Rashid Khalidi, the New York-born Palestinian American professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University, may not have yet acquired the celebrity status that the late Edward Said had acquired in his career as a scholar engaged in exposing European orientalist thought and Washington’s complicit role in the continued subjugation of Palestinian people, but he is getting there.
It is significant that Khalidi’s new book on what he calls dismissively — for its duplicity — the “peace process” brokered by the US from Reagan to Obama, was released several days before American Secretary of State John Kerry initiated yet another round of talks between Israelis and Palestinians. Relying on meticulous research and on his own first-hand experience as an adviser to the delegation at the 1991 negotiations in Washington, Khalidi has written a scathing book about how the US and Israel have actively colluded in preventing the emergence of a Palestinian state all these years. The title and subtitle of his book say it all — Brokers of Deceit: How the US Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East. His concluding chapter, about America’s special relationship with Zionism, is equally tellingly
titled: Israel’s Lawyer.
This tome is not only timely, but much-needed as an expose of how Washington, irrespective of who was in the White House, deliberately and calculatedly prevented the difficult but essential steps needed to achieve peace in Palestine and justice for the Palestinians.
Khalidi’s analysis focuses on what he calls the “three historical moments” in the peace process over the last three decades: The 1982 Reagan Plan, the Madrid Peace Conference and the later signing of the Oslo accords, from 1991 to 1993, and finally the retreat by President Barack Obama — whom Arabs, Muslims and Europeans expected to humanise America’s foreign policy — from his declared plans to insist that Israel halt the colonisation of Arab land in Palestine. Not since The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy (2007), by John J. Marsheimer and Stephen Walt, has a book mounted such a frontal attack on the myths of America’s role as an impartial peace mediator.
Khalidi writes bluntly and up-front in the introduction: “Since the Camp David Accords in 1978 ... the incessantly repeated mantra about a ‘peace process’ has served to disguise an ugly reality — whatever process the United States was championing, it was not in fact actually directed at achieving a just and lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis”. He adds: “Instead of trying to achieve these goals, the process actually undertaken by the United States was aimed at pressuring the weaker Palestinians into conforming to the desiderata of their much stronger oppressor.”
Virtually all American presidents in the “three historical moments” covered by Khalidi have honed to the narrative that Israel fiercely sold to the American people, namely the victim status of the Israeli state, a beleaguered and vulnerable entity in constant danger of assault by its fanatical neighbours. Even Obama pandered to that fiction when just a day after he won the Democratic presidential nomination in June 2008, he delivered a speech to the America Israel Public Affairs Committee annual conference, in which he invoked the Holocaust and lambasted those Arabs “committed to Israel’s destruction”, with nary a word about how Israel is actually a regional superpower bristling with lethal weapons of mass destruction that it had shown little hesitation over the years in using against its poorly armed neighbours.
The assault on Arabs, whether in Palestine or beyond, often accompanied by denial that it is happening or has ever happened, would not clearly have taken place without the collusion of the US.
And if any of us had naively assumed that Obama was, pun aside, a horse of a different colour, consider the speech — the most brazenly pro-Israeli speech ever delivered by an American president at any time, anywhere — that he delivered at the UN General Assembly in September 2011, where he reiterated the apocalyptic, but by now banal and pathetic, myths about an Israel in mortal danger from the brutal hordes at its borders, the barbarians at the gate, as it were.
“But understand this as well”, he thundered from the podium as he addressed the world body: “America’s commitment to Israel’s security is unshakable ... Israel is surrounded by neighbours that have waged repeated wars against it. Israel’s citizens have been killed by rockets fired at their houses and suicide bombs on their buses. Israel’s children come of age knowing that throughout the region, other children are taught to hate them. Israel ... looks out at a world where leaders of much larger nations threaten to wipe it off the map ...” And so it went on and on, without a word uttered about the Palestinians.
If Obama turned out a dud on the issue, whom do you trust in Washington to buy a used car from in the future? Khalidi does not evince the slightest bit of trust either in that regard and lest we forget, he was linked to Obama because, as he writes, “I was a colleague of his at the University of Chicago, lived in the same Hyde Park neighbourhood, and because our families at times socialised together”.
Khalidi’s may not have unearthed new archival material, but his is a sprightly and accessible book about how, for decades now, American presidents and policymakers, while masquerading as honest brokers, were in fact “brokers of deceit”.
Fawaz Turki is a journalist, lecturer and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile.