Rashid Khalidi said today that the US opposition to the reunification of Palestinian parties exposes the “farce” that is the peace process. It is in fact a “bring them to the table on their knees process,” and the U.S. rejects a Northern Ireland model– in which George Mitchell negotiated among all parties to the conflict– because the Israel lobby won’t let it pursue that course.
And what does the future hold? Europe should put its foot down and distance itself from Netanyahu’s “obduracy and intransigence,” Khalidi said. And now that John Kerry’s promises of progress are “null and void,” the Palestinians should seek to join the International Criminal Court.
Palestinians don’t need permission from anyone to demand self-determination, Khalidi said. The US didn’t ask for permission in declaring independence. The Israelis didn’t, either.
The Columbia historian and former adviser to the PLO spoke on a conference call set up by the Institute for Middle East Understanding.
The audio is here; here are some of Khalidi’s lines.
A two state solution was possible in the 90s. Now it is “absolutely impossible in the view of most sane observers.”
“This process can’t lead anywhere.” Netanyahu has been “absolutely obdurate and intransigent in the 8 months so far” and is “about to be even more obdurate and intransigent” in response to Palestinian reunification moves.
Netanyahu’s demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state is something he “pulled out of a hat.” Khalidi never heard it before. But then the U.S. has echoed it, demonstrating the “identity of US and Israeli positions.”
Michael Brown of IMEU asked about the American demand that Palestinian parties all commit to nonviolence: “When has the US asked Israel in turn to also be nonviolent?” Khalidi:
The brief answer is never in my memory. There’s actually a double standard here… Unending grinding violence [in the occupation] is never remarked upon by the State Department… The only people who are held to that kind of standard of course are the Palestinians.
And in another instance of the double standard, Hamas is told it must recognize Israel’s right to exist, but Israel has never recognized “the inalienable right of self determination of Palestinians in their homeland.” And the U.S. aligns with Israel:
The kind of unambiguous recognition that is demanded of the Palestinians is never demanded of Israel.
So this is not a peace process but a “bring them to the table on their knees process,” a “subjugation” process.
Khalidi observed this himself. In 1991 Secretary of State James Baker assured Palestinians there would be a settlement freeze. The U.S. never followed through on that commitment, and Obama failed on the very same promise. Baker also said that a Palestinian state would be based on 1967 borders. Obama has also nullified that promise.
Congress and AIPAC constrain what the Obama administration can do. And “Congress lives in a parallel reality on the Palestine issue,” Khalidi said. “Even staffers that know better don’t dare utter the truth because that’s a toxic environment…”
On reunification: Hamas is weak today because it banked on the Morsi government’s support in Egypt, and that’s over; and because Palestinian public opinion is not favorable toward it.
Reunification would mean “crunch time” inside Hamas, Khalidi said. Some members of Hamas are perfectly willing to allow Fatah to negotiate for a sovereign contiguous Palestinian state with a capital in Jerusalem, and a popular referendum to approve it. Other Hamas leaders don’t approve of the process. Those two wings of Hamas have to resolve that difference.
And Fatah will have to decide that it’s going to take itself off the “morphine drip of American and Israeli support for essentially being a service agency for the occupation.”
At first Obama seemed to understand that an agreement had to include all Palestinian parties, just as the Northern Ireland deal included Irish forces committed to violence. That is why he dispatched George Mitchell, who had negotiated the Irish peace.
“Basically Mitchell was sent back by Congress,” Khalidi said. He was told, “You can’t do this [talk to Hamas], this is illegal.” And Congress, driven by AIPAC, told the administration they wouldn’t allow any kind of Northern Ireland route.
The Obama administration still smarts from that defeat.
What will change that dynamic? The EU must take a stronger role, and say, This is not the Palestinians’ fault, it is Israel’s, and we have to play a part in these talks because our security depends upon it: We’re close to the region, we need the energy, and our own Muslim population is alienated by this policy.
“We insist on our voices being heard,” Khalidi imagines Europe saying. And then the Israelis wouldn’t be able to hide themselves behind Americans, but would get a “reality check.”
Should Palestinians seek to join the International Criminal Court now?
“If I were the Palestinians, I would say that the agreement that they entered into at the beginning of the Kerry round… is now null and void because there’s been no progress whatsoever,” Khalidi said. The Palestinians had promised Kerry not to seek standing at the ICC because they were promised they’d see rapid progress in peace talks. Now we know that’s a “farce.” And so they could well conclude:
“So this thing is over, and therefore they should start joining not just the ICC but all kinds of other UN bodies. I don’t see any downside to this. The idea that the Palestinians don’t have a right to self determination is unacceptable.”
Khalidi said. Israel didn’t depend on external approval when it declared its independence, he said; it didn’t ask for Palestinian permission in 1948. A Palestinian state might well require negotiation to come into existence, but Palestinians must not “go on their knees.” He said,
“So I see absolutely no reason why the Palestinians should refrain from doing that [going to the ICC]… The Palestinians have absolutely nothing to lose.”
The downside, Khalidi said, would be the end of comfort for the Palestinians on the West Bank who have come to depend on international subsidy.
As for civil society, Khalidi said he sees Kerry’s failure strengthening the call for boycott, divestment and sanctions. It’s essential for Palestinians to strengthen their position and put pressure on Israel; BDS does so.
He said, “If you don’t want the Palestinians to use violence and you won’t approve of their using things like BDS, are you saying that they must remain on their knees for the rest of eternity?”