Australia sounds death knell for US ‘Deal of the Century’

US President Donald Trump’s so-called “Deal of the Century” was meant to represent a finality of sorts, an event reminiscent of Francis Fukuyama’s premature declaration of the “End of History” and the uncontested supremacy of Western capitalism. In effect, it was a declaration that “we” — the US, Israel and a few allies — have won, and “you,” isolated and marginalized Palestinians, lost.

In the same way Fukuyama failed to consider the unceasing evolution of history, the US and Israeli governments also failed to understand that the Middle East, in fact, the world, is not governed by Israeli expectations and American diktats. 

The above is a verifiable assertion. On Oct. 17, the Australian government announced that it would revoke its 2018 recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Expectedly, the new decision, officially made by Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong, was strongly criticized by Israel, celebrated by Palestinians and welcomed by Arab countries who praised the responsible diplomacy of Canberra. 

Any serious analysis of the Australian move, however, must not be confined to Australia’s own political shifts, but must be extended to include the dramatic changes underway in Palestine, the Middle East and, indeed, the world. 

For many years, but especially since the US invasion of Iraq as part of the politically motivated “war on terror,” Washington perceived itself as the main, if not the only, power able to shape political outcomes in the Middle East. Yet, as its Iraq quagmire began destabilizing the entire region, with revolts, social upheavals and wars breaking out, Washington began to lose its grip. 

It was then rightly understood that, while the US may succeed in waging wars, as it did in Iraq and Libya, it is unable to restore even a small degree of peace and stability. Although Trump seemed uninterested in engaging in major military conflicts, he sought to facilitate the rise of Israel as a regional power through a process of political “normalization” that was wholly delinked from the struggle in Palestine or the freedom of the Palestinians. 

So confident were the Americans of their power to orchestrate such a major political transformation that Jared Kushner, Trump’s Middle East adviser and son-in-law, was revealed to have tried to cancel the status of Palestinian refugees in Jordan, an attempt that was met with a decisive Jordanian rejection.

The rejection of any Israeli steps that could change the legal status of the occupied Palestinian territories proved unpopular with most UN members, including most of Israel’s Western allies.

Ramzy Baroud

Kushner’s arrogance reached the point that, in January 2020, he declared that his father-in-law’s plan was such a “great deal” that if it was rejected by the Palestinians, “they’re going to screw up another opportunity, like they’ve screwed up every other opportunity that they’ve ever had in their existence.” 

All of this hubris was joined with many American concessions to Israel, whereby Washington virtually fulfilled all Israeli wishes. The relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to occupied Jerusalem was merely the icing on the cake of a much larger political scheme that included the financial boycott of Palestinians, cancelation of funds that benefited Palestinian refugees, recognition of the illegally occupied Syrian Golan Heights as part of Israel, and support of Tel Aviv’s decision to annex much of the occupied West Bank. 

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister at the time, and his allies had hoped that, as soon as Washington carried out such moves, many other countries would follow, and Palestinians soon would find themselves friendless, broke and irrelevant.

This was hardly the case, and what started with a bang ended with a whimper. Though the Biden administration still refuses to commit to any new “peace process,” it has largely avoided engaging in Trump’s provocative politics. Not just that, the Palestinians are anything but isolated, and Arab countries remain united in the centrality of Palestine to their collective political priorities. 

In April 2021, Washington restored funding to the Palestinians, including money allocated to the UN refugee agency UNRWA. It did not do so for charitable reasons, of course, but because it wanted to ensure the allegiance of the Palestinian Authority, and to remain a relevant political party in the region. Even then, PA President Mahmoud Abbas still declared, during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Kazakhstan on Oct. 12, that “we (Palestinians) don’t trust America.”

Moreover, the annexation scheme, at least officially, did not go through. The rejection of any Israeli steps that could change the legal status of the occupied Palestinian territories proved unpopular with most UN members, including most of Israel’s Western allies.  

Australia remained the exception, but not for long. Unsurprisingly, Canberra’s reversal of its earlier decision regarding the status of Jerusalem earned it much criticism in Tel Aviv. Four years after its initial policy shift, Australia shifted yet once more, as it found it more beneficial to realign itself with the position of most world capitals than with that of Washington and Tel Aviv. 

Trump’s “Deal of the Century” has failed simply because neither Washington nor Tel Aviv had enough political cards to shape a whole new reality in the Middle East. Most parties involved — Trump, Netanyahu, Scott Morrison in Australia, and a few others — were simply playing a political game linked to their own interests at home.

In the final analysis, it has become clear that the “Deal of the Century” was not an irreversible historical event, but an opportunistic political process that lacked a deep understanding of history and the political balances that continue to control the Middle East.

Another important lesson to be gleaned from all of this is that, as long as the Palestinian people continue to resist and fight for their freedom and as long as international solidarity continues to grow around them, the Palestinian cause will remain central to all Arabs and to all conscientious people around the world.   

• Ramzy Baroud 

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