“Either the world is on a drug trip gone horribly wrong, or I am.” This was the feeling I could not escape as I streamed the launch event of the new Middle East ‘Peace plan’ unfolding on January 28 at the White House. In an effort to make sense out of my experience, I decided to take note and subsequently analyze the meeting point by point. What emerged was the distinct impression that both the new peace plan, and its presentation, were shaped by a speculative risk-investment imaginary that creates illusions of a future peace while colonizing the Palestinian territories in the present. Here’s how that mentality showed:
-Setting the scene with music. They decided to kick off the occasion with classical music. Soft piano tunes, like a cocktail party. Despite the effort, the soothing melodies did not cover the looming violence underneath of what was to come.
-The clash of civilizations narrative. The presentation started with Trump speaking about terrorism and Islam in the same sentence. ISIS and Palestine became somehow part of the same story. Israel was a “holy land” for Trump, an “ancient home,” a “sacred place of worship,” and a “thriving center of democracy, innovation, culture and commerce.” Thus, Trump presented the US and Israel as spurring from shared ‘Judeo-Christian Civilization’ joined by the eternal fight for the holy history and an enlightened future. After Trump it was Netanyahu’s turn to contribute to this familiar image. Israeli settlements located in the occupied West Bank, he explained, are in places that are “carved in the bedrock of our common civilization.” It might be good, at this point, to remember something from the history between Jewish and Christian communities. As some have argued, there is no such a thing as ‘Judeo-Christian civilization.’ This concept, popular in the political myths of US-Israeli relations, was invented in post-Holocaust Europe to smooth out the guilt of Nazi ovens and the centuries of Christian antisemitism. It takes incredible doses of repression to wipe out the bloody history of Christian antisemitic and nationalist terrorism and imagine some kind of ancient shared fortress against the ‘Arab’ Other. “The Jew” was the Europe’s first other (and still is), Islamophobia its modern sibling. The ‘clash of the civilizations’ narrative that the Trump & Netanyahu plan reproduces is only a logical choice as it strengthens the images of the Other that the right-wing regimes everywhere, both ‘East’ and ‘West’, feed upon.
-Israel wins. The plan has a list of conditions that Palestinians have to meet to prove once-again-once-again that they are worthy of the state. Netanyahu announced that there is a long path for Palestinians to reach even the beginning of Trump’s “conceptual map” – the road towards the independent “Palestinian state”. According to Netanyahu, Israel will immediately begin to enforce Israeli law in new regions designated for Israel under the plan (around 30% of West Bank) and keep the status quo in the areas that the plan designates for the “future Palestinian State.” The maps of the peace plan reveal that this “state” is in fact a highly fragmented archipelago. The new areas promised for Palestine, located in the arid Negev desert, are creatively portrayed as Palestinian high-tech oases of the future. Gaza, according to the plan, would be de-militarized. The return of the Palestinian refugees to homes lost in 1948 is off the table. Jerusalem, peculiarly, is to be unified and “undivided” under the authority of Israel – while Palestine is simultaneously promised a future “capital in East Jerusalem.” This, in effect, is a further swap of land from Palestine to Israel. In reality, the plan’s future capital of Palestine seems to be the refugee camp of shu’afat (outside of Jerusalem) and the West Bank neighborhood of Abu Dis, a town already divided from Jerusalem proper by the segregation wall. Jerusalem proper, including the old city, would thus fall completely into Israeli hands. Finally, aligned with settler colonial obsession with “pure” racialized bodies and territories, the plan mentions the possibility of revoking citizenship from Palestinians still living in Israel and holding the Israeli citizenship (around 20% of Israeli citizens). The Palestinians are thus only left with speculative images of the future “state”, “capital” and blooming high-tech deserts while Israel is able cash out its dreams right away. A win-win for Israel.
– Parallels to the Oslo process . The previous ‘peace deal’ that the Palestinians signed were the Oslo peace accords prepared by the Clinton administration. At the moment of signing the accords the Palestinians were few months away from a financial collapse. Oslo, like the Trump-Netanyahu plan now, promised large investments in return for Palestinians giving up their extant claims to 78% of historic Palestine and for integrating their markets and security apparatus to the Israeli state. Referred to as an “instrument of Palestinian surrender, a Palestinian Versailles” by Edward Said, the Oslo accords ended up fracturing Palestinian territories and increasing the structures of political and economic dependency to Israel. Today the Palestinian Authority (PA), the entity supposedly governing Palestine, has been on the brink of financial crisis the whole year and the plan promises tens of billions of investment (who is willing to invest isn’t clear). During the plan’s 4 year window (during which the Palestinians are supposed to prove to the US and Israel that they are good and kind enough) it will be interesting to follow whether the financial crisis of PA continues and how this crisis becomes used for selling out more land and political power to the Israeli-US expansion on the ground.
-A history lesson from the Jordan Valley . As Israel started to reinforce its military presence in the Jordan valley the day before the announcement of the plan, it became pretty clear that the plan would allow the annexation of the Valley (as Netanyahu had promised). More than 10 years ago the Jordan Valley was the favorite object for the business dreams of ‘peaceful co-existence and economic growth’. Take this video as an illustration of that view. Now ‘co-existence’, promoted by Israeli and Palestinian capitalists, is replaced with just ‘Israel.’ It was a euphemism after all. It is through fancy videos and the futuristic dreams of prosperity that the Trump-Netanyahu plan advances and claims legitimacy. Everyone should be a bit wary thus when the word ‘co-existence’ is raised in Israeli/Palestinian context.
– Colonization as speculation . Netanyahu cited Trump’s background in ‘real estate’ as the source for the plan’s creativity. I thought it was a fitting metaphor, and the key to understanding the unveiling’s strangeness. We know from the works of Saskia Sassen and others the way in which predatory forms of highly financialized real estate speculation advances. There are always promises of crazy future valuations that are used to occupy a space, a home, a community in the now. It seems this is the same way that the speculative peace plans advance. As a significant curiosity: we learned a month ago that Jared Kushner had ordered a video from WeWork, the crown jewel of the Silicon Valley-style real estate speculation, to portray an imaginary future of Gaza. In this video Gaza turns into Silicon Valley, filled with high-tech production sites and exciting consumer experiences for the cosmopolitan tourists. This might be nothing new however: colonialism always advances in the present by trying to establish a monopoly over the future – creating homes for the settler colonial project and homelessness for the Other.
-Exit from a peace that kills? The US-Israeli peace plan is a chance for the international community to clearly dissent from US policies in the Middle East. Though it seems clear that the US and Israel are able to lure Brazil, India, and some Gulf countries along with them. The empire of right-wing identity politics is growing, no surprises there. These hardening lines are, however, also lines that clarify. It will become increasingly difficult for Palestinian or international state representatives to work with the US under Trump and claim to be pushing for peace.
If they can afford it, the Palestinians won’t have to pretend to be working with the US anymore. Perhaps the security and economic deals related to the Oslo Accords framework can now be abandoned and this, yet another-peace-that-kills, rejected. It is a fool’s hope, but there might thus be a space opening for new networks of solidarity and resource sharing. I can’t tell, however, where the states and movements with enough power and courage to counter the plan might be. Most probably there will be a few spicy condemnations, not much more, and the settler colonial project will continue. Even if Netanyahu is forced to step down, that is unfortunately unlikely to change anything. Benny Gantz, the strongest of Netanyahu’s political rivals, has already announced his support for the plan.
Antti Tarvainen writes a dissertation on the politics of imagination between Silicon Valley and Israel/Palestine and is a Fulbright visiting PhD student at the New School.