Former US President Donald Trump’s so-called “Deal of the Century” was meant to be a finality of sorts, an event reminiscent of Francis Fukuyama’s premature declaration of the “End of History” and the uncontested supremacy of western capitalism. In effect, Trump’s deal was a declaration that “we” — the US, Israel and a few allies — have won, and “you”, the isolated and marginalised Palestinians, have lost. However, just as Fukuyama failed to consider the unceasing evolution of history, the US and Israeli governments also failed to understand that the Middle East — indeed, the world — is not governed by Israeli expectations and American diktats. This is a verifiable assertion.
On 17 October, for example, the Australian government announced that it was revoking its 2018 recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Predictably, the decision announced officially by Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong was criticised strongly by Israel, celebrated by Palestinians and welcomed by Arab countries, who praised Canberra’s responsible diplomacy.
Any serious analysis of the move, however, must not be confined to Australia’s own political shifts. It must be extended to include the dramatic changes underway in Palestine, the Middle East and around the world.For many years, but especially since the 2003 US invasion of Iraq as part of the politically-motivated “war on terror”, Washington perceived itself as the main, if not the only, power able to shape political outcomes in the Middle East. Yet, as its Iraq quagmire began destabilising the entire region, with revolts, social upheavals and wars breaking out, Washington began to lose its grip.
It was then understood rightly that, while the US may succeed in waging wars, as it did in Iraq and Libya, it is unable to restore even a small degree of peace and stability. Although Trump seemed disinterested in engaging in major military conflicts, he converted that energy to facilitate the rise of Israel as a regional power plugged into the Middle East’s political and economic grids through a process of political “normalisation”, which is wholly delinked from the struggle in occupied Palestine and the freedom of the Palestinians.
The Americans were so confident in their power to orchestrate such a major political transformation that Jared Kushner — Trump’s Middle East advisor and son-in-law — was revealed to have attempted to cancel the status of Palestinian refugees in Jordan. He was met with a decisive Jordanian rejection, but Kushner’s arrogance still shone through. In January 2020, for example, he declared that his father-in-law’s plan was such a “great deal” that if the Palestinians rejected it, “They’re going to screw up another opportunity, like they’ve screwed up every other opportunity that they’ve ever had in their existence.”
All of this hubris was joined with many American concessions to Israel, whereby Washington virtually fulfilled all of the occupation state’s wishes. The relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to occupied Jerusalem was merely the icing on the cake of a much larger political scheme that included the financial boycott of the Palestinians; the cancellation of funds that benefited Palestinian refugees; the recognition of the illegally occupied Syrian Golan Heights as part of Israel; and support for Tel Aviv’s decision to annex much of the occupied West Bank.
The then Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies had hoped that, as soon as Washington carried out such moves, many other countries would follow, and that, in no time, Palestinians would find themselves friendless, broke and irrelevant. This did not happen, though, and what started with a bang ended with a whimper. Although the Biden Administration still refuses to commit to any new “peace process”, it has largely avoided engaging in Trump’s provocative politics in the region. Moreover, the Palestinians are anything but isolated, and Arab countries remain united, at least officially, in the centrality of Palestine within their collective political priorities.
In April 2021, Washington restored funding to the Palestinians, including money allocated to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees(UNRWA). It did not do so for charitable reasons, of course, but because it wanted to ensure the allegiance of the Palestinian Authority and to remain a relevant party in the region. Even then, during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Kazakhstan on 12 October, PA President Mahmoud Abbas still declared that, “We [Palestinians] don’t trust America.”
What’s more, the annexation scheme did not go through, at least officially. The rejection of any Israeli steps that could change the legal status of the occupied Palestinian territories proved unpopular with most UN member states, including most of Israel’s western allies.
Australia remained an exception, but not for long. Four years after its initial policy shift, Australia shifted once again, finding it to be more beneficial to realign itself with the majority of world capitals than with Washington and Tel Aviv.
Trump’s “Deal of the Century” has failed simply because neither Washington nor Tel Aviv had enough political cards to shape a whole new reality in the Middle East. Most parties involved — Trump, Netanyahu, Scott Morrison in Australia, and a few others — were simply playing a political game linked to their own interests at home. Similarly, we saw embattled Liz Truss — now the ex-British Prime Minister — jumping on the bandwagon and suggesting that the British Embassy should be moved to Jerusalem so that she could get the backing of other pro-Israel MPs in her own party, as well as lobbyists. The suggestion further demonstrated her lack of understanding and experience, and is unlikely to affect the political reality in Palestine and the Middle East.
In the final analysis, it has become clear that the “Deal of the Century” was not an irreversible historical event, but an opportunistic and thoughtless political process that lacked a deep understanding of history and the political balances that continue to control the Middle East.
Another important lesson to be gleaned from all of this is that, as long as the Palestinian people continue to exercise their right to resist Israel’s brutal occupation and fight for their freedom, and as long as international solidarity continues to grow around them, the Palestinian cause will remain central to all Arabs and all conscientious people around the world. Australia’s move on Jerusalem isolates Israel, not the people of occupied Palestine.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.