Deceit and Rashid Khalidi

The Columbia University historian defends unconditionally the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, even if this is expressed through violence.

Palestinian children celebrate Hamas founding 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah)
Palestinian children celebrate Hamas founding 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah)
Enter into the parallel world presented by historian Rashid Khalidi, where America is deceitful, the Jewish state is evil and oppressive, the Arab states are at worst indifferent to the Palestinian cause, and the Palestinians are the righteous, forever suffering dupes of a world ruled by forces beyond their control.
In this world – constructed in Khalidi’s new book Brokers of Deceit: How the US Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East – US foreign policy vis-à-vis Israel and the Middle East is dictated exclusively by domestic considerations. Successive US administrations – going back to US president Harry Truman – have adopted pro-Israel positions in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to cater to the all-powerful Jewish lobby and the substantial evangelical Christian population, even when doing so contradicts America’s foreign interests.
And while the Americans have repeatedly presented themselves as “honest brokers,” in reality they have consistently sided with Israel, putting Israeli security needs ahead of Palestinians’ rights.
Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, have consistently refrained from putting pressure on the Americans to force Israel to pull out of the West Bank.
And nobody – not the Europeans, not the Arab world – cares about the rights of the Palestinian population enough to do something. Meanwhile, Palestinians see increasingly larger portions of their land “stolen” from them with the full complicity of America.
If, argues Khalidi, the Americans were truly honest brokers and not liars and deceivers, or if the Saudis and the Europeans had put pressure on the Americans to be more even-handed, or if a more honest broker such as Turkey(!) or Sweden had taken over the role, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would have been solved long ago. Israel would have been forced to dismantle all its settlements, give up access to sites that resonate with Jewish history, make the West Bank “Judenrein,” and retreat to indefensible borders, absorb millions of Palestinian “refugees” who would be allowed to “return” to their homes inside the Green Line, and wait for Hamas to come to power in the West Bank.
There is, however, a major flaw in Khalidi’s argument – and it is moral in nature. Besides trotting out the Palestinians’ inalienable right to “self-determination,” nowhere does Khalidi explain to his readers the moral justification for forcing on Israel a two-state arrangement that overturns the Jewish majority, effectively terminating the world’s only Jewish state, and presents an existential threat to the Jews who remain to share “Israel” with millions of Palestinian refugees, while living alongside a “Palestine” that remains dedicated to the demise of Jewish sovereignty, and perhaps Jewish presence, in the Middle East. And while Khalidi excoriates the Americans and the Israelis, nowhere does he judge the moral ramifications of Palestinians’ actions.
For Khalidi, Palestinians are passive victims, not actors who should be held responsible for the choices they make.
The PLO’s unwise decision to side with Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in the 1991 Gulf War – which effectively alienated Saudi Arabia and put an end to the country’s financial support for the PLO – is the rare instance in which Khalidi admits Palestinians might share some responsibility for their own fate. He does not, of course, criticize Palestinians for making the morally despicable decision to align themselves with the likes of Hussein.
Nor does Khalidi consider the impact on the Palestinian cause resulting from any of the other colossally bad choices made by Palestinians, whether in exile or in the West Bank, such the decision to carry out deadly terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians – men, women and children; to align themselves with the Soviet Union; to choose corrupt or fundamentalist Islamist leaders.
Why do Americans identify more closely with Israelis than with Palestinians? Is it only because they are manipulated by the Israel Lobby; or because both societies share “pioneer” cultures, as Khalidi suggests? Could it be that Americans identify more with Israel out of a feeling of shared common values, while they feel repulsion for a Palestinian thanatocracy that supports suicide bombings, the firing of rockets and missiles at civilian populations, and the worship of the shahid (martyr)? Could it be that Palestinians’ own behavior has had a deleterious impact on relations with the US? Khalidi never considers this possibility.
The lack of reflection on the moral and diplomatic implications of Palestinians’ choices is particularly apparent when Khalidi describes the attempts by US presidential special envoy George Mitchell to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Khalidi notes the US’s (and other Western countries’) rejection of Mitchell’s suggestion that Hamas be recognized and incorporated into the official Palestinian political leadership with whom Israel should be expected to negotiate.
Why, asks Khalidi, should Hamas be obligated to renounce violence as a condition for recognition? Israel has not been asked to renounce violence (i.e. defend itself). Khalidi goes on to blame the US, the EU and Israel for exacerbating the rift between Hamas and Fatah by refusing to recognize Hamas.
Here Khalidi notes the political ramifications: “While this division may have suited the Israeli government for various reasons, including its utter disinterest in negotiations that would have required Israeli concessions over settlements, Jerusalem and refugees, it is hard to see how it benefited the US and the Europeans, who ostensibly desired successful negotiations for an end to the conflict.
The exclusion of Hamas was among the factors that made such an outcome impossible, and that call into question how serious the American and Europeans actually were about resolving this conflict.”
Putting aside for the moment the disastrous implications for Israel of creating a Palestinian state run by Hamas, what would the creation of such a state mean for the Palestinian people? Is it not agonizing for Khalidi – a man who grew up in America enjoying its freedoms, and is now ensconced at Columbia University enjoying the academic liberty to write a book that depicts America as deceitful – to watch his people choose Hamas, a terrorist organization that promulgates the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, encourages the tactic of suicide bombings, and oppresses women, non-Muslims and critics? Apparently not. Rather, Khalidi defends unconditionally the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, even if this self-determination is expressed through violence, reactionary religious extremism and the trampling of basic human rights.
It goes without saying that for Israel, no good could possibly come out of the creation of a Palestinian state with a political leadership shared, if not dominated, by Hamas. Nor would the creation of such a state do much to further American interests.
What is truly galling, however, is that Khalidi refuses to admit that even for Palestinians, the creation of such a state would be a tragedy. Thankfully, most Americans have a sharper moral sense. And it is this moral sense, not American deceit, as Khalidi would have us believe, that explains the failure, until now, to implement the two-state solution.