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Rashid Khalidi: U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital Means It Cannot Be a Peace Broker

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At the United Nations, over 120 countries defied President Trump Thursday by voting in favor of a resolution calling for the United States to drop its recent recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The final vote was 128 to 9, while 35 nations abstained and 21 countries casted no vote. Control of Jerusalem is one of the most contested issues: Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state. Sustained protests continue in the Israel-occupied Palestinian territories, despite a brutal Israeli military crackdown. We speak with Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said professor of Arab studies at Columbia University and author of “Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: At the United Nations, over 120 countries defied President Trump Thursday by voting in favor of a resolution calling for the United States to drop its recent recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The final vote, 128 to 9. Thirty-five nations abstained, and 21 countries did not cast a vote. The eight countries voting with the United States were Israel, Guatemala, Honduras, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Togo. Trump had threatened to cut off financial aid to countries that voted in favor. On Thursday, Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, reiterated Trump’s threat after the vote.

NIKKI HALEY: America will put our embassy in Jerusalem. That is what the American people want us to do. And it is the right thing to do. No vote in the United Nations will make any difference on that. But this vote will make a difference on how Americans look at the U.N. and on how we look at countries who disrespect us in the U.N. And this vote will be remembered.

AMY GOODMAN: In response to the U.N. vote, Palestinian politician Hanan Ashrawi praised the international community for standing up to the United States.

HANAN ASHRAWI: Well, I’m extremely encouraged that the vast majority of the states, of the members of the United Nations General Assembly did not succumb to American threats and blackmail, and did not accept the Israeli insults being hurled at them, and they stood up for justice and for the rule of law and for what is right. And they voted on the basis of principle. Hundred and twenty-eight countries told the U.S. and Israel that what they’re doing is wrong and unacceptable, and they voted for Jerusalem. They voted for the U.N. as an institution of integrity. They voted for the rule of law and for the requirements of a just peace.

AMY GOODMAN: Former CIA Director John Brennan responded to the vote, posting a message on his new Twitter account, tweeting, “Trump Admin threat to retaliate against nations that exercise sovereign right in UN to oppose US position on Jerusalem is beyond outrageous. Shows @realDonaldTrump expects blind loyalty and subservience from everyone—qualities usually found in narcissistic, vengeful autocrats,” the former CIA Director John Brennan tweeted.

Control of Jerusalem is one of the most contested issues: Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state. Sustained protests continue in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, despite a brutal Israeli crackdown. On Wednesday, dozens of Palestinian protesters were wounded after Israeli soldiers opened fire with live ammunition and tear gas against thousands of protesters. This is Hamas official Ismail Radwan.

ISMAIL RADWAN: [translated] We call on our Arabic and Muslim nations to surround the Israeli and American embassies in the Arab countries, then drive the American and Israeli ambassadors out of the Arab countries. We are continuing our way of resistance, using all kinds of resistance to break this decision.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we’re joined by Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said professor of Arab studies at Columbia University, author of a number of books, his most recent, Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Professor Khalidi. Your response to the U.N. General Assembly vote, 128 to 9?

RASHID KHALIDI: Well, it’s yet another instance of the Trump administration shooting themselves in the foot, making a big issue of a question where the entire world, with the exception of nine countries, are in agreement, that there is international law on this issue. The Security Council decisions, that the United States voted for, are international law. And the United States is violating it. So, it shouldn’t be surprising that there was such a tiny number of states voting with the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about the abstentions, the significance of—what was it? Like 35?

RASHID KHALIDI: This is almost—

AMY GOODMAN: What does that say?

RASHID KHALIDI: It’s almost the same vote as we had in 2012 for Palestine as a state. So, there’s basically no change. Trump’s blackmail and bluster didn’t seem to have had much effect.

AMY GOODMAN: And Nikki Haley and President Trump’s threat to cut off aid, foreign aid, to countries who vote against the U.S., which would mean the majority of the world?

RASHID KHALIDI: Precisely. I think most people said what anybody who looks at this carefully would say. Jerusalem is central to Palestine. Jerusalem is central to the whole issue. And if you prejudge something in favor of one party, in violation of international law, you’re just taking yourself out of the international consensus.

AMY GOODMAN: On Thursday, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, defended President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

NIKKI HALEY: The decision was in accordance to U.S. law dating back to 1995. And its position has been repeatedly endorsed by the American people ever since. The decision does not prejudge any final status issues, including Jerusalem’s boundaries. The decision does not preclude a two-state solution, if the parties agree to that. The decision does nothing to harm peace efforts. Rather, the president’s decision reflects the will of the American people.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response to the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Haley?

RASHID KHALIDI: There’s not one single thing that Nikki Haley said that’s true. Sixty-one percent of people polled were against this in the United States, so it does not represent the will of the American people.

Secondly, this not only damages the prospects of peace, this completely eliminates the United States as a potential broker. I wrote a book, Brokers of Deceit, in which I argue the United States has always been a dishonest broker. So, to my way of thinking, this is actually a silver lining in a cloud. The United States should be removed from its role. It should sit on the Israeli side of the table, if it insists on being there. But it has no place setting the ground rules for a negotiation.

Everything else that Nikki Haley said is also untrue. By accepting Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, implicitly, the Trump administration is accepting Israel’s definition of Jerusalem, which runs all the way down, almost, to the Jordan River. They’re about to annex Ma’ale Adumim, Khan al-Ahmar, which means Israel now controls a swath, or will control or will have annexed a swath, running all across the center of Palestine, cutting the northern part of the West Bank off from the southern part. That’s the kind of thing that makes a Palestinian state completely impossible. So, everything she said is false.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the protests on the ground, Israeli forces increasingly repressive in the Occupied Territories, human rights groups deeply concerned about the number of arrests, the detaining of children, sometimes holding them without trial, as the protests continue to rage over President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

On Tuesday, Israeli soldiers and border police raided the home of prominent 16-year-old Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi, a day after video showing her confronting Israeli soldiers went viral. After Tamimi’s arrest, the girl’s mother, Nariman Tamimi, was detained at an Israeli police station as she inquired about the status of her daughter.

And then you’ve got this other case, witnesses say that 17-year-old Abdul-Khalik Burnat was arrested earlier this week when he went out for pizza with friends. Burnat’s father is Iyad Burnat, a leader of a nonviolent Palestinian resistance group whose work was highlighted in the Oscar-nominated documentary Five Broken Cameras. What about all of these situations?

RASHID KHALIDI: Well, in the last case, the Israelis have been persecuting that family for a very long time, because they’re leading a nonviolent movement, which is exactly what the Israelis don’t want to appear. They don’t want it to be realized that they’re holding an entire people down by force, and that when they rise up, even nonviolently, Israel cannot tolerate that.

And the sad thing is, there’s nothing exceptional about these shootings or these detentions. This is the only way that an occupying force can hold millions of people down against their will for 50 years. The response to the Jerusalem decision is a normal response. People are outraged. And the Israelis respond by arresting children, holding them without a lawyer, without their parents, interrogating them and, in many cases, putting them in administrative detention. The sad thing is that there’s nothing new about this. This is the way a military occupation has to operate and will operate, until somebody stops it.

AMY GOODMAN: And Ahed Tamimi?

RASHID KHALIDI: Well, I mean, she’s a very courageous girl. She did what she did, you saw on that piece of video. And typically, she and her parents are probably going to suffer for her action. There’s no recourse. Israeli military courts are kangaroo courts. Ninety-nine-point-something percent of people brought before them are convicted. So, there is no justice in the holy land, where the Palestinians are concerned.

AMY GOODMAN: The United Nations’ top human rights official recently condemned the killing of 29-year-old Palestinian Ibrahim Abu Thuraya, who was shot in the head by an Israeli sniper last Friday during a protest in the Gaza Strip. Abu Thuraya was a double-amputee who lost both legs and a kidney in 2008 during an Israeli airstrike, and used a wheelchair. This is Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

RUPERT COLVILLE: As far as we can see, there is nothing whatsoever to suggest that Ibrahim Abu Thuraya was posing an imminent threat of death or serious injury when he was killed. In the words of the high commissioner, given his severe disability, which must have been clearly visible to those who shot him, his killing is incomprehensible, and it is a truly shocking and wanton act.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response to this U.N. spokesperson?

RASHID KHALIDI: These are generally snipers, using scopes. So, this man was murdered by an Israeli soldier, who saw him crawling, without legs, towards the border fence. He obviously could not have posed the slightest threat to the security of the state of Israel or to anybody, except himself, because he defied the occupation.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what is going to happen right now in the Occupied Territories? What does this mean for the Palestinian leadership?

RASHID KHALIDI: Well, I think it puts the Palestinian leadership and many Arab governments in a difficult position, which is a good thing. I think they should be forced, at this stage, by public opinion, as they were—as the vote shows many Arab governments were, to do the right thing. The right thing would be to say, “We refuse the United States as a mediator”—which the Arab League has actually said and the Islamic Conference has already said—”and we insist on a completely new framework for negotiations. We insist on a fair two-state solution, not based on cherry-picked resolutions that the United States and Israel decide should be the basis.” I mean, this is actually an opportunity, if it will only be taken, by governments that, unfortunately, are all too frequently willing to listen to what the United States tells them, in a bullying, threatening tone.

AMY GOODMAN: How different is what Trump did from what President Obama did? I didn’t say “said.” His rhetoric is very different.


AMY GOODMAN: But even when he made this announcement, and then, with a flourish, showed this document he was signing—


AMY GOODMAN: —to the cameras in front of him at the White House, people didn’t realize at the time he was signing the very waiver that Trump and—that Obama and Clinton had signed before—

RASHID KHALIDI: Right, right.

AMY GOODMAN: —a waiver that said they wouldn’t build the embassy in Jerusalem for at least another six months.

RASHID KHALIDI: You’re absolutely right. The difference is the action. The difference is—the embassy is not going to be moved for a while. But declaring that the United States supports the Israeli position on Jerusalem is of enormous material importance. It means that the United States has taken a stand on the most important issue. Jerusalem relates to sovereignty. Jerusalem relates to settlements. Jerusalem relates obviously to the holy places. And Jerusalem relates to borders. Even if you say this doesn’t prejudge borders, the Israelis have a definition of Jerusalem. You’ve just recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The Israelis are going to take this and run with it. So, it is of enormous importance. Other presidents have said—in fact, going back to Clinton, presidents have said, “We want to move the embassy,” or “We will move the embassy,” but they haven’t done it, and they haven’t accepted the Israeli position, as President Trump has just done.

AMY GOODMAN: And no country—no country has their embassy—is that right?—in Jerusalem.

RASHID KHALIDI: That is correct.

AMY GOODMAN: They all have them in Tel Aviv.

RASHID KHALIDI: That is correct. Even those who said, “We accept West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital,” have said, “But we won’t move until a negotiation resolves this issue.”

AMY GOODMAN: What about Saudi Arabia? Saudi Arabia was critical, but—and immediately, Trump attacked, interestingly, what seems to be one of his closest allies, Saudi Arabia, for saying this. But behind the scenes, what is Saudi Arabia saying, do you believe?

RASHID KHALIDI: I mean, what we hear—I mean, I was recently in the region twice. And what I gather is that Jared Kushner and the crown prince are cooking up a plan for what they call a Palestinian state, which would not include Jerusalem, which would not be sovereign, which would not be contiguous and which would have to negotiate for its borders. In other words, you declare the state, then you go into another interim period. We’ve been in an interim period since 1993—25, almost, years. Actually, 25 years next year. And this is what this administration and, apparently, the Saudis are cooking up. It is a travesty. I mean, it would be an insult to apartheid South Africa to call what they’re offering a Bantustan.

AMY GOODMAN: Apparently, President Trump, in just speaking to the British prime minister, Theresa May, singled out Mohammed bin Salman around the Saudi war in Yemen, the U.S.-backed Saudi war. He seems to be ruffled by what Saudi Arabia said about Israel. But, as you pointed out, Jared Kushner is extremely close to Salman and has been there a number of times. Trump made his first trip there.

RASHID KHALIDI: Right. He has apparently made several unannounced trips, Kushner has, to Saudi Arabia. I think the president’s pique over Yemen is new. But the United States actually took a position on the Yemeni war—sorry, on the Saudi war on Yemen a while before this Jerusalem decision. I find that a little bit strange, frankly. This is a war that could only be prosecuted with American support. It’s a war that, for two years, has had American support. And now—

AMY GOODMAN: And Trump announced he was giving more weapons to them for that war.

RASHID KHALIDI: Precisely. And now he is—now he’s criticizing this. It could be partly because of Jerusalem. But, in fact, I think it goes back before that. They may be embarrassed by the fact they’ve helped to create the largest humanitarian disaster in the modern world. Perhaps—I doubt that they’re capable of shame, but perhaps they’re slightly embarrassed by this.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what you see as a solution in the—


AMY GOODMAN: —for Palestine.

RASHID KHALIDI: Well, it has to be based on complete equality of rights. In other words, if Israel or Israelis get certain rights, Palestinians have to have the same rights. It has to be based on a principle of justice. It cannot be based a cherry-picked set of resolutions that give Israel pretty much everything it wants, or a framework for negotiation where everything is tipped in Israel’s favor. That means you have to have a framework and an outside mediator that’s completely different from everything that we’ve dealt with since Camp David back in the ’70s up through Oslo in the ’90s.

AMY GOODMAN: Who do you think that mediator can be?

RASHID KHALIDI: Anybody but the United States would be my personal pick, literally any country, except the eight small tiny countries that voted with the United States. So, take your pick of the other 178-88, whatever, countries.

AMY GOODMAN: The piece you wrote in The Guardian is headlined “Trump’s error on Jerusalem is a disaster for the Arab world … and the US too.”

RASHID KHALIDI: Mm-hmm. Well, I wrote a later piece in which I said there are silver linings to those clouds. It is a disaster, because it’s a slap in the face of the Arabs. It’s an indication of exactly how divided and weak the Arab world is, if the United States can take a position in support of the Israeli position on the most important question at issue in the entire conflict since the '40s. I mean, Jerusalem was singled out in the 1947 partition resolution for special treatment, and it's been treated as special. And the Trump administration has just said, “We don’t care about what any of you think—international law, Arabs. We’re going to go ahead and do what we think is right.”

But they should and could use this as an opportunity and say, “OK, fine. You’ve disqualified yourself as a broker, an intermediary. Very good. We’ll find another one.” Five—the other four permanent members of the Security Council—China, EU, Brazil—it almost doesn’t matter—India—a collection of large countries that could presumably be immune to the browbeating and pressure and blackmail that the United States customarily exercises, usually behind the scenes. This is unusual in that they’ve gone out publicly with it.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think the two-state solution is dead?

RASHID KHALIDI: I think Israel has systematically murdered it over 50 years. I mean, everything that they have done, in terms of colonization, occupation and seizure of land, pretty much makes a two-state solution impossible. Tony Judt once said, what one politician has done, another politician can undo. I would like to see the American president and the Israeli prime minister, who is going to uproot 600,000 Israeli citizens from the territories they’ve systematically colonized for 50 years—if it could be done, maybe you could have a two-state solution. But I don’t think it can be done.

I think we’re stuck with the one-state solution that Israel has created. The only question is: Will this be a apartheid or a completely discriminatory one-state solution, which is what we have now, or will it be one in which both peoples have national rights and everybody has equal rights, you don’t have special rights because you have this ethnicity or this religion?

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what’s happening on the ground in Gaza right now.

RASHID KHALIDI: You have a—I mean, what’s happening in Yemen and what’s happening in Syria dwarfs it, in a certain sense. But this is a humanitarian crisis that’s actually been going on for more than a decade. You have groundwater that’s polluted with sewage, which can’t be pumped because there’s no electricity, which is where there’s salinity increasing because seawater seeps in. You have these cuts in electricity. You have people unable to rebuild, in many cases, since 2014, the last Israeli assault on Gaza. You have people living in the largest open-air prison on Earth. And it has been going on for the better part of a decade.

So, again, Syria, Yemen, certainly, are much more grave crises today in terms of the humanitarian situation. But Gaza is a running sore, a festering sore, and it should be something that is a shame to the international community, that it allows Israel and Egypt and the Palestinian Authority and Hamas to, in effect, torture the people of Gaza in this way.

AMY GOODMAN: Rashid Khalidi, we want to thank you for being with us, Edward Said professor of Arab studies at Columbia University, the author of several books, his most recent, Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, not guilty on all counts. That’s the verdict in the first J20 trial, the trial of the protesters of Donald Trump’s inauguration. Stay with us.

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