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Home/Daniel Larison/They Issue an Ultimatum and Call It Peace

They Issue an Ultimatum and Call It Peace

President Donald J. Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel at the United Nations General Assembly in October. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

The common thread tying together most of the Trump administration’s major foreign policy initiatives is a demand that the other side surrender everything and then be grateful for their humiliation. The administration makes excessive, preposterous demands that no self-respecting government or nation could accept, and then they inflict punishment on the people in that country when their demands are predictably rejected. We have seen this approach most recently in the arrogant presentation of the annexation and apartheid plan for Israel and Palestine in which Palestinians are expected to go along with their own subjugation and dispossession forever. Daniel Levy summed up the plan very well:

Terms of surrender and peace plans are not the same thing. But even terms of surrender have more chance of being durable if they are constructed in such a way as to maintain a semblance of dignity of the defeated party.

A peace plan has to be predicated on both sides saving face, on both sides being able to declare some kind of victory. The plan announced is a 180-page hate letter from the Americans (and by extension the Israelis) to the Palestinians. Until one reads the entire document (and unless one knows the history of the conflict), it is hard to convey the depth of contempt and scorn this text displays toward Palestinians. It oozes colonialist supremacism.

Palestinian rights and aspirations are never taken into account in this plan because neither the U.S. nor the Israeli government thinks that the Palestinian people matter. Saree Makdisi sums up the attitude toward Palestinians conveyed by the plan this way:

And Palestinian suffering doesn’t count because Palestinians themselves don’t count.

The plan “oozes colonialist supremacism” because the U.S. and Israeli governments view Palestinians as nothing more than colonial subjects that they can kick around and mistreat however they like. They make an ultimatum and call it peace. If the Palestinians refuse to accept the outrageous and humiliating terms that being dictated to them we know that the U.S. and Israeli governments will do all they can to blame them for standing up to subjugation.

We see something similar in the way that the U.S. has been trying to dictate terms to Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela. In all of these cases, the U.S. insists that the other side capitulate with only the vague hope of some paltry payoff somewhere down the line. The administration tells each one of its targets that they have to agree to humiliating concessions and the effective abandonment of their own interests, and in exchange they might get a little money. They call for abject surrender and then feign surprise when the other side refuses to talk to them. The current U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Kelly Craft, made this ridiculous statement in opposition to Palestinian efforts to go to the U.N. to reject Trump’s plan:

Craft said that while the Palestinians’ initial reaction to the plan was anticipated, “why not instead take that displeasure and channel it into negotiations?”

“Bringing that displeasure to the United Nations does nothing but repeat the failed pattern of the last seven decades. Let’s avoid those traps and instead take a chance on peace,” she told Reuters.

Of course, Trump’s plan offers no chance at peace in the sense of a mutually acceptable settlement that resolves most of the outstanding issues. It is designed to deny any possibility of such a settlement by endorsing the permanent subjugation of one side. The administration isn’t interested in a negotiated compromise, but rather wants to have a pretext for punitive action. Hard-liners detest diplomacy and the compromise it requires because to negotiate a compromise requires acknowledging that the other side has legitimate grievances and rights that can’t be ignored. Trump assumes in each case that the weaker party can simply be forced to accept the unacceptable, and in each case this arrogant and dehumanizing attitude provokes determined resistance.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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