These maps look like the work of a mad artist, one who sees torment and death in every Rorschach inkblot. Trump and Netanyahu —both bloated and corrupt leaders of failed democracies, twin avatars of colonial decline — have coupled and brought forth a monster. As a treaty, their creature will die in the cradle. As a blueprint for future misery, it will live for a long, long time.
There was an outcry when former president Jimmy Carter conjoined the words “Palestine” and “apartheid” in the title of his 2006 book. How could anyone say such a thing? the good people cried. What an insult to the only democracy in the Middle East!
Look at the maps again. Who can deny it now?
You can call these plots of lands “Balfouristans.” Just as the British colonial empire saw fit to give away Palestinian land with the Balfour Declaration, the United States has moved to give away Palestinian land in its role as the region’s new colonial power. The Netanyahu government will happily take it from there, using its newfound power — and the United States’ seal of approval — to create these new Bantustans in the Middle East.
And don’t think for a second Bibi and his buddy will be disturbed by any comparison to the racist South African regime. “Apartheid” isn’t an insult for Trump and Netanyahu — not anymore. It’s the blueprint for a new totalitarian order they plan to impose on Palestine, a dystopic network of camps where people will be separated, confined, and stripped of their rights because of their nationality and ethnicity.
All Bibi and Donald need to do to complete the South Africanization of the region is to rename Palestine’s cities according to their own whims. Bethlehem could become “Sun City,” a resort for the morally challenged. I’m sure Kanye West would be happy to perform there (although he might prefer Bethlehem, which he seems to think is his birthplace). And Jericho could become “Trumptown,” since the American president is so fond of walls. (But take care, Mr. President. Walls have a way of falling when you least expect it.)
Make no mistake, the United States owns this planned dystopia, in true Balfour fashion. You could call it the “Kushner declaration” since, fittingly, it was brokered by someone who both is the dimwitted son of one corrupt property holder and the sycophantic son-in-law of another.
Say what you will about the Kushner and Trump families, they have a lot of experience evicting families from their homes.
Not that this is an entirely new tack for the US government. Previous American administrations stood by as Israel violated international laws and treaties: illegally annexing land, permitting settlers to violently seize the property of others, abusing prisoners, and gunning down peaceful protesters. A succession of American presidents maintained the polite fiction that they were working toward a “two-state solution,” even as expanding Israeli settlements made such a solution increasingly impossible to carry out.
This is the first time, however, that the United States has participated so directly in designing the architecture of oppression. Never before has the United States so openly embraced the cartographic cruelty of apartheid. Like the Bantustans, the sole purpose of this mythical “state” is to deprive a people of their few remaining liberties by penning them into scattered confinement camps and calling them a “homeland.” Needless to say, the plan leaves virtually all power — military, economic, and political — in Israel’s hands.
This isn’t a peace plan. It’s a plan for permanent war.
The original Bantustans were created under the brutal regime of Hendrik Verwoerd and his National Party, building on the tribal ‘reserves’ created in 1913 under British colonial rule. The “Bantu Self-Government Act” of 1959 sounds a lot like the rhetoric we heard from Trump as he announced his plan. It promised “fully fledged independent states” and a program of “separate development.”
The Black Homeland Citizenship of 1970 completed the disenfranchisement of black South Africans by requiring each of them to become a “citizens” of these fictitious states. This pseudo-state — in reality, an achipelago of scattered islands populated by powerless people — will serve the same purpose.
Pundits who say this proposal is “dead on arrival” are missing the point. This isn’t a diplomatic gesture. It’s a letter of intent. It will live on, not in negotiations, but as a military map for the next assault. Within hours of releasing this “peace plan,” Netanyahu announced that he plans to annex the Jordan Valley.
Trump promised to throw a few coins at the Palestinians, saying “it is only reasonable that I have to do a lot for the Palestinians, or it just wouldn’t be fair.” Hey, you people like money, right? Oh, wait …
Any such offer only reinforces the fact that this is “separate development” in everything but name. And its promise, like the apartheid offer that preceded it, will be broken.
There’s nothing new in Trump’s actions. Republicans and conservatives have long embraced the brutality of apartheid. Here, as elsewhere, Democrats and liberals are misguided when they think of Trump as an exception — either in his party or among fellow conservatives. Ronald Reagan called Nelson Mandela a “terrorist” and called the apartheid state “a country that has stood by us in every war we’ve fought, a country that is strategically essential to the free world.”
In 1986, 145 Republicans (and 45 Democrats) voted against a non-binding resolution asking the apartheid state to free Nelson Mandela. They included Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich, Dan Coats, Pat Roberts, and newly-minted secular saint John McCain. The following year Jeff Flake — who would later become a Republican senator and a #Resistance hero — testified in support of South Africa before the Utah State Senate as a lobbyist for a Namibian mining company.
The National Review — then, as now, eager to present the “civilized” face of white racism — published an essay in the 1960s saying that victory for the African National Congress “would bring anarchy and the collapse of civilization” and the government “would be domination by witch doctors (still numerous and powerful) and reckless demagogues.”
Thomas Friedman asked whether this announcement is a “diversion for two dirty leaders.” Well, sure. They’re both crooked and depraved, and eager to distract their people from their own corruption. But this isn’t a diversion. It’s an announcement, a proclamation that both nations intend to disregard international law and basic decency to jointly build new machineries of injustice.
While he gets the corruption right, Friedman wildly loses the beat when he declares that Palestinians should negotiate with this plan, with the suggestion that they consider it “a floor … not a ceiling” and asking, “What have they got to lose?”
Well, for starters: a nation.
This isn’t a “floor.” It’s a basement dungeon. And the Palestinians don’t need any more advice, thank you very much. If they ever do, they can always look to the South African freedom struggle. It will remind them of the path forward, a path for justice they have long known lies before them, the only path that will lead to a decent future for the generations to come: no compromise on basic rights, no colonialism, and full nationhood for the Palestinian people.