Had Edward Said been alive to witness the sordid spectacle of the Trump administration’s announcement of the so-called Deal of the Century, there is little doubt he would have been disgusted.
But he would not have been surprised.
After Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat signed the Oslo accords with Israel in 1993, Said saw, with his typical lucidity and foresight, the damning implications of this supposed peace treaty.
In the wake of the optimism that the deal engendered in some quarters, Said commented scathingly that the accords were “more flawed” and “more unfavorably weighted than many had first supposed.”
He added that the “fashion-show vulgarities of the White House ceremony” had only served to temporarily obscure the “astonishing proportions of the Palestinian capitulation.”
In his seminal book The End of the Peace Process, having been proven depressingly correct by developments in the seven years since Oslo, Said affirmed that the “colonial spirit” of the peace process meant that the US and Israel were happy to give the Palestinians symbols of sovereignty, such as a flag, while simultaneously withholding true sovereignty, the right of return for all refugees, economic self-sufficiency and independence.
Said was not alone in seeing plainly the trajectory of Arafat and the PLO’s capitulations and in understanding where any negotiations under the auspices of the US would lead.
“Between the sword and the neck”
Principled and genuine revolutionary leaders of the Palestinian cause such as George Habash had similarly predicted the disastrous outcome of this approach, which, though concluded in Oslo, began through a series of smaller capitulations and errors decades before.
In 1984, Habash stated that Arafat’s decisions meant that he had “lost the faith of the Palestinian masses without getting anything.”
Before then in 1970, Habash’s close friend and comrade, Ghassan Kanafani – murdered by Israel in 1972 – stated with his characteristic combination of eloquence and directness that any “peace talks” with Israel were in fact “capitulations, surrendering … a kind of a conversation between the sword and the neck.”
In March 1967, the Third Afro-Asian Writers’ Conference held in Beirut passed a resolution on Palestine declaring Israel to be “an imperialist base and tool used for aggressive purposes against Arab states in order to delay their progress towards unity and socialism, and as a bridgehead which neo-colonialism relies on in order to maintain its influence over African and Asian states.”
This statement remains as accurate now as it was half a century ago.
The Deal of the Century must be understood in this context; as a continuation of the US policy of using Israel in this fashion. Indeed, Britain’s initial support for the Zionist movement had emerged largely from the same motivation.
Sir Ronald Storrs, the first British governor in Jerusalem, described the prospect of a “Jewish homeland” in Palestine as giving the British Empire “a little loyal Jewish Ulster in a sea of potentially hostile Arabism.”
Palestinian intellectual Fayez Sayegh echoed the idea when he argued in 1965 that the “alliance of convenience and mutual need” that emerged between British imperialism and Zionist colonialism is what led to Britain issuing the Balfour Declaration in 1917.
Following the Nakba and the establishment of Israel in 1948, the US empire eventually went on to replace Israel’s former sponsor.
Hasan Nasrallah, leader of the Lebanese resistance movement Hizballah – and an astute and implacable foe of both Israel and US imperialism whom Habash once described as a “true revolutionary” – explained it in this way in 2015: “Imagine if America came to be weakened or expelled from the region or preoccupied by internal social and economic issues, what would Israel’s fate be? Is Israel viable in our region? Never. Israel is an American tool.”
It is the United States that bears primary responsibility for Israel’s crimes, according to Nasrallah, because without US support, Israel would not persist.
Demanding Palestinian surrender
It is clear, therefore – as has so often been the case during Trump’s presidency – that despite the Deal of the Century’s crudeness and unfathomable disdain for those it would impact, its essence is the continuation and intensification of the policies of all previous US administrations.
The US-led peace process has always been a means of ensuring Israeli dominance and Palestinian surrender, and never a sincere effort to bring about a just and lasting settlement.
As such, this latest initiative attempts to consolidate and formalize Israel’s gains at the expense of the Palestinians and others in the region through years of ostensible peace talks.
Nothing illustrates this better than the appointment of the corrupt war criminal Tony Blair as representative of the Middle East Quartet – the ad hoc group of US, UN, EU and Russian representatives that claimed to oversee the peace process.
It is hard to imagine a more inappropriate and less disinterested figure for such a position than Blair, and the fact he held it for almost a decade from 2007 speaks volumes about the legitimacy and sincerity of the Quartet as an ostensibly neutral mediating body.
Perhaps the only difference with the latest crass initiative is that with Trump as president, the US has now ceased pretending, at the level of official discourse, to be a neutral third party that desires peace. It is now overtly demanding the permanent surrender of the Palestinians.
This rhetorical escalation has been accompanied by a trope in Western media, which aims to imply that people in the region no longer care about the Palestinian cause.
Yet in recent days alone there have been protests and demonstrations in solidarity with Palestine and rejecting the deal across the region, including in Jordan, Tunisia, Yemen and Algeria.
Protesters in Yemen rallied under a slogan stating explicitly that Palestine is their “central cause.”
In a region beset with multiple, interconnecting crises and wars – the common denominator of which is US imperialism and the capitalist system it enforces – Palestine remains an issue of central importance to millions and it is a lie to argue otherwise.
Of course, it is true that the list of Arab governments no longer even feigning solidarity with the Palestinians has unfortunately grown.
The initial support for Trump’s deal offered by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain is beyond shameful.
But the support of some regional states is no measure of how the cause is viewed on a popular level. Nor does it imply that all other states in the region have adopted the same traitorous course.
Subsequently – likely in response to the public outcry that greeted it – even the moribund Arab League rejected the deal and those Arab states who offered their support initially have now backtracked.
The lamentable trend of Arab states signing peace treaties with Israel, or otherwise abandoning the Palestinian cause entirely, effectively began with the decision of Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat to visit Jerusalem in 1977, a move that paved the way for the Egypt-Israel peace treaty two years later.
The popular reaction to Sadat’s assassination in 1981 should be taken as illustrative to those contemporary rulers in the Arab world who have forsaken the Palestinian cause.
Sadat’s funeral – at which there were few local and other Arab dignitaries – made clear the attitude that the majority of the Egyptian people and Arabs as a whole held towards him.
“All Egypt … remained as steadfastly indifferent to his internment as it had to his passing,” The Sunday Times reported, “the only mourners at the … funeral, aside from Sadat’s family and government, were the (Western) foreigners whose admiration and adoration he had so assiduously courted and won.”
In the words of author and journalist Dilip Hiro, “In general, the people of the fertile crescent were openly jubilant at Sadat’s assassination.”
The prevalent mood was captured by the headline in the Damascus-based daily Tishreen: “Traitor falls, Egypt remains.”
There is a reason why in a despicable opinion piece published in The New York Times last year, Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, wrote, “Israel awaits the emergence of a Palestinian Anwar Sadat.”
It is telling too that one member of a small and irrelevant group named the Arab Council for Regional Integration that was promoted by The New York Times last year – because it calls for abandoning boycotts and normalizing relations with Israel – is none other than Sadat’s nephew, also named Anwar Sadat.
Ultimately, Israel, the US and its allies want to crush any international solidarity with the Palestinians, as evidenced by the numerous attempts to criminalize or block boycotts of Israel in the US, UK, Germany and France, as well as the now habitual conflation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.
The dishonest argument that not even people in the region care about Palestine anymore must be viewed as a further component of this effort to undermine public support for the cause.
The steadfastness or sumoud of the Palestinians is not in doubt. And so it is incumbent upon those of us who care about the cause to ensure that – in spite of the imperialist delusions and wishful thinking of the likes of Jared Kushner and their venal allies in the media – Palestine remains a central and pressing issue until the day that it is liberated.
“The problem of Palestine, although it directly afflicts only the Palestinians, is not the concern of Palestinians alone,” Sayegh concludes his 1965 work Zionist Colonialism in Palestine. “As a colonial venture, which anomalously came to bloom precisely when colonialism was beginning to fade away, it is in fact a challenge to all anti-colonial peoples.”
“For, in the final analysis,” Sayegh writes, “the cause of anti-colonialism and liberation is one and indivisible.”
Louis Allday is a writer and researcher based in London.