No 701 Posted by fw, March 20, 2013
“It [US policy] was never designed to achieve independent Palestinian statehood. It was never designed to end the occupation. I try and show in the book [Brokers of Deceit] that it really was designed, of all people, by Menachem Begin, to make permanent Israeli control over the Occupied Territories. And that is what it has succeeded in doing up ’til now.” — Rashid Khalidi
In his new book, Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East, Palestinian-American scholar Rashid Khalidi argues that the United States could in fact play a decisive role in achieving Middle East peace if it simply reversed decades of policy backing the Israeli occupation. Khalidi draws on his research as a historian, and on his own experience as an advisor to Palestinian negotiators, to argue that far from being an impartial broker, the United States has effectively acted as Israel’s lawyer.
To watch an interview with Khalidi and access a full transcript, click on the following linked title. Alternatively, posted below is the embedded 18-minute video along with an abridged transcript, featuring subheadings, added links, and text highlighting.
[Introduction] As the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq is marked around the world today, President Obama is heading to the Middle East. He’ll be visiting Israel, making the first trip there of his presidency. Obama’s three-day tour also includes stops in the occupied West Bank on Thursday and in Jordan on Friday….Obama will not be visiting Gaza, which continues to languish under an Israeli blockade and recover from the most recent Israeli assault in November…. The White House has taken pains to play down expectations, billing Obama’s trip a “listening tour.” Obama’s supporters say the mission reflects the reality of the Middle East conflict, with the U.S. unable to forcefully change an intractable dispute.
[Unless otherwise noted, all the following comments were made by Rashid Khalidi]
What Obama should do, but won’t, is to reverse several decades of failed policy
Well, what he should do is probably what he won’t do, which is to reverse, as you suggested, several decades of policy. The approach that’s been followed until now has failed comprehensively.
Menachem Begin influenced US policy to give Israel permanent control over Occupied Territories
It was never designed to achieve independent Palestinian statehood. It was never designed to end the occupation. I try and show in the book [Brokers of Deceit] that it really was designed, of all people, by Menachem Begin, to make permanent Israeli control over the Occupied Territories. And that is what it has succeeded in doing up ’til now.
Obama should stop funding policies that have created obstacles to peace
So, I think what the president should do is lay down a couple of markers: The United States is fundamentally opposed to occupation, which has to be ended, and the United States is fundamentally opposed to the absorption of territory into Israel through this settlement process. I don’t think that, by and of itself, that will solve the problem, but at least it would separate the United States from Israel and would make it clear that we will no longer bankroll policies that have, in my view, already made a two-state solution virtually impossible, and that have created obstacles that will be almost impossible to overcome in the short term.
For the past 35 years the US has made the conflict much worse
Well, the U.S. could do a lot more than it’s doing. What it has done up ’til now, in my view, certainly for the past 35 years, is to exacerbate the conflict, to make it much worse, by, in effect, supporting an Israeli position which really wasn’t directed at ending the conflict or at ending the occupation or at stopping settlement. By supporting that, in a variety of ways, we have made this thing infinitely more intractable. So, yes, the United States could play a role, but it has played a very negative role up ’til now.
Palestinian negotiators failed to get an Oslo agreement that could have led to statehood
Unfortunately, the people who negotiated Oslo from the Palestinian side didn’t take advantage of the experiences and lessons that we had gone through in Washington for two years, and did negotiate an agreement which did not lead to statehood. In fact, as he said in the clip that you just played, there was nothing in there about recognition of the Palestinian right to statehood or self-determination, which is one of many, many flaws in this agreement. This is why I said to Amy a minute ago, this was not a deal. This is not a structure that was designed to lead to a resolution of the conflict.
US is to blame for going along with Oslo agreement, a “grotesque, Orwellian process”
This is actually conflict maintenance, at best, that the United States is engaged in. And you can blame the Israelis, but I think we should blame our own government for going along with this charade. This is a travesty. This is a grotesque, Orwellian process. They use the word “peace process.” There is no peace. You’ve been at it for 35 years, and you haven’t produced peace, and you still talk about peace? Say this is a process in which the United States will, you know, do a Monte game in front of people, but don’t pretend that it’s a peace process.
Obama studiously avoided Middle East land mines on his road to the White House
Well, when I left Chicago in 2003, he was still a state senator, had not yet announced even for U.S. Senate. So, his publicly expressed views, with the exception of one speech he gave opposing the Iraq War just before it started—his publicly expressed views, at least, had nothing to do with the Middle East. And even privately, he was not someone who was expansive on the subject. He listened. We had had—there were various conversations. And this is a man who was worldly and knew something about the world, very intelligent, and I had the sense that he had some kind of understanding of things.
But he was a politician with eyes on higher office, and he understood perfectly well what the political train in Chicago, in Illinois, in the United States was. And so, long after I ceased to see him, after we left Chicago, it was very clear that he was an extraordinarily careful politician in not stepping on the various land mines that would have absolutely prevented his reaching higher office. So, I had very low expectations. And I think those expectations have been fully realized, unfortunately.
In his 2011 UN speech, Obama claims to support Palestinian state while seeking to convince diplomats to reject one —
We seek a future where Palestinians live in a sovereign state of their own, with no limit to what they can achieve. And there’s no question that the Palestinians have seen that vision delayed for too long. It is precisely because we believe so strongly in the aspirations of the Palestinian people that America has invested so much time and so much effort in the building of a Palestinian state and the negotiations that can deliver a Palestinian state.
America’s commitment to Israel’s security is unshakable. Our friendship with Israel is deep and enduring. And so we believe that any lasting peace must acknowledge the very real security concerns that Israel faces every single day. Let us be honest with ourselves: Israel is surrounded by neighbors that have waged repeated wars against it. Israel’s citizens have been killed by rockets fired at their houses and suicide bombs on their buses.
Once again we see a striking gap between Obama’s expectations and his words
Well, I think you could hear in that speech a repetition of some of the traditional tropes of the Israeli narrative of victimization. And if you start from there, that Israel is the country that needs security, Palestinian security is never mentioned, if you start from the idea that this is a country that represents the latest in a long line of persecution of the Jews, going back into history from the Holocaust all the back through the Inquisition and so forth, which the president actually, unfortunately, has done in many, many of his speeches. I mean, one of the things I go through in the book is the difference between expectations of President Obama and what he has actually said on this topic. And those are—that’s a perfect example of it.
For Israelis, their ‘security’ includes keeping Palestinians from water and preventing pasta from getting into Gaza
The Palestinians are a people who have lived either expelled from their homeland under authoritarian Arab governments or under occupation for the entirety of the past 60 years. And nobody talks about their security. Of course the Israelis need security. But the expansive nature of that term in the Israeli lexicon includes things like keeping poor villagers in the southern part of the West Bank from getting water. That would threaten Israeli security. It includes preventing pasta from getting into the Gaza Strip. I mean, those are the kinds of things that are done in the name of security, because this term is so expansive in the Israeli-American lexicon.
By following a pro-Israeli narrative for decades the US has “consecrated a very bad status quo”
So, starting from that point, you’re not going to get to a resolution. If the United States continues to adopt this one-sided Israeli narrative, which it has under several presidents—I don’t just fault this president; I talk about President Carter, President Bush Sr. and so forth—you’re not going to get to a resolution. You’re going to get where you are: a pro-Israel position that leads to further consecration of a very, very bad status quo.
For decades Israeli planners have contrived to make a viable Palestinian state impossible
Because for decades Israeli planners have systematically acted in ways to make a state impossible, by building settlements in regions that make it impossible to create a contiguous, viable Palestinian state—the settlement of Ariel, the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. These are designed to cut the West Bank into strips, such that Israel controls most of it, if these so-called settlement blocs stay where they are.
And with tax dollars, the US bankrolls Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territories
And we are bankrolling this. We give Israel $3 billion, with which it defends its occupation. I mean, these are weapons supposedly just for self-defense, but defending an illegal occupation is not self-defense. And a lot of those weapons are used for that purpose. And through 501(c)(3) so-called charities, which funnel money to extremist, violent, radical, racist settlers in the Occupied Territories. We—our tax dollars, in effect, are being used to subsidize the very settlements themselves.
So, all of this has created a reality, which—I mean, Tony Judt [historian, advocate of a one-state solution] once said, what any politician has done, another politician can undo. Any one of our politicians could stop those policies. Any Israeli politician could start to reverse that process. I just don’t see that happening. That’s why I say it’s virtually impossible. We’re stuck, in effect, with a one-state outcome right now. There’s one state between the Mediterranean and the sea—sorry, between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River.
American people can do two things about this situation – push for policy changes and press for scrutiny of US charitable donations
We should be pushing for a change in our country’s policies, OK? You can’t force the Israelis to do anything at this stage. You can’t force the Palestinians to do anything, either. But what you can do is change your own policies. I mean, are our weapons being used for self-defense? That’s $3 billion a year of our weapons. $115 billion in aid have gone to Israel, most of it since 1973. That’s the most any country has gotten. Don’t we have the obligation to investigate how that money is being used, for what purposes?
The second thing we can do is to see to it that tax dollars that are going to these so-called charitable organizations are in fact going to charities. I mean, if it’s going to a hospital in Tel Aviv, fine. If it’s going to the Occupied Territories, I don’t understand why the IRS and the Treasury Department aren’t cracking down on that the way they’re cracking down on other things. So, I think there many things we, as citizens, can do to ensure that the United States is no longer the enabler and the bankroller of policies that most Americans—and, for that matter, most Israelis, actually—find reprehensible.
Until the PA – Hamas split is resolved Palestinians have no hope of changing their situation
It’s a huge obstacle. And it’s a terrible, divisive issue. And this is the Palestinians’ fault. I mean, you can blame the United States or Israel until the cows come home for exacerbating the split, but you can’t blame them for the split. This is the Palestinians’ responsibility. And until this split is healed—and, in fact, until the policies that both of these groups, in my view, represent, which are bankrupt, are changed—the Palestinians have no hope of changing their situation. And that is—that’s down to them. That’s up to the Palestinians. And there’s enormous dissatisfaction with the policies of the PA in Ramallah. There’s enormous dissatisfaction in Gaza with the Hamas government, and public opinion, really, is very much against them. The problem is, these are people strongly supported from outside and who have vested interests in the status quo, whether they’re sitting in luxury in Ramallah or whether they’re enjoying the perks of government in Gaza. So, this is a Palestinian responsibility, and without changing these realities, the Palestinians are not going to be able to get off square one.
Why Khalidi refers to the U.S. as “Israel’s lawyer” in his book Brokers of Deceit?
Well, I’m quoting Aaron David Miller, who was talking about himself and his fellow American diplomats, who in fact were not doing the job that they were supposed to do nominally, which was to be, you know, disinterested mediators, but instead were shilling for Israel, in effect. And he, in turn—Miller in his book and in an article he wrote with that title—was quoting Henry Kissinger. So, this is not my description; this is Henry Kissinger and Aaron David Miller’s description. And I heartily endorse it.