No US-backed Middle East deal without peace
The Trump administration has been boasting about clinching the "deal of the century," but there is no deal, nor will there be.
Trump may have scored a foreign policy success on North Korea, but hammering out a deal between Israel and the Palestinians will never happen under the current US administration.
As PLO member Hanan Ashrawi told me this week in Pretoria, "it seems Trump has left the so-called Ultimate Deal to the arch Zionists to decide, like his son-in-law Jared Kushner who supports settlements, David Friedman the US Ambassador to Israel, and Jason Greenblatt, his lawyer. But there is no deal as there is no recipe for peace."
When Ashrawi says there is no recipe for peace she points firstly to the fact that the US has tried to take Jerusalem off the table, but the Palestinians will never compromise on East Jerusalem being the capital of an independent Palestinian state.
Ashrawi also notes that the US has targeted Palestinian refugees by cutting all US funding for UNRWA - the UN agency which takes care of Palestinian refugees.
But worse than that, the US now wants to redefine what a Palestinian refugee is.
Instead of recognising the 5.5 million refugees that the UN does, many emanating from 1967, the US now wants to consider only the 1948 refugees of which Ashrawi says there are only about 40,000 left living.
Not only is the US "defunding" the Palestinian hospital in Jerusalem, but also NGOs in the occupied territories.
The PLO office in Washington has been closed by the Trump administration, as has the US consulate in Jerusalem which has served as a mission to the Palestinians since 1844.
On a broader level, the Trump administration has refused Palestinian statehood, refused to call Israeli settlements illegal which they are under international law, and refused to recognise the 1967 borders which the UN has consistently recognised.
"They are smashing the requirements of peace, there is nothing left to talk about," Ashrawi told me.
"Not only are they a partner in occupation, but they try to give Israel international impunity."
It would seem that the US wants the Palestinians to admit they are defeated, but that would go against the DNA of Palestinians and their struggle.
For Ashrawi, all that is left is to wage an international campaign of solidarity with the Palestinian people.
While Ashrawi wants the international community to push back against attempts by Israel to criminalize the BDS movement and equate it with antisemitism, she also believes that allies in Israel who are people of conscience should not be boycotted as they are crucial.
Ashrawi makes reference to the progressive Israeli organizations which support the Palestinian struggle such as Rabbis for Human Rights, B’tselem, Committee Against House Demolitions, and Combatants for Peace, among others.
Ashrawi believes that South Africa has a critical role to play, first within the African Union and also in BRICS, where it can raise its voice and mobilize support for the Palestinian cause.
"Israel must know there is a price to be paid for their violations of international law," Ashrawi says.
But even beyond that will be South Africa's presence on the UN Security Council in 2019/2020 where the Palestinians are relying on courageous voices.
Regarding South Africa's decision to downgrade its embassy in Tel Aviv, which is informed by the ANC's 54th conference resolution, Ashrawi believes that the sooner the embassy is downgraded the more effective it will be.
"It sends the message that there are still governments that act on principle, which is a very responsible and moral position."
The Palestinians have also pinned their hopes on the International Criminal Court, which they had initially approached due to the continued construction of illegal settlements and killing of civilians, both of which are considered war crimes.
"We need the ICC to investigate beyond the preliminary investigation," Ashrawi says. The ICC, which is accused of focusing predominantly on human rights violations in Africa, has a chance to prove its mettle by fully investigating the cases the Palestinian leadership has brought to it.
But as for the role and responsibility of the Palestinians themselves, Ashrawi acknowledges that Palestinian unity is crucial and there is still a long way to go.
"Hamas must be part of the PLO and reactivate the democratic system," Ashrawi said.
It is no secret that the leader of Hamas in the Gaza strip Mahmoud al-Zahar was in South Africa this week at the same time as Ashrawi, but there was no interaction or even awareness of each other's visits, which indicates just how far apart the Palestinian factions remain.
Without Palestinian unity there is little chance of them succeeding in creating a two state solution.