opinion

OPINION: Trump's Israeli-Palestinian peace plan is basically apartheid



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Senior adviser Jared Kushner listens to President Donald Trump July 16, 2019, during a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House. Tribune News Service

The Trump administration’s Israel-Palestine peace plan fell apart after the Palestinian National Authority roundly rejected it last week. This shouldn’t be surprising: it’s easy to compare the plan to the system of apartheid in South Africa that was officially dismantled in 1994.

The proposed plan would have officially demilitarized Palestine, finalized each state’s control of the territory and affirmed Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, with a portion of East Jerusalem remaining under Palestinian jurisdiction.

Apartheid was a political system in South Africa that explicitly divided its population into black and white communities with the white South African minority having the majority of political power, effectively treating black South Africans like foreigners within the country's borders.

Trump's plan evokes apartheid by setting a structure that would disenfranchise a group of people occupying a close geographic area primarily on the basis of ethnicity. In both cases, an ethnic minority with backing from the U.S. is able to systematically oppress people native to a region.

In defending the deal despite its evident failure, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner told CNN that Palestine is not ready for peace.

"If they don't think that they can uphold these standards, then I don't think we can get Israel to take the risk to recognize them as a state," Kushner said in the CNN interview.

One difference from apartheid is that the 5 million Palestinian refugees have ambiguous legal status, while black South Africans during apartheid were citizens.

The plan would introduce a rigid legal structure that would show apartheid as the goal. Palestine would be turned into a barely contiguous series of demilitarized territories with limited access to Israel’s borders with Egypt and Jordan.

It also looks a lot like apartheid-era South Africa’s map of its Bantustans, also called “black states.” The Bantustans were 10 small enclave states within greater South Africa where the government forcibly relocated its black population. The South African government disenfranchised black citizens while claiming they were helping them find independence. However, the Bantustans still needed to rely on South Africa for defense and economic reasons.

Another good point of comparison would be the U.S.’s system of Native American reservations, under which indigenous peoples were given relatively small pockets of land and nominal autonomy. This seems like a good compromise, but Native Americans weren’t uniformly awarded citizenship until 1924, after dissolving Native American tribes as legal entities.

These reservations also lack distinct representation in the U.S. Congress, though the Cherokee Nation has made efforts to change that.

The one thing this Palestine Peace Plan’s proposed map technically has going for it is that roads and tunnels owned by Palestine would have connected the disparate areas claimed by the Palestinian National Authority, including the Gaza Strip and large parts of the West Bank. Again, that sounds like a good compromise until it’s made clear that these regions are so disconnected due to the U.S.’s shifting position on settlements.

Under international law, Israeli settlements are illegal, but the Trump administration decided in November last year that they are not, and this hypothetical map would legitimize those illegal settlements. Many member states of the United Nations vehemently oppose this.

It’s also worth noting that the Israel-Palestine region has a history of violence, making any attempt at a peace deal complicated for all parties involved. 

This whole deal seemed less like an earnest attempt to push for change in the region than it is a declaration of intent. If the intention was for the Palestinian National Authority to actually ratify this accord, then efforts would have been made to give the Palestinian people a coherent, contiguous map of territories.

Giving refugees the right to return to their homes might have helped as well. Instead, they received clarification that apartheid was always the Trump administration’s end goal.

President of the Palestinian National Authority Mahmoud Abbas has rejected every plan Trump has sent his way, which is fair. Trump needed to prove he was approaching the situation in good faith, and the plan as laid out clearly did not convince the Palestinian government.

“I will not have it recorded in my history that I sold Jerusalem,” Abbas told the Arab League on Saturday.

This proposed plan was damning. If peace is the goal, the U.S. and Israel need to consider the implications of this deal more carefully. The best place to start might be drafting the next plan with a Palestinian at the table.

Liam O'Sullivan (he/him) is a senior studying film. He will stop at nothing to write or direct a "Star Wars" film.

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