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Sonya Meyerson-Knox discusses US Ambassador Friedman’s and Chief Negotiator Greenblatt’s comments on annexing Palestinian land and why the Deal of the Century is dead on arrival

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MARC STEINER Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. It’s great to have you all with us. Two weeks ago marked the 52nd year of the Israeli occupation in the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights. During these last two weeks, the Trump administration made it crystal clear that it supports the eternal occupation of Palestinian land. Trump’s “deal of the century,” that he promised would end the conflict between Israel and Palestine, is falling apart even before we know what the details are, which wouldn’t be released anyway until after the Israeli elections in November.

Now, on top of moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, the United States Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, said that Israel has a right to annex parts of the West Bank, violating US foreign policy from the past 52 years and international law. Chief Negotiator Jason Greenblatt echoed Friedman’s statements, making a mockery of his position negotiating between Israel and the Palestinians. The message from the United States was taken by Israel very clearly and very loudly. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu unveiled last week a new illegal settlement in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights called Trump Heights.

TRUMP HEIGHTS UNVEILING CEREMONY And we control the Heights with a lot of might and now we added a very important layer with a practical significance as well as symbolic significance to a continuation of our control of the Golan Heights that will always be a part of the State of Israel.

MARC STEINER And then, Netanyahu proceeded to appoint two ministers to his cabinet, a Minister of Education and a Minister of Transportation, both of them fully committed to the idea of annexing the West Bank, and both of them coming from extremist, right-wing orthodox parties. We’re now joined, to go through all of this, by Sonya E. Meyerson-Knox who is the media program manager for Jewish Voice for Peace. Sonya, welcome. Good to have you with us here at The Real News.

SONYA MEYERSON-KNOX Thank you so much.

MARC STEINER So, there was this piece on i24, which we’ll watch very briefly.

AMBASSADOR DAVID FRIEDMAN [i24 NEWS] Our gratitude to all of you for this historic dedication of an entire village in the name of President Donald Trump. We all checked the history books. I’m probably not the only one. It almost never happens anywhere in the world that a community, an entire community, is dedicated in the name of a sitting president.

MARC STEINER So it appears that across the Israeli political spectrum, everybody seems to support Friedman’s statement and more— no matter whether it’s from the Blue and White coalition, which seemed to be more progressive on some levels, or whether it was the right-wing parties that are actually running Israel. So, what is afoot here?

SONYA MEYERSON-KNOX Well, what we’re seeing is really just the more blatant version of what’s been happening in Israeli politics for the past 20-odd years. We’ve seen as Israel’s political and government apparatus continually takes over Palestinian land, whether in the occupied West Bank and now also in the Golan, as they continue their siege, their illegal siege, over Gaza for now eleven years. They’ve, of course, also cemented the fact that Palestinian citizens of Israel don’t actually have equal rights to Jewish citizens with the Nation-State law that was passed last summer. So, this is a policy that’s been going on for over 20 years— before, during, and after Oslo. What we’re seeing now is just, under Trump, nobody from the Israeli governmental side feels any need to hide these ambitions anymore.

MARC STEINER But part of the issue here is that the United States isn’t just giving the moral support for legal occupation in some ways and negotiations in wars. It seems to go on all the way over, publicly, to the other side. And so, how could the US possibly continue to be, alleged to be, any form of honest broker between the two?

SONYA MEYERSON-KNOX Absolutely. I mean, the US has never played the role of an honest broker. It merely pretended to adhere to the trappings of such, but under Trump, all of those trappings have been stripped away and we’re seeing the appointments of the American Ambassador to Israel, Friedman, who has himself heavily invested in settlements. We’re seeing Trump’s son-in-law who has also at times invested in settlements, lead the alleged peace process. Trump himself has made numerous comments indicating his support of Israel and, of course, Netanyahu. And then we have these continual public steps that the US is taking, including supporting Israel’s claim that Jerusalem is its capital by moving the US embassy to Jerusalem against international law, approving of Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, and then these punitive measures against Palestinians— closing the PLO office and consulate in DC, but also cutting off funding to ANERA, which is the UN agency that provides humanitarian aid.

MARC STEINER Right and, I mean, that was shocking news for many people. No matter how you feel about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where you stand on this, that was really a very shocking move on the Trump administration’s part. The question becomes—Very quickly, I’m just curious what you think. I mean, given the latest statements, does this make the US culpable in any way and answerable to the International Criminal Court in The Hague for following what some people say is breaking international law? I mean, I’ve heard one or two people raise this, but I’m just curious as to your thoughts.

SONYA MEYERSON-KNOX Well, we’ve certainly heard a number of officials inside of the Palestinian Authority discuss if in fact the US’s support for the annexation of the Golan Heights, and now various US official support of Israel possibly annexing parts of the West Bank forever, as a reason to take the United States to the International Criminal Court, and that’s why this court exists.

MARC STEINER I mean, the way this is unraveling and you’re watching it also take a hold in US politics. It’s taken a hold in this presidential election, especially inside the Democratic Party where it has become a real debate. Some people pushing Senator Warren the other day at a press conference that she had on her position that she’s, kind of, ducked and dodged a little bit, but then she had to really focus and answer the questions. People who oppose the occupation clearly don’t like the way her answers were going and so, I wonder how this plays out in the United States, for one. And two—Well, let’s just stop there. Let’s start with that.

SONYA MEYERSON-KNOX What we’re seeing is that the Democratic Party is finally acknowledging that the American voters and American Jewish voters are increasingly critical of blind support to Israel and it is certainly opposed to Israel’s continued violations of Palestinian human rights. So, for the first time ever, blind support for Israel has become a partisan issue in American politics. And so, we have Republicans and evangelicals doubling down on a, sort of, anything-Israel-wants, anything-Netanyahu-wants position, and supporting it— whereas, increasingly Democratic voters, especially the younger demographics, are vocal in their opposition to this support. And not just a vocal to the continued occupation and to the human rights abuses, and to the entire way that the Israeli government is behaving with enacting apartheid laws that privilege Jewish Israelis over Palestinian Israelis.

MARC STEINER Well, given all of that, I’m always curious about what the battle is within the Jewish Community in the United States because that’s very pivotal to where all this goes. When people, as yourself and Jewish Voice for Peace, talk about the growing divide within the Jewish world itself—Talk a bit about that. I mean, how deep do you think it is? What research do you have to talk about what that means at this moment, and how does that effect what you’re going to do politically in the future?

SONYA MEYERSON-KNOX Fantastic. I mean, Jewish Voice for Peace has been around now for almost 20 years and we’re just part of a constellation of Jewish organizations that are increasingly critical, to one degree or another, of the way the State of Israel violates Palestinian human rights. We’ve seen an incredible growth in the movement, especially since 2014 with Israel’s third attack on Gaza that was truly catastrophic in terms of its humanitarian impact— bombing hospitals and schools and whatnot. But what we’re also seeing is—Now, there aren’t really—Polls of American Jewry are continually confused because American Jews are a diverse group of people, and we are not just Ashkenazi. We are Sephardic and we are Mizrahi. We are not just white. We are Jews of color. Some of us are incredibly observant. Some of us are incredibly secular. Some of us are reclaiming our Jewish traditions in all sorts of different ways, going back to our social justice roots, but what we’re seeing is this growing trend. Jewish Voice for Peace is multigenerational, so we have our red-typer members who are in their 60s and above in alliance with our college students, calling out for the same social justice demands, that Palestinian rights be recognized as equally important to anybody else’s rights.

MARC STEINER And so, I’m curious finally, where you think both politically in terms of the actions that you may be taking, and other people may be taking? And, how you think this is going to play out in this presidential election because we’re facing A— this serious threat in our country that this white nationalist grouping that has seized the Executive Branch can actually maintain if there’s a huge divide between liberals, and people on the left and others, and people who usually vote Democratic, and people who are independent voters, and how this might play into all that? I mean, it’s a very precarious time both in the Middle East, in Palestine and Israel, as well as here.

SONYA MEYERSON-KNOX Yeah. Absolutely, I would argue it’s a precarious time across the world, but on this particular issue when it comes to how it’s going to play out in the United States in the 2020 elections, I think we are really seeing Democratic leadership forced to acknowledge that if they want to mobilize a strong voter base and get the turnout that we’re going to need to take back the White House and the legislative bodies, specifically against all of the gerrymandering that has forced so many Democratic voters into not being any longer in blue voting zones—We’re going to actually get our voting rights back, and if we’re going to get the numbers that are needed to get Democrats elected, then they need to have a progressive agenda, and Palestine is firmly on that progressive agenda.

Now, what we’re going to see in terms of the debate and the issues, it’s quite interesting. Some of the recent polls that have been put out by organizations that work explicitly on these types of issues, like J Street or the American Jewish Committee, are showing that most American Jews are not particularly comfortable of a supporting-Israel-right-or-wrong position anymore, and that most Americans don’t really feel that supporting Israel is the most important issue, and it’s in fact one of the least important issues. American Jews continually place healthcare at a much higher importance than they do blind support to Israel.

MARC STEINER And finally, just as we wrap up here, when we look at the people that Trump has appointed— both the negotiator, the ambassador, and others, as well as his son-in-law. I mean, I think we can’t make too much of the fact that for the first time it seems the people who are being put in charge of trying to play the middleman, are people who are part of the right-wing Zionist movement— not even the progressive Zionist movement, not the liberal Zionist movement, but the right-wing Zionist movement that wants to see the annexation of the West Bank. I mean, it’s just mind-blowing that this is just going on and allowed to be happening.

SONYA MEYERSON-KNOX Well, absolutely. I mean, just as the Trump administration has continually placed people in positions of power where they are actively derailing the mission of their office, like the Department of Education or Environment, etc. We see the Trump negotiation team be made up of and consisting of people whose entire goal is basically to derail any promise of a fair and just and durable peace in the Middle East. But what we’re also seeing is because it has become this extreme, because the cards on the table, because America can no longer claim to be this fair and honest broker— which it never has been of course— we’re seeing unity across movements that we haven’t seen before. In the face of white nationalism, American Jews— whether they be liberal Zionists or anti-Zionists— are very much aware that our allies are not the white nationalists. Our allies are not the people who say that carrying tiki torches and shouting “Jews will not replace us” are “very fine people.” Our allies are in the social justice movement. They’re with the people of color in the black community. They are with other Arabs, Muslims, and migrants, and everybody else in the queer field and beyond who are all of us, together, fighting against a white supremacist and a white nationalist agenda.

MARC STEINER Well, Sonya E. Meyerson-Knox, who is the media program manager of Jewish Voice for Peace. Thank you so much for joining us here on The Real News today. It’s been a pleasure to talk with you.

SONYA MEYERSON-KNOX Thank you so much.

MARC STEINER And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Thank you all for joining us for this conversation. Take care.

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Host, The Marc Steiner Show
Marc Steiner is the host of "The Marc Steiner Show" on TRNN. He is a Peabody Award-winning journalist who has spent his life working on social justice issues. He walked his first picket line at age 13, and at age 16 became the youngest person in Maryland arrested at a civil rights protest during the Freedom Rides through Cambridge. As part of the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968, Marc helped organize poor white communities with the Young Patriots, the white Appalachian counterpart to the Black Panthers. Early in his career he counseled at-risk youth in therapeutic settings and founded a theater program in the Maryland State prison system. He also taught theater for 10 years at the Baltimore School for the Arts. From 1993-2018 Marc's signature “Marc Steiner Show” aired on Baltimore’s public radio airwaves, both WYPR—which Marc co-founded—and Morgan State University’s WEAA.