"We are witnessing the last vestiges of what has been known as the Arab-Israeli conflict," Jared Kushner crowed in The Wall Street Journal two months ago.
He was surveying the results of the Abraham Accords, the ersatz Middle East peace plan he helped negotiate under Donald Trump. At the heart of his supreme self-assurance, and of the accords themselves, was the deadly fiction that the Palestinians were so abject and defeated that Israel could simply ignore their demands.
"One of the reasons the Arab-Israeli conflict persisted for so long was the myth that it could be solved only after Israel and the Palestinians resolved their differences," wrote Kushner. "That was never true. The Abraham Accords exposed the conflict as nothing more than a real-estate dispute between Israelis and Palestinians that need not hold up Israel's relations with the broader Arab world."
To circumvent that dispute, the United States set about bribing other Arab and Muslim countries to normalize relations with Israel. The United Arab Emirates got an enormous arms deal. Morocco got Trump to support its annexation of the Western Sahara. Sudan got taken off America's list of state sponsors of terrorism.
But the explosion of fighting in Israel and Palestine in recent days makes clear something that never should have been in doubt: justice for the Palestinians is a precondition for peace. And one reason there has been so little justice for the Palestinians is because of the foreign policy of the United States.
"I don't think that there's any way that this occupation and creeping annexation process could have gotten where it is today if the United States had said no," said Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of the liberal Zionist group J-Street.
One can condemn Hamas and its rockets and still recognize that this current conflagration began with Israeli overreach born of a sense of impunity. A major flashpoint was the campaign led by Israeli settlers to evict Palestinian families from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
Palestinians fear, not without reason, that Israel is trying to push them out of Jerusalem altogether. That, in turn, has let Hamas position itself as Jerusalem's protector. And Israel seems to consider its right to defend itself from Hamas justification for causing obscene numbers of civilian casualties.
To be fair, this is not something that began with Trump: America has been enabling Israel's occupation and settlement project for decades. Tareq Baconi, a Ramallah-based senior analyst for the International Crisis Group, argued that in some ways the Trump administration was simply more honest than its predecessors about its disregard for the Palestinians.
Before Trump, it was common to say that the occupation would eventually force Israel to choose between being a Jewish state and a democratic one. During the Trump years, Israel's choice became undeniable.
Israel's 2018 "nation-state law" enshrined "Jewish settlement as a national value" and undermined the legal equality of Israel's Arab citizens. As settlements expanded, a two-state solution turned from a distant dream into a fantasy.
The death of a two-state framework, Baconi said, has strengthened a sense of common destiny between Palestinians in the occupied territories and Arab-Israelis, or, as many refer to themselves, Palestinian citizens of Israel.
All this mayhem is overdetermined; nearly every iniquity in the region has an impossibly complicated prehistory. But the United States has underwritten both Palestinian subjugation and the growing power of Jewish ethnonationalism. It's not enough for Joe Biden to be a little bit better than Trump or to try to restart a spectral "peace process." If Israel can no longer afford to ignore the demands of the Palestinians, neither can we.
The New York Times