerry hit back stating:

‘… more than 50 percent of the ministers in the current [Israeli] government have publicly stated they are opposed to a Palestinian state and that there will be no Palestinian state.’

It is worth noting that Obama and Kerry were publicly critical of the settlements, they did veto the condemnation of them at the UN Security Council. Nonetheless, Trump’s open and vocal support for moving the US embassy and settlement expansion would set a new precedent. As his spokesman said: ‘We are going to see a very different relationship between America and Israel in a positive way.’. Perhaps this really is the final death-knell of the Palestinian state.

Brexit: A Crisis of Democracy?

brexit-4

Figure 1 Picture credit: Reuters, Victoria Jones/Pool.

Six months on and despite Theresa’s May insistence, nobody really knows what Brexit means. Unsurprisingly, as a leaked memo shows, the government doesn’t know what Brexit means. All that we do know is that we are getting it. For most, Brexit has meant confusion. The concept of democracy has been caught up in this confusing mess. When it comes to the British constitution, Brexit has opened can of worms. Mostly remain representatives were voted into parliament during the 2015 General Election. Yet Britain (England and Wales being the only home nations with majorities) voted for Brexit in 2016. Clearly this is something to do with First Past the Post which fails to proportionately represent public opinion and reduces everything to a two horse race. But it’s more than that. The referendum highlighted how differently we’ve come to use the same word, ‘democracy’, to mean lots of different things on this issue.

Close to home, we’ve seen the rise of direct democracy as a result of the referendum. Having won the referendum, Brexiteers are convinced the people have spoken. All we need to do now is get on with it. They support the Theresa May’s attempt to appeal the Supreme Court’s decision, which, if successful, could allow the government to circumvent a parliamentary vote on activating Article 50. After continually emphasising British parliamentary sovereignty through the slogan ‘Take Back Control’, Brexiteers have come full circle. Now Parliament, chock-full of Remoaners as it is, can’t be trusted to carry through the will of the people. For them, a metropolitan liberal elite with their love of parliamentary procedure and independence of the judiciary, are just getting in the way. The Brexit tabloid press, The Daily Mail, The Sun and The Daily Express have been keen to push this line about a liberal elite as the ‘Enemies of the People’. Nigel Farage has followed suit, his ‘betrayal’ rhetoric comes eerily close to the Nazi’s stab-in-the-back-myth about World War I. Farage is himself an emobodiment of the failure of parliamentary democracy to deal with 21st century politics. He has shown that you can radically alter British politics without even being a Member of Parliament. In short, referenda attempt to represent the people by asking for a simple answer to a complex question.

On the other side, Remainers are keen to emphasise the British tradition of parliamentary democracy. Previously more than willing to delegate power to the undemocratic European Union, paradoxically, many Remainers now find themselves defending parliamentary sovereignty. Liberal Democrats, and various figures within the Labour party, from Owen Smith to David Lammy, have emphasised that the referendum was merely advisory and was not legally binding. Parliamentarians, elected to represent the people, should choose whether to activate Article 50, the assumption being that many would opt against it. Similarly, these Remainers also reserve the right to call a second referendum on Brexit, the idea being that the referendum didn’t reflect the will of the people in the way they wanted, so let’s give it another try. This may appear undemocratic if we follow the logic of direct democracy. Thus, we see that direct democracy and representative democracy are in conflict. Nonetheless, it is worth remembering many ‘Remoaning’ MPs sitting in strong Leave constituencies, Tristram Hunt for example, are flying electoral kamikaze missions. In short, parliament is a machine designed to mediate between the conflicting, contradictory and often contrarian opinions of the general public: a complex (and often unsatisfactory) answer to a complex question.

When the referendum was first announced, many on the continent assumed that Britain would set up local forums to debate Brexit. This deliberative form of democracy stresses the importance of informed debate. The idea being to ensure citizens knew what they were talking about, had heard opposing arguments and were in touch with public opinion generally. The basic point is that democracy is a process. Its vital values, like engagement and participation, have to be cultivatedand nurtured. It’s not just, like football, a results game. As the referendum played out, it became clear how foreign this continental idea is to British political culture, where the arena of debate tends to be limited to parliamentary chambers, television studios and the columns of the national press. Without localised forums and deliberations, it is unsurprising that on a national level, the debate was polarised and involved almost no nuance. In such a climate, democratic politics therefore becomes decided by personalities. These personalities tend to be media constructions: the result of good media management and spin doctors. As a result, the referendum campaign was framed in the media as David vs. Boris, the ultimate final decider of a schoolboy rivalry, as The Guardian’s results and analysis coverage exemplifies.

brexit-3
Screenshot from The Guardian’s Results Coverage. Available –

We need some clarity about democracy. We need to move beyond the Brexiteer and Remoaner deadlock. We need to resolve the tension between direct and parliamentary democracy. Democracy is about people power. It is an ongoing process that doesn’t end with the result of an election or referendum. When it comes to Brexit, paradoxically, a European approach is in order. Working out what we want from Brexit will involve talking to each other, not just to our representatives in parliament, but on a local level. Yanis Varoufakis and John McDonnell were on the right lines when they toured Britain, setting up public meetings with space for dissent and discussion, arguing the case for a more radical, democratic Europe. Public engagements such as this need to become more commonplace to inform and politicize people. We need to improve the standard of debate, lift it out of the gutter, before we can get on with doing anything.