Once again, the future of Palestine is being decided behind the back of the Palestinians. Once again, they have been made invisible. In 1917, when the Balfour Declaration was being crafted in the British cabinet, Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann had direct access to key decision-makers. It was a privilege not extended to any Palestinian. “In Palestine,” Balfour himself said, “we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country.” Weizmann also had direct access to President Truman in 1947 when the United States pushed through the United Nations General Assembly partition resolution that gave more than half of Palestine to the 30 percent that made up its Jewish minority. There were no Palestinian representatives at the United Nations then, nor in 1967, when the Security Council adopted resolution 242, which called, vaguely, for “a just settlement of the refugee problem,” while ignoring all other aspects of the Palestine question. This pattern of disregard for Palestinian rights and interests continued under subsequent US administrations, each of which has generally acted as “Israel’s attorney.”
Thus, there was nothing new when Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu ignored Palestinian rights and concerns at their joint White House press conference last week.
After Trump casually upended over two decades of US Middle East policy by talking airily of one state or two, whichever one “both parties like,” his Israeli guest quickly laid down a precondition for any peace agreement: “Israel must retain the overriding security control over the entire area west of the Jordan River.” Netanyahu thereby proclaimed a permanent regime of occupation and colonization, ruling out a sovereign independent Palestinian state, whatever fictions of “statehood” or “autonomy” are dreamed up to conceal this brutal reality. Trump’s subsequent silence amounts to the blessing of the US government for this grotesque vision of enduring subjugation and dispossession for the Palestinians.
Trump’s administration has already moved the goalposts as far as Palestine is concerned. Settlements, previously regarded as illegal, illegitimate, and obstacles to peace, now “may not be helpful.” The president has said it would be “nice” if the Israelis did not expand them, but his administration has not reacted to the massive settlement expansions announced by the Israeli government in recent weeks. Similarly, Jerusalem has gone from being an issue that must only be resolved between the parties to the United States essentially reinforcing Israel’s exclusive claim to the city by “very, very strongly” considering moving its embassy there.
Earlier administrations at least pretended to consult the Palestinians. In practice, of course, they continued to give Israel effective prior veto power over any US peace proposal, as per a secret 1975 letter from President Ford to Prime Minister Rabin. But the new administration has dropped even the charade of consultation. Since before the inauguration, the Palestinian Authority has apparently not been able to get anyone of importance in the Trump team to meet with its representatives or even take their calls, while the president and his aides, including his chosen Middle East emissary and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, have been in close touch with the Netanyahu government all along.
The evening before the Trump-Netanyahu meeting in Washington, new CIA chief Mike Pompeo finally met with Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, in Ramallah. It was quite in keeping with past American precedents of casual contempt for them that, while the Israeli Prime Minister was being feted by the American chief executive, the Palestinians were entitled only to a visit from the administration’s chief spymaster.