Palestinians Resist Israel and its US Enabler

As the Israeli crackdown on protests in the Occupied Territories turns deadly, human rights attorney Noura Erakat says that Trump’s decision on Jerusalem is only the latest US attack on Palestinian self-determination

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Story Transcript

AARON MATÉ: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Maté. The uproar continues over President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. At least one Palestinian has been killed and dozens have been wounded as Israeli forces crackdown on protests across occupied territories. Protests are also being held around the world and the UN Security Council has held an emergency session. Joining me is Noura Erakat, human rights attorney and professor at George Mason University. Welcome, Noura. As you see this response both in the territories and around the world, your thoughts today?

NOURA ERAKAT: So, two thoughts to start off with: one is that I just want to start by expressing some sort of emotional weight that Palestinians are feeling. This is an incredibly sad moment. In addition to feeling rage and righteous rage, there’s a lot of sadness and a heaviness around the fact that this announcement comes around Eid or Christmas for the Christians amongst us and really dampens the mood and the reality that we continue to live under a settler-colonial reality. What President Trump has done is to mark the inevitable consolidation of Israel settler- colonial project that is intent on the elimination of Palestinians as a people and their containment as mere Arabs, as Bedouins, as individuals, as refugees, but not as a people who are deserving of their self-determination.

Palestinians have been waging this struggle for self-determination ever since 1917 when British Empire decided that it would erase Palestinians as a people in order to make way for the establishment of a Jewish national home in their place. This was a colonial decision. It was a colonial erasure. What Netanyahu has said recently in response to Trump is that Trump’s announcement about Jerusalem is the equivalent of the Balfour Declaration designating all of Palestine for Jewish settlement. We are seeing a continuity of this colonial process that continues to erase Palestinians, but we’re also seeing a continuity in US foreign policy that has steadily, steadily moved forward this project by adopting a dual process of speaking out of both sides of their mouth.

The United States, especially since 1967 under the Lyndon B. Johnson administration has simultaneously told Israel and the world that there will be no resolution, unilateral resolution imposed on the solution either by way of international law or external interference, that it will be completely negotiated resolution. At the same time, the United States has enabled Israel to expand its settler colonial holdings over Palestinian lands without regard to putative borders or otherwise in the form of unequivocal diplomatic aid shielding it from any kind of international censor at the United Nations, in the form of unequivocal military aid that has made Israel the most, the 11th most significant military power in the world but also the only nuclear power in the Middle East, and in the form of financial aid that has ensured Israel will stay afloat and have a remarkably powerful economy on the global scale.

These things together have immunized Israel from any kind of external pressure. Despite the international community insisting that there must be a solution and a just solution to the Palestinian condition, it has been able to act with impunity in order to continue its settler colonial project of erasure, to usher in an era of apartheid under the double-speak of the United States which has now ended as Trump has revealed, has removed the emperor’s clothes to reveal US foreign policy for what it is which is as an enabler for Israel’s project.

AARON MATÉ: Noura, I want to talk a bit about how we got here and the key role of Democrats in laying the groundwork for Trump. After all, just recently it came out that Chuck Schumer, the head of the Democratic Party in the Senate had urged Trump to declare Jerusalem as the unified capital of Israel. On this front, I want to go to two clips. They’re both, they’re of President Obama speaking at APAC in 2008 and four years later Chuck Schumer in 2012.

BARACK OBAMA: Any agreement with the Palestinian people must preserve Israel’s identity as a Jewish state with secure recognized defensible borders. Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel and it must remain undivided.

CHUCK SCHUMER: Everyone knows the vast overwhelming majority of Democrats, Democrats have always been for Jerusalem being the unified capital of Israel. I’m one of the leading Democrats on Middle East policy. That’s been my position for a long time. This is a tempest in a teapot. The overwhelming Democratic position is just that.

AARON MATÉ: So, that’s Chuck Schumer in 2012; before that, Barack Obama in 2008. Noura, it’s been interesting to see the Democratic reaction to Trump’s decision. People have been criticizing him, but yet they’re in a tough position because they effectively support the exact policy that he’s carried out.

NOURA ERAKAT: Look, this is one of those issues where there’s really no daylight between Republicans and Democrats with a few very brave exceptions on this issue. This has been a bipartisan issue. It’s something that unites Congress rather than splits them, and is really, really unfortunate because it’s even. It’s moved Congress to act against its own American interests as was demonstrated when Netanyahu came to address Congress in order to undermine President Obama’s Iran Nuclear Agreement in a way where they actually showed more loyalty to what Israel needed in the region than to what the United States thought was necessary.

This is not surprising. I think what should be pointed out for our audience, we are in a moment that has been defined by resistance to Trump as if what Trump is doing is unprecedented. In some cases, it might be more bold. It might be more bombastic, irresponsible, lacking and arrogant. But it isn’t necessarily a rupture especially on this issue. The declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is the consecration of five decades of US foreign policy on this issue. This is actually the pinnacle of an inevitable outcome of what the United States has been doing to shield Israel from any kind of international accountability.

It is issued in the UN Security Council between 1967 and the present 43 vetoes in order to shield Israel from the application of international law that would stem its settlement enterprise and its project. It has done very little. It did nothing in order to stem the building of a wall on West Bank territory and to preserve the territorial integrity of the occupied territory. It has spoken out of both sides of its mouth. On the one hand, these are all administrations, Democratic and Republican alike. On the one hand, it said that settlements are counterproductive and that Israel must abide by the Fourth Geneva Convention. On the other hand indeed, it has protected Israel and shielded it so that it can continue to get away with its practices on the ground.

Lest we valorize President Obama on this issue even when in his last, one of his last acts in office, he actually oversaw an abstention in the Security Council and the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 2334 which affirmed the illegality of settlements and affirmed the territorial integrity of the territories. At the same time, he also promised Israel more military aid than any other administration, increasing US aid to Israel from 3.0 billion over 10 years to 3.8 billion over 10 years and an MOU that basically guarantees Israel $38 billion. Even in that moment of what appeared like a US shifting its policy was still speaking out of both sides of its mouth.

Responsibility for this however and for exposing the US’s double-speak and for pivoting us, pivoting Palestinian fate away from this disastrous US course is on the Palestinian leadership which has had opportunities over and over and over again to shift course to move away from the backwaters of bilateralism, to use international law, to use accountability mechanisms after repeated onslaughts on the Gaza Strip for example, to use the opportunity that 2334 represented to us, to use the ICJ decision in order to wage a global boycott divestment sanctions movement in order to place sanctions on Israel. And yet the Palestinian leadership in its undue faith has clung on to the idea that the US’ global superpower will deliver independence to it.

That’s just, there’s no reason. They’ve had empirical evidence that devastates that possibility, and it’s not justified. Now this is another moment that is testing Palestinian leadership, and the saddest part about this moment is that Palestinians may be a part of consolidating Israel’s control rather than resisting it at this juncture.

AARON MATÉ: The ICJ decision, just to clarify for people who don’t know it, that’s in 2004 when the World Court ruled against the Israeli separation wall that cuts throughout the West Bank, separates more Palestinian territory from each other in order to keep Israeli control of the illegal settlement blocks. Let me ask you, Noura…

NOURA ERAKAT: Really quick, just to highlight for folks who are interested in that, the ICJ decision that said Israeli has the right to self-defense and every right to build a wall. It just said that it cannot build that wall in the West Bank territory and has to build it on the 1949 Armistice Line. The reason Israeli built that wall and 85% of its route into the West Bank was in a land grab scheme under the veneer of security. That was the issue. Let’s not confuse whether or not Israel has the right to build a wall. This was specifically about why Israel is building a wall, where it’s building the wall, and what pretext is it using to build it.

AARON MATÉ: Right. Given the Palestinian leadership, as you say, has been ineffective and some ways complicit in all of this and collaborating with Israel as a sort of surrogate police force inside the occupied territories, I’m wondering if you see any different signs now. We saw the top Palestinian negotiator say that the era of the peace process is over and it’s time for a struggle for a one-state. We saw Palestinian officials say that Vice President Mike Pence, the so-called defender of Christianity in the Middle East, tell Pence that he’s no longer welcome in the birthplace of Christianity in the Middle East, Bethlehem, when he comes to visit soon. Are we seeing a change of course already from Palestinian leadership?

NOURA ERAKAT: I hope so. That would be the right thing to do. If not know then I don’t know when. We have had repeated, repeated evidence that the United States is either unable or unwilling to change course in order to restrain its most significant ally in the Middle East and to actually act as a honest broker and it has any interest in Palestinian freedom. What the United States has been trying to give to Palestinians is autonomy and asking us to accept ghettoized sovereignty in the place of meaningful freedom.

Unfortunately, we have, instead of resisting that plan, insisted that if we continue to work as, if we continue to be complicit and to work with the United States and to do everything that it’s asking for, that somehow the United States is going to change course and change its policy. That’s why we rescinded the 2009 Goldstone report from the Human Rights Council that was to hold Israel to account for its war crimes in the Gaza Strip after the first onslaught in 2008, 2009. That was why we’ve done very little with the ICJ decision. That’s why the leadership hasn’t endorsed BDS.

There have been some positive signs however, when Palestinians actually went to the ICC, notwithstanding US protests. There’s positive signs that the Palestinians, for example, have signed onto human rights treaties and are insisting that they are going to pursue some sort of alternative international course as we saw that they did during the UN General Assembly when they pursued their statehood bid.

That said, Palestinian leadership is also speaking out of both sides of its mouth. On the one hand, it’s hedging its bets and still has faith in the United States. On the other hand, it keeps using these veiled threats and these small incremental steps that are moving away from the United States but never fully resisting it, never fully pivoting away from it. It’s maintaining Palestinians in this holding position.

The UN Security Council deliberations today are yet another indication of that when the discussion went back right to square one where they were talking about this doesn’t make negotiations impossible and that Palestinians and Israelis should still negotiate. Palestinians should negotiate but Palestinians need negotiating leverage and they have none when they are leaving this in the hands of the United States and not making it costly to Israel or the United States in the form of legitimacy in order to increase their negotiating leverage.

We have failed to take advantage of that. We’ve failed to take advantage of that after the First Intifada. This is an anniversary of it. It was the First Intifada that led us and ushered us into the peace process, and yet we relinquished and squandered that opportunity to enter into Oslo rather than taking advantage of the international community support for Palestinian freedom. We have grassroots support. That doesn’t mean that we’re necessarily going to prevail because, as we’ve seen, dictates of powerful states oftentimes have the last word, but it means we have a better chance that way than we do by continuing to pander to western states that aren’t necessarily invested in freedom and that have no kind of signal or urgency from Palestinian officialdom that they should change course and also punish Israel.

AARON MATÉ: Noura Erakat, human rights attorney and Assistant Professor at George Mason University. Thank you.

NOURA ERAKAT: Thank you for having me.

AARON MATÉ: Thank you for joining us on The Real News.