Beacon Press Boston 2013
In Part III of Brokers of Deceit, New York University historian Rashid Khalidi gives us a window into why Obama, though seemingly a change-agent, fell victim to the same forces that molded Carter, Reagan, Clinton and W Bush as Israeli apologists. For Khalidi, these forces include but are not limited to:1.) Domestic Politics 2.) The Israel Lobby 3.) Republicans taking the house in 2010 4.) Netanyahu’s far-right Likud party winning a majority in the Knesset in 20095.) Division within the Palestinian leadership6.) Lack of an effective counterweight (Saudi Arabia, Arab Americans aren’t wiling to expend as much political capitol as Jews.) 7.) The Holocaust (Victim status although the Israeli military is miles above any of it’s neighbors)
What Khalidi fails to mention is1.) Israel’s strategic value to the United States - whether it be their destruction of a Syrian Nuclear Reactor that the US had deemed illegal in 2007 via Operation Orchard, the CIA’s close connection to the Mossad, which warned us of 9/11 before it happened and successfully blew up Iranian nuclear facilities and murdered Iranian nuclear scientists, and the United States $2.2 billion dollars worth of arms stored in Israel. 2.) The military-industrial complex and arms manufacturers who have a significant lobbying presence on Capitol Hill while simultaneously benefiting immensely from increased arms sales to Israel3.) Israel is a useful agent through which we can shepherd the oil. 4.) It’s not about Judaism or the Jews; it’s about Jesus Christ. Israel and all it’s holy sites get a disproportionate amount of media attention in the US because of our shared connection to the land, making Israel seem more relevant to the American populous than India or even China. Israel is a good protector of these sacred lands and makes it safe for American tourists to visit important holy sites, such as the West Bank city of Bethlehem that hosts millions of pilgrims a year and is walled off by the IDF. 5.) A lack of success in Israel/Palestine negotiations is largely the fault of the Israeli’s and Palestinians, not American mediation.
Khalidi takes us from Obama’s Cairo speech in 2009 - one filled with promising rhetoric on Palestine unheard from an American president in years but still biased towards Israel - to Obama’s 2011 UN general assembly speech that may have possibly been the most pro-Israel speech ever given by a US president. The 2009 Israeli elections and 2010 US midterm elections mentioned above, as well as Obama’s coming bid for re-election, undoubtedly helped facilitate this change. Khalidi buries the notion that Obama was some sort of George Habash inspired radical in his own personal beliefs. Khalidi has ethos in this respect as he grew up in the same neighborhood as Obama, taught at the U of C while Obama did and knew him on a very personal level. However, Khalidi gives us no compelling picture of Obama’s views before his public life began in 2002-2003, leaving us asking: How does Obama really feel?
The author briefly touches on W. Bush’s Israel policy to put his successors actions in context, as the main focus of the chapter is Barack Obama. He notes the use of language, i.e. Bush describing Israeli settlements as “existing major Israeli population centers.” as opposed to “illegal” as they were called in 1967 or “Obstacles to peace” as Reagan coined in the 1980’s. This subtle change in wording has major implications, argues Khalidi, as Condoleezza Rice went even further and demanded that four existing settlements spread out across the West Bank would have to be accepted as part of any final solution. To Khalidi, Rice is the epitome of a dishonest broker, as she told Palestinians to “look forward” in regard to the nakba which displaced 750,000 people, some still living, from their homes. Rashidi chastises her and rightly so, questioning whether or not she would tell a Jewish or Black audience the same thing, uncovering a striking double standard. Bush filled out his administration with right-wing, pro-Likud hardliners such as Elliot Abrams, Paul Wolfowitz, and Sam Feith.
Obama was not immune from the same forces that guided Bush’s Israel policy, as evidenced by his appointment of Dennis Ross in high positions in the NSC and State Department, his ties with Brookings Institute Middle East center founder and pro-settlements tycoon Haim Saban, his constant evoking of Israel’s victim status and his complete refusal after 2010 to utter a single world that would upset even the most moderate Israeli. Khalidi points out that Obama tried using George Mitchell, who brought the “terrorist” organization the IRA into the peace talks in Ireland that ultimately facilitated the Good Friday Accords, onto the scene to bring Hamas into the negotiations. Given the domestic political climate in Israel and the U.S., however, this was a non-starter. Khalidi is pointing out that even if Obama did tried to be a more level-headed broker, he would not have succeeded. It’s not the president, it’s the system, and until that is changed the president will not and will see the pattern demonstrated in this book continue ad infinitum. Such is the reality of American and Israeli politics, whether one wishes it were different or not.
Given that these events occurred recently, Khalidi does not yet have access to official documents while writing this report. However, he is still able to make his point convincingly based on Obama’s official appointments, speeches, public statements and above all else actions. Although declassified official documents may reveal more in coming years, I believe Rashidi’s overall analysis will hold true.
Surprisingly, Khalidi gives no mention of J Street, the liberal Israel lobby that had direct access to the White House, and of whom’s policy prescriptions were used by Obama. J Street is second only to AIPAC in it’s influence, touting around eight million dollars in assets to AIPAC’s sixty million, but having a policy prescription of two-states that is received well within liberal circles in the American, Israeli and diaspora Jewish communities alike. At their conference this year democratic officials such as Tim Kaine, Madeline Albright, Bernie Sanders, Chris Mitchell, and Martin Indyk spoke in strong support of the organization, evidencing their close ties to the democratic party and by the transitive property the Obama White House. Rashid Khalidi’s book exposes America’s inability to be an honest mediator across decades of administrations and the powerful forces which make this the case. As I write and as countless officials have talked, concrete is being poured in the West Bank and the dreams of a Palestinian state are becoming ever elusive. This could not have been published at a more crucial moment, and needs to be read by anyone who cares about American foreign policy towards the Israel/Palestine conflict.