- Rami Khourisenior public policy fellow, adjunct professor of journalism and journalist-in-residence at the American University of Beirut. He’s a nonresident senior fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Middle East Initiative and columnist at The New Arab.
Rami Khouri, senior public policy fellow, professor and columnist at The New Arab, says that much of the instability in the Middle East stems from the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. We spoke with Khouri, who is currently a journalist-in-residence at the American University of Beirut, about how the U.S. is exacerbating tensions in the region. The U.S. is trying to erase the “Palestinian national reality,” he says. “There’s about 12 million Palestinians in the world. And they have an identity. They have rights. … And the United States is basically telling the Palestinians, 'You don't exist. You don’t have rights. The Israelis have rights in Israel and Palestine. Their rights are superior to yours.’”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. A 17-year-old Palestinian student who was scheduled to start his freshman year at Harvard University was denied entry into the United States last week. He had his visa revoked. Ismail Ajjawi told The Harvard Crimson he was interrogated by immigration officials upon his arrival at Boston’s Logan Airport Friday. They reportedly questioned his religious practices and searched his phone and computer, revealing posts by his friends that were critical of U.S. policy. Ajjawi, who was to attend Harvard on a full scholarship, was ultimately sent back to his home in Lebanon.
We’re joined right now by Rami Khouri, who is senior public policy fellow, adjunct professor of journalism and journalist-in-residence at American University of Beirut. He’s a nonresident senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Middle East Initiative.
Rami Khouri, it’s great to have you back. Can you talk about what you understand — you’re now at Harvard, speaking to us from Boston — about what happened to Ismail, this young student who was planning to start his freshman year with all the other kids this week at Harvard?
RAMI KHOURI: Well, he did get interrogated at the airport. And the lady in charge of this apparently saw some of his friends’ posts on social media, didn’t like them, and refused him entry and turned him back. I’ve understood now that Harvard and AMIDEAST, the group that sponsors educational exchanges, has done so for many decades very, very efficiently all across the Middle East, American-Middle East educational exchange, they are now dealing with this with American officials. And they expect that he will come back in a couple of days and start his academic year.
AMY GOODMAN: He said, in a New York Times piece, which was quoting an interview he had done elsewhere, that his acceptance to Harvard “shows that Palestinians can succeed and excel despite all the pressure” on him. He wants to become a doctor.
RAMI KHOURI: Well, this is typical of the refugee story. It’s typical of groups in exile. It’s one of the reasons Jews have succeeded all over the world for so many centuries and millennia. Any group like the Palestinians or others who are in exile, mistreated, denied their national rights, dispersed, disenfranchised, occupied, subjugated, under siege, whatever the conditions may be, find refuge and hope in only one thing, which is to develop their human talents and to maintain their ethical behavior to other people in society, so they can excel as human beings and engage with others for the mutual success of themselves and their families and the societies where they live, or wherever they may live. And these are people in exile, again.
So, there’s nothing unusual about this. I mean, I see Palestinians in camps and in hospitals and universities and research centers and businesses all my life. I’m a Palestinian. I’ve engaged with Palestinians all over the region and the world. And this is a very typical story. There’s nothing unusual about it. And as I said, you will find the same story with any group. You look at Armenians, you look at Jews, you look at any people who have been exiled or subjugated or persecuted, they will turn to their human development. And this is what we’re seeing here.
And Harvard is a great place for this. There are many, many Palestinian, Arab, Islamic students from different countries, people from all over the world, who are doing amazing work. You look at the medical profession in Boston, where I’m spending four months now, and there’s hundreds of Palestinian, Arab, Turkish, Iranian medical doctors of the highest capabilities, doing research, doing service.
So, this is something that’s absolutely normal. The problem is it’s not reported in the international media as being absolutely normal. And this is a different problem of how the media deals with these issues.
AMY GOODMAN: On another note, Rami Khouri — of course, we’ll follow that story — in Part 1, we discussed extensively Israel’s alleged attacks in Lebanon, Iraq and Syria. We talked somewhat about Iraq. But if you can talk more about the bloc in Iraq’s Parliament that’s demanding the withdrawal of U.S. troops after the air raids that occurred? And explain more why you believe they are Israeli.
RAMI KHOURI: Well, there’s a general assumption that Israel has carried out these attacks. Sometimes Israel does it directly. Sometimes it does it using partners and surrogates and proxies all around the region.
The drones in Beirut, for instance, the other day, two drones that were shot down or exploded, apparently only have a range of three or four kilometers. And so people are wondering: Where were they launched from? Did they come in from the sea somewhere? Does Israel have people it’s using in Lebanon to do this? We don’t really know, because the area is around 60, 70 kilometers away from the Israeli border, so they probably didn’t come in from Israel.
So, having attacks in Iraq going on now, with the latest reports suggesting that the Saudis and the Americans were involved with certain militias in northern Iraq and northern Syria, who are supplied and supported by the U.S. and the Saudis — these were militias that initially were created to fight ISIS, and they continue to be there. And the reports say that the attack — the drone attacks in Iraq on Sunday came from that area.
So, the point in — the situation in Iraq is that the United States has a very complex relationship with Iraq, after the 2003 invasion and the incredible chaos that came out of that for many, many years, and is still, you know, rippling across Iraq today, and massive human suffering and political incoherence. There are many people in Iraq — and I would say a majority — who would just want to see the U.S. get out of there. And many people are grateful to the U.S. for overthrowing Saddam, but not really anymore. The consequences of that war have been so devastating for the Iraqi people that they just want to get the Americans out of there, and they want to take care of their own security.
They’re gradually developing government institutions, military and political and others, that can address their own needs, though the country is riddled with corruption and inefficiency and still the serious internal divisions. The Iranians have a huge role in Iraq. They’re next door. They’re very close to them politically and religiously and ethnically and in other ways. The Saudis are trying to penetrate Iraq, not having very much success.
But the point is that when these attacks happen, an instinctive reaction among many Iraqis, as among many people in the Arab world, is to say, “Well, the Israelis or the Americans must have been behind this,” because they’re the ones historically who have been attacking Iraq or other Arab countries. And therefore, this raises an interesting complication for the Americans, because the Israelis and the Americans both say they’re trying to push back against Iran, but when this kind of action happens in Iraq, Iraqis will say, “This is done by the Americans and the Israelis together, and therefore we’ve got to” — it pushes — puts pressure on the Americans to get out. While the Americans want to get out of Iraq, they want to do it in a more systematic way. And this creates tensions, therefore, between the Israeli and the American positions on dealing with Iran and other issues, as well.
But this really just highlights the complexities that have emerged now all across the region, as the authorities of central governments in many Arab countries — not all of them, but many Arab countries — like Syria, like Egypt, like Lebanon to some extent, like Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Palestine — as the central government’s authority is either reduced or disintegrates, you have the emergence of hundreds and hundreds of indigenous, spontaneous groups that come out of society — militia groups, ideological groups, religious groups, social service groups, every kind of group you can think of, but a lot of them are armed militias. And most of these are funded and armed and trained by some foreign power, whether it’s Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the U.S., whoever it may be, and therefore you get this — it’s like a cafeteria food fight
in northern Syria and Iraq. You’ve got people shooting at each other, and often they don’t know who they’re shooting at, because there’s so many different groups in the same area, politically allied with different foreign powers and often working against each other.
And so, you know, the solution to all of these issues is really — there’s a basic solution for all of these problems. One is to get decent good governance in Arab countries, where countries are run well and citizens are satisfied, and there’s no possibility for this kind of chaos to happen. The other one is to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, because if you take all these situations back years and years and years, you’ll find that always in this mix is the Israeli desire to get the Americans to push back against the Iranians or to push back against a group — like the Israelis wanted the Americans to attack Iraq, which they did. So, if you solve the Arab-Israeli conflict equitably for the Israelis and the Palestinians, to have two states and solve the refugee issue for the Palestinians, and people can live in peace, a lot of these other tensions around the region would gradually retreat. They wouldn’t disappear instantly, but they would create an environment that was much more positive and constructive and normal in the region, where people couldn’t exploit the anger and the desperation of millions and millions and tens of millions of citizens because of the different — the difficult conditions that they live in.
AMY GOODMAN: Right before we get to this issue of a so-called peace plan, you have, on the one hand, the Pentagon saying about the attack in Iraq, “We support Iraqi sovereignty and have repeatedly spoken out against any potential actions by external actors inciting violence in Iraq.” That was Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman late Monday. On Sunday, the State Department said Secretary of State Pompeo called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the Israeli airstrikes in Syria. Pompeo reportedly expressed, quote, “support for Israel’s right to defend itself from the threat posed by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.” Your response?
RAMI KHOURI: Well, for the American government to talk about external intervention to create tensions in Iraq is hallucinogenic. I mean, what the Americans did in intervening in Iraq created the greatest amount of violence and chaos and destruction and human suffering and ripple effects of conflict and confrontation after the U.S. invasion of 2003. So, I don’t think any of us should take seriously an American government statement that talks about “We don’t support any external intervention in Arab countries or in Iraq” or anything like that. This is duplicitous, hypocritical, lying nonsense. And it’s about time that it should be treated like that, when you look at the American military engagement all across the Middle East and what it does internally in so many countries.
The relationship with Israel, of course, that Pompeo expressed, is one that goes back decades and decades and decades. There’s no doubt about the American ironclad support for Israel’s strength and security. And, in fact, the U.S. is committed officially to maintain Israel’s military superiority over all the combined forces of its adversaries in the region. And, of course, Israel, just a few years ago, got a commitment of $33 billion of aid over the next 10 years from the U.S. So there’s no doubt about what the U.S. will do to support Israel and maintain its security.
The statements by the American State Department about Arab-Israeli issues or Israel’s relations in the Arab world also should be taken with a grain of salt, because the United States State Department, in its policies toward, say, Palestinians today — in fact, they just — the State Department just took the Palestinian territories off of their map on their website. And they stopped funding UNRWA, the agency, the U.N. agency that provides health and medical and educational services to Palestinians. They stopped giving scholarships to Palestinian students. They’ve stopped supporting any Palestinian development efforts.
So the United States is trying to erase the Palestinian national reality from our world. I mean, this is like — it’s a kind of a patricide. They’re trying to get rid of this Palestinian national reality. There’s about 12 million Palestinians in the world. And they have an identity. They have rights. They’re struggling for them. They’re trying to achieve them peacefully, not very successfully. And the United States is basically telling the Palestinians, “You don’t exist. You don’t have rights. The Israelis have rights in Israel and Palestine. Their rights are superior to yours.”
And so, anything that the U.S. government, especially Pompeo, with his rather extreme religious fundamentalist positions, as well, which adds a dangerous new wrinkle to this political situation, which is already dangerous —
AMY GOODMAN: Elaborate on that further.
RAMI KHOURI: — anything that Pompeo and the U.S. State Department says about Palestinian-Israeli issues should not be taken very seriously, unfortunately.
AMY GOODMAN: If you could elaborate —
RAMI KHOURI: This is a sign of the impact or the consequence of not only decades of American bias towards Israel, but of the recent Trumpian strong tilt to full Israeli support and massive pressure against the Palestinians, to the point almost of trying to strangle the Palestinians and to starve them into submission.
And, of course, it won’t work. And it won’t work for the same reason that for thousands of years, when Jewish people were persecuted around the world, mostly in white Christian Europe and Russia and North America, and they were killed, and they were put in ghettos, and they were slaughtered, and they were expelled, and they were persecuted, and they never gave up. And this is the human reality. It has nothing to do with being a Palestinian or being Jewish or being Israeli or being anything. Any minority that’s mistreated like that is going to fight back with its humanity. And the first thing you do is you assert your humanity. You just say, “I’m not an invisible person.” This is not Harlem in 1945, where black people were invisible. This is a reality of Palestinian people, 12 million of us, who believe we have rights, and we’re struggling peacefully to achieve them. And this is the situation where the U.S. comes in and says, “Well, we don’t think Palestinians have any rights. We only see the rights of the Israelis to their security, and the Israelis can do anything they want to support, defend themselves, support their security.”
And this is what brought us to the situation last weekend, where Israel attacked four different Arab countries simultaneously and was at war with one or two — one or two others who were attacking it, like Hamas and others. So, the continuation of the Arab-Israeli conflict is guaranteed. And its expansion and its exacerbation, with greater military destruction all across the region, as we’ve seen now, is guaranteed, as long as the Israelis demand greater rights than the Palestinians and the other Arab countries, and as long as people like the United States and others in the world — not many, but the United States mostly — stand by with the Israeli government and say, “We agree with you that Jewish people, Israeli people, Zionists have more rights than Palestinians and Syrians and Iraqis and Iranians and others.” And that’s the situation we have. It’s colonial racism. And people will fight back against them.
AMY GOODMAN: On Monday, Israel announced plans to halve the amount of fuel it supplies to Gaza’s only power plant, in response, they said, to rocket attacks from the Palestinian territory. Gaza power company spokesperson Mohammad Thabet denounced Israel’s decision as collective punishment. This is what he said.
MOHAMMAD THABET: [translated] The Israeli government’s decision to reduce the amount of fuel that is received in the solar company in Gaza, it is an inhumane and unjust decision. It will have a grave impact on the lives of 2 million people in Gaza and put their lives in danger. It will greatly affect vital services in the Gaza Strip, such as health facilities, education, water supplies and removing solid waste. And it will affect many other facilities.
AMY GOODMAN: If you could respond? The significance of what is taking place right now in Gaza, Rami Khouri?
RAMI KHOURI: What’s taking place in Gaza is a continuation of what has been taking place since the — really, since the 1930s, when the Zionist-Arabist tensions started to manifest themselves historically. And then, 1947, ’48, when Israel was created, the Palestinians became refugees. And the Arab-Israeli conflict has gone on since then.
The Gaza population, for various historical reasons, has now become the place where you see the most active military resistance. And they’ve been able to achieve significant advances in their capabilities, probably with support from Iran and Hezbollah and other people around the region. And therefore, the Israelis have gone into Gaza. They occupied it for about 10 years. They settled it. They’ve destroyed it several times with massive punishment, with wars. And it hasn’t done anything. It’s only made the Hamas militants and others, like Islamic Jihad, more determined to fight back.
And part of this struggle, from the Israeli side, is the collective punishment that they apply. They put it under siege. They limit the imports that can go into Gaza. They limit the fuel for the electricity plants. They limit the taxes that they collect. The Israelis collect certain taxes at the border, and then they’re supposed to turn them over to the Palestinians. They withhold those taxes. They deny movement of people in and out of Gaza. And this is collective punishment that’s been going on for decades and decades. There’s nothing new, other than the killing and the injuries.
There’s been around 35,000, 35,000 Palestinians, who have been injured by Israeli gunfire or tear gas or other means on the weekly demonstrations on the Gaza-Israel border. And yes, of course, the people in Gaza have fired some rockets across the border. There’s a war going on. I mean, what do you expect in a war? To have one side, the Israelis, lay siege to you and attack you and destroy you every few years, and you sit there and you watch it all on TV? Of course not. They’re fighting each other.
And the Israelis keep trying to use stronger and stronger means of deterrence or punishment, whether it’s laying siege to Gaza or cutting off its fuel supply or money or whatever. And it doesn’t work. This is what’s so fascinating. The Israelis are a very smart and talented people, as we see. When you go to Israel, you see it’s a pretty impressive place. But they have a kind of blind spot to the reality of the Palestinians whom they subjugate. The Palestinian population is stunted now. Little kids are shorter than they should be at their age because of lack of protein and nutritional input. So, you know, the Israelis are actually shrinking the Palestinian population physically, literally shrinking it with the stunting of children.
And, of course, this isn’t — none of this is going to work. The Palestinians are not going to roll over and surrender. They’re going to do exactly the opposite. And what’s happening, which the Israelis can’t seem to appreciate — and we’ve seen this manifested last week — the Palestine-Israel struggle is the core of a wider Arabist-Zionist conflict around the region. And as this struggle continues and Palestinians keep suffering under colonization, expansion of settlements, sieges, etc., people all around the region — public opinion gets more and more angry, and therefore you get more and more groups that want to confront Israel or challenge it somehow. And this is what we saw last week with four or five different locations around the region that Israel had to bomb because it felt that that’s how it’s going to guarantee its security.
Well, the lesson of the last 50, 55 years has been that extreme military action, sustained, brutal military action by Israel against Palestinians and other Arabs, like Lebanese and others, only results in enhancing the determination of all of these people to get up off their knees, stand up and defy the Israeli powerful forces or the Americans who are behind them. And that’s the situation we’re at today. And the Israelis have tried in Gaza every possible means to subjugate the people and get them to surrender. And they don’t.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about President Trump speaking at the G7 summit Monday, saying he plans to, quote, “make a deal” with Palestinians. This is what he said.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think the Palestinians would like to make a deal. As you know, I cut off most funding to the Palestinians, a lot of funding. And I think they’d like to get it back. I think they’d like to make a deal. We’ll see what happens. Nobody’s ever done that before. They used to negotiate paying a fortune of money, $750 million. They pay, pay, pay. And they’d be treated with disrespect, but they keep paying. This went on for years. So I don’t believe in that. We cut off their funding, a lot of it. And we’ll see what happens. But I think they want to make a deal, the Palestinians, and I think Israel would like to make a deal, too.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s President Trump. Rami Khouri?
RAMI KHOURI: Well, I think he’s a bit delusional, and he’s very ignorant, and he has no idea what he’s talking about. And he’s showing it. And, of course, it’s manifested most clearly in the work of his son-in-law, junior moron Jared Kushner, who has led this process in the American government to try to negotiate an Arab-Israeli peace agreement, which has been probably the laughingstock of modern diplomacy. If you take all modern diplomacy all around the world, nothing comes close to the ridicule that people make when they talk about the Kushner and the Trump so-called peace plan. It’s a joke.
And, of course, it’s a joke because it sees the rights of the Israelis as the aim of this process, and doesn’t see Palestinians and Israelis having equal rights, which should be achieved under a negotiated agreement that lets the Israelis live in a secure, Jewish-majority-recognized, safe and stable state, and lets the Palestinians and their refugeehood have their own state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. That’s not what the Americans are trying to do. So, when Trump talks about this stuff, or when Kushner talks about this stuff, it’s really — it should be put on the Saturday morning cartoons on American television, not on prime-time television, because it really is silly, it’s ignorant, and it’s colonial.
And we’ve seen this. It’s been a hundred years since Balfour in 1917 made the promise of a Jewish homeland for the Jewish people in a land in Palestine that was 95% Palestinian Arab. And a European white colonial master promised this land to the Jewish people. And a hundred years later, you get Kushner, another white colonial Western master, coming to the region, looking at the situation and saying, “Well, the Israelis have to have their rights. The Palestinians can get some crumbs maybe later.”
And it’s not going to work. They don’t seem to understand any of the lessons of history. They’re obviously ignorant of the human realities. And we really shouldn’t pay any attention to anything the White House or Kushner says about a so-called peace plan or peace initiative that they’re going to offer. They tried to have this event in Bahrain a couple of months ago, an economic workshop to start the process of leading to a political negotiation. And virtually the entire Arab world boycotted it, because it was insulting. It wasn’t serious. It totally neglected the political reality of the conflict. And it tried to buy people with money. And again, it’s not going to work.
So, I would just ignore anything that Trump or Kushner says about this issue, until the Americans reengage with a global effort, through the U.N. or other mechanisms that can be worked out, to address the legitimate rights of the Israeli people and the Palestinian people, and other Arab countries whose lands Israel occupies still, to address those in a mechanism that is fair to everybody, politically realistic and anchored in international law. And Trump is doing none of those three things.
AMY GOODMAN: So, let me ask you about what The Wall Street Journal is reporting: Israel and the United Arab Emirates holding secret meetings arranged by the United States in recent months to share information and coordinate efforts to counter what they see as the increasing threat posed by Iran. Can you talk about what’s happening here? And then I want to go on to ask you about the role of the UAE. And is it separating from Saudi Arabia when it comes to the war in Yemen?
RAMI KHOURI: One of the most important recent developments in the Arab region in the Middle East has been the assertion of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, two powerful, rich Gulf countries, who have suddenly — it started, really, with the Arab uprisings in 2010, 2011, what people here call the Arab Spring. The Arab uprisings scared the daylights out of the Saudis and the Emiratis. And when they saw the Americans negotiating — the world and the Americans negotiating with the Iranians to reach the agreement on sanctions on nuclear issues, and popular uprisings, Muslim Brothers being elected president in Egypt, free media spreading around the region, like Jazeera started, this scared the daylights out of the Emiratis and the Saudis, who only want to maintain their authoritarian, monarchical brand of top-heavy governance, where the leader and the leadership knows what’s best for everybody, and everybody has to basically think and say and feel what the leadership tells them to feel. It’s a very authoritarian, almost fascist kind of system.
The important other development from that is that the UAE and the Saudis have started to take their power and use it all around the region — in Syria with the rebels, in Yemen. They boycotted, laid siege to Qatar. They tried to do things in Lebanon. They were active in the Horn of Africa, many different — and Libya now. They were active all over the region, militarily and politically. Almost everything they’ve tried has failed. So, their dynamism is matched by their amateurism and incompetence, which is really a shame, because the Saudis and Emiratis are otherwise fine people who have done some great things in modern history, but now are doing some terrible and some criminal things, and mostly unsuccessful political initiatives.
One of these things they’re doing is trying to lead an Israeli-American-Arab assault on Iranian influence in the region. They see Iran as a threat, directly or indirectly. They’re probably wrong in that, or at least they exaggerate, I believe. But they’ve tried to orchestrate an American-Israeli-Arab united position to push back the Iranians, as they call it. And we’ve seen it succeed with the Trump administration, and succeed in getting action taken by the U.S. and the Israelis and the Gulf Arabs. The problem, again, for the Emiratis and the Saudis and the Israelis, and now for Trump, is that everything they’ve tried to do to contain Iran, Iran’s influence in the region, has backfired.
Iran today, in the Middle East region, is much stronger, much more widely networked into strategic partners, proxy groups, allies and groups, governments, nongovernmental groups, militias, religious groups, civil society groups. Iran is far stronger today in its regional network of relationships, including serious military, technological relationships with people like Hezbollah and Hamas. And now the Houthis are firing missiles and drones into Saudi and Emirati targets. And so, as the Emirati-Saudi-Israeli attempt to push back against Iran has proceeded in the last decade, the Iranians have only gotten stronger.
So, this is a function of two things: a wrong policy by incompetent governments, incompetent in this area, and the human nature, the fact that people all over the Arab world — in Yemen, in Lebanon, in Syria, Iraq, Palestine, wherever it may be — will struggle for their human dignity. And if the Iranians offer them assistance that they feel is appropriate and they need it, if the Iranians treat them decently, if the Iranians respond to their calls for living a normal life in the different countries, then they will work with the Iranians. And so, therefore, what you’re seeing with this anti-Iranian attempt is a massive continuing failure of wrong policies, poor implementation, faulty analysis and a total, total ignorance or disregard for both the realities of human nature and the realities of modern history.
And at some point, the United States has to look at this and do, for instance, what it’s doing in Afghanistan, which is they’re negotiating with the Taliban, which is what you should do. If you have a foe and they’re doing things you don’t like, you can try to bomb them. You can try to lay siege to them. But the best thing to do is to negotiate. Obama did it with the Iranians, successfully. The U.S. is trying to do something with the Taliban so they can get the hell out of Afghanistan. The U.S. now apparently is talking to the — looking to talk to the Houthis in Yemen, who they’ve talked to before. And that’s what they should do. So, when the Israelis and the Emiratis have secret meetings to try to coordinate their intelligence or whatever against Iran, what they’re doing is really adding a new twist to a colossal failure of a policy that they’ve tried to implement in the last decade or so, with the comic compliance of the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: And if you can comment on the role of the UAE with Saudi Arabia in Yemen? Are they dividing? And this latest news, just breaking from Agence France-Presse: Yemen government says, has reclaimed control of Aden and presidential palace. That was from about 20 minutes ago.
RAMI KHOURI: Yes. So, the UAE and the Saudis, about five years ago, launched this war on Yemen. The UAE and the Saudis have immense military power, hardware that they’ve bought mostly from the U.S. and from Europe, really sophisticated stuff, which they obviously don’t know how to use, unfortunately. They’ve created an incredible mess, a catastrophe, a human suffering of the greatest humanitarian catastrophe in the modern Middle East now in Yemen. And they have not achieved their goals. The Houthis continue to dominate the political system. The Houthis have fought back against the UAE-, Saudi-led war. The Americans and the British have directly helped the UAE and the Saudis in their warfare with things like aerial refueling and intelligence and things of — and training and things of that nature.
And after five years, I think the Saudis and the Emiratis, criminal and incompetent as they have been, they’re also human beings, and they realize that their policy is not working very well. So, I think you’re seeing a Saudi-Emirati attempt to find a way to get out of the Yemen war, stabilize the situation. They understand that the Houthis are probably going to stay in control of most of the country. The so-called legitimate Yemeni government, whose president, so-called president, lives in Saudi Arabia and is not not widely respected at all — the formal Yemeni government doesn’t really play a major — the internationally recognized Yemeni government doesn’t play any serious role.
So, you’ve got the UAE-supported forces in the south, in Aden, who tried to promote a secessionist movement to break the South Yemen off from the rest of the country, therefore to have a huge strategic ally for the UAE in a strategically important point, at the choke point of some of the trade routes and the oil shipping lanes in the region. That didn’t work. And so, I think what you’re seeing now is the Saudis and the Emiratis trying to salvage the best they can from a very difficult situation, which they created themselves. And the Saudis are going to end up, you know, for years and years dealing with this, because Yemen is right on Saudi’s soft — Saudi Arabia’s soft underbelly. They’re going to have to fund development issues, security issues. We’ll see how it develops.
There’s many complex issues within Yemen that are totally separate from Saudi and Emirati contexts — Islamist groups, tribal groups, religious groups. And there’s all kinds of internal issues in Yemen that have been playing themselves out for the last 30, 40 years, particularly the southern Yemenis, who would rather secede again and go back to having an independent South Yemen state, which they had for many years. And these internal issues are separate from the invasion that the Saudis and the Emiratis did.
And again, the claimed rationale for this war by the Emiratis and the Saudis was that they wanted to drive back the Houthis, who had taken control of the government — the Houthis, the Yemeni group. And they said they wanted to drive these Houthis out of government to reduce Iran’s influence in the region. And all that’s happened is that the Houthis and the Iranians have become much closer together. Before, their relationship was very, very, very peripheral, very minor links here and there. Now the Houthis and the Iranians are very close strategic allies, and the Houthis have benefited tremendously from military and other technology that has come either directly or indirectly from Iran. So, again, it’s incompetence at play. And the attempt to use Yemen militarily to drive back the Iranian influence in the region has only created a massive humanitarian mess in Iran and has increased Iranian influence in Iran and other parts of the region.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Rami Khouri, you’re now here in the United States. You’re usually in Beirut. You’re at Harvard Kennedy School. Your assessment of the understanding of people in the United States about what’s happening overall in the region of the Middle East? Have you been surprised by anything as you’ve been here just over the last weeks?
RAMI KHOURI: I’ve been coming to the United States and living here for most of my adult life, for a couple of months every year now. We spend four or five months every fall here in Cambridge, at Harvard. And I do some work at Northeastern and other places.
And my observation of American public opinion and American government policies vis-à-vis the Middle East has been very intense over all these years. And what I see, which I’m not surprised by, is a very heartening awareness, growing awareness, among grassroots communities, among ordinary people in the United States, church groups, labor unions, students, workers, whatever, just ordinary people. As they get more information from the Middle East, through the media and other ways, they realize that what the government of the U.S. has been telling them has been inaccurate about the Arab world, about Israel, about Iran, about other things. So, there’s been a generally, in my perception, a positive trend among the American people towards a equitable, moderate, reasonable position, that essentially sees all the people in the Middle East — Israelis, Arabs, Iranians, Turks — as people who should have equal rights, and the U.S. should support that.
The U.S. government should support, whether it’s in the Arab-Israeli conflict or with Iran or whatever, support the rule of law and equal rights for all people and nonviolence to resolve disputes. The U.S. has done that a few times. With the Iran nuclear sanctions issue, they did it, and a few other places. But generally, the U.S. government has remained heavily, heavily — the Congress and the White House have remained heavily influenced by right-wing, pro-Israeli, extremist, Zionist groups using very legal means in the United States, lobbying and other things, totally legal means, have — so, the very strong influence that Israel and the right wing in Israel, particularly the Netanyahu, Likud groups, their strong influence in the U.S. has been constricting in recent years, is focused now heavily on the Congress and the White House. And in all other parts of American life, there is a much more honest debate about Middle East issues, particularly Arab-Israeli issues.
And what’s fascinating to me, and not surprising, among American Jews, among young American Jews, you’re getting 55, 60% of young American Jews saying that they want a Palestinian state living with an Israeli state peacefully, etc. — reasonable, genuinely ethical positions, which is what I would expect from my Jewish friends in the United States, now being manifested in a political context of looking at the Arab-Israeli conflict, as Americans, as Jews, saying, “We need a application of justice for both people.” This wasn’t the case 30, 40, 50 years ago, when I was at college here in the 1960s. So, the trend has been very constructive in the population, I would say, in the public sphere.
But in the political sphere, in the political arena, you still have exaggerated influence of right-wing extremist groups, whether they’re on Iran or whether they’re on Israel or other issues. The political class remains susceptible to manipulation, pressure, being bought out, etc., partly because of the nature of the political system, partly because of the role of money, and partly because of the gerrymandered congressional seats. There’s many different reasons for this. But you have a core group in Congress that will essentially take a strong position, whether it’s on Israel or Iran or something else, whereas the American people, as a whole, are much more in the middle, much more reasonable, much more sensible, much more ethical. And this is something that I’ve watched, and it’s very heartening. And this is what I would expect from the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you so much for being with us, Rami Khouri, senior public policy fellow, adjunct professor of journalism, journalist-in-residence at American University of Beirut, now nonresident senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Middle East Initiative. We will link to your piece in The New Arab headlined “The dangerous new landscape of Arab-Israeli warfare.”
To see Part 1 of our discussion, go to democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.