A young boy stands in the rubble of his destroyed home in Beit Hanoun, Gaza.
Cornel West recently spoke at a march on Washington in support of Palestinian civilians caught in the crossfire between Hamas and Israeli military forces. Despite a string of shaky cease-fires, yet more rockets were exchanged last night, and the future remains undecided.
“This is a human affair,” Dr. West preached. “Any human being who chooses occupation and annihilation is a war criminal, and especially when they’re killing precious Palestinian babies. A Palestinian baby has exactly the same status as a white baby in Newtown, Connecticut, as a brown baby in the Eastside of LA, as a Jewish baby in Israel.” It’s a powerful moment, a reminder of the indiscriminate nature of warfare, and a military occupation in which an estimated 80% of deaths have been civilians.
GAZA CITY, GAZA - JULY 15: Palestinian 4-year-old Sheyma Al-Masri, wounded in an Israeli airstrike within the 'Operation Protective Edge', gets treatment at Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, Gaza on July 15, 2014.
As Israel and Hamas trade blows, and with Israel’s Operation “Protective Edge” entering its eighth day, the casualty count in Gaza continues to climb, with estimates of nearly 200 Palestinians killed and over 1,500 wounded by the airstrike campaign. President Obama recently defended Israel’s right to the bombardment, making a US-brokered peace deal seem further away than ever. It’s a development that adds fuel to an argument that Middle East historian Rashid Khalidi frames in his latest book, Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East. In it, Khalidi—who recently appeared on the radio show On Point to talk about this latest backslide into violence—asserts that, far from being the unbiased benevolent guide to peace between Israel and Palestine, the US has, in fact, been an agent of continuing injustice, effectively preventing the difficult but essential steps needed to achieve peace in the region. The following is excerpted from Khalidi’s introduction to Brokers of Deceit.
In politics and in diplomacy, as in much else, language matters greatly. However debased political discourse may become, however disingenuous diplomacy often is, the words employed by politicians and diplomats define situations and determine outcomes. In recent history, few semantic battles over terminology have been as intensely fought out as those concerning Palestine/Israel.
The importance of the precise use of language can be illustrated by the powerful valence in the Middle East context of terms such as “terrorism,” “security,” “self-determination,” “autonomy,” “honest broker,” and “peace process.” Each of these terms has set conditions not only for perceptions, but also for possibilities. Moreover, these terms have come to take on a specific meaning, frequently one that is heavily loaded in favor of one side, and is far removed from what logic or balance would seem to dictate. Thus in the American/Israeli official lexicon, “terrorism” in the Middle East context has come to apply exclusivelyto the actions of Arab militants, whether those of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Hamas, Hizballah, or others. Under these peculiar terminological rules, the actions of the militaries of Israel and the United States cannot be described as “terrorism,” irrespective of how many Palestinians, Lebanese, Iraqi, or Afghan civilians may have died at their hands.
An examination of the failure of the United States as a broker in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, through three key historical moments
For more than seven decades the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people has raged on with no end in sight, and for much of that time, the United States has been involved as a mediator in the conflict. In this book, acclaimed historian Rashid Khalidi zeroes in on the United States's role as the purported impartial broker in this failed peace process.
Khalidi closely analyzes three historical moments that illuminate how the United States' involvement has, in fact, thwarted progress toward peace between Israel and Palestine. The first moment he investigates is the "Reagan Plan" of 1982, when Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin refused to accept the Reagan administration's proposal to reframe the Camp David Accords more impartially. The second moment covers the period after the Madrid Peace Conference, from 1991 to 1993, during which negotiations between Israel and Palestine were brokered by the United States until the signing of the secretly negotiated Oslo accords. Finally, Khalidi takes on President Barack Obama's retreat from plans to insist on halting the settlements in the West Bank.
Through in-depth research into and keen analysis of these three moments, as well as his own firsthand experience as an advisor to the Palestinian delegation at the 1991 pre-Oslo negotiations in Washington, DC, Khalidi reveals how the United States and Israel have actively colluded to prevent a Palestinian state and resolve the situation in Israel's favor. Brokers of Deceit bares the truth about why peace in the Middle East has been impossible to achieve: for decades, US policymakers have masqueraded as unbiased agents working to bring the two sides together, when, in fact, they have been the agents of continuing injustice, effectively preventing the difficult but essential steps needed to achieve peace in the region.
Rashid Khalidi is the author of several books about the Middle East, including Palestinian Identity, Resurrecting Empire, The Iron Cage, and Sowing Crisis. His writing on Middle Eastern history and politics has appeared in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and many journals. For his work on the Middle East, Professor Khalidi has received fellowships and grants from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the American Research Center in Egypt, and the Rockefeller Foundation, among others. He is the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University in New York.
In the Media
Click here to read a post by Khalidi at the Foreign Policy website.
“Unpacking these episodes in sharp, take-no-prisoners prose,
Khalidi maintains that the U.S. and Israel, ‘by far the most powerful actors in
the Middle East,’ through successive administrations and a variety of key
officials … have conspired to deny Palestinians any semblance of
self-determination. A stinging indictment of one-sided policymaking destined,
if undisturbed, to result in even greater violence.” —Kirkus Reviews
“What has happened to the Palestinian people since 1948 is one of the great
crimes of modern history. Of course, Israel bears primary responsibility for
this tragedy. However, as Rashid Khalidi shows in his smart new book, American
presidents from Truman to Obama have sided with Israel at almost every turn and
helped it inflict immense pain and humiliation on the Palestinians. At the same
time, they have employed high-sounding but dishonest rhetoric to cover up
Israel’s brutal behavior. As Brokers of Deceit makes clear,
the United States richly deserves to be called ‘Israel’s lawyer.’” —John J.
Mearsheimer, coauthor of The Israel Lobby
Drawing on his own experience as a Palestinian negotiator and recently released
documents, Rashid Khalidi mounts a frontal attack on the myths and
misconceptions that have come to surround America’s role in the so-called ‘peace
process,’ which is all process and no peace. The title is not too strong: the
book demonstrates conclusively that far from serving as an honest broker, the
United States continues to act as Israel’s lawyer—with dire consequences for
its own interests, for the Palestinians, and for the entire region. Professor
Khalidi deserves much credit for his superb exposition of the fatal gap between
the rhetoric and reality of American diplomacy on this critically important
issue.” —Avi Shlaim, Emeritus Professor of International Relations at Oxford
and author of The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World
“Khalidi has combined history, common sense, and his firsthand understanding of
Arab-Israeli peace talks, as brokered by Washington, to make the case that
American national security interests would be best served by a just peace in
the Middle East. Instead, he writes with great sadness, Washington’s efforts to
be an honest broker fall ‘somewhere between high irony and farce’—and put
democratic America, with its avowed commitment to freedom for all, in the
position of enabling the continued subjugation of the Palestinian people. This
is an important book” —Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Seymour M. Hersh, The New Yorker
“For those of us who believe that a two-state solution is the path to justice
and peace for Israel and Palestine, Rashid Khalidi’s trenchant analysis is
powerful and disturbing. The United States has failed repeatedly to be an
honest broker, accepting the status quo of Israeli occupation and settlements
when a true peace agreement would be deeply in the interest of all parties,
Israel, Palestine, and the US itself. Khalidi emphasizes that the deceptions of
language and deed have serious long-term costs and that the United States might
soon impose and incur still greater costs through ill-conceived policies
vis-à-vis Syria, Iran, and other countries in the Middle East.” —Jeffrey D.
Sachs, author of The End of Poverty
“Rashid Khalidi is arguably the foremost U.S. historian of the modern Middle
East.” —Warren I. Cohen, Los Angeles Times Book Review
“With a deep knowledge of the Middle East and a felicitous literary style,
Khalidi . . . examines the history of U.S. involvement in the area against the
backdrop of European colonialism.” —Ronald Steel, The Nation
“Khalidi’s role is as a historian, working to show how historical forces,
largely ignored in the U.S., have shaped the modern Middle East. He takes
particular delight in demolishing the various clichés used to describe the
Middle East, bred out of what he terms ‘America’s historical amnesia.’” —Chris
Hedges, New York Times
Suddenly, to be an Arab has become a good thing. People all over the Arab world feel a sense of pride in shaking off decades of cowed passivity under dictatorships that ruled with no deference to popular wishes. And it has become respectable in the West as well. Egypt is now thought of as an exciting and progressive place; its people’s expressions of solidarity are welcomed by demonstrators in Madison, Wisconsin; and its bright young activists are seen as models for a new kind of twenty-first-century mobilization. Events in the Arab world are being covered by the Western media more extensively than ever before and are being talked about positively in a fashion that is unprecedented. Before, when anything Muslim or Middle Eastern or Arab was reported on, it was almost always with a heavy negative connotation. Now, during this Arab spring, this has ceased to be the case. An area that was a byword for political stagnation is witnessing a rapid transformation that has caught the attention of the world.
Three things should be said about this sea change in perceptions about Arabs, Muslims and Middle Easterners. The first is that it shows how superficial, and how false, were most Western media images of this region. Virtually all we heard about were the ubiquitous terrorists, the omnipresent bearded radicals and their veiled companions trying to impose Sharia and the corrupt, brutal despots who were the only option for control of such undesirables. In US government-speak, faithfully repeated by the mainstream media, most of that corruption and brutality was airbrushed out through the use of mendacious terms like “moderates” (i.e., those who do and say what we want). That locution, and the one used to denigrate the people of the region, “the Arab street,” should now be permanently retired.