For many, whether activists or analysts of the region, it might seem difficult to imagine how US foreign policy in the Middle East could be more favourable to Israel than it already is.
Indeed, despite styling itself as the only acceptable broker for peace between Palestinians and Israelis, successive US administrations have remained committed to a close strategic, economic and political collaboration with the Israeli state.Perhaps the most striking examples of this “special relationship” are the $3 billion a year in US military aid directed to Israel and the numerous US vetoes in the UN Security Council when the international community has tried to condemn Israel’s behaviour towards Palestinians or other states in the region.
Yet, as the saying goes – never say never.
This week, the Trump administration announced it would make good on its election promise to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. Far more than simply a change of address, the move represents active US support for Israel’s continued occupation of Jerusalem, and its unilateral declaration of Jerusalem as its “undivided and eternal” capital.
In practice, the move signifies a final nail in the coffin of the two-state solution and an end to US demands for Israel to retreat to the 1967 borders in order to achieve peace.
Not only have world leaders stood by while the Palestinian people endured decades of dispossession and displacement, they have actively facilitated the process
Leaders across the world have rushed to condemn the decision and make exactly this point, including the German foreign minister, the spokesperson to the UN Secretary-General and PLO officials. Theresa May however refused to criticise or condemn the decision, instead announcing she would have to discuss it with him – perhaps a new topic of discussion in the upcoming, highly controversial state visit.
However, there is an element of rhetorical grandstanding involved in the discussions following the announcement.
While the move may be symbolically significant, it does not reflect a crucial change in the dominant political approach to Israel’s actions in the region. Trump explained the move as a “recognition of reality”, and in a sense, he is right.
Since 1967 and the Israeli occupation of the whole of historic Palestine, Israeli colonisation has advanced at a pace. The building of settlements, the passing of discriminatory laws directly targeting Palestinian citizens of the state, military actions, or the construction of the Israeli apartheid wall, have solicited criticism from world leaders, but little else.
Not only have world leaders stood by while the Palestinian people endured decades of dispossession and displacement, they have actively facilitated the process.
US military aid and diplomatic support of Israel have also gone hand in hand with economic support through favourable trade deals. Similarly, the European Union continues to facilitate trade with Israeli companies and to normalise the state that profits from its military assaults on the Palestinian people.
The UK, for example, rushed to sell weapons to Israel in the immediate aftermath of the 2014 massacre in Gaza, while the Tory government condemned local councils who passed divestment policies targeted at companies profiting from the occupation of Palestine.
The same can be said of actors in the region.
Both Jordan and Egypt for example, continue to trade actively with Israel. Special Economic Zones in both countries allow tax-free exports to the US on the basis of Israeli material being used in the manufacturing of the exported goods.
In addition, Egypt has taken part in coordinated military training alongside Greece and Israel, not to mention its participation in the ongoing blockade that is strangling Gaza.
In this context, King Abdullah and President Sisi’s warnings to the US administration sound rather hollow. Similarly, Turkey’s Erdogan condemned Trump’s announcement but continues negotiations with Israel over the extraction and distribution of Israeli owned East Mediterranean natural gas.
This context is important because the Oslo “peace process” and the so-called two-state solution have served for over two decades as a justifying mechanism for governments to normalise relations, trade, and establish active military collaboration with Israel, while continuing to pay lip service to a hypothetical “just solution”.
In reality, the colonisation of Palestine has continued, and even accelerated. Over half a million Israelis live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and commute freely between the two sides of the Green Line, while Palestinians are stuck at checkpoints and have their lands confiscated.
Both Jordan and Egypt for example, continue to trade actively with Israel
Israeli governments have repeatedly made clear that East Jerusalem settlements will never be dismantled, and Netanyahu has announced the establishment of a new officially recognised settlement in the West Bank.
Finally, it has become a common occurrence for Israeli politicians, officials and ministers to announce the end of the two-state possibility and the peace process, while the international community continues to pretend that it is a continuing reality.
The truth is that one-state is a reality, and has been for some time. Israel controls all of Historic Palestine militarily and continues to expand its infrastructural and physical control through the displacement of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Naqab while maintaining its inhumane blockade on the people of Gaza.
The international community can feign outrage at Trump’s announcement but it cannot ignore its decade-long complicity in the process of Israeli colonial expansion.
The Palestinian people themselves have recognised the unwillingness of states in the West or in the region to act, and have called on civil society around the world to take action instead through the call to Boycott, Divest, and Sanction Israeli and international companies and institutions that profit from the assault on Palestinian rights and freedom.
If Trump’s announcement serves for anything, it is to increase the pressure on all of us to heed this call, and increase our activity to isolate Israel economically, politically and diplomatically, until justice for the Palestinian people becomes a reality.
Malia Bouattia is an activist, the former President of the National Union of Students, and co-founder of the Students not Suspects/Educators not Informants Network.
Follow her on Twitter: @MaliaBouattia