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03 February 2020

Trump and Netanyahu issue a new colonial mandate in Palestine

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By Rami G. Khouri

The Trump-Netanyahu initiative to formalise Israeli annexation of more Palestinian territories in the occupied West Bank has been rightly criticised as a new Balfour Declaration, a Zionist apartheid plan for second class Palestinians penned in Bantustans, and an audacious display of power by American-Israeli rightwing fanatics.

The most frightening aspects of the initiative, however, may relate to older and wider dimensions that transcend the localised land grab.

The most dramatic, is how this initiative perfectly mirrors the 1922 League of Nations Mandate for Palestine that put the United Kingdom in charge of administering the territory and explicitly working to establish a "national home for the Jewish people" that the UK pledged to support in its 2 November 1917 Balfour Declaration.

The Trump-Netanyahu initiative is a 21st century neo-Mandate that aims to cement a Greater Israel colonial state, and repeats the power relationships, ideological aims, operational mechanisms, anti-Arab racism, and Zionism-over-Arabism leanings of 1922.

Also noteworthy, though not explored in depth here, is the poverty of Palestinian and Arab leadership. This US-Israeli assault is allowed to happen easily mainly because most Arab leaders - including the Palestinians since 1993 - have essentially abdicated core Arab sovereignty of decision-making in favour of allowing Israel and the US to define key issues on Palestine and wider Arab matters.

The texts of the 1922 Palestine Mandate and the 2020 Trump-Netanyahu initiative, with American and Israeli officials' comments in the last three days, include such profound similarities in their aims, implementing mechanisms, and power relationships, that we can safely conclude that the colonial period of a century ago has not ended, at least in Palestine and the wider Arab region.

The big picture that connects 1922 with 2020 comprises a few core dynamics and operational assumptions that were routine for colonial and imperial powers a century ago, and apparently are still acceptable today in Palestine:

1) Jews and Zionists then, Israelis and American Zionists today, have greater rights, and greater priority, in Palestine than do the indigenous Palestinian Arabs.

2) A major western power (the UK then, the US today) and a local partner (the Zionist Organisation then, the State of Israel and its rightwing settler-extremists today) work hand-in-hand, with international support, to implement the goal of creating a Jewish homeland then, and a Greater Israel Colonial State today.

This was the first substantive policy issue mentioned in the opening preamble of the 1922 mandate, immediately after the first paragraph establishing the principle of mandatory powers appointed via the League of Nations Covenant:

"Whereas the Principal Allied Powers have also agreed that the Mandatory should be responsible for putting into effect the declaration originally made on 2 November 1917, by the Government of His Britannic Majesty, and adopted by the said Powers, in favour of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people…"

3) The rights of Jews and Zionists around the world to immigrate to the land of Palestine/Israel enjoy priority over the rights of Palestinian Arabs to remain in their homes, or return to them if they were driven out or fled in 1947-48 and beyond.

The 1922 mandate spells this out in Article 6: "The Administration of Palestine, while ensuring that the rights and position of other sections of the population are not prejudiced, shall facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions and shall encourage, in co-operation with the Jewish agency referred to in Article 4, close settlement by Jews on the land, including state lands and waste lands not required for public purposes."
The reference to the Palestinian Arabs only as "other sections of the population" is repeated in other ways that clarify both the subjugated nature of these locals and also their lack of rights, starting with a lack of their name.

4) The original mandate's preamble and the Trump-Netanyahu initiative both affirm the Jewish people's historical links to the land of Palestine. The 1922 Mandate noted "Whereas recognition has thereby been given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine, and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country."

But neither the old nor the new mandates affirms in any equal force or clarity the parallel ancient links to the same land by its majority Arab-Muslim-Christian inhabitants, because they are invisible people in White western eyes, referred to in the words of the Balfour Declaration as "existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine". Invisible people do not have a name, and thus have no rights either. 

5) The unspoken assumptions of both the original and new mandates see the advanced western White civilization (UK then, US-Israel today) as superior in their values, conduct, and rights, to the local Palestinian Arabs whose rights might be achieved secondarily to those of the Zionists-Israelis in the land, and also to any Jewish person around the world who wants to come to this land.

6) Major foreign powers (the UK then, the US and Israel today) control the foreign relations of the local population (Article 12 of 1922 Mandate).

7) The mandatory power (UK then, US and Israel today) supervises the arming, training, and activities of the local security forces in Palestine (Mandate Article 17).

8) The broad aim of the original mandate and the new one today is to strengthen Jewish-Zionist-Israeli control of the land, and weaken the Palestinian Arabs so severely that they either give up hope of a decent life and emigrate, or they submit to live by the apartheid-like rules and Bantustan-like configurations that are imposed on them without their having any say in the matter.

9) Consequently, the original and current mandates view the Palestinians as truant delinquents who are not eligible for immediate statehood, but need to be tutored, trained, and prepared to run their own country - if they pass character tests.

Statehood, sovereignty, and national rights - even demographic and territorial contiguity - are not a birthright of Palestinian Arabs, as they are for Jews-Zionists, but they have to be earned through good behaviour. And actually achieving statehood is not guaranteed, but merely held out as a possibility if one is compliant, submissive, and obedient to the mandate's rules.

10) The original and new mandates specify that White western colonial powers (UK then, US and Israel today) control the money, borders, guns, resources, trade opportunities, and other basic factors that define statehood and sovereignty for the Palestinians.

These will be doled out to the local Arabs in a slow and episodic manner over many decades, and only after certification of Arab compliance with the colonial apartheid rules.

11) The original and new mandates give the UK and Zionist Organisation (then, Mandate Article 4, and the US, Israel, and American Zionists today) the formal capacity to engage in defining policies and actions that will help achieve the aims of creating the Jewish national home then, or expanding the colonial State of Greater Israel today.

It seems that the struggle against colonialism in Palestine and other Arab lands has many more years ahead, if the latest deeds of the US-Israeli combine are anything to go by. But judging by the arc of Palestinian and Arab history, one thing is sure: As long as there is colonialism, there will be resistance.

[Rami G. Khouri is senior public policy fellow, adjunct professor of journalism, and Journalist-in-Residence at the American University of Beirut, and a non-resident senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School's Middle East Initiative. He tweets at @ramikhouri]

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