With the advent in Washington of an Administration with radical new priorities regarding Israel, and a disdain for Palestinian rights, Palestine is facing a daunting reality. In recent years, ascendant political currents in America and Israel had already begun to merge. We have now reached the point where envoys from one country to the other could almost switch places: the Israeli Ambassador in Washington, Ron Dermer, who grew up in Florida, could just as easily be the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, while Donald Trump’s Ambassador-designate to Israel, David Friedman, who has intimate ties to the Israeli settler movement, would make a fine Ambassador in Washington for the pro-settler government of Benjamin Netanyahu.
Whereas America’s solicitous concern for Israel and its disregard for the Palestinians were once cloaked behind evenhandedness, under Trump we are set to see a more complete convergence between America’s political leadership and the most chauvinistic, religious, and right-wing government in Israel’s history. It will be this Israeli government and its new American soul mates who will call the tune in Palestine for at least the next several years.
The entire Palestinian political and economic structure set up since the 1993 Oslo Accords was predicated on the idea that it would evolve into a genuine, viable, and contiguous Palestinian state. That illusion, held by many Palestinians, has by now been dispelled. This flawed structure was also based on the premise, a naïve one at best, that the United States had a national interest in moderating Israeli behavior and achieving a modicum of justice in the Middle East. That premise, too, has been demolished.
For Palestinians, the Palestinian Authority, set up by the Oslo Accords ostensibly as part of an interim arrangement for Palestinian self-rule, will continue to do more harm than good. Few people understand that the colonization of Palestinian land and the nearly fifty-year-old Israeli military occupation—among the longest in modern history—would not be sustainable today without American and Israeli sponsorship of the P.A. and its U.S.-trained security forces. The P.A.’s criminalization of any form of resistance to dispossession, discrimination, and Israel’s permanent military control have made it, in effect, a tool of collaboration with the occupation. Even bloggers and peaceful demonstrators are subject to arrest and harassment by P.A. forces. The way this institution operates against its own people provides a preview of the future that both American and Israeli officials will now foresee for Palestinians in the occupied territories: a future that is constricted, controlled, and void of sovereignty and self-determination.
It is abundantly clear that the United States, in the age of Trump, and Israel, in the age of Netanyahu, will do nothing to change this picture. In this context, the Palestinians face stark choices. They can either submit to the dictates of the U.S. and Israel or they can fundamentally and urgently redefine their national movement, their objectives, and their modes of resistance to oppression. It is time for Palestinians to abandon the failed experiment of the P.A., and to abandon forms of violence that only harden the sway of the right wing over Israeli politics. It is time to mobilize the vast energies of the Palestinian diaspora and stop thinking of Palestine as just those fragments under Israeli occupation. And it is time to begin to imagine ways in which Palestinians and Israelis will finally be able to coexist in complete equality in the small country they will ultimately have to share, once it is free of the domination of one group over the other. These will be exceedingly hard tasks for the Palestinians, coming after they have suffered decades of war, dispossession, and occupation.
Despite all this, there are signs of hope, at least in the United States. The positions of both the Democratic and Republican Party establishments notwithstanding, American public opinion is shifting rapidly away from uncritical support for Israel. Americans are becoming increasingly sympathetic to the cause of Palestinian freedom. According to a poll released by the Brookings Institution in December, sixty per cent of Democrats, and forty-six per cent of all Americans, support sanctions or stronger action against Israel over its construction of illegal Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land. A recently released Pew poll shows that, for the first time, the percentage of Democrats who are sympathetic to the Palestinians is almost equal to those who sympathize with Israel, while liberal Democrats are much more sympathetic to Palestinians (thirty-eight per cent) than they are to Israel (twenty-six per cent).
Over time, perhaps, these changes will filter up to politicians and policymakers in Washington. In the meantime, it is up to individuals of conscience, including those who are resisting the wave of racism and right-wing extremism to be expected in the Trump era, to exert pressure on their elected representatives to live up to professed ideals of freedom and equality, and to hold Israel accountable for its violations of international law and denial of Palestinian national and human rights.
Rashid Khalidi is the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University. Khalidi is the author numerous books, including The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood and Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East. He is also a member of the IOA Advisory Board.