Rashid Khalidi’s latest book, Brokers of Deceit: How the US Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East, is a detailed examination of the role the world’s most powerful nation has played in reinforcing Israel’s subjugation of the Palestinian people.
Khalidi demonstrates that the US failed to play the role of “honest broker” in peace talks, acting more like Israel’s lawyer. The US not only cemented an ever tighter alliance with Zionism but in some ways became Israel’s junior partner when it came to negotiations with the Palestinians. With the connivance of the corporate media and the Orwellian abuse of language, the US tried to portray itself as a genuine mediator but in fact played a deceitful role, effectively preventing a peaceful and just settlement, Khalidi argues.
A Palestinian-American historian and now the Edward Said professor of modern Arab studies at Columbia University in New York City, Khalidi is the author of numerous books, notably The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood (2006), Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness (1997), and Resurrecting Empire: Footprints and America’s Perilous Path in the Middle East (2004). He brings to this work not only the skills of a historian, including the unearthing of revealing and formerly classified documents, but also his experience as an advisor to the Palestinian delegation during the 1991 Madrid Conference.
The three historical junctures that Khalidi focuses on are the summer of 1982 when the issue of Palestinian autonomy, as promised by the 1978 Camp David accords, appeared briefly to be heading in a direction favorable to the Palestinians under the administration of Ronald Reagan; the two-year period following the Madrid Conference when the administration of Bill Clinton presided over negotiations; and the latter half of Barack Obama’s first term — during which Obama retreated from nearly all the positions he had originally proposed, including a freeze on Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank.
Khalidi maintains that all the time, a long-overlooked US intelligence assessment correctly predicted that Israel never intended for a Palestinian state to emerge.
The recently declassified document, believed to have been written in August 1982 by a senior Central Intelligence Agency official who was later killed in Lebanon, maintained that Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin would stridently oppose the Reagan administration’s plan for greater Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and that Israel’s understanding of the “autonomy” provisions in the 1978 Camp David Accords excluded the creation of a Palestinian state.
Tying diplomats’ hands
As background to these three periods, Khalidi provides us with the content of a secret 1975 letter from President Gerald Ford to then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, in which the US promised Israel that it will never initiate a proposal affecting Middle East peace negotiations without first seeking Israel’s approval. The letter read: “Should the US desire in the future to put forward proposals of its own, it will make every effort to coordinate with Israel its proposals with a view to refraining from putting forth proposals that Israel would consider unsatisfactory.”
Israel reminded every administration that followed of Ford’s promise. “This tremendously important commitment has ever since served to tie the hands of American diplomats, who to all intents and purposes are prohibited from putting forward any peace proposals without prior Israeli approval, reversing the relationship one might expect between superpower and client,” Khalidi writes. “In practice, it has also meant that the United States could no longer honestly play the role of good faith mediator between Israel and its Arab interlocutors, if ever it had done so in the past.”
US negotiators became so subservient to Israeli interests that following the Madrid Conference, they became “more royalist than the king,” as Khalidi puts it. It’s almost funny to read that just prior to the 1993 Oslo accords, then US negotiator Dennis Ross repeatedly assured the Clinton administration that Israel would never talk to the Palestine Liberation Organization, though Israel was doing precisely that at the time and without the US’ knowledge. Apparently, Israel never believed it had to refrain from putting forward proposals that the US might find unsatisfactory.
Khalidi outlines several reasons for the US alliance with Israel. He notes, of course, the strong influence of the Israel lobby on domestic US politics and the lack of a Palestinian-American constituency capable of countering the lobby.
In some ways, he notes, the US is a kind of “metropole” for Israeli colonialism, supplying not only funding for its settlement enterprise but also bodies in the form, for example, of Brooklyn-born settlers. But ultimately he dismisses the idea that the lobby “drives US Middle Eastern policy.” He argues instead that as long as Saudi Arabia and other Arab monarchical despots, with their key oil reserves, remain US allies and fail to pressure the US on behalf of the Palestinians, US strategic interests will remain tied to Israel.
Just as he did in previous books, Khalidi argues that the Cold War with the Soviet Union was a key reason for the US alliance with Israel and its hostility toward the Palestinian struggle for self-determination. With the end of the Cold War, the emergence of Iran as an independent actor in the Middle East has made it a US “obsession,” according to Khalidi, and once again Palestine’s status is a back-burner issue that gets little attention.
Khalidi adopts a somewhat pessimistic tone in discussing a way out. He counsels Palestinians to remain self-reliant and hopes that eventually the democratization of key Arab countries will force the US to end its one-sided support of Israel.
In his conclusion, Khalidi does not attempt to flesh out a comprehensive strategy for Palestinian liberation. Nevertheless, it is disappointing to note his failure to mention the global boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement, which in concert with Palestinian internal resistance has the potential to end Israel’s colonial scheme.
Such a strategy helped end white rule in South Africa, with former apartheid officials themselves testifying to the impact of BDS on their ability to obtain international loans and the cultural impact of South Africa’s isolation in international arenas.
Given Khalidi’s convincing evidence of official US support for Israeli apartheid, Palestine’s liberation probably will come only once the imperial power of the US government is no longer the dominant force in the Middle East. That is a day which all human rights activists should hasten to achieve.
Rod Such is a freelance writer and former editor for World Book and Encarta encyclopedias. He is a member of the Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign and Americans United for Palestinian Human Rights.