The masks come off


The Palestinian politician Saeb Erekat was surely wrong on Tuesday to describe the US endorsement of illegal Israel settlements as “the law of the jungle”, because even jungles have laws. What Israel has long been doing, and what the Trump administration has so foolishly accepted, flies in the face of every tenet of international law. It trashes the long-standing claim by the United States that what the Israelis have been doing in the Occupied Territories is unacceptable.

If Erekat meant that the jungle was ruled by the strongest, then he was also off beam. Ever since 1948, a militarized Israel has been pursuing a carefully-calculated campaign against the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world. But its survival as a state has been in no small measure thanks to the financial, military and intelligence support of the absolute biggest beast in the jungle, the United States.

Until now, successive US administrations have pursued what might best be described as an “ambivalently positive” attitude toward Israel’s steady move to seize and colonize Palestinian land in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Time and again, Washington has insisted how much it deplores the illegal settlements. Yet it has always been clear that privately most US presidents have approved of the settlements, what Benjamin Netanyahu characterized so chillingly as “facts on ground”. The one US leader who appeared ready to address and try to roll back Israeli depredations was Barack Obama; but tragically, though in Cairo he promised a storm, he could hardly deliver even a breeze.

Trump being Trump and in thrall to his Zionist son-in-law Jared Kushner, first shifted the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It was inevitable his move on the illegal settlements would not be far behind. The relocate his country diplomats was vexatious and provocative; but to endorse the Israeli campaign of land seizures is unpardonable.

His Secretary of State Mike Pompeo even seemed to recognize the enormity of what his chief had done. He protested that the Israeli settlements were not “per se, inconsistent with international law” and went on to insist that the status of the West Bank was for “the Israelis and the Palestinians to negotiate". This, as if since 1993 the Oslo Accord, built around a blueprint designed here in the Kingdom, had never existed. A just settlement for the Palestinians was to be brokered with the Israelis by the international community among whom the United States was to play a major role. Yet for the last 26 years, the Israelis have regularly frustrated any negotiations that looked as if they might be in danger of getting somewhere.

Both Washington and the Israelis have for years been wearing smiley, helpful masks which have now finally been torn aside. While Trump may have been suckered into abandoning America’s ambivalent disguise, there is no concealing Netanyahu’s triumphalism. He crowed that US endorsement of his country’s land grab “rights a historic wrong”.

Netanyahu’s biggest “fact on the ground” is now that Washington is publicly backing Israel’s blatant flouting of international law and the demands of the United Nations. It is going to be extremely hard for any future occupant of the White House to row back on Trump’s tragically stupid move, which surely sets at nought any realistic chance of a negotiated end to the agony of Palestine.