The Trump administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem is an undeniably reckless move that has the potential to ignite new levels of violence throughout the region. It’s also an obvious gift to Trump’s right-wing Zionist fans and a reminder that blind support for Israel is now central to far-right American identity.
This much should be clear to anyone who follows political dynamics both in the Middle East and here at home. Unfortunately, the predictable hand-wringing from liberals in response to the Jerusalem decision runs the risk of reinforcing some of the most damaging and self-serving myths about what is happening on the ground in Palestine/Israel.
The first of these myths concerns the supposed “status quo” in Jerusalem and throughout Palestine/Israel. Immediately after the announcement of Trump’s decision, we heard a chorus of voices lamenting that the change in U.S. policy would upset the delicate status quo in Jerusalem.
As critics of U.S. policy in the region have been saying literally for decades, however, the status quo itself is deeply unjust. Israel has been solidifying its colonization of Jerusalem through blatant land grabs and a wide range of administrative measures designed to push out Palestinians, all backed by broad, bipartisan support from Washington.
The reality in Jerusalem is the same as the reality throughout Palestine/Israel: an apartheid reality defined by the ongoing colonization of Palestinian land and the denial of equal rights to Palestinians. Far from changing that reality, Trump’s decision simply brings it more into the open.
The second myth concerns the so-called “peace process.” While many have responded to Trump’s decision by issuing dire warnings that the decision will kill any hope of a negotiated, “two-state solution,” the reality is that this “solution” has been dead for decades.
The search for “peace” has served as a cover under which Israel has been able to solidify its colonial control over the territory, rendering impossible the dream of Palestinian national sovereignty.
In that sense, once again we can view Trump’s decision as simply making visible what policy elites in Washington and elsewhere have long been afraid to say: that the most important “process” on the ground is a colonization process, and that the U.S. has chosen to side with the colonizer.
As Mouin Rabbani, a respected Middle East analyst recently noted, “American recognition of Israel sovereignty in Jerusalem would send an unmistakable signal that Washington rejects not only the two-state settlement paradigm but also the Palestinian right to national self-determination in favour of permanent Israeli domination and Palestinian dispossession.”
In light of this, we would do well to recognize that while the Trump decision is potentially disastrous in its potential to provoke wider outbreaks of regional violence, it is also useful in the sense that it lays bare the core elements of the U.S.-Israel alliance.
How should progressives respond to the space that has been opened up by this decision? A good place to start is by interrogating the role of the Democratic Party establishment in propping up the “status quo” and “peace process” myths and, by extension, the Israeli colonial project. It’s worth remembering here that as The Hill noted, Senate Minority Leader Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerBiden discusses agenda with Schumer, Pelosi ahead of pivotal week CEOs urge Congress to raise debt limit or risk 'avoidable crisis' If .5 trillion 'infrastructure' bill fails, it's bye-bye for an increasingly unpopular Biden MORE (D-N.Y.) has been quite open about his role in pushing Trump to give Israel what it wants on Jerusalem.
Schumer may still believe that support for Israel is a winning strategy, but his base is increasingly moving in a different direction. As information about Israeli colonization has become more widely available and shared, especially among young people, more and more progressive voters have decided that being on the side of justice means refusing to go along with what Israel is doing. The recent letter signed by ten Democratic senators calling on Israel to stop the planned demolition of two Palestinian and Bedouin towns is an indication of how the political ground is shifting.
What this signals is that the current political moment offers to Democrats an opportunity to build a policy that is reality-based and justice-based rather than one that is based on denial and mythology.
In order to do this, it won’t be enough simply to pine for a return to the days before Trump’s decision. That makes no more sense than responding to the outrages of the Trump administration by longing for the days of supposedly “sensible” conservatives like Mitt Romney or George W. Bush. To participate in the rehabilitation of pre-Trump Republicans is to acquiesce to the rightward shift of the entire political spectrum. To prop up the myth of the “peace process” and the “two-state solution” in Palestine/Israel is to acquiesce to the normalization of ethnic cleansing and the mass violation of Palestinian rights.
There is a better path forward for progressives: insisting on justice as the compass guiding our political struggles. Palestinians are not going to get justice from Donald TrumpDonald TrumpOvernight Defense & National Security — The Pentagon's deadly mistake Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Interior returns BLM HQ to Washington France pulls ambassadors to US, Australia in protest of submarine deal MORE — but they weren’t going to get it from Barack ObamaBarack Hussein Obama Chelsea Manning tests positive for COVID-19 The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Tight security for Capitol rally; Biden agenda slows Obama backs Trudeau in Canadian election MORE or Hilary Clinton either. The entire U.S. political class needs to be pushed from below on this and many other issues, and it is our job to keep applying the pressure.
John Collins, Ph.D., is a professor of global studies at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York. He is author of “Global Palestine,” and co-author of “Social and Cultural Foundations of Global Studies.”