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Part 2: Rashid Khalidi Details How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East

Web ExclusiveMarch 19, 2013
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As we continue our conversation with Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University, he explains the thesis of his latest book, Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East.

Click here to see part one of this interview.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Aaron Maté. Our guest is Rashid Khalidi. He is the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University. His latest book is Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East. Your title, Professor Khalidi, Brokers of Deceit, explain.

RASHID KHALIDI: I was going to use “Dishonest Broker,” and I found the title had been taken. And as I worked on this, I realized this is really a process of deceit. I start with a quote from George Orwell about dishonest language. And this is really what all of these terms that we’ve gotten so used to amount to. They amount to an Orwellian distortion of language. “Security,” earlier in the show, I talked about how that term has been misused. “Peace process,” “autonomy,” I mean, what Begin offered at Camp David. And what has really been the ceiling that the Palestinians—

AMY GOODMAN: And explain, for people—I mean, for young people who weren’t even born then—


AMY GOODMAN: —explain who Menachem Begin was.

RASHID KHALIDI: Menachem Begin was elected in 1977 as prime minister of Israel, with a policy that was the expansion of Israel into what he called the “Greater Land of Israel.” And that’s what the settlements are really all about. They’re not just to put some people on this hilltop. They are to create a situation such that Israel continues to control the entirety of not just pre-’67 Israel but also the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem.

And so, Begin came into office in 1977 right after President Carter, and in the negotiations at Camp David, whereas he finally gave in and accepted the idea of peace with Egypt, he held firm on the issue of the Occupied Territories. He was not going to allow a Palestinian state. I quote in the book both Begin’s handwritten notes at the time of Camp David and an American intelligence assessment a little bit later on how flexible he might be on this. And it’s really clear what his red lines were: There would be no independent Palestinian state. He was right about that. Thirty-five years later, there isn’t. There would be complete freedom for Israel to settle throughout the Occupied Territories. He was completely right on that. Thirty-five years later, that is in fact what has happened. We have had Israeli prime minister after Israeli prime minister insisting on exactly the same condition. Israel would control land and water. Israel would control security. Jerusalem belonged to Israel alone. Only Israelis—only Israel has a right in this land.

And all of these things, these principles, have, in effect, become the core of not only Israeli policy, because right-wing governments have dominated since Begin was elected in '77, but have become the ceiling which the United States will allow to the Palestinians. So, we're not only not an honest broker; we’ve, in effect, aligned ourselves as Israel’s lawyer, with a position that was first devised by Begin back in '77. So, yeah, he's a figure of ancient history, say, to my students, who are in their twenties, but his ghost is alive in the very arrangements that American policy makers talk about and that have been imposed on the Palestinians.

AARON MATÉ: But the narrative that we hear is that this sort of policy has changed over the years. And it culminates in July 2000, when Israel, with U.S. backing, President Clinton supposedly offers Arafat this generous offer.


AARON MATÉ: Can you talk about this period? And what has been the effect of this belief system that the U.S. and Israel have offered something generous to Palestinians, but it’s been Arafat and the Palestinians that have walked away.

RASHID KHALIDI: Right. This is a very, a very well established narrative, that that’s what happened. The same thing is described as having happened in 2008 at the time that Mahmoud Abbas and then-Prime Minister Olmert were involved in a similar negotiation. In fact, at Camp David, with President Clinton overseeing a negotiation between then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat, what Israel was offering was within that same ceiling that Begin foresaw. That is to say, there would not have been complete sovereignty. Israel would have maintained security control over the entirety of the Occupied Territories. And that’s the definition of “occupation.” The definition of “occupation” is control. Israel would have controlled the crossings across the Jordan River. Israel would have controlled entry and exit, as it does today.

So, yes, there was territorial changes that Barak was offering. The numbers are completely specious that have been thrown around: 90 percent, 80 percent. First of all, he never offered a map, so who is saying 90 percent? The people who are claiming, the Israelis who have claimed that it was a terribly generous offer, don’t actually have a map, because no map was ever actually offered. The only details were put down by the Americans. And that was not Barak’s offer; that was President Clinton trying to mediate.

So, if you look at things like Jerusalem, if you look at things like actual security control, and therefore occupation, it did not deviate, even though in some other respects it did deviate from the old Israeli position, which is that essentially what Begin said would be the limit of what the Palestinians would be allowed. There was not full independent statehood of a contiguous Palestinian state that would have had open borders and complete control over its resources.

AMY GOODMAN: What could lead to a two-state solution today? And is that desirable? And how do you feel about those who say, no, there should be one state?

RASHID KHALIDI: Well, I don’t advocate at this point for either. I think that we should proceed from the status quo and figure out how we get from where we are, the state that we’re in, which is a one-state—a de facto one-state setup, to a better state. And I think we should proceed on the basis of principles. The principle should be complete equality, both of citizens and peoples. There are two peoples here. There should not be an outcome in which one people has special rights—let’s say a right of return—which the other people doesn’t have. Either we’re talking about some kind of subjugation and subordination, where this people’s right is better and more important than another people’s right, or we’re talking about a settlement between two equals.

Similarly, individual rights—rights to land ownership, rights to property, all kinds of rights, which are drastically limited today within Israel for Palestinian citizens of the state of Israel. Most of the land of the state of Israel is state-controlled, and Palestinians cannot lease it or buy it. So, most of the land of that country, which was seized from its Palestinian owners after 1948, is effectively barred to Palestinians, whether to lease or buy. You can’t have a setup like that. You simply can’t have a setup like that in a final, positively negotiated solution. So I think that what we ought to be looking at is principles. We’re so far away from a real negotiation that I think we can afford to go back and look at first principles like that.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet, you have presidents like President Obama, you had Hillary Clinton, secretary—then-secretary of state, saying, “We support a two-state solution.”

RASHID KHALIDI: Well, the United States has done almost everything it could have done to make a two-state solution impossible by refusing to stop Israeli settlements, for example. If you really want a two-state solution, you have to, at the very least, stop the settlement process. I would argue you have to roll it back. I mean, there are settlements whose existence was predicated by Israeli planners on the assumption that that would prevent a viable Palestinian state. Well, you either have settlements, or you have a two-state solution. Ariel, Ma’ale Adumim—I’ve mentioned a couple of them, but there are a dozen of them, which are—which were created so as to make a two-state solution impossible. These were not created—how shall I say—by urban planners. These were created by strategists, like Ariel Sharon, who understood the topography and understood how control of this or that hilltop, this or that valley, this or that strip, would make a certain outcome impossible. And they’ve so far succeeded, with American acquiescence.

AARON MATÉ: But what about the argument that there’s no realistic program to achieve equality, that the reality on the ground speaks to the need to—just to advocate the pragmatic possibility, which is what most of the world supports, which is two states?

RASHID KHALIDI: Right. Well, I mean, I am happy to have people advocate for two states. I have no problem with it. But my argument to them is: What are you doing about these ongoing processes, this bulldozer that hasn’t stopped for 30-odd years, which has made a two-state solution impossible? If you really want a two-state solution, you have to be going at the things that make it impossible. And nobody’s doing that. I mean, they blather on about a two-state solution. Fine, do something about that. How do you stop occupation? How do you stop settlement? I mean, you have to reverse processes that have been going on since June of 1967, which in a couple months is going to be 46 years.

AMY GOODMAN: You express great pessimism here, and yet public opinion in the United States has changed.

RASHID KHALIDI: Mm-hmm, it really has. It really has. I mean, I see this as a teacher and as someone who lectures around the country, especially with young people, across all communities. There has been a sea change, in fact. It’s not fully visible, I think, on the political—it’s not visible at all on the political level. It’s not very visible even yet in the media, though in the new media, not just what you all do, not just—but a whole range of new media, it’s much more visible than it is in the mainstream media. But among younger people all over the country, it is very, very clear that there has been a re-evaluation of a lot of things. They don’t have the same knee-jerk reactions. They’re not snapped back into line by being scared by people who say, “You’re an anti-Semite if you say this,” or “You’re forgetting the Holocaust,” or whatever it may be. The same old recipes don’t work with them. And so I find that the younger people—smarter people, frankly—are simply unwilling to accept some of the old, tired narratives that have prevailed in American public life.

AMY GOODMAN: So how do you see that translating? How could that change what is happening in Israel, since the United States is so key in its support of Israel?

RASHID KHALIDI: Right. Well, I don’t know how it will—how it will affect Israel directly, but I think it will affect this country sooner or later. I think there’s going to, sooner or later, have to be a struggle within the Jewish community between the overwhelming majority—let’s say, look at the last election. In effect, Prime Minister Netanyahu campaigned for Romney. Romney took a position that was even more pro-Likud than Likud. And 68 percent of American Jewish voters voted for the president. They voted for Obama, and they voted against Netanyahu. Well, the leadership of this—the nominal, so-called self-appointed leadership of this community is to the right of Genghis Khan. I mean, they’re farther to the right than Netanyahu himself, in fact. Who do they really represent? Well, they represent a moneyed, elderly clique that controls these institutions. They don’t represent the 68 percent of voters who voted for Obama. They certainly don’t represent the kids on the campuses. I mean, many kids on the campuses are hard-line and pro-Israel and so on and so forth, but an overwhelming majority of them, as far as I can tell, are not in that category and are not represented by the positions of, say, AIPAC or, say, the ADL or, say, the American Jewish community. So, that’s one place that I think there may be an impact sooner or later. And I don’t know how this plays out into politics. That’s a little hard to predict. But I cannot imagine that our politics are, sooner or later, not going to be affected by it.

AARON MATÉ: Well, is it time, then, to forcefully start engaging in the political process to build more efforts towards a counterweight to AIPAC and actually to start working in Washington, building the lobby groups that are starting to build? Is it time to start dealing with Washington?

RASHID KHALIDI: I think that you start at the grassroots first. I mean, people are beginning to try and impact Washington, and I’m sure that that will have a positive effect over time. But where I see the most impact is with things like the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, things like Jewish Voices for Peace, things like Students for Justice in Palestine, campus groups, so far, student groups, which are becoming—the Campaign Against the Israeli Occupation—which are becoming national groups and national campaigns and are beginning to link up, and which, I hope, will sooner or later have some kind of impact on the political level, whether in Washington or on another level, such that people can get elected without taking this knee-jerk, ludicrously pro-Israel position.

AMY GOODMAN: We only have a few more minutes. We’re speaking with Professor Rashid Khalidi. His latest book is Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East. It’s also the 10th anniversary of the U.S. bombing of Iraq. What do you say to those who say, “Is Iraq better than it was 10 years ago? Well, Saddam Hussein is gone.”

RASHID KHALIDI: I’m sure nobody is unhappy to see Saddam Hussein gone, except maybe his own family. But I don’t think most Iraqis think that it’s been—that the result has been a positive one. The suffering inflicted on Iraq was so enormous, and is still so enormous, that I actually think that most Iraqis probably regret the last 10 years very, very bitterly. Millions of Iraqis were displaced. That’s one of the things that was not mentioned in your excellent reportage on the war in the previous hour. It’s not just people killed. It’s not just people wounded. It’s not just the destruction of the entire structure of government. Every government ministry, except the oil ministry, was looted. All of the archives of the state of Iraq were destroyed. I mean, things like that are irreplaceable. It’s also that huge numbers of Iraqis, literally millions, were displaced. Over a million became refugees outside their own country, maybe a million and a half. Nobody really knows the numbers. And millions were displaced inside the country, sometimes for many years. The cost of that kind of thing to schooling, trauma to children, and so on and so forth, are so enormous that I think most Iraqis, even though they hated the regime, look back on the pre-2003 years, if not with nostalgia, at least with the sense that, my god, however bad it was, we haven’t had to put up with this. In 10 years, the Iraqis have still—of occupation and so-called reconstruction, they still cannot provide electricity to most parts of Iraq. Can you imagine that? A country that exports three billion—three million barrels of oil a day cannot provide electricity to its citizens 10 years after the invasion? I mean, what a miserable—I mean, can you imagine living without electricity every single day there are cuts in Baghdad?

AARON MATÉ: I wanted to ask you about Saudi Arabia.


AARON MATÉ: You talk in your book about the role that Saudi Arabia plays in the Middle East.


AARON MATÉ: If you could talk about that in relation to Palestine, but also then to Syria, as well.

RASHID KHALIDI: Right. Well, I talk about both, in fact, in the book. One of the unseen, unheard, invisible aspects of the status quo, as far as U.S. policy is concerned, is what you could call the dog that didn’t bark in the night. The fact that Saudi Arabia and other Arab oil monarchies, that would appear to be so influential and so capable of achieving some kind of influence, have not exerted that influence at all, ever, under any circumstances, since 1945, when President Roosevelt, just before he died, made a pledge to King Ibn Saud that the United States would never harm the Arabs in Palestine and would always consult with him. That pledge has not been kept, and the United States has basically been able to take these countries for granted. So, they have not played a positive role. They’ve enabled, in other words, a policy that has been very harmful to the Palestinians.

As far as Syria and the Arab Spring are concerned, Saudi Arabia and its allies in the Arab Gulf, in particular Qatar, have played a very, very active role in trying to steer this whole process away from democracy, away from a secular outcome, and in a direction favorable to their own interests. Whether in Tunisia, whether in Libya, whether in Egypt, and now, most clearly, in Syria, we are seeing some extraordinarily negative trends, in my view, that are entirely bankrolled from the Gulf. Whether it’s the rise of Salafism, anti-democratic Salafism, whether it’s the rise of really quite awful pan-Islamic movements in North Africa, in the Arabian Peninsula or in Syria and Iraq, we are seeing some of the worst trends in the Arab world are getting all of their support financially from the Arab Gulf.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the situation overall right now in Syria? What do you feel needs to be done?

RASHID KHALIDI: Well, the situation in Syria is catastrophic in terms of what is happening to the country. The same kind of destruction of infrastructure, the same kind of dislocation of, at this stage, millions of people, is taking place. And I think there should be an urgent, urgent, urgent effort to bring the war to as rapid a close as possible. And I know how hard that would be, because you have supporters on both sides—Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey on the one side supporting the opposition, the rebels, and Iran and Russia on the other side supporting the regime. But anything that will bring this conflict to an end rapidly and will lead to a change of regime and democratization, in my view, should be done.

I don’t think that this should be allowed to solve itself militarily, which is the way we’re going to go. And that means further destruction of society. The war has not really reached the heart of Damascus. The devastation of Homs and Hama, the devastation of Aleppo and Daraa, is going to take place in Damascus. And that will be even worse than what we’ve already seen. So the great cities of Syria, which are the oldest cities probably on earth, are going to be destroyed—in the way that Baghdad was partly destroyed, in the way that Beirut was partly destroyed. We’re going to see a third Arab country subjected to this. And anything that can short-circuit that process—a negotiated solution that sees the exit of Assad and a democratic outcome—to my way of thinking, is worth any amount of effort.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you think Bashar al-Assad will leave?

RASHID KHALIDI: I have no idea. He will leave. And he should leave this—as soon as possible. If he had any sense of duty towards his own country, he would leave immediately and try and see to it that there’s some solution whereby some of the things that he might want to have take place are preserved, because they won’t be preserved. If he stays 'til the end, he will go down in a bloodbath. Not—he might escape in a helicopter, but a lot of his supporters are going to be subjected to the most awful kind of bloodbath. And that's not an outcome anybody should wish for Syria.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you very much for being with us, Rashid Khalidi. Brokers of Deceit is his latest book, How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East.

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