ODVV interview: More American Jews Are Critical...
The novel agreements on the normalization of diplomatic relations between Israel and the governments of United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan have unveiled evolving paradigms in the geopolitical landscape of Middle East and North Africa. The accords expose how pan-Arab, pan-Islamic ambitions are being discarded by the regional states in favor of economic, technological and military incentives that initiating relations with the Jewish state might bring about.
The majority of Palestinians feel they are abandoned following the signing of the Abraham Accords, brokered by the outgoing Trump administration. A September poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research has found an overwhelming majority of Palestinians, namely 86 percent of them, believe the agreements only serve the interests of Israel. A mere 8 percent consider the accords to be beneficial to both Israelis and Palestinians. The same study found 53 percent of Palestinians described their perception of the normalization accords as “betrayal” while 13 percent said they feel insulted.
Against the backdrop of the recent developments, the future of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems bleaker than ever before. Although the Emirati authorities have claimed Israel has agreed to suspend West Bank annexations following the recent “peace deals,” the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repudiated the assertions, making it clear that he has only greenlighted a “temporary halt” to annexations at the request of Donald Trump, and further plans to seize more occupied territories will be pulled off in coordination with the US government.
Annexations, settlement constructions and Israel’s unilateral claims to East Jerusalem are only some of the fault lines that have rendered the achievement of a sustainable solution to the Middle East conflict elusive, chipping away at the viability of a two-state solution. While Israel enjoys full-throated support by major world powers, it finds itself enabled to continue disenfranchising Palestinians with impunity. The global public opinion, however, is markedly shifting in favor of Palestinian rights and statehood.
Rachad Antonius is a professor of sociology at the University of Quebec in Montreal, Canada. He specializes in migration studies and Middle East studies. His writings on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have appeared on The Conversation, Middle East Eye, The Huffington Post and The National Interest.
Organization for Defending Victims of Violence has conducted an interview with Prof. Antonius to discuss the Trump administration’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the chances of success for the “Deal of the Century” and the regional implications of the Abraham Accords. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Q: In November 2019, in what marked a stark reversal from a long-standing US policy, the Trump administration announced that it no longer considered Israel’s settlement constructions a breach of international law. How do you think the new policy, coupled with the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem, can impact the future of Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
A: Although the Trump administration is no longer in power, the relocation of the embassy had and will continue to have an extremely negative impact on a peaceful and just resolution of the conflict. It signals the recognition, by the United States, of the annexation of Jerusalem, which is against international law. Joe Biden, who is extremely sympathetic to Israeli colonialism, said he would not reverse the relocation of the embassy in Jerusalem. The issue of international law is very important. When parties in conflict disagree on something fundamental, international law is there to point to a just solution. Ignoring or violating international law opens the door to a world full of more conflict as it is fact created on the ground that will be the basis for solutions rather than political agreements based on international law.
This will be an encouragement to various parties in conflict to establish facts on the ground if it is in their means to do so. This in turn will open the door for more conflict and for longer conflicts, as each party will want to wait until the conditions are more favorable to them.
Q: After the details of Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century” were made public earlier this year, you argued in an article that Trump’s roadmap to peace will only serve to perpetuate the apartheid rule of Israel over the Palestinians and make an entrenched oppression permanent. In what ways do you believe Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians resemble those of the apartheid regime in South Africa? Some supporters of Israel consider this analogy racist. What’s your response?
A: Apartheid has a very clear definition in political science. It is a system of government, supported by laws that discriminate among people living on the same territory, according to their identity. There is nothing racist about describing a situation as being one of apartheid: it is either correct or false.
In the case of the West Bank and Gaza, apartheid is the correct description of the situation, because people living on the same territory have different rights, depending on their religion. The Palestinian workers, who work for settlers in the West Bank and contribute to building their houses and gardening their lawns, are subject to a different law than the people they work for, based on only one criterion: their religion. Judge Goldberg who is himself a Jewish citizen of South Africa and knows what apartheid is, has written a report on the situation in the West Bank and Gaza and has described the situation as one of apartheid.
Q: Canada is one of the major Western allies of Israel. Has the Justin Trudeau government used its resources and leverage over Israel in favor of peace and dialogue in the region? Are there further steps Canada can take to ensure Israel complies with international law and upholds its responsibilities as an occupying power?
A: Canada has a contradictory position. If you go to the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and look at the main principles that guide Canadian policy in the Middle East, you will see very good things: a recognition of international law, a recognition that the settlements are illegal, a recognition that the Geneva Convention applies to the West Bank and Gaza, and a rejection of Israeli claims over Arab Jerusalem. But if you look at the concrete policy of supporting Israel politically both at home and at the United Nations, you would get a different story. Canada paid lip service to international law, and encourages Israel, considering it to be an ally and a genuine democracy.
Canada’s voting patterns at the UN have been extremely disappointing in the last 20 years, in fact since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. Under the excuse that a peace process was going on, Canada had done all it could to silence Palestinian claims for justice and Palestinian demands that international law be applied. The reasoning was, there is a peace process going on, do not disturb it. And during this time, the colonization of the West Bank was intensified and today, the Palestinians have much less control over the West Bank and Gaza than they did back in 1992, before Oslo.
Q: How do you think the new US administration under the leadership of Joe Biden will engage with Israel? Like Trump, who was staunchly pro-Israel, Joe Biden is also believed to be an ardent supporter of Israel. In June 1986, Biden had said, “if there weren’t an Israel, the United States of America would have to invent an Israel to protect her interests in the region.” Will the Biden administration be committed to generous political and military assistance to Israel like the previous presidents?
A: The Biden administration will remain extremely committed to generous political and military assistance to Israel, but it will do that in more diplomatic terms combining this support with extremely limited financial support for the Palestinians. And it will combine whatever limited support it gives the Palestinians with conditions that they comply with the peace plan that dispossesses them of their basic rights.
Q: A recent study by the J Street revealed one in five Jewish American voters under 40 welcomes the idea of boycotting and sanctioning Israel. Kamala Harris, the Vice President-elect, had previously declared that she will fight the delegitimization of Israel through the BDS campaign. Has the grassroots movement achieved such efficiency in Europe and North America that it can pose a serious challenge to the legitimacy of Israel?
A: That is a very encouraging sign that more and more American Jews, especially among the younger generations, are critical of Israeli policies, and are demanding a change towards a more genuine recognition of Palestinian human rights. However, most official Jewish organizations in the US remain committed not only to the interests of Israel but to the view that these interests are better protected by an aggressive policy of occupation and dispossession.
Some of the younger generations are not abandoning Israel. Rather, they believe that the long-term interests of Israel require a recognition of Palestinian rights and more harmonious relationships with Palestinian and Arab societies around Israel. This is a hopeful development.
As historian Rashid Khalidi has written in his latest book, “there are now two people in Palestine, irrespective of how they came into being, and the conflict between them cannot be resolved as long as the national existence of each is denied by the other. There is no other sustainable solution, bearing the unthinkable notion of one people’s extermination or expulsion by the other.” This means that working towards a sustainable solution requires Jewish Americans to work for Palestinian rights not against Israeli survival but from a point of view that reconciles the survival of these two groups of people. The issue, of course, will be, what form will the political solution take?
A two-state solution seems more and more improbable. And increasingly, on the Palestinian side and on the Israeli side, people think of some kind of confederation of autonomous entities. This is not simple at all and the road ahead is long and difficult.
Q: What are the implications of the normalization accords involving Israel and the governments of Bahrain, Sudan and United Arab Emirates for peace and security in the Middle East? Nickolay Mladenov, the UN-appointed special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, said in recent remarks that as a result of the new deals, Israel has suspended West Bank annexations. Do you believe these Arab states will be pressuring Israel to alter its Palestine policies, particularly on the settlements enterprise?
A: I do not share the optimism of Mladenov. Israel may have said that it will suspend its annexation plans, but if we look at the recent history, we can doubt that this will actually be put in effect. The recognition of Israel by some Arab states will greatly weaken the Palestinian side, as it has fewer and fewer countries standing with them in these difficult negotiations. If Arab states exert any pressure on Israel, it will be to have it do some cosmetic changes to its annexation plans, so that these governments can fool their public opinions and claim they have made some progress. In reality this is a regress of justice and peace.
Q: How would you rate the performance of international organizations, particularly the United Nations, in remedying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Have they been able to build on their capacities to respond to this intractable dilemma?
A: International organizations do not exist as independent bodies. They are made of the countries that constitute them. The balance of power within these organizations is still very much in favor of the former colonial powers. So, they can issue statements, establish principles, etc., but as long as the dominant world powers do not decide to solve the issue in a just way, we will still be very far from peace and stability in the region.
By: Kourosh Ziabari