Opinion

Opinion

MICHELLE GOLDBERG: Kushner's absurd peace plan has failed

Posted May 19, 2021 5:00 a.m. EDT
Updated May 19, 2021 9:00 p.m. EDT

EDITOR'S NOTE: Michelle Goldberg is a New York Times columnist. She is the author of several books about politics, religion and women’s rights. She was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize for public service in 2018 for reporting on workplace sexual harassment issues.


“We are witnessing the last vestiges of what has been known as the Arab-Israeli conflict,” Jared Kushner crowed in The Wall Street Journal two months ago.

He was surveying the results of the Abraham Accords, the ersatz Middle East peace plan he helped negotiate under Donald Trump. At the heart of his supreme self-assurance, and of the accords themselves, was the deadly fiction that the Palestinians were so abject and defeated that Israel could simply ignore their demands.

“One of the reasons the Arab-Israeli conflict persisted for so long was the myth that it could be solved only after Israel and the Palestinians resolved their differences,” wrote Kushner. “That was never true. The Abraham Accords exposed the conflict as nothing more than a real-estate dispute between Israelis and Palestinians that need not hold up Israel’s relations with the broader Arab world.”

To circumvent that dispute, the United States set about bribing other Arab and Muslim countries to normalize relations with Israel. The United Arab Emirates got an enormous arms deal. Morocco got Trump to support its annexation of the Western Sahara. Sudan got taken off America’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.

But the explosion of fighting in Israel and Palestine in recent days makes clear something that never should have been in doubt: justice for the Palestinians is a precondition for peace. And one reason there has been so little justice for the Palestinians is because of the foreign policy of the United States.

“I don’t think that there’s any way that this occupation and creeping annexation process could have gotten where it is today if the United States had said no,” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of the liberal Zionist group J-Street.

One can condemn Hamas and its rockets and still recognize that this current conflagration began with Israeli overreach born of a sense of impunity. A major flashpoint was the campaign led by Israeli settlers to evict Palestinian families from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. There was also an Israeli police raid on the Al Aqsa Mosque on the first night of Ramadan, not to prevent violence, but to cut off its loudspeakers lest prayers drown out a speech by Israel’s president.

Palestinians fear, not without reason, that Israel is trying to push them out of Jerusalem altogether. That, in turn, has let Hamas position itself as Jerusalem’s protector. And Israel seems to consider its right to defend itself from Hamas justification for causing obscene numbers of civilian casualties. So much horror has been born of the delusion, on both the Israeli and American right, that when it comes to the Palestinians, the status quo is sustainable.

To be fair, this is not something that began with Trump: America has been enabling Israel’s occupation and settlement project for decades. Tareq Baconi, a Ramallah-based senior analyst for the International Crisis Group, argued that in some ways the Trump administration was simply more honest than its predecessors about its disregard for the Palestinians. All the same, he said, Trump’s foreign policy allowed “the Israeli right-wing to understand that they can get away with their most extreme policies.”

Before Trump, it was common to say that the occupation would eventually force Israel to choose between being a Jewish state and a democratic one. During the Trump years, Israel’s choice became undeniable.

Israel’s 2018 “nation-state law” enshrined “Jewish settlement as a national value” and undermined the legal equality of Israel’s Arab citizens. As settlements expanded, a two-state solution turned from a distant dream into a fantasy.

The death of a two-state framework, Baconi said, has strengthened a sense of common destiny between Palestinians in the occupied territories and Arab-Israelis, or, as many refer to themselves, Palestinian citizens of Israel. “The more that we see Israel-Palestine as a one-state reality, where Jews have full rights and Palestinians have different tiers of rights,” the more Palestinians will “understand their struggle as a shared struggle,” he said.

A unique and harrowing aspect of the violence now shaking the region has been the intercommunal clashes between Jews and Palestinians within Israel proper. In Lod, at least four synagogues and a religious school were burned. “Jewish mobs were seen roaming the streets of Tiberias and Haifa looking for Arabs to assault,” reported The Times of Israel.

“I’ve lived here for a long time; I’ve never seen it this bad,” Diana Buttu, a former lawyer for the Palestine Liberation Organization, told me by phone from Haifa.

All this mayhem is overdetermined; nearly every iniquity in the region has an impossibly complicated prehistory. But the United States has underwritten both Palestinian subjugation and the growing power of Jewish ethnonationalism. It’s not enough for Joe Biden to be a little bit better than Trump or to try to restart a spectral “peace process.” If Israel can no longer afford to ignore the demands of the Palestinians, neither can we.

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