Somewhat lost in the noise of the past week, during which the Republican Senate acquitted Donald Trump of the various crimes that most of them had already publicly conceded he’d committed and the Democratic Party apparatus in Iowa was credibly accused of subverting its own caucuses in order to steal a victory from Bernie Sanders, was the fact that the week prior, the Trump administration had released its plan for Peace in the Middle East.
Trump himself seems largely to have forgotten it, too; it merited only a passing mention in his curiously dead-eyed State of the Union address, another piece of political wreckage occluding any view to the horizon of an actual historical narrative for these times we live in. And yet there it was: a monstrous bit of foreign policy that in another era might rank as major news.
Peace in the Middle East, in the American context, has always meant something like: a negotiated Palestinian capitulation, in which they agree to pretend to have a whittled-away pseudo-state in a portion of the territories seized by Israel in 1967, and the Israelis pretend to give them one. It has certainly never meant actual “peace” in the actual “Middle East,” which would require the U.S. to forswear its own regional ambitions and habit of invading and smashing up countries in what journalists and foreign policy wonks, when they are trying and failing to sound worldly, call “the region.” It is based, too, on the old notion that the principal driver of so-called instability in that selfsame region is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In this conception, the non-resolution of the question of Palestinian national aspiration is the main source of conflict in the Arab — and by extension (or interchangeably, depending on how crass the cable talking head) the greater Muslim — world.
The plan, insofar as it exists in actuality, is a hundred pages of gibberish.
But that conflict has for two decades at least now, ever since the U.S. began its latest cycle of incoherent imperial bloodletting from Afghanistan to West Africa been little more than a sorry sideshow within a much larger conflict. I don’t say so to diminish the vitality and necessity of the ongoing dream of Palestinian liberation, but rather to note a tragic symptom of the post-9/11 alignment of military and political interests. The repressive Gulf monarchies have largely made their peace with an increasingly repressive and right-wing Israel, whom they view as a necessary strategic partner, and the spiraling internal conflicts set off by U.S. and Western invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya — including the insoluble proxy-war muddle in Syria — have simply eclipsed the question of political settlement, just or otherwise, in historic Palestine.
And so the president’s Israel-Palestine peace plan, purportedly authored by his callow son-in-law Jared Kushner, arrived with neither pomp or circumstance, just a dull press conference in which the also-legally embattled Israeli president, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Trump slapped each other on the back in front of a hooting crowd of partisan Israeli journalists. The plan, insofar as it exists in actuality, is a hundred pages of gibberish, the sort of thing that a bunch of Georgetown legacy students would dash off as a group project two days before it was due. No Palestinians were consulted, and everyone knew from the outset that they would never consent; indeed, that their consent was beside the point.
The plan’s only newsworthy piece was its map, which laid bare what opponents of the colonial project of political Zionism have long predicted: a ratification of ongoing Israeli land seizures through “settlement” activity; a hacked-up and non-contiguous Palestine with no control of its own borders. The common metaphor has been Apartheid South Africa, and in the leftist press you will hear frequent references to “Bantustans,” the fictitiously autonomous black territories under the actual control of the white minority government and its military.
As is often the case, even on the left, this is a bit of parochial blindness to the often American inspiration for global iniquities. In fact, the closer analogue to Israeli aspirations, and to the aspirations of its American interlocutors, is America itself, specifically America’s long campaign against its own native inhabitants, its half-hearted “recognition” of indigenous “nations,” its creation of unsustainable land reservations, its paternalistic grants of economic goodies like casinos and tax breaks on cigarettes within these neither autonomous nor free territories. You can see this in the plan’s language of economic development, of opportunity zones and “high-tech manufacturing.” You can see it in the plan’s most hilarious and childish proposal, an Elon Musk fantasy of a 30-kilometer road tunnel running beneath the Negev Desert to connect Gaza to the carved-up carcass of the West Bank.
And this, in turn, reflects the degenerate reality of Israel’s own aspirations here, which is neither to contain nor to repress the Palestinians, but to see them dwindle and disappear. Even as a boy in liberal circles of Reform Judaism, I can remember the complaint: that the problem, after the Israeli war of Independence, was that none of the Arab States would “take them” — a wish for peace that was at heart a cruel desire for an impossible out-migration, a Palestinian Trail of Tears that we could later pretend was somehow voluntary.
No Palestinians were consulted, and everyone knew from the outset that they would never consent; indeed, that their consent was beside the point.
America’s legacy Jewish institutions reacted to the plan along entirely predictable lines. The small-but-vocal politically conservative minority hailing the plan and making common cause with the anti-Semites of the evangelical Christian right, who see Israel as the battlefield in their bloody fantasy of global apocalypse. Mainstream institutions took their usual hem-and-haw, wait-and-see attitude, mouthing the same platitudes about an equitable solution that they have mouthed for the last 50 years while quietly acceding to the same old exculpatory fantasy that it is Palestinian intransigence rather than Israeli fascism which is the roadblock to a just political settlement. Where does this leave American Jews and American Judaism, the vital pole of diasporic Judaism? I’m not sure.
There are admirable attempts among the anti-Zionist Jewish left to craft a Jewish identity that is not wedded to the state of Israel, but our religious denominations — with the exception of a few tiny, radical sects of the ultra, ultra-orthodox — have not come along, not even within the Reform movement, which is and was America’s and Judaism’s great mutual gift and creation. We remain idolaters in our temples and our synagogues, stuck in a form of material worship of a piece of land that isn’t ours. Zion is here, if we allow it.