Someone once commented on the ‘banality of evil’. Watching the various interpretations and responses to Trump’s recent decision on Jerusalem has made me think about this. Whilst the competing political issues and the complexities of the Israel/Palestine issue are always important, as they are in this example, we should not neglect the fact that underlying this decision is something far removed from the religious, ethnic or colonial-imperialist arguments and counter-arguments. At the bottom of this reckless decision, and the evil that may be unleashed by it, is a sad banality.
We should not lose sight of the fact that, for Trump, this decision was made primarily for domestic reasons. He stated this himself quite openly, declaring that it was an election promise and congratulating himself for keeping it. Of course, the important question is: a promise to whom? The Evangelical base is the obvious culprit – let’s not forget that Zionism’s most vehement and numerous supporters in the United States are Republican-voting Evangelical Christians, not Jews. For Evangelical Christians, the return of the Jewish people to the Holy Land is a requirement for the fulfilment of Armageddon – the final miserable evening when Jesus returns and the majority of the world’s population is summarily damned. Trump is then simply doing what the insipid logic of modern politics demands – he is “shoring up his base.”
But Trump really made a promise to someone much more important – his biggest donor. Sheldon Adelson, the fellow Casino-magnate, owner of right-wing Israeli press and fervent Zionist has been open about his financial support being contingent on an aggressive affirmation of Israel’s sovereignty over all of Jerusalem. Recent reports suggested he was increasingly frustrated that Trump was delaying in fulfilling his promise – with the associated threat of withdrawing financial support.
To this end, Trump appointed his son-in-law Jared Kushner, himself a fervent Zionist, to lay the groundwork for this move, under the guise of being deployed to reactivate the moribund ‘Peace Process.’ Kushner appears to have found ideological affinity with the new Crown Prince and current Defence Minister of Saudi Arabia Mohammad Bin Salman, whose major achievement appears to be the fanboy-named ‘Operation Decisive Storm’ and the creation of a humanitarian disaster in Yemen. As this romance has bloomed, official commentators have noted a softening of Saudi Arabia’s stance with respect to Israel/Palestine, commensurate with a redoubling of its animosity towards Iran.
Kushner then appears to have formulated a ‘peace plan’ with Saudi Arabia which was then recommended to Jordan. Unfortunately, although predictably, it was a heavily one-sided proposal in favour of Israel. It did not include provisions for the right of return of refugees, it did not indicate East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state and it relegated that state to a non-contiguous area of land approximating the Gaza Strip and West Bank – essentially a collection of scattered islets, reminiscent of the “fried chicken” so derisively offered by Israel, that could never realistically be considered a state, let alone be consistent with the international position of two states living side by side with respect to the pre-1967 borders.
Others have noted that Trump likely eventually received a ‘thumbs-up’ from Saudi Arabia prior to making his announcement, given with the advice that the Arab states remain too divided to mount a collective and meaningful response. The quality of this response remains to be established – although statements from the extraordinary session of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, held yesterday, are promising. Mahmoud Abbas, the long embattled leader of the Palestinian Authority at least managed to state the obvious, meaningfully, for the first time.
“We shall not accept any role for the United States in the peace process – they have proven their full bias in favour of Israel.”
The Palestinian Authority should perhaps be thankful to Trump for his obviously impartial stance. It has allowed for the ‘Peace Process’ – long a masquerade – to be exposed as fatally flawed. The interesting question thus raised is whether or not this was an intended consequence of Trump’s decision. Previous administrations have played a much more deft game of measured statements, in turn allowing them to make a (not very believable) pretence to neutrality. Trump seems to have missed the memo.
One answer is that there is a longer game afoot, the contours of which we aren’t yet able to fathom. I doubt this. The other is that Trump has just gone and messed up vis a vis the normal protocol of the United States on this issue. The outcries from foreign policy institutes and ‘think-tanks’ seems to imply such an error.
But how could this happen? Trump appears to have disregarded the will of most senior advisors and current and previous diplomats. Why? Because he is a powerfully driven Zionist? Of course not.
The answer is because, in the end, oligarchy wins. It is the eternal bond which must always be preserved – the pact between wealth and fate. And for Trump, as for oligarchy, there is only one supreme rule – favours for favours. One in cash, one in kind. Trump’s decision is a reflection of the golden rule of international and (especially in the United States) domestic politics. This relationship sits below the cleavage between competing historical or political views on the Israel/Palestine issue, indeed below the cleavage of any significant political or ideological conflict. Arms deals to competing sides in a conflict springs to mind as an obvious example. The conflict itself is immaterial. It is the banality at the core that really matters.
The Israel/Palestine issue is a cauldron of ideology, passion, truth and the distortion of truth. We could spend a long time discussing the racist, colonial-settler ideology of Zionism and the goals of its proponents, such as Sheldon Adelson. I’ve touched upon the complexity of the Arab world in relation to this issue also – a history that can be understood in sectarian, ethnic and cultural terms, but is best understood in US and Western imperialist terms. All of this history is absolutely relevant and important, no doubt.
But what interests me the most in this current scenario is that when everything is stripped away, what is left is the basic pact of oligarchy. Trump wanted more money and in particular more power – he wanted the Presidency. He then made a promise to an influential man with more money than him, racist colonial-settler views, and a newspaper chain capable of laying the groundwork for the normalisation of those views. Then, just last week, Trump fulfilled that promise. That is the bones of it.
Can it really be much more than that? Does anyone really believe Trump is even capable of a politically ideological crusade? I don’t. I doubt he has the requisite passion for any issue. His primary concern is himself, followed closely by his donors. His ideology is ‘Me’ – and for ‘Me’ to be protected I must ensure I protect those who provide ‘Me’ with power.
Of course the Israel/Palestine issue is definitely not just about money or personal power, especially for those deeply involved in it on either side. It is about religion, human rights, justice, imperialism, colonialism etc. My point is that for Trump it is just about that. For him the issue itself is almost irrelevant – Jerusalem may as well be on the moon. This is not to say that those around him are not ideologically driven. Mike Pence is an evangelical Christian, John Bolton is the worst kind of US imperialist and Jared Kushner is a clear Zionist – although we shouldn’t forget his more prosaic financial concerns given his investment in businesses in the Occupied Territories.
I have no doubt these people have the ear of Trump and helped to grease the wheels a bit. But in the end the decision was formulated in his mind alone – the mind of an infantile and insecure megalomaniac. I have little doubt that the final thought before a decision was “will this help me stay powerful and important?” And the answer was simple – “yes, because of my donors.”
Bernie Sanders helped bring the corruption of politics by money and vested interests, the emergence of an oligarchy, to the forefront of the US election. This improvement in the public consciousness cannot be understated. The purpose of this piece has been to lay out that, especially for Trump (but by no means exclusive to him) the debt to donors and their narrow interests created by an oligarchic system will always be paid, no matter the price – be that a ‘Peace Process’ and the very lives of those involved.
Policy decisions, even momentous ones like this with such wide-ranging international ramifications, are in the end made by rich people in pursuit of their own individual values and goals. As a system of governance this is terribly dangerous – the values and goals of a single person may be heinously distorted and their grip on reality may be tenuous. So it is in this case.
Trump is the apotheosis of this Faustian bargain. He is not really a person with ideas, opinions, visions or goals. He is not an ideologue. He is simply the perfect oligarchic node – a husk of a person – spurred on by the imminent threat of a narcissistic wound. He is the perfect combination of idiocy, amorality and insecurity. Money in, favours out, no questions asked. He also has the added benefit of being a buffoon – so the newspapers can be distracted by his latest inane utterance, while the structural and long-lasting reforms are often missed. Indeed his buffoonery is very useful to those with more ideologically driven agendas.
As long as policy is created for the enrichment and betterment of a particular wealthy class, and not in the interests of society as a whole, the very survival of our species is jeopardised. This is most true and pressing in relation to decisions on the environment and nuclear proliferation. In the current Israel/Palestine scenario, this diabolical covenant has thrown a match into a regional tinderbox. The fire that results obviously relates to the complexities and competing politics of the Israel/Palestine issue. But we should not excuse the crucial fact, least of all forget it, that the fire also results from that ever-present enabler of our worst impulses, money, and from the political power it is able to purchase.