During Wednesday’s press conference, President Obama warned that the expansion of Israeli settlements was making a two-state solution impossible. “I don’t see how this issue gets resolved in a way that maintains Israel as both Jewish and a democracy,” Obama said, “because if you do not have two states, then, in some form or fashion, you are extending an occupation. Functionally, you end up having one state in which millions of people are disenfranchised and operate as second-class occupant—or residents. You can’t even call them 'citizens' necessarily.” We get response from Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said professor of Arab studies at Columbia University. He’s the author of several books; his most recent is titled “Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East.”
AMY GOODMAN: Well, there was an interesting sort of geography to and diversity to the questions that President Obama answered, all clearly laid out in advance—eight reporters—five women, three men—a gay publication, urban radio. And also he took a question from Janet Rodríguez, White House correspondent for Univision, and Nadia Bilbassy-Charters, senior diplomatic correspondent for Al Arabiya News Channel. She asked President Obama about the Middle East and about particularly the Israeli occupation; President Obama, in his answer, warning that the expansion of Israeli settlements was making a two-state solution impossible.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I’ve said this directly to Prime Minister Netanyahu. I’ve said it inside of Israel. I’ve said it to Palestinians, as well. I don’t see how this issue gets resolved in a way that maintains Israel as both Jewish and a democracy, because if you do not have two states, then, in some form or fashion, you are extending an occupation. Functionally, you end up having one state in which millions of people are disenfranchised and operate as second-class occupant—or residents. You can’t even call them “citizens” necessarily. And so—so the goal of the resolution was to simply say that the settlements, the growth of the settlements, are creating a reality on the ground that increasingly will make a two-state solution impossible. And we’ve believed, consistent with the positions that have been taken with previous U.S. administrations for decades now, that it was important for us to send a signal, a wake-up call, that this moment may be passing. And Israeli voters and Palestinians need to understand that this moment may be passing. And hopefully, that then creates a debate inside both Israeli and Palestinian communities that won’t result immediately in peace, but at least will lead to a more sober assessment of what the alternatives are.
AMY GOODMAN: That was President Obama yesterday, again, in the last 48 hours of his presidency. Rashid Khalidi also with us now, Edward Said professor of Arab studies at Columbia University. Your response to what he said and what he has done over this past eight years?
RASHID KHALIDI: Well, he did what he’s been doing for eight years: He sent a signal. The most powerful country on Earth, the sole serious supporter of Israel, without whose support Israel couldn’t do anything, has now, yet again, for administration after administration, sent a signal that what Israeli governments have been doing for decades is going to lead to a one-state solution, in which Palestinians, as he said, are disenfranchised, are not even citizens and so on and so forth. So we have the diagnostician-in-chief telling us about this problem, which he and previous presidents have absolutely—done absolutely nothing to solve. The United States can, could, should act to stop this ongoing annexation, colonization and so forth, which has led to disenfranchisement. I mean, his analysis is impeccable, but his actions—as Professor Glaude said, his actions are just not in keeping with his words, and have not been over eight years in keeping with his words.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think needs to happen? What opportunity did he miss? So much has happened in the last few weeks, with Secretary of State John Kerry’s speech. You wrote a piece in The New York Times, as well as in The Guardian, saying, “too little, too late.”
RASHID KHALIDI: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: And now [President-elect Trump] appointing, if he’s approved, the ambassador to Israel, who is very much for, among other things, moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which Nikki Haley just said—
RASHID KHALIDI: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —who would be the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, she also endorses in her confirmation hearing yesterday.
RASHID KHALIDI: Well, the president-elect’s team includes people like his son-in-law, his nominee for ambassador to Israel and others, who are not just in favor of incendiary acts like moving the embassy, but are themselves major financial or political supporters of the Israeli settler movement. So we’re not just talking about people who are rhetorically in favor of this or that extremist position.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk specifically—you’re talking about Jared Kushner, who will be a top adviser—
RASHID KHALIDI: Jared Kushner.
AMY GOODMAN: —his son-in-law. David Friedman.
RASHID KHALIDI: David Friedman, the ambassador designate, and Jared Kushner are both, according to all the reports, major financial backers of the settlement movement. So, what we have in American and Israeli politics with the arrival of Trump is the completion of a convergence between the extreme right-wing settler, colonial regime that we have in Israel and a segment of the American ruling class, if you want. I mean, Jared Kushner is a major real estate entrepreneur, and he’s used many, many, many of his family’s millions to support not just charitable causes in Israel, but the settler movement, among many other extreme causes.
And so, what we’re seeing on the policy level, what we’re seeing on the media level, what we’re seeing in terms of people who are making political contributions to both the right-wing parties in Israel and American political parties is sort of a convergence of the two systems, but at a time when we’re going to have the most extreme—we have had the most extreme right-wing government in Israel’s history, and when we’re going to have a president who is in favor of things that are sometimes to the right even of that right-wing Israeli government, in terms of what his designees for various positions have said.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you feel President Obama paved the way for this?
RASHID KHALIDI: I think every American president who has stood by idly and just uttered words, like the president has done in his press conference and like the secretary of state did in his speech, and did nothing to actually stop this trend, that he so accurately described, are—they’re all responsible. He is certainly responsible. Had Security Council Resolution 2334 been passed in the first year of this president’s eight years, who knows what might have happened?
AMY GOODMAN: And explain what that resolution is—
RASHID KHALIDI: Well—
AMY GOODMAN: —that caused so much furor, at least on the part of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.
RASHID KHALIDI: That resolution said that everything Israel has done in the Occupied Territories, in Jerusalem and the rest of them, is illegal. It has said that moving its population into occupied territories is a violation of the Geneva Convention, i.e. moving a half a million or 600,000 Israelis into territory occupied is illegal, that the acquisition of territory by force is illegal. And it went on to lay down various other parameters for a solution, including a two-state solution, and the '67 borders as the basis of that. Now, none of this is new. The United Nations has said this again and again and again. This is a reiteration of Security Council Resolution 242 of November 1967. It's also a reiteration of positions that have been taken by every single American administration from President Johnson’s to George W. Bush’s, and this one, as well.
But had that been laid down as a marker, a slap in the face of the Netanyahu government, in 2009, when the president came into office, instead of mollycoddling them, instead of continuing to fund settlements—we fund settlements by giving American so-called charities 501(c)(3) status. The president could have reversed that on the first day he was in office, saying, “You cannot send money, tax-free money—you cannot reduce your taxes to support illegal occupation and colonization.” He didn’t do that. The Justice Department, the Treasury could have done that. So, we have financed by—we taxpayers, who are actually paying our taxes, have enabled people who are not paying our taxes, by making so-called charitable deductions, support the settlement movement. Jared Kushner is one of them. [David] Friedman is one of them. There are many, many others.
AMY GOODMAN: So, what do you think is possible now?
RASHID KHALIDI: With Trump as president? Well, I think that this is a—this should be a wake-up call for people in the United States who had some kind of idea of Israel as the light unto the nations, to wake up and realize that the United States has helped to create a situation in which Israeli Jews rule over disenfranchised Arabs, that this is not a light unto the nations. This is not really a democracy, if you have helots. He called them “not citizens.” Well, you can call them what you want. He said they’re disenfranchised. It’s actually worse than that. Go to the Occupied Territories. Go to Arab communities inside Israel. Look at what happened to a member of Knesset yesterday, shot in the face by Israeli border police, because he protested the demolition of a village in the south of Israel. You’re talking about people who, in some cases, nominally have rights—Palestinian citizens of the state of Israel—or in the Occupied Territories having really no rights, and both of whom live under an unjust and discriminatory regime. We have fostered that. We have helped to finance and fund that, all the while our political leaders talk about how wonderful Israel is, how its values and our values—well, these are Jim Crow values. The president talked about Jim Crow. What Israel is enforcing are worse than Jim Crow values. And I think we have to start talking and thinking in those terms and setting ourselves apart or understanding how to set ourselves apart from those kinds of practices that are discriminatory or racist.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think—what do you think it was that led President Obama to have the ambassador for—to have the United States abstain from this, at the very end of his two terms?
RASHID KHALIDI: I mean, I can’t speculate what was going on in his mind, why at the very end. It’s a really good question. I would love to have seen this eight years ago. Maybe it was his chance to get back at the slights and insults that he’s been receiving from Prime Minister Netanyahu over the past eight years, coming to Congress and attacking American—
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, Netanyahu, famously, to say the least, disrespects him.
RASHID KHALIDI: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: And yet President Obama has been more solicitous of Israel than all the previous presidents—
RASHID KHALIDI: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —from the Bushes on to Clinton, all involved with resolutions that were critical of Israel, but President Obama did not allow that to happen until now.
RASHID KHALIDI: Exactly. This is the first such resolution that has passed under Obama. Every—as you’ve just said, every previous American president has allowed or has sponsored resolutions that are just as harsh as this or involved elements of this resolution. So, maybe he was—you know, what he seems to be doing in his last few days, few weeks, few months, is to doing—is to do some of the things that maybe he wanted to do but felt he couldn’t do. And it’s really a terrible shame. I mean, this is a—this is a man who came into office, supposedly, with fresh ideas about how to deal with the Middle East. He appointed Senator Mitchell, who ultimately was undermined by people he himself had appointed, and was not able to do what he wanted to do. And from that point on, I think it really was downhill for this president, as far as the Middle East is concerned. His legacy is not a good one, as far as Arab-Israeli issues, as far as the Palestinians are concerned. Palestinians will not—and Arabs and, I would argue, Israelis should not remember this man’s legacy with any fondness.
AMY GOODMAN: Rashid Khalidi, professor of Arab studies at Columbia University, and Eddie Glaude, head of African American Studies at Princeton University, we thank you both for this conversation. This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we look at some of the Senate confirmation hearings. To say the least, heated. Stay with us.