Nadia Nasser-Najjab, an associate research fellow at the European Center for Palestine Studies at the University of Exeter.
In the Arab Israeli conflict, Palestinians have been frequently treated as an irrelevance or even an irritant—the very notion of a Palestinian “problem” suggests a vexed superpower forced to descend from its lofty vantage-point. Trump’s recent recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is the latest iteration of this mindset.
It is perhaps inevitable, given his own propensity for self-publicity, that so much of the current discussion is focused on Trump. The tone of the righteous outrage that has accompanied this decision leads us to believe that he has somehow erred from the righteous path of U.S. state practice. Observers accuse Trump of fundamentally breaking with the underpinning principle of the peace process, an accusation that cannot be upheld. The Oslo Accords were, from their inception, grounded within various degrees of force. During their implementation, they served as a veritable case study of unilateral imposition.
This does not absent Trump of his responsibility for his deeply dangerous action. However, within the wider colonial context, Trump’s decision appears as the logical continuation of a mindset that that viewed Palestine as a “land without a people for a people without a land,” leading to the design and implementation of the absentees’ property laws, which were used in 1967 to justify annexing East Jerusalem, overnight transforming Palestinians who had lived in Jerusalem for generations into “residents.”
It was not extreme demagogues such as Donald Trump, Menachem Begin, or Benjamin Netanyahu who enacted these policies. Rather, it was the practitioners of “enlightened occupation” (a phrase of Moshe Dayan’s). Trump, in justifying his actions, similarly appealed to Israel’s status as an established democracy and its commitment to liberal traditions such as freedom of worship. This of course overlooks the fact that, Israel, along with other historical examples of colonialism, combines progressive and regressive components.
It therefore appears that the assorted coterie of statesmen, diplomats, and journalists who have come out against Trump’s announcement primarily object to its tone. It represents, as with virtually other aspects of his presidency, an abrupt break with established protocols and procedures. However, it scarcely needs to be stated that their outrage was considerably more muted, and even entirely absent, when colonial power was exercised with greater nuance, subtlety and sophistication.