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TRUMP’S “DEAL OF THE CENTURY”: AN INTERVIEW WITH PROFESSOR MOHAMMED BAMYEH

By Kate Daher

In several Arab countries including Lebanon, Tunisia and Morocco, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets under the banner “Palestine is not for sale” to protest Trump’s Mideast Initiative, which was released on January 28th and hailed as the “Deal of the Century.” 

In Gaza City, protesters burned pictures of Trump and Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu, and raised a banner reading “Palestine is not for sale.” 

Thousands of Palestinians in the occupied city of Ramallah demonstrated against Trump’s plan and, according to polls, at least ninety-four percent of the population outright rejects the initiative, which is severely biased towards Israel. The foreign ministers of the 22-member Arab League unanimously rejected the plan, and in a statement said, “It does not satisfy the minimum of the rights and aspirations of the Palestinian people.” In Pittsburgh, several organizations joined the University of Pittsburgh campus organization, Students for Justice in Palestine, in a protest against the plan with signs that read Palestine is Not for Sale, Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine, and Boycott Israel/ Free Palestine. 

Following is an interview with University of Pittsburgh professor Mohammed Bamyeh, chair of the Dept. of Sociology and president of the Arab Council for the Social Sciences (ACSS). He spoke recently on campus about the plan. 

Q: Is the Trump/Kushner/Netanyahu Mideast Plan different from earlier attempts at a settlement between Israel and Palestine? 

A: The plan is not substantially different from the one offered to Yasser Arafat by Ehud Barak in Camp David nearly 20 years ago. A dismembered Palestinian state with no direct connection to the outside world, except through Israel, was proposed then as well. Jerusalem and the refugees were treated then the same way as in this plan. What is new here are two things: first, an independent Palestinian entity is mentioned as a possible eventuality, not as a guarantee. Second, there is a heavy emphasis on economic development, which is a way of saying to the Palestinian that you may get prosperity, in exchange for giving up your political and citizenship rights for good. The other completely new feature of this plan is that it emerged entirely out of US-Israeli talks, into which no Palestinians were invited. Both the US under Trump and Israel under Netanyahu wanted to send a clear statement to the Palestinians that their opinion no longer mattered. 

Q: How do you respond to President Trump’s declaration that the plan is a “vision for peace and prosperity and a brighter future?” 

A: The only future I see is continuing the occupation and an entrenched systemic apartheid. I am not sure how you are going to get prosperity and a bright future if you have millions of people under your thumb, who reject your plan and whose priority is to be free. 

Q: With all the talk over the years about peace for Palestinians in the Middle East, what do you consider to be the major obstacles to reaching an accord? 

A: The major obstacle is the uneven balance of power: Israel has the best equipped military in the region and the undivided support of a superpower, and has the Palestinian populations dismembered and encircled. It has no incentive at the moment to give the most basic concessions that would be needed to achieve peace. That is why the role of the international community becomes important, especially activists who are incensed by apartheid conditions. 

Q: On both U.S. national and state levels, anti-Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) laws have been threatened or passed. What do you say to the critics of this movement? 

A: I would say that BDS is a humane, non-violent, citizen and civil society-driven movement. It is committed to the equality of all peoples, it is driven by opposition to racism in all of its forms, including anti-Semitism. It is opposed not to Jews as a people, but to the oppressive practices of a colonial state and to its racialist ideology. 

Q: What do you say to the charge that individuals or organizations critical of Israel and Zionism, or who support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement are anti-Semitic? 

A: The charge is simply an attempt to silence a conversation about injustice. All states, including Israel, are criticizable if they do something wrong. All ideologies, including especially nationalist ideologies like Zionism, are likewise criticizable if they involve discrimination and denial of rights. We are not attacking Jews, many of whom are likewise critical of Israel or Zionism, and are supporters of BDS. 

Q: Is there a role for the international community in helping to end the U.S. backed Israeli government war against the Palestinian people? 

A: The role of the international community is crucial. The Palestinians do need allies. But while most states have expressed sympathy to the plight of the Palestinians, few have been willing to invest the kind of political capital that would make a difference. This is not the case with global civil society, which has seen lots of activism around this issue, most recently in the form of the BDS movement. Due to colonial, religious and other reasons, Palestine has always been a global cause, and will continue to be such. We are in for a long struggle. 

Kate Daher is a former history teacher in the Pittsburgh Public Schools and has been active in Palestine solidarity work for many years. She has traveled to Palestine on several occasions and her photographs and articles have been featured in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

NewPeople Newspaper VOL. 50 No. 2. March, 2020. All rights reserved.

 

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