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The seeds of a new special relationship: US voices for justice in Palestine

While the ideological compatibility between Trump and Netanyahu will improve ties between the two leaders, it will have long-standing implications on US approaches to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Graffiti of US President Donald Trump is seen on the Israeli West Bank barrier or wall at the Qalandiya checkpoint, north of Jerusalem. Picture by MICK TSIKAS AAP/PA Images. All rights reserved.Though President Trump has recently backtracked on his muted stance toward illegal Israeli settlement construction, telling an Israeli daily that he does not believe that “settlements are a good thing for peace,” his relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promises to be a close one. Trump has signalled his support for Israel’s right-wing government, for instance, through the nomination of David Friedman, a hardline pro-settler lawyer, to be the US ambassador to Israel. Friedman’s confirmation hearing is scheduled for tomorrow. In the meantime, Trump and Netanyahu will meet today in Washington, with Netanyahu likely focused on securing continued US diplomatic, military, and financial support with little if any room for the human rights of Palestinians.

Yet Trump’s presidency is caught in a highly polarized political environment, and the once unconditional support for Israel and elision of Palestinian rights in the United States is changing. The question of Palestine is on track to become a divisive issue in American politics – and one that Palestinians and the Palestine solidarity movement can join together to use in their struggle for Palestinian rights. 

The once unconditional support for Israel and elision of Palestinian rights in the United States is changing

In order to fully understand the budding relationship between Trump and Netanyahu, one must examine their common approaches to issues of national security, immigration, and racial and religious profiling.  It is this shared right-wing vision that will be a point of continued cooperation between the two governments, especially against the backdrop of a more polarized political environment. Evidence to support this can be found in the fact that Trump drew on Israel and Netanyahu’s policies to support two of his most controversial plans: the “Muslim ban” and the wall on the US-Mexico Border.

While the ideological compatibility between Trump and Netanyahu will improve ties between the two leaders, it will have long-standing implications on US approaches to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Trump’s presidency is highly contested in the country, not only due to his personality, but also because of the right-wing ideology he represents and aims to further.

It is unlikely that the Democratic Party itself will change its commitment to supporting Israel, as we saw with the final outcome of the Democratic platform failing to incorporate Palestinian rights. The more meaningful and politically significant challenge to Trump and his policies is coming from a growing grassroots movement that is rallying across the country and on social media.

Two instances stand out and are representative of how Palestinian rights are becoming integrated in political conversations of reform and resistance against Trump’s vision for the country. First, after Trump reiterated his controversial and divisive plans to move forward with building a wall on the US-Mexico border, Netanyahu tweeted in support that his wall “stopped all illegal immigration. Great success. Great idea.”

Prominent voices in Mexico and the US fighting to stop the breakup of families and the criminalization of immigrants heavily criticized the Israeli prime minister’s statement. Black Lives Matter in DC, for example, took a screenshot of the tweet and reiterated its support for incorporating Palestinian justice in the Movement for Black Lives’ widely circulated and influential platform.

The momentous opposition to this right-wing tide is not coming from establishment Democrats, but rather is championed by grassroots movements, activists, and progressive actors within the Democratic Party

And in the Women’s March on Washington, Angela Davis, an iconic and pioneering leader in shaping this intersectional liberation movement, made a point to say, “Women’s rights are human rights all over the planet, and that is why we say freedom and justice for Palestine.” In light of the tepid welcome of Palestinian rights by some of the organizers of the Women’s March, Davis’s statement conveys the intention and commitment to highlight Palestinian rights in these emerging progressive spaces as part of a full agenda fighting for comprehensive liberation.

The United States is at a crossroads where the values that are considered essential to the fabric of the nation and the future of the country are being fiercely contested. On one hand, the right-wing movement behind Trump and critical members of his cabinet, such as Steve Bannon, champion an “America first” agenda that will actively pursue policies aimed at criminalizing immigrants, incorporating racial and religious profiling in the national security apparatus, and limiting the reproductive rights of women, among other radical positions.

The United States is at a crossroads where the values that are considered essential to the fabric of the nation and the future of the country are being fiercely contested.

The momentous opposition to this right-wing tide is not coming from establishment Democrats, but rather is championed by grassroots movements, activists, and progressive actors within the Democratic Party, such as Bernie Sanders. It is this movement – the one that marched on Washington and across the country – that will shape the future of progressive politics in the country. In turn, justice for Palestine and Palestinians is becoming part and parcel of this resistance against Trump and his vision for the future of the United States and its people.

video by more than 60 leading black and Palestinian artists and activists, released when Obama was in the White House, captures the extent of this shifting political landscape and the depth of the new solidarities emerging between those struggling for racial justice in the US and for Palestinian rights, with the simple but powerful title: “When I see them, I see us.” 

About the author

Fadi Nicholas Nassar is a policy analyst with Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network. He is a PhD candidate in the War Studies Department at King's College London and a visiting fellow at Sciences Po Paris.


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