I’ve been reading Rashid Khalidi’s book The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood, published in 2006, and I find it crushing. Why?
The book is a sober and insightful exploration of the Palestinian condition. Below you can read much of its conclusion. And what you will see is that the current impasse was predicted completely by Khalidi four years ago: continued Israeli expansion, apartheid, denial of rights, Palestinian humiliation and rage, and the destruction of the American reputation overseas because of our imbalanced policy. Khalidi didn’t predict the remarkable nonviolent movement that has arisen in recent years–still he saw that the "captives of the powerful Israeli nation-state" would come up with new ways of seeking their "inalienable national rights."
What I find crushing is that Khalidi was a friend/neighbor of Barack Obama in Chicago, indeed Obama described him as a teacher at Khalidi’s going-away party in 2003; and and of course in 2008 Khalidi was specifically targeted during the campaign and essentially purged from any possible advisory role. That’s an American tragedy. Here’s an intellectual with tremendous insight involving one of the most important foreign-policy problems that face us, with a unique connection to a rising politician, and poof, he’s gone, thanks to the Israel lobby. Here’s Barack Obama throwing Khalidi under the bus:
“[Khalidi] is not one of my advisors; he’s not one of my foreign policy people. His kids went to the Lab school where my kids go as well. He is a respected scholar, although he vehemently disagrees with a lot of Israel’s policy…To pluck out one person who I know and who I’ve had a conversation with who has very different views than 900 of my friends and then to suggest that somehow that shows that maybe I’m not sufficiently pro-Israel, I think, is a very problematic stand to take…So we gotta be careful about guilt by association.”
Guilt. And what is Khalidi guilty of? Vision–about the crisis that Obama now finds himself facing in Israel/Palestine. From The Iron Cage:
[T]he putative locus for a truly independent, viable, contiguous Palestinian state is constantly and perhaps irrevocably shrinking, and may now indeed have shrunk beyond the possibility of recovery. It is worth keeping in mind, however, that, as historian Tony Judt has memorably noted, what one politician – American or Israeli – has done, another can undo. One of the new realities is that by removing the last feeble assertion of America’s objection in principle to Israeli acquisition of territory by force, and to the building and expansion of illegal settlements, President Bush has given perhaps the last impetus necessary to the bulldozer-like progression of Israeli settlement enterprise across the length and breadth of the occupied West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem.
One can assume that the present Israeli government will make the most of the opportunity provided by the new circumstances. …The ongoing and ceaseless expansion of these settlement blocks, and their enclosures in the system of great walls, fences, and barriers being rapidly erected by Israel at enormous cost, has now been legitimized by President Bush, and will eventually turn the West Bank permanently into numerous small cantons…
The future of the Palestinians and of the state of Israel, and the question of whether or not there will ever be a state of Palestine, will in some measure be defined by these realities and by how they develop in the near future. In the end, of course, this attempt to impose an American-Israeli devised settlement will backfire: no “agreement” that does not have the freely expressed consent of the Palestinian people will stand, any more that would an agreement made in the absence of representatives of the Israeli people… Sooner or later Israelis themselves will realize, as some of their most respected intellectuals already have, that the way to deal with the hostility of the colonized is not to repress it, but to dismantle the structures of colonialism and repression that originally engendered it.
In the meantime, the entire process will involve further damage to the standing of the United States, whose effective support of settlement, colonization, theft, and occupation make it look to all the world like a superpower bully, conniving its powerful local ally to impose its will on the weak and the powerless…
What are we left with, as far as the state of Palestine is concerned? Certainly the aspirations of the Palestinians to live as a sovereign people in their own land are likely to be further denied, for a time at least and perhaps lastingly….
The realities on the ground will drive the Palestinians and the Israelis now living under the unique sovereignty and control of Israel into an entirely new configuration. How long the current configuration will continue (a situation worse, in some senses, than apartheid); what will follow after its evolution, if it does evolve; and what the state of Palestine will be at the end of the process, no one can say. It will certainly not improve if there is a continuing refusal to look honestly at what has happened in this small land over the past century or so, and especially at how repeatedly forcing the Palestinians into an impossible corner, into an iron cage, has brought, and ultimately can bring, no lasting good to anyone.