Africa & Middle East

Expiring Trump Administration declares Israeli land grabs “legal”

24 November 2020
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Whilst his petulant president was still tweeting from the White House that he had in fact won on 3 November, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Israel, “legalising” the apartheid state’s wholesale robbery of Palestinian land and justifying the ethnic cleansing on which it was based. De facto he was giving Binyamin Netanyahu the green light to press ahead with the job, in the form of the “deal” drawn up under the leadership of Trump’s son-in law Jared Kushner.

Back in March, standing side by side with a smiling Donald Trump on the White House lawn to herald the plan, the Israeli premier said he would annexe all the West Bank settlements and that not a single settler would have to be uprooted.

Pompeo, with strong links to the fervently Christian Zionist US Evangelical movement, was paying a visit to a winery in the Israeli settlement of Psagot, located on the land of the former Palestinian community of Jabal al-Taweel. The latter are prevented from even visiting land to which they possess the title deeds. Yet US Christian fundamentalists come every autumn to help the settlers harvest their vineyards.

He also paid a visit to the Golan Heights, internationally recognised as Syrian territory, declaring it a “part of Israel”. He and his wife went on to the river Jordan to see the purported site of Christ’s baptism. And of course no visit to the Holy Land would be complete without a visit to an archaeological tourist attraction, the “City of David”, which doubles as a 450-strong Israeli settlement abutting onto the Old City of Jerusalem.

A regular visitor, Pompeo was in Israel exactly one year ago with the same message:

“After carefully studying all sides of the legal debate [sic], the United States has concluded that the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not, per se, inconsistent with international law.”

This time he pronounced that settlement on Palestinians land “can be done in a way that [is] lawful, appropriate and proper”. Whose law, one might ask. Where the interests of its capitalists and geopolitics are involved, the US believes its legal writ runs worldwide.

Annexation

Today some 600,000 Israelis live in 140 settlements built on Palestinian land since Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Indeed 2020 has been a bumper year with 12,159 housing units built in the fortress-like hilltop settlements. These have remorselessly eaten away at the 40% of historic Palestine left to its indigenous inhabitants in 1948, when 737,000 were ethically cleansed and a further 20,000 after the Six Day War of June 1967.

After the occupation of the West Bank at the end of this war, the process of eating away at what remained in Palestinian hands in the occupied territories began. It has never stopped for long. Israel has repeatedly sabotaged the various schemes, accepted by the Palestine Liberation Organisation, to set up a sovereign state on the West Bank. Now the Trump-Kushner plan protects these settlements and renders the idea of a “two state solution” totally unviable. Indeed Israeli hardliners close to the government themselves criticise the American plan as giving far too much away, since even a moth-eaten Palestinian territory would in their view be a threat to the settlements’ security.

The outrages performed by Israeli forces, particularly the three assaults on Gaza in 2008-09, 2012, and 2014, along with the remorseless siege and imprisonment of the territory’s one million inhabitants, have massively eroded support for Israel in the USA and Europe.

Israel’s response, aided by Christian as well as Jewish Zionists – people who justify the replacement of the country’s indigenous population by settlers to create a Jewish state – is to the level the charge of anti-Semitism at the left because of its support for those resisting national annihilation. Reversing the actual roles of victims and victimisers, they target the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, launched in 2005 to pressure Israel to comply with international law and stop violating Palestinian human rights.

In this vein Pompeo proudly announced, “We will regard the global, anti-Israel BDS campaign as anti-Semitic” and added that products from settlements could be labelled “Made in Israel” when sold in the USA. “As we have made clear, anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism,” he said, while directing the Office of the Special Envoy to identify BDS supporting organisations.

Of course Trump and Pompeo will be gone in January. However, if supporters of Palestinian rights expected anything positive from Democrat President-elect Joe Biden they have another think coming. Joe Biden made this clear during his campaign:

“Criticism of Israel’s policy is not anti-Semitism, but too often that criticism from the left morphs into anti-Semitism.”

His presidential campaign officially insisted that that it “firmly rejects BDS”, because the movement “singles out Israel – home to millions of Jews – and too often veers into anti-Semitism, while letting Palestinians off the hook for their choices”.

Apartheid

Once again we see tropes from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) “working definition” and examples, deliberately chosen to displace real anti-Semitism, fomenting hatred and actions against Jewish people, with a narrative that Israel is a “normal democratic state” and to claim that it is a racist apartheid one is ipso facto anti-Semitic.

Of course, Israel is not unique in this regard. Britain which tolerated and for decades fostered Apartheid South Africa, the USA which for nearly a century allowed Jim Crow apartheid laws in many of its states, indeed all former colonies built in “white” settlements are scarred by similar racism.

No one should attempt to deny that in many parts of the world anti-Semitism is on the rise – witness the torchlight demonstrators in Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not divide us” – an expression of the “great replacement” conspiracy theory that Jews are behind Muslim immigration.

In fact everyone knows that anti-Semitism is overwhelmingly a product of the fascistic right – the very people who in the US are also strong supporters of Trump and white supremacy. What the pro-Israel campaign on both sides of the Atlantic aims to do is stigmatise the left and all who refuse to accept Israel’s genuinely racist rationale for its existence, that it is a state of the world’s Jews, to which have the right, indeed the duty to “return” to, whereas the expelled Palestinians have no right to live or return there.

Driving a wedge between Jewish people and the left does no service whatsoever to the latter and in any case it will not work because many Jews have long been, and still are stalwarts of the anti-racist an anti-fascist left. Open liberals like Biden and disguised ones like Keir Starmer, even if they will not go as far as Trump and Pompeo, still perform a useful service for Israel, in return for its role as attack dog for US and European imperialism, by witch-hunting real anti-racists in their parties.

Responding to questions about anti-Semitism among progressive Democratic activists in the US and the UK left, Biden replied, “We have to condemn it, and I’ve gotten in trouble for doing that,” adding that his “commitment to Israel is absolutely unshakable.”

The left has nothing to apologise for in its defence of the Palestinians’ cause, in its condemnation of Israel’s settler colonising project, its apartheid-like treatment of its Palestinians second-class citizens or its discriminatory laws. Genuine leftists can stand firm on this, while detesting any display of anti-Semitism and seeking to drive out of the labour movement anyone who voices anti-Semitism.

Indeed many of the tropes originally deployed against Jewish people have been extended to Muslim immigrant communities in Europe and North America. Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are close cousins because of the role they play in dividing and inciting sections of the working and middle classes – and even the racially oppressed themselves – against one another.

Israel’s role for imperialism

The Middle East remains a powder keg of great power and regional power rivalries as the wars in Yemen, Syria, and Azerbaijan all show. The Israel-Palestine conflict will continue to be tangled up in these rivalries. An expansionist settler state armed to the teeth, including with nuclear weapons, was long an asset to the USA in policing the entire region, just as the Zionist colonizing project was initially for Britain when its seized a whole swathe of the Arab lands after the First World War.

In its turn Israel does all it can to incite the USA and EU Nato powers against any state in the region which looks as if it could stand up to it. Yet regional wars – between self-interested dictatorial states – as has been shown several times will not result in the liberation the Palestinians. Mass social struggles, class struggles in all these countries and within the imperialist powers themselves do hold the potential to do so. It is in this context that the BDS campaign, as pursued by students and trade unionists, is so important to defend.

The two-state solution is dead – if it were ever possible given the nature of the Zionist project. It has been exposed as a cruel delusion by Trump, Kushner and Pompeo. It will not be revived by Biden, except as another con trick. The only democratic solution is to fight for a single state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean with political and social equality for all its citizens, for both the Palestinian and Israeli nations, with security for all. The poison of racism whether against Jews or Arabs could be ended forever.

In our view such a state must at the same time be a socialist not a capitalist one, in order to enable the human and natural resources to be shared and developed under collective ownership and control. But the country is a tiny one with limited resources. Thus it must be part of a socialist federation of all the states of the Middle East that can put a stop to the exploitation of its resources by imperialist and regional powers and being dragged into their wars. It is the working class and youth – from the countries of the Arab Spring and from progressive Israelis and Palestinians – that must lead the way to these goals. 

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