YPFP NY: A Conversation with Rashid Khalidi
Rashid Khalidi speaks quickly but deliberately, never backtracking on a word or phrase once chosen. This careful manner of speech is perhaps necessary, as Dr. Khalidi is an expert in one of the most contentious contemporary topics: Palestine. Dr. Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University, spoke to YPFP NY members on December 2, 2013, in a lecture entitled, “The Prospect for Mideast Peace.” Following the talk, he granted YPFP NY an interview to discuss his most recent two books and the many misunderstandings surrounding the issue of Israel and Palestine.
Dr. Khalidi’s newest book, Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East, describes the failure of the United States as a broker in Palestinian-Israeli peace process. The book focuses on the years since the Carter administration although Dr. Khalidi says, “On Palestine the United States has had a consistent policy really going back to President Truman.” According to Dr. Khalidi, while the United States has claimed to be attempting to resolve the conflict, it has in fact both contributed to the trouble and ignored the core issue.
“Instead of aggressively arguing that the root of the problem since ’67 was occupation and that that has to be ended unconditionally, the United States has basically gone along and supported and financed the occupation,” Dr. Khalidi says, “and even indirectly helped finance the settlements.”
Dr. Khalidi is not hopeful about peace in the region if the United States’ policies continue along the same trajectory. “What can the United States do? It has to entirely change its approach. This approach has created the problem. This approach will perpetuate the problem. It is perpetuating the problem.”
Misrepresentation of the nature of the Israel-Palestine conflict contributes to the failed United States policies. “The [myth] that is most relevant to the modern era is the idea that this is a conflict between two states or quasi-states and that is a complete misrepresentation,” Dr. Khalidi says. “There is one powerful state and there is a people who have never had a state, never had self-determination, never controlled their destiny and for their entire modern history have been under foreign control: British or Jordanian or Egyptian or Israeli.”
While Brokers of Deceit is the most recent book written by Dr. Khalidi, it is not his most recently released. His 1986 book Under Siege: PLO Decisionmaking During the 1982 War was re-released in January of 2014 with a preface addressing documents from the Israeli state archive covering that period that have recently come to light. Seth Anziska, a student of Dr. Khalidi’s at Columbia discovered the new documents in the book and published an opinion piece in the New York Times describing them and the new view they provide on the Sabra and Shatila massacre.
The preface of the rerelease of Under Siege describes how these recently released Israeli documents “shed new light both on Israeli, direct responsibility for the massacres and on the American role, American responsibility” Dr. Khalidi says. “The United States had promised the Palestine Liberation Organization that Palestine civilians who remained behind after PLO fighters were evacuated in August would be protected. American diplomats failed to restrain the Israelis from entering West Beirut.” However, while the Israeli archives are available, the government archives for the United States for this period have not yet been opened.
Yet the contemporary general ease of access to archives makes Dr. Khalidi encouraging for YPFP members interested in historical research themselves. “We have access today to a range of materials I could only dream of when I was a grad student in the 70s. It’s quite amazing what is easily accessible,” Dr. Khalidi says. He further recommends anyone interest in the historical field or even the policy world to develop language skills and regional expertise. According to Dr. Khalidi, “That means language and culture and history and so on. I very strongly believe this, being a Middle East historian, I would.”
Eve Ahearn is Associate Director of Communications for YPFP NY.