The "Deal of the Century" puts Palestinians in an impossible position. Israel will hold them all collectively responsible for rejecting the deal, even though they have no state that can represent them in negotiations.
US President Donald Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’ for peace in Israel and Palestine was recognised by Palestinians for what it was: a ploy that presents the world with a map to peace Palestinians are simply too stubborn to accept.
“To call this a nonstarter would be to glorify it with negotiation language it doesn’t deserve,” wrote Yousef Munayyer, Executive Director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights. “The ‘offer’ is little more than a calculated insult, oozing with the most colonial-minded racism, and cynically designed to elicit a rejection.”
That ploy would, of course, allow Israel to say that Palestinians don’t want peace and don’t deserve it.
It fits with a time-worn narrative that Israel could end the occupation of the West Bank and its siege of Gaza if only Palestinians would stop sabotaging the process, hating Israel more than they want peace.
This story fits well with Israel’s justifications for settlement building, the shooting of unarmed Palestinian protestors, and the continued detention, without charges or trial, of Palestinian children accused of throwing rocks. All of those are justified, they could say, in the face of an allegedly incurable Palestinian rejection of ‘peace'.
But there is an even deeper source of dysfunction that dooms any attempts at a peace process. ‘Palestinians’ do not have a Palestine that can agree or disagree on anything. There is only one sovereign entity that matters to Palestinian rights and security, and that’s Israel.
Decades of military occupation have rendered Palestinian-run institutions ultimately subordinate to how Israelis vote (or, allegedly, how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decides to orchestrate elections in his favour) and whether the Israeli occupation administrators decide to direct the occupation. This is a reality Palestinians live with every day, being fundamentally subordinate to the will of Israelis.
That Palestinians should remain unequal to Israelis is not up for debate for Jared Kushner, son-in-law to Trump and newbie to international diplomacy. He shows the logical fallacy that makes it impossible for Palestinians to even nominate a representative to sign the agreement on their behalf.
Kushner talks vaguely about ‘Palestinian leadership’ and its deficits, of which Palestinians are intimately aware, and places all blame on them, but can’t seem to name any Palestinian leader who can exercise the authority necessary to represent the Arabic-speaking residents of the West Bank and Gaza.
If these unnamed individuals reject Kushner’s generous offer, “they’re going to screw up another opportunity, like they’ve screwed up every other opportunity that they’ve ever had in their existence” he told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, ironically admitting that Palestinians exist, accidentally contradicting the racist conceit that Palestinians themselves are a fiction.
Palestinian human beings cannot consent to the ‘Deal of the Century’ as long as the concept of Palestine itself remains a practically heretical utterance for Israel’s leadership. Palestinians, however, do not have political power on the basis of the demonym ‘Palestinian’ alone. It is linguistically impossible, therefore, for the ‘Deal of the Century’ to work.
The history of American diplomacy shows as much. In 1979, neither Soviet nor American citizens themselves agreed to cut down their stockpiles of nuclear weapons, through the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT). Rather, their diplomatic and political representatives, under the auspices of the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, decided to step back from the brink of global thermonuclear war.
It worked because there were two governments willing and able to carry out disarmament, and they were the only institutional entities with sovereign control over these weapons. It would have been absurd for Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev to contact the mayor of Grand Forks, North Dakota, a small town that then sat near a subterranean forest of US ICBMs, and request that the citizens of Grand Forks city disarm the weapons themselves.
But it’s a similar kind of absurdity to asking the ‘Palestinians’ to agree to a deal they cannot implement without a ‘Palestine’ to do it. Saying that a peace deal is a pathway to there being a Palestine to agree with the peace deal is logically inconsistent, given that time flows forward in physical reality.
Sadly, for both Israelis and Palestinians, the forward motion of time is not a reliable constant. Holders of Israeli passports and Palestinian identitification cards do not live one day at a time, as themselves. Rather, they inhabit multiple years, and multiple personas, all at once, in their own eyes and the eyes of each other.
The years bounce from 5,000 BCE to 65 CE, and again from 1967 to 1948, or between 2014 and 2001. Agreeing that the time is now 2020 is a first step, and one far harder to take than Trump and Netanyahu organising a press conference. The personas are even more mutable.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in the eyes of some Israelis, is an enabler of Palestinian violence against Israelis. In the eyes of some Palestinians, he is an enabler of Israeli violence against Palestinians.
The same goes for average Israelis and Palestinians. To their families, they are mothers, fathers, daughters, or sons. At a checkpoint or at a border protest, they are simply an aggressor with a rifle or a slingshot.
Although the Oslo Accords failed to achieve either peace or establish a sovereign Palestine, they were able to collapse these quantum superpositions just briefly, appearing to capture lightning in a bottle. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat were able to agree that it was 1995, and that bloodshed between Israelis and Palestinians could end, or at least ebb, through negotiation. Although Oslo was doomed from the start, as it kept Palestinians subordinate to their Israeli neighbours, at least there was a marginally hopeful collective fiction that it could work. No such fiction exists today.
But it is no longer 1995, and the ‘two-state solution’ has gone a generation without real implementation. At best, it provided a more efficient bureaucratic system to facilitate occupation, but the expansion of settlements and the degradation of Gazan living standards, including access to drinkable water, has only declined ever since. The men who signed the Accords are long dead. Rabin was assassinated by a far-right Israeli outraged that he would make such an attempt at all.
The personalities responsible today, Kushner, Trump, Netanyahu, and the notorious Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, are not men who have given the world great reason to trust them. So the forceful rejection of the deal by the Palestinian public is just a reflection of the world’s rejection of these men. The Palestinians protesting the proposal, while marching for their own sake, still speak for billions of other human beings.
Any kind of diplomatic progress must have all parties agree that it is 2020, and the greatest threat to both Palestinians and Israelis, whatever their leaders say, is climate change. That crisis will not wait for snap Israeli elections or US primary races in Iowa and New Hampshire. It is an emergency that could render uninhabitable the land Israelis and Palestinians live on. There is no negotiating with physics, only with each other.