The other night in Brooklyn, Rashid Khalidi gave a talk on the U.S. role in the peace process, and a friend leaned over to me and said she had never seen the scholar so impassioned. It was quite a performance, as you can see from the video excerpt above.
Anybody who is talking about a Palestinian state is talking about Wizard of Oz stuff. It’s not a reality… There is one state between the river and the sea. The Palestinians have a fife-and-drum corps, and control over nothing.
Khalidi recently published a book called Brokers of Deceit on how the US has continually set back Palestinian freedom throughout the peace process. The Columbia University historian served on the Palestinian team during the Madrid process and in 2008 was described as a confidante of his former Chicago neighbor, Barack Obama– till the neocons began smearing him and any hope we had that Khalidi might guide policy went out the window.
Below are some of Khalidi’s other comments, in an appearance at Brooklyn for Peace (sponsored by a wide array of organizations from Adalah to Jews Say No to Kolot Chayeinu). If you’re tired of looking at the screen, go to his Martin Indyk story at the bottom. Crushing.
The occupied territories should be understood as “bantustans,” Khalidi said, in which Israel controls all Palestinian life, and even birth registries and citizen registries are held by Israel. His most passionate bit is at 3:30 in the video, about the West Bank:
The overwhelming majority of the population is hemmed up in the less than 10 percent of the West Bank that is Area A. So that’s not a state. It is inconceivable to talk about that as a state. It does inordinate violence to language to allow THAT travesty to be called a state. Leave alone the violence done to the people. Anyone who respects what they say should not allow themselves to call that a Palestinian state. That is a gussied up Palestinian prison forever– you can use any terms you want.
On Arab popular opinion:
This [American] policy can only continue as long as undemocratic governments continue to dominate the Arab world, governments like Saudi Arabia…. People in the Arab world are overwhelmingly sympathetic to the Palestinians and completely baffled as to why the United States should follow the policies that it does. If you want to understand anti-Americanism in the Arab world, look first and foremost to the Palestine issue. It poisons everything else. And anybody who looks at the region with an unbiased eye knows this. This has been completely blotted out of our consciousness. “They don’t care about Palestine,” we’re told. Of course they do. Every poll tells us this. Everybody who goes there will tell you that they do…. Israel is a huge albatross around the neck of the United States…
On why Obama’s peace process has gone nowhere:
You may remember that when the president came into office back in the heady days of 2009… everyone was thinking everything was going to change…. He named Senator Mitchell as mediator and he took a number of positions which looked as if they marked a change in US policy. He insisted that there be a settlement freeze before negotiations begin, he insisted that the 1967 lines be the basis for future borders, and he insisted that there should be rapid movement toward a Palestinian state. At one point he said this should be solved in one year.
Over this period throughout his first term, the president faced relentless pressure on the issue of Palestine. Not just from the Israeli prime minister, Netanyahu, but also from the Republican leadership in Congress, who as you can remember in 2010 took over the House, as well as of course from the Israeli lobby. This tripartite pressure, from the Israeli government and from their allies in Congress and in the lobby– you may remember the time that Netanyahu spoke before Congress and got 35 standing ovations. The president obviously was not in a position in those days to get 35 standing ovations from the Congress
Netanyahu was in effect in a stronger position in Washington than the president himself.
This pressure forced the president into humiliating retreats from every one of his positions. He gave them up. He has not insisted on a settlement freeze since then, he has not insisted on the 67 lines, and obviously we are five years into his presidency and there is no Palestinian state. So he has given up all his positions.
And incidentally these are not new positions. They are positions taken by previous American presidents that President Obama was simply reiterating. He was forced to back down on all of them.
These moments of clarity illuminate policies which I think are obfuscated in most of what we see in the media and in what passes for scholarly writing, obscured by corrupt deceitful language of the sort that Orwell was telling us about. This mantra about a peace process has obscured the reality, that the process the U.S. was championing in fact wasn’t directed at achieving peace between the Palestinians and Israelis on the basis of two fully-independent viable contiguous states living side by side in some way that would bring peace and justice. That’s what the U.S. said it was doing. If it were really doing it would have had to insist on a complete immediate and unconditional dismantling of the military occupation and the settlements. We never did that. And without a quid pro quo: settlements are illegal, there should be no compensation… But in fact what we’re bargaining over is the quid pro quo…
There should be acceptance of Palestinian self determination within political borders. And there should be a just resolution for the majority of Palestinians, most of whom don’t live in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Most Palestinians are refugees and descendants of Palestinian refugees living outside of historical Palestine… They need a resolution of their problem, and any– any solution that does not address that is not a solution at all. Those are not the things the U.S. has been doing. In fact most of what the U.S. has been doing is trying to bully the Palestinians to conform to the positions of Israel over many many decades.
Khalidi also told a story about Martin Indyk, the special envoy for the U.S. State Department on the issue. He noted that Indyk founded the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in 1985, after a rich sponsor, Barbi Weinberg, figured out that Israel would be much more effective in Washington if AIPAC had as an echo chamber a thinktank– “and that’s what the Washington Institute is.”
But my favorite Indyk story has to do with when President Bush lost the 1992 elections, and we were in the middle of negotiations in Washington, and we were told– I think this might have been January 1993– that somebody from the Clinton transition team would be coming to speak to us and give us an idea of where the new administration would go. And we were eagerly anticipating the arrival of whoever the Clinton administration was going to send. And in the door walked someone who to our knowledge was an Israel lobbyist. I said, Oh my god, we thought it couldn’t get any worse than Dennis Ross. It’s just gotten worse.
And Indyk is only the most egregious example. Dennis Ross is another one. And there are several others. Some I think have been better than others. All of them have a deep sympathy of some sort of another for Israel. This has really been true going back to the Bush administration, the Reagan administration, way way back. Today it’s exceptional if you find anybody who has a deep sympathy for the Palestinians anywhere in our government. There are a couple of them, but they’re probably kept as far away as possible from the issue. And they’re certainly not visible if they’re there.
It’s just another example of how absolutely biased the thing is. The sad truth however is that the Palestinian side of these negotiations has been egging to have Indyk involved [lately], where the Israeli side wants to keep him out. That says more I think about the Palestinian Authority than about anything else.