Seeking immunity from prosecution. Promoting voter suppression. Cozying up to dictators and promoting revisionist history. Pandering to fundamentalists and right-wing extremists in his own country. Attacking the media, both on his own and using his son as a proxy.
These are just some of the activities Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have in common.
And now add to that list, desperately diverting attention, because after ostensibly being in the works since Trump took office, it was no coincidence that the “peace plan” forged by Jared Kushner, with no participation by the Palestinians, rolled out by the two men on Tuesday. That was the very day that Trump’s defense team offered closing arguments in his impeachment hearing and Netanyahu, deciding that it was preferable to run for office as an indicted criminal than to allow the Knesset to debate his fitness for office for weeks before an upcoming election, formally withdrew his bid for immunity from prosecution.
Trump referred to the “peace” plan as a “win-win.” Certainly, it’s a win for Israel, who now has the blessings of the United States to unilaterally annex the steadily growing territory it has illegally occupied. And yes, it provides the Palestinians with a “conceptual map” (albeit a map more tortured and non-contiguous than the most gerrymandered of Congressional districts) for an eventual semi-, sort-of-autonomous but not independent Palestinian state.
Indeed, the president claims that the plan would “more than double Palestinian territory.” That’s true. But the proposed 2000 Camp David plan gave the Palestinians almost the entire West Bank, and since today the Palestinian Authority only controls about 40% of that territory, even a 100% increase would net less than what was offered to them 20 years ago.
In an inexcusable act of political cowardice, Yasser Arafat rejected that proposal at the last minute, and Palestinians have been paying a mounting price ever since. But it’s equally reprehensible to claim that this agreement is meant to serve as the basis for negotiation. It isn’t; it’s a detailed, take-it-or-leave-it offer to the Palestinians, in which, as The Forward explains it, “…the Palestinian Authority has to abide by the terms of a plan they never agreed to in order to negotiate a peace deal that will be based on that same plan they never agreed to.”
I am no expert on the Middle East. But even to a layperson like me, it seems evident that the “win-win” here lies not in a plan that has yet to be endorsed by the United Nations or by any Arab country and will inevitably be rejected by the Palestinians. No, the wins here are purely personal, solely in the interests of two men who have consistently demonstrated their willingness to put power and the accumulation of personal wealth above the greater good.
Trump gets to say he delivered on a promise to make “the deal of the century,” and if it’s not adopted, well, that’s not his fault. More importantly, he gets to buoy his already robust standing among American evangelicals for whom the presence of an intact Biblical kingdom of Israel is a prerequisite for the Christian apocalypse. And, as icing on the poison cake, he gets a sure-fire issue to sow division in the generally progressive American Jewish community and nail the Democratic Party if and when they do not uphold this plan.
The idealistic Israel that I was taught about as a child ... is long gone...
As for Netanyahu, he gets more red meat five weeks before yet another Israeli election in which he hopes to extend his rule. He knows the Palestinians will reject the Trump plan, giving him the green light to annex the Jordan valley and ensure that Israel stretches from “river to sea” -- now a Hamas slogan, but one based on the original Zionists’ vision of the country’s borders and still held dear by Israel’s religious right.
Like many North American Jews of my generation, my sense of cultural identity was forged by the values of immigrant ancestors from Eastern Europe. I relate far more to the legacies of social justice activists like Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and Emma Goldman, to the profound and progressive work of Jewish writers like Vivian Gornick, E.L. Doctorow, and Philip Roth than I do to the founders and heroes of the Zionist movement. The idealistic Israel that I was taught about as a child — the one populated by socialists “turning the desert green” on utopian kibbutzim — is long gone, and I confess both my discomfort with and relative ignorance of what has replaced it.
But here’s what I do know. The exhortations in Jewish liturgy to “welcome the stranger” and to repair the world (tikkun olam), the declaration in the Kol Nidre that we are absolved of our vows to God but not to other people — these lie at the heart of the Jewish identity I share with so many others. As the late author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel put it, “Religion is not man’s relationship to God, it is man’s relationship to man.”
Trump’s relationship to man is consistently vile. He welcomes the adulation of white nationalists, persecutes refugees (the strangers), and in his assault on environmental protections doesn’t repair but instead quite literally destroys the world. So to see a Jewish leader become Donald Trump’s double is not only painful, but infuriating. During the week in which we recognize the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, both men are fouling the memories of the murdered and incinerating the lessons so brutally taught by the Holocaust.
Elie Wiesel also said that, “Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must — at that moment — become the center of the universe.”
That place, those people must be the center of the universe — not the two would-be dictators who seek to oppress them for their own advancement.
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