Might makes right

Azza Radwan Sedky
Tuesday 10 Dec 2019

For Trump, international law has no purchase over Israel. If this is the outcome of his first term in office, what would a second term bring, asks Azza Radwan Sedky

At the December 2019 American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) national summit in Florida, President Trump told attendees that Israel has never had a better friend in the White House than him, because unlike his predecessors, he kept his promises. In his own candid and forthright way, President Trump may have hit the nail on the head.

During his election campaign, President Trump had promised to recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, and was immediately supported by the Israeli lobby. To name just one such pro-Israel backer, Sheldon Adelson, worth $37.9 billion, donated $30 million to Trump’s presidential campaign, and then later donated $100 million to the Republican Party.

During the AIPAC summit, both Adelson and his wife, Miriam Adelson, appeared on stage to welcome the US president. In her introduction, Miriam Adelson said that Trump, “has already gone down in the annals of Jewish history, and that is before he’s even completed his first term in office”. I wonder what the US president will gift us with if he is elected for a second term?

Since he took office, President Trump has championed the Israeli cause, letting legality, human rights and the rule of the law fall by the wayside as far as Israel is concerned. His undertakings give Israel by far more leverage than it had ever hoped to achieve. Clearly, the current US administration is conspiring with steadfast determination to secure as much as possible for Israel in the shortest timespan.

The over $3 billion a year Israel receives in assistance and military aid from the US is secondary if compared to the flurry of hardline pro-Israeli resolutions announced by the Trump administration since the president’s election. These resolutions force the Israeli agenda on the world, legitimise Israeli illegalities and choke the rights of Palestinians and other Arabs.

In 2017, President Trump kept his promise and recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and then relocated the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 2018. The president then declared that recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has taken the toughest part of the negotiations for peace “off the table”, as though that would’ve made negotiations plausible.

Simultaneously, the US closed down the Palestine Liberation Office (PLO) in Washington in the hopes of pressuring the PLO into accepting the US-sponsored peace plan. Until today, Trump’s peace plan has yet to see the light. Both decisions brought peace negotiations almost to a halt.

In recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the US and Israel presumed other countries would follow suit. Only Guatemala did. In fact, condemnation from around the world ensued. The consensus amongst states was that moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem would potentially aggravate the region further. But, as the saying goes, might makes right and it overrides rational judgement.

Then, in March 2019, the US accepted Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Syrian Golan Heights, basically relinquishing all Security Council resolutions on the Golan Heights and considering them void. Ecstatic, Netanyahu then proclaimed to Trump, “your recognition is a twofold act of historic justice. Israel won the Golan Heights in a just war of self-defence, and the Jewish people’s roots in the Golan go back thousands of years.”

In another aggressive pro-Israeli shift, the US recognised Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Originally, the US’s take on settlements was that they were inconsistent with international law. However, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that, “after carefully studying all sides of the legal debate... the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not, per se, inconsistent with international law,” shifting the paradigm altogether. It is a flagrant and illegal act, for under international law, occupied territories should not be built upon by the occupiers.

This was yet another decision that left Israel smug and mighty. “Today, the United States adopted an important policy that rights a historical wrong when the Trump administration clearly rejected the false claim that Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria are inherently illegal under international law,” Netanyahu said.

Palestinians were again overburdened with more entanglements and further upheavals. “Israeli settlements steal Palestinian land, seize and exploit Palestinian natural resources, and divide, displace and restrict the movement of the people of Palestine. In sum, Israel’s colonial-settlement enterprise perpetuates the negation of the Palestinian right to self-determination,” said Saeb Erekat, the general secretary of the PLO.

“In essence it’s just saying the powerful win and the weak party loses; there’s no reference to legality or justice — it’s all about who is powerful, who controls,” said Shibley Telhami, a professor at the University of Maryland. “Think about the signal that sends the rest of the world.”

All the various resolutions made by President Trump ensure Israel’s superiority in the region and provides it with the dominance it craves. Netanyahu promised, if he is re-elected, to annex the Jordan Valley: “Today, I announce my intention, after the establishment of a new government, to apply Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea,” and after a meeting with Pompeo, where they discussed the annexation of the occupied West Bank, Netanyahu said: “Israel has the full right to annex the Jordan Valley if it chose to.”

“Nothing is left for Palestine and that is what Israel wants; they want us to leave,” says Diana Buttu, a Canadian-Palestinian human rights lawyer.

Can the course taken by the US administration be halted? Can the dream of a peaceful and rightful resolution to the Palestinian issue be revived? I doubt it. You see, no matter what the UN and the world in general may see as rightful, might makes right.

Netanyahu agreed with President Trump: “Israel has never had a better friend than you.”

The writer is the author of Cairo Rewind on the First Two Years of Egypt’s Revolution, 2011-2013.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 12 December, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly. 

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