Janine Jackson interviewed the Arab American Institute’s Omar Baddar about the Trump/Kushner “peace deal” for Israel/Palestine for the January 31, 2020, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.
Janine Jackson: The lead in the New York Times’ January 28 report was “President Trump on Tuesday unveiled his long-awaited Middle East peace plan with a flourish, releasing a proposal that would give Israel most of what it has sought over decades of conflict while offering the Palestinians the possibility of a state with limited sovereignty.”
There are a number of problems in that sentence, one of them being the paper’s uncritical use of the phrase “peace plan.” But it’s true to US corporate media form in presenting the Israel/Palestine conflict as two comparably situated parties fighting one another, and in legitimizing the US role as broker. Statements like, “Still, the plan does far more for Israel than it does for the Palestinians,” besides understating things by orders of magnitude, do nothing to reflect the fundamental asymmetry of power.
The Washington Post threw in the trope of emotion-driven brown people, with the headline, “Israel Rushes to Capitalize on Peace Plan as Palestinians Express Anger.” It’s not wrong that Palestinians—along with advocates of human rights and international law—are angry at the proposal, but they have reasons as well as feelings.
Here to help us see what’s going on is Omar Baddar, deputy director of the Arab American Institute. He joins us by phone from Washington, DC. Welcome to CounterSpin, Omar Baddar.
OB: Thank you very much for having me.
JJ: Let’s get right to it. What is most important to know about this “deal of the century”?
OB: I think the most important thing to know is that it is not a “peace deal” at all. It’s not only a misnomer to call it a “peace deal”; really, it’s flat-out Orwellian, because the proposal does not lead to peace for sure, and it’s not going to be a deal, because the Palestinians will never sign it.
It is effectively a proposal to confine Palestinians to tiny areas of land that are completely under the control of the Israeli military, so you basically do not have anything offered to the Palestinians that comes even close to the kind of freedom and independence that Israelis enjoy. And the only people who would support a proposal like this are people who genuinely see Palestinians as an inferior people who are not deserving of the same rights and freedoms that the rest of us are entitled to.
To basically put it in other terms, I think this is an apartheid proposal, and it’s going to be a nonstarter for obvious reasons. And I think the fact that everybody goes on calling it a “peace deal” is normalizing, to some extent, something that is really grotesque and monstrous.
JJ: Apparently the plan says that issues of territory were worked out “in the spirit of” UN Security Council Resolution 242. What should we know about the land issues here?
OB: Resolution 242 basically says that Israel is obligated to withdraw fully from the occupied Palestinian territory; that is, all the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. Keep in mind that this only makes up 22% of the entire land; it’s basically, Israel under Resolution 242 gets to keep 78% of the land. And the problem is that under this proposal, this gigantic Palestinian compromise, basically the 1967 borders, which is what Resolution 242 is based on, gives the Palestinians very little land. And they accepted that as a division.
And the Trump administration and, frankly, even previous American administrations, start with that division of land as the starting point, rather than the end point, which is part of the problem, is that there’s always this talk about whether Palestinians are compromising enough, and all of that. But simply Israel’s abiding by international law gives Palestinians only 22% of the land, and that’s a massive Palestinian compromise that people should be embracing.
So the idea that then carving that 22% into much smaller areas, and giving Israel complete—you know, in the case of the West Bank, it’s supposed to be bordering Jordan on one side; under the Trump proposal, the entire Jordan Valley, the eastern part of the West Bank, ends up falling under Israeli control. So Palestinians end up being surrounded by Israel from the north, south, east and west; by no stretch of the imagination can this be described as a state. And there’s clearly a pretty significant deviation from UN Resolution 242 and international law, as made clear by the UN, which basically came out against this deal, and said that it’s not based on international law.
JJ: I was disturbed by the New York Times saying the plan offers Palestinians “a state with limited sovereignty.” Besides the noblesse oblige in that “offers,” what does it even mean to say “a state with limited sovereignty”? Just to underscore: The Palestinians would not control their borders, their air, their water. The lands are not contiguous. I’m just not sure why the word “state” is in that sentence at all.
OB: Yeah, it’s a really infantilizing and somewhat racist conception of Palestinians, that if you give them a plot of land to put a flag on and call it a “state,” that therefore it’s a state. You know, there was a statement made by a spokesperson for Benjamin Netanyahu back in the ’90s, David Bar-Illan, who basically said that Netanyahu’s idea has always been to give Palestinians very tiny pieces of land that are completely encircled by Israel. And then, he said, they can call it a “state” if they want, or they can call it “fried chicken,” I don’t care. Those were his words.
And that effectively is what current American policy is under this administration. Everybody’s going along with this idea of this plot of land being a make-believe state, and treating it like it’s real. And it really is journalistic negligence, to be living in an environment where, instead of calling these things out, people go along with a terminology that is handed out by this administration. I really think that Orwell is rolling in his grave, looking at all of this.
JJ: Well, a state it would not be, but there are things that it sounds like, and those things are bantustans, aren’t they? I mean, the South Africa analogy is not inappropriate.
OB: No, it is more apt than ever. Frankly, it has been a very systematic move in that direction.
The reality on the ground is already apartheid. It is a separate system of laws and rights that are handed out to Israelis and to Palestinians. In the occupied territories, Israeli settlers, who are there illegally on Palestinian land, get to move freely, get to use roads that Palestinians don’t get to use. They serve under a completely different judicial system, under the full Israeli system, whereas Palestinians serve under Israeli military jurisdiction, where there are all kinds of draconian punitive measures against minor crimes.
And the point was this whole occupation, the apartheid system that exists under occupation, was supposed to be temporary, and we’re supposed to be working in a direction away from that. That has always been the official justification, is that the occupation exists for military necessity, and we just need to work out the details for peace to come about and end it.
And now, this entire sham of the peace process has been exposed: that it has been a systematic effort by Israel, using the rhetoric of a peace process, to make this apartheid more permanent, to create facts on the ground that make it unchangeable. We are looking at a situation where the two-state solution may no longer be possible, and it may be time for a struggle for equal rights between Palestinians and Israelis in the entire land from the river to the sea.
JJ: The New York Times also said that this plan would not require Israel “to uproot any of the settlements in the West Bank that have provoked Palestinian outrage and alienated much of the world.” And that Netanyahu’s declaration that he’s pushing for unilateral annexation of the Jordan River Valley and all Jewish settlements in the West Bank—that’s what the Washington Post calls the “rush to capitalize on” the deal—that that is “a move that is sure to further inflame the Palestinians.” International law doesn’t seem to have much of a role. These things, we’re told, just make Palestinians mad.
OB: Yep. As if Palestinian emotions are the only objection to any of this happening, as opposed to the fact that land theft is just the basics of international law—the primary reason it exists is to prevent aggression and land theft and countries invading other countries and taking them over. And the fact that this is unfolding, and the only concern, as you mentioned, is what Palestinians feel about it, that really is preposterous.
We have the entire international order at stake in this case. If we allow, if we create a norm by which countries can just take over other countries… And to the objections of American administrations, successive ones, you know, it goes back to Obama and Bush and Clinton: They were all critical of Israeli policy, of expanding settlements; they all kept asking Israel to stop. If the message is, “well, if you just ignore us and build anyway, we’re just gonna have to accept the reality,” then this is really encouragement for everybody around the world that wants to take over any piece of territory, that “might makes right,” and just go ahead and do your thing. And, eventually, we’ll just have to accept the reality that you’ve created.
This is really fundamentally breaking down the entire international order, and the basis that we have for international law, and the way that we want to organize ourselves as a human civilization on the planet.
The only part of the Trump plan that will assuredly be implemented is the annexation bit. All other parts of the plan will be contingent on Palestinian acceptance of a plan that, as previously written in Haaretz, was written with the clear intention of getting the Palestinians to reject it.
What’s going to happen?
OB: I think that nothing positive could happen under the Trump administration. But we are beginning to see cracks in the way American media coverage of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is really changing. It’s obviously still very bad. But it is also substantially better than it used to be 10 and 15 and 20 years ago. So we are seeing some progress.
Some people who are running for the Democratic nomination for president, including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, are talking about potentially applying conditions on military aid to Israel to get Israel to change its behavior. Which is precisely what has been needed and what has been missing, is that you’ve had successive administrations object to Israeli policy, but never really willing to back that rhetoric, those positions, with action.
At the end of the day, US military aid to Israel continued rising, diplomatic support of the United Nations just went on, basically unstopped. And without accountability, you really can’t get anywhere. And the fact that we have now presidential candidates on the Democratic side—we’ll find out whether it’s just rhetoric for the election, or whether it’s actually going to be action—but the fact that we have people talking about accountability for Israel, and no longer writing a blank check of military aid to Israel, as a means of pushing them to behave within the bounds of international law and respect Palestinian civil rights—is potentially a promising sign. So I think between that, the potential of a change in administration, as well as the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign at a grassroots level, hopefully we can see some pressure beginning to mount on Israel to actually change its apartheid policies towards Palestinians.
JJ: Is there anything for US citizens to do with regard to this particular plan?
OB: I think American citizens should be writing to their members of Congress, trying to make sure that our government raises its voice, our representatives raise their voice, and become vocal in opposition to this deal. We should not allow any level of normalization of this proposal.
And I think the more our members of Congress hear from Americans about the fact that we object to this preposterous and one-sided effort by the US to impose apartheid on the Palestinians, and the more presidential candidates are challenged about their positions on this issue, I think the better. It’s absolutely critical for us not to slide down a road where this kind of policy becomes gradually normalized. So I really think it’s important for people to actually reach out to their representatives, to write letters to the editor and op-eds in their local newspapers, making sure that this does not reflect our values, and it’s not what we stand for.
OB: Thank you very much for having me.Print