You would have to have been the denizen of the fantasy world of Alice in Wonderland to believe that a cockamamie idea like the Peace to Prosperity Conference held in Bahrain this week — the brainchild of US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, whose ethereal goal for the conference, we were told, was to, well, turn Gaza into another bustling Singapore and the West Bank into a mirror image of an ebullient San Bernardino Valley — ever had a chance of being taken seriously, even by the American Secretary of State, who had two weeks ago called it “unexecutable”.
What everyone, however, does take seriously, at the end of the day, is the right of Palestinians a) to rid themselves of the yoke of Israeli occupation and b) to realise their dream, after a century of struggle, of becoming an independent, free nation. And that core fact has already insinuated itself into the public discourse in Europe, and indisputably is beginning to do so in the United States as well — the current administration’s adversarial posture vis-a-vis the Palestinians notwithstanding.
To much of Europe today, the Palestine question has long since been reframed as an issue germane to global justice and human rights, a view now widely embraced by the continent’s political leaders as by the mass sentiment of its people. And there has been, if not exactly a similar paradigm shift in the United States, there has been a dramatic change in perception, and, in political circles, certainly among Democrats.
Think of it. Last year, on December 15, before a crowd of rabid Israel supporters at the annual conference of the Israeli-American Council, Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, was asked to share her thoughts on ‘Deal of the Century’. She responded: “One of the principles we hope to see is a two-state solution.” Pelosi drew boos and cries of ‘No way!’ Her retort? She told the hecklers that their source of apprehension should centre not on the two-solution but on its inevitable alternative — a binational state in the whole of historic Palestine.
“Why do I need America to ask the Arab countries for money? I can go and ask the Arab countries myself for such funding”.
And over the past few months, editors from the New York Times sat down with 22 Democratic presidential candidates to ask each 18 policy questions, including this: “Do you think Israel meets international standards of human rights?” It would’ve been unthinkable 20, even ten years ago to ask an American politician such a question. In the unlikely event that it had been, most assuredly it would’ve drawn an unswervingly affirmative response.
This time around, no. Most of the candidates demurred, beat around the bush and offered either a hesitant, a torturous or a qualified yes, that is, a yes-but. Virtually of them referred to the two-state solution as being effectively the only game in town. In the interviews, many of the presidential hopefuls, with the exception of Kamala Harris, who is avowedly anti-Palestinian, were outspoken in their criticism of the increasingly right-wing government in Israel (whose prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, Beto O’Rourke was not hesitant to call a racist), all amid polling that shows Democrats are less sympathetic toward Israeli policies on the Palestinians than at any time in 40 years.
Some of them support the Boycott, Sanction and Divest movement, others tellingly failed to appear at the annual AIPAC conference this year, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of the most prominent Democratic freshmen in the House today, recently said (Oh, the horror, the horror!) that cutting congressional aid to Israel “should be on the table”. It’s happening, albeit incrementally, and at an unendurably slow pace, but its happening.
Consider this, from the latest national survey by the Pew Centre, conducted last January 10-15: “The partisan divide in Middle East sympathies, for Palestinians or the Israelis, is now wider than at any point since 1978. Currently, 79 per cent of Republicans say they sympathise more with Israel than the Palestinians, compared with just 27 per cent of Democrats’.
Things are moving right along, I say.
Though not often known to display a knack for saying quite the right thing at quite the right time, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had it down pat last Sunday, while explaining to reporters why Palestinians were dismissive of the economic conference in Bahrain, where the US is reportedly not investing any of its own money, but depending on wealthy Arab nations to bankroll the project. “America is reinventing the wheel”, he said. “Why do I need America to ask the Arab countries for money? I can go and ask the Arab countries myself for such funding”.
— Fawaz Turki is a journalist, lecturer and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile.