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On Contact: Trump's Israel-Palestine'peace' plan with Prof. Rashid Khalidi

On the show this week, Chris Hedges discusses with Professor Rashid Khalidi the long, disingenuous role the United States has played in the Israel-Palestine conflict, including the latest so-called peace plan. Khalidi is the Edward Said professor of modern Arab studies at Columbia University and author of 'Brokers of Deceit: How the US has Undermined Peace in the Middle East.'

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CH: Welcome to On Contact.  Today we discuss the long, disingenuous role the United States as played in the Israel-Palestine conflict with Professor Rashid Khalidi.

RK: Israel has always been dependent on external support.  It’s a powerful nuclear state, it has all kinds of assets, but it’s still dependent on external support.  Should that external support be severely compromised, Israel will be forced to take different positions. 

CH: Well, this is what I think our only hope is.

RK: Well--and I think you’re right.  There are changes taking place here on college campuses, among the Jewish community, among young people in particular, among some churches, in--at the base of the Democratic Party.  You can see Bernie Sanders saying things no American politician has said before.

CH: The Trump administration has unveiled a so-called peace plan for the Israelis and Palestinians drafted by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner without any input from Palestinians.  The plan gives Israel sovereignty over large areas of the occupied West Bank, total control over Jerusalem, and allows the Jewish state to keep all illegal settlements built in the occupied West Bank, all flagrant violations of international law.  The plan also calls for a four-year settlement freeze and a possible creation of a truncated Palestinian state, in essence ghettos surrounded by Israel, but only if a number of conditions are met.  The plan, enthusiastically endorsed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, essentially formalizes the Israeli apartheid state.  It is the natural denouement of the Zionist and later Israeli project to violently colonize the land of Palestine and eject its people.  Joining me in the studio to discuss this plan is Rashid Khalidi.  The Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University, and the author of Brokers of Deceit, How the US Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East.  So, you go back and look at all the “efforts” to broker a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians.  And deceit is the right word.  But you begin by talking about the importance of language.  And that’s a kind of a recurrent theme, talk about that.  How language is used to distort reality.

RK: Right.  Well, I mean, I would take two terms.  The idea of the United States as as a mediator or even as a broker on the one hand, and the idea that what the United States has been trying to achieve between Palestinians and Israelis as peace.  Now, there are peace treaties between Egypt and Israel, or Jordan and Israel.  And so, in certain instances it has obviously achieved peace agreements or helped to achieve peace agreements.  But as far as the core conflict in the Middle East, the one that goes back hundred years, the United States has actually not been working towards peace.  And the use of that term is completely deceptive.  If Security Council Resolution 242 was designed to…

CH: You explain what that was.  And let me--let me make you explain because you were quite critical of 242 in a way that I felt was really smart that I hadn’t thought of, but I’ll let you explain it.

RK: Well, American peace-making efforts actually go back before the ‘67 war.  And I think it could be argued that some of the things that were done under Eisenhower and even under Kennedy were, in fact, reaching towards peace, but certainly from ‘67 onwards.  Certainly…

CH: This is when Israel occupies Gaza and the West Bank.

RK: Precisely.  Certainly from the Johnson administration onwards, certainly from even before the ‘67 war when McNamara--Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and President Johnson give the Israelis a green light to launch an attack on the Arab countries, and tell them you’re going to beat them anyway.

CH: Okay, but let me just throw in there because it’s from your book, that the CIA assessment says “No, there is no imminent threat,” because Israel used it as an excuse that we’re about to be attacked and all the intelligence agencies said, “No, it’s totally untrue, you’re not.”

RK: They knew perfectly well that the Egyptian army was incapable of doing anything aggressive and had no plans to do so and when they actually had a plan they didn’t even intend to implement it.  But more importantly than that, what the United States then does after the war, in ramming through Security Council Resolution 242, is to set…

CH: Explain what it was.

RK: I will.

CH: It--it’s the land for peace resolution, it’s supposed to be the basis for peace-making in the Middle East and in fact it was the basis for the accords between Egypt and Israeli that lead to a peace treaty and the accords between Jordan and Israel.  As far as the Palestinians are concerned, however, it is not.  It is not a document which was intended to resolve the conflict.  To resolve the conflict you have to talk about the parties, the Palestinians and the Israelis.  The Palestinians are not even mentioned in 242.

CH: Well, you’re right that it--all they deal with is geography.

RK: Exactly.

CH: They don’t deal with rights.

RK: And a refugee problem not identified.  So, which refugees, what is the problem, how does this--how is this involved in a solution?  Essentially what the United States says in 242 is to say there is no Palestinian question, there is no Palestinian problem.

CH: Which is consistent.  Consistent.

RK: Well, we can see in the current Trump plan, a direct line going back to 242.

CH: That’s what’s so interesting.  I mean, people are kind of up in arms about moving the embassy to Jerusalem and Jared Kushner’s apartheid plan, let’s call it what it is, formalization.  But in fact it’s completely consistent.

RK: Right.  There are changes, I mean, the United States has always said no, Jerusalem has to be negotiated, Trump has tossed that overboard.  The United States has always bleated about settlements being an obstacle to peace but has actually helped to finance them.

CH: Yeah.  But, I mean, the rhetoric, again, from your book, I mean, let’s go to what you write about the Obama administration.  The rhetoric was always there, but the facts on the ground were completely different.  And going back to Camp David.

RK: Uh-hmm.  The 1978 Camp David Accords.

CH: Where brought Sadat, the president of Egypt, and…

RK: Menachem Begin.

CH: Menachem Begin, former terrorist, together, the rhetoric didn’t match.  And not only that…

RK: Certainly on the Palestinians.  That’s the point.  The United States had a strategic objective.  It wanted peace between Egypt and Israel and it wanted to move Israel from the Soviet camp.  Remember, the Cold War was still on in ‘78.  From the Soviet camp to the American camp.  And those things, they achieved.  But the Palestinians, absolutely no interest.  Nor Kissinger in the previous administrations, nor even President Carter who had recognized the need for a Palestinian homeland, and talked about involving the Palestinians.  But when pushed came to shove at Camp David he and Sadat essentially sold the Palestinians down the river.

CH: Well--but you write in the book that the Israeli government has no intention, for instance, of stopping settlement expansion which Camp David calls for, and then Begin runs around and says, “No, it’s just a three-month suspension,” was that right?  I mean, the Israelis are just running circles around, I mean, humiliating Carter and the Americans.

RK: Right.  And it goes back even further.  I mean, Kissinger makes a deal with the Israelis back in 1975 where he says, “Anything we propose as far as Palestine is concerned, you have the right to vet beforehand,” which basically picks the American position, not on the whole Middle East or even dealing with Egypt or the Soviet Union or whatever, but as far as Palestine is concerned, subject to Israeli approval.  And so, really, from that point on Carter is hobbled and the Israelis, as you say, run circles around…

CH: What’s interesting is you--from the book…

RK: That he himself has recognized this.  In recent writings, President Carter.

CH: So, you had two figures in the book, James Baker, who was the Secretary of State under first President Bush, and Carter, who appear to have been well meaning, but you say they were completely shackled by three forces.  What are they?

RK: Well, multiple forces.  Firstly these commitments that Kissinger had made where a shackle on American policy-making.  I think Baker was prepared to try and shake them off but he never did.  A second force is domestic political considerations.  And a third force is this immovable insistence of the Israelis on certain basic principles.  They will never give up control of the land.  They might allow autonomy for the people, whatever that means.  No political rights, no sovereignty, but so-called “autonomy”.  But they would never give up control of the land, what’s underneath it, the resources, the airspace, the water, all the important things.  And from Begin until today that has not changed.

CH: You write, “It can be argued that American diplomatic efforts in the Middle East have, if anything, made achieving peace between Palestinians and Israelis even more difficult.”

RK: Well, that’s true if you understand peace as meaning some kind of compromise based on justice.  If you mean capitulation, which is essentially what Jared Kushner and Netanyahu have cooked up, then the United States has, in fact, been trying to impose that on the Palestinians.

CH: But wouldn’t you argue, I think you would, from that Camp David and Oslo, were capitulations dressed up in better rhetoric?

RK: Yeah.  Well, the Palestinians were--the difference is that the Palestinians were not at Camp David in 1978.  It--to their great discredit, the Palestinian leadership helped to craft the 1993 and subsequent Oslo accords.

CH: But you were there?

RK: No.  I wasn’t in Oslo.

CH: Oh, you were an advisor, though, weren’t you?

RK: I was an advisor to the Madrid and Washington negotiations, which were undermined by the secret stuff that was taking place behind our backs in Oslo.  So, I was an advisor exactly from ‘91 to ‘93 to the people who were negotiating openly with the Israelis in Washington.  And we ran up against the same obstacles that I’ve just talked about, a refusal to stop settlement, a refusal to grant the Palestinians control over land, and a refusal to accept the idea that Palestinians could have sovereignty of even real jurisdiction over any territory.  And those were sticking points in Washington which we never overcame, in which Arafat and the Palestinian leadership, in mandating the negotiations in Oslo, just sort of ignored.

CH: You’re, with good reason, quite critical of the leadership of the PLO and Arafat, who we both knew is making some absolutely disastrous decisions including ones that was clear from the negotiations in Washington, not walking out.

RK: Well, I argue in this book and the subsequent book in my most recent book, The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine, that the only correct thing to do, once those red lines were apparent, was to say “Those are unacceptable to us.  You want a deal?  The deal has to be fairer and more just than anything that’s on offer here.”  And then what would have happened would have happened, but you would not have led--ended up with the situation where the Palestinian leadership accepted the kinds of humiliations that Oslo has entailed.

CH: Well, because when they walk in with those parameters already set, there can be no peace agreement.

RK: Precisely.  There can be capitulation.

CH: Capitulation?

RK: There cannot be a compromise based on justice.

CH: I want to read Likud Party Platform, March 1977.  “The right of the Jewish people to the land of Israel is eternal and indisputable, and is linked with the right to security and peace.  Therefore, Judea and Samaria, the West Bank, will not be handed over to any foreign administration, meaning the Palestinians.  Between the sea and the Jordan River there will only be Israeli sovereignty.  Relinquishing parts of the Western Land of Israel undermines our right to the country, unavoidably leads to the establishment of a Palestinian state, jeopardizes the security of the Jewish population, endangers the security of the State of Israel, and frustrates any prospect of peace.”  You can’t get any franker than that.

RK: Well, the only thing as frank as that is the Kushner--what I call the Kushner-Netanyahu platform.

CH: Right, but this is ‘77.

RK: Well, what the United States has now endorsed is that extremist Likud Party platform.  This is President Trump and his son-in-law who are saying it.  That’s a Likud Party platform for the elections of ‘77.

CH: Yeah.  Well, that’s the difference.

RK: Right.

CH: I want to ask about Rabin, who I covered and who I knew.  You are--you know, Rabin, I think for you, has a kind of complexity, a former prime minister.  He was the one who--when I was there reporting ,I think we felt that Rabin had come to the conclusion that the occupation was poisonous for his own country, this is what brings Arafat back, foolishly, from Tunis, where he’s…

RK: Foolishly on Arafat’s part, exactly.

CH: Yes, because he’s completely now…

RK: He puts himself into a cage.

CH: Yeah, in a cage and then we--you know, ends up under house arrest in Ramallah and all those stories about him being poisoned by the Israelis, which was probably--could very well be possible.  But talk about Rabin because, you know, there is a kind of feeling that Rabin was the last figure who--he spoke Arabic, I mean, talk about and then, of course, what his assassination meant.

RK: Well, I mean, I’m very ambivalent on this subject because on the one hand there’s no question that Rabin came to some realizations in the wake of the First Intifada, starting in…

CH: The Palestinian uprising.

RK: The Palestinian uprising that starts in December ‘87, and during which time he was defense minister, and during which time he mandated the most brutal suppression of this mainly unarmed and mainly non-violent…

CH: The order to break their bones.

RK: Precisely, I mean, you were--you were there at the time, you noticed.

CH: I know.

RK: You know this perfectly well.  So on the one hand I think he was--he was quite a brutal man.  He was responsible for the expulsion of the population of Lydda and Ramle in 1948.

CH: Well, he was one of the lieutenants of Ben-Gurion, the hardline figure in the early years of the State of Israel, you know.

RK: Who mandated the expulsion of the population of Lydda and Ramle back in ‘48.  He’s defense minister during the Intifada in the early ‘90s and he comes to the realization that this model is not going to work.  This population cannot be held down this way.

CH: We’re going to come back to that.  When we come back we’ll continue our conversation about the so-called peace plan for the Israelis and Palestinians with Professor Rashid Khalidi.  Welcome back to On Contact.  We continue our conversation about the so-called peace plan between the Israelis and Palestinians with Professor Rashid Khalidi.  So, before the break.

RK: We were talking about Rabin and I said that the Intifada shook his confidence in Israel being able to control this population in the way that they had up until that point.  So, what does he do when he becomes prime minister in 1992?  He finally makes a decision that no Israeli prime minister had made before him.  First, to negotiate directly with the PLO.

CH: And let me just throw in there, because I was there.  It was an immensely unpopular decision.

RK: I’m sure, I’m sure.  Secondly, to recognize that the Palestinians are a people.  To say, you know, the Palestinians are--he did not say a people with the right of self-determination, a people with the right to sovereignty.  But he did say that the Palestinians are people.

CH: But that was a huge step.

RK: Both are big steps.  And finally, he agreed to allow some Palestinians to return. in particular, the Palestinians leadership and Palestinian military forces, seeing them as a potential police force that could help Israel control the population…

CH: Let me just pull just a quote in your book, because what--it’s the general--what’s his name?  Gazit?  Or…

RK: Mordechai Gazit.

CH: Mordechai.  He says he will--he can--he’s talking about Arafat and the--and the Palestine who are allowed to carry light arms.  They can be a Lahad or a super Lahad.  Lahad was the Israeli puppet in Lebanon.

RK: Exactly, exactly.  I heard--I was sitting there when Shlomo Gazit said that.  I said Mordechai--Shlomo Gazit, sorry.  That-- Mordechai, uh, Mordechai is his brother.  So, he made--on the one hand, Rabin made these quite momentous decisions on behalf of Israel in the three years that he was prime minister.  On the other hand, you have to read his last speech.  He never goes beyond the limits, some of the limits in the Likud Party Platform.  There will be one sovereignty, and there’ll be Israeli security control over the entirety from--of the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan.

CH: Well, they control the--absolutely, [INDISTINCT] they always use--so Thomas Friedman will put it in his columns, well, they have--these Palestinians can have a certain percentage of--I forget what it was.  You know, the West Bank, or whatever, or Adei.  But they never wrote us that Israel had all of the borders, all of the perimeters was always under complete Israeli control.

RK: Right, right.  And that it’s there that I think you have to follow Rabid.  He went very far, but he’s certainly in my view, at least until his assassination, didn’t go far enough.  Now, I think if you look at one of the recent biographies of him, by Itamar Rabinovich, it’s very clear that he might conceivably have gone further.  It would’ve been terribly dangerous and he was assassinated because he went as far as he went.  So, I mean, he had…

CH: So, let’s be clear he was assassinated by a right-wing settler who, you know, Netanyahu reporter.  You know, Netanyahu supporter.

RK: Settlers, a supporter of settlement.  Yeah.  He lives inside Israel.  Yeah.

CH: So, let’s move forward now Netanyahu comes to power.  I read that passage from--1977 passage from the Likud Party Platform which is what Netanyahu represents.  He brings in overt racist Avigdor Lieberman and others who are…

RK: Bennett.

CH: Bennett, who talk about this later period now in Israel.

RK: Well, the weakness of the Palestinian National Movement, which is declining really from sometime after the ‘82 war.

CH: Can I just interject there because it’s in your book.  Yes, but the Israelis from pre-state period targeted the most effective leaders and pushed them into exile or assassinate them, right.  Yeah.  They knew who to get.

RK: This is absolutely true, the ones who were not worth the bullet are the ones who are still alive of the historical leadership.  The people who exactly as you say were effective, Abu Iyad, Abu Jihad, and so forth.

CH: I knew Abu Jihad.

RK: Were assassinated, either by the Israelis of by Arab regimes, like the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein, like, the Libyan regime of Gaddafi, like the Syrian regime of Hafez al-Assad, which have also been enemies of Palestinian national aspirations.  But the key assassination are carried out by Israel.  That is one of the factors that leads the weakening of the Palestinian National Movement.  So, the Palestinians make in my view a colossal mistake of accepting the Oslo Accords.  The leadership moves back to the occupied territories, and very quickly it becomes apparent to Palestinian public opinion that this is path that is not leading to statehood.  Israel closes Jerusalem, preventing West Bankers from going to the--their natural metropolitan center.  Israel expands settlement, Israel institutes all kinds of other checkpoints and road blocks and so on.  And suddenly Palestinians realize, our GDP per capita is going down, our freedom of movement is being limited…

CH: Well, and the…

RK: …we’re not going towards statehood, we’re going towards a continuation of the status quo…

CH: Right.  And…

RK: …and are worsening.

CH: …the PLO leadership was very corrupt.  I mean, I was in Gaza and they were bringing in their Duty Free Mercedes and building little villas on the--that didn’t help.

RK: This is a process that’s still continuing.  The exemption of expensive vehicles from duties is something that the President Abu Masan, President Abbas has been doing, up until the present, I just read a report on it the other day.  So, there was the corruption.  But, I would--I would focus on the loss of public support for a project that clearly was not leading towards independence and statehood.  And, so, by the time Arafat and President Clinton and then Prime Minister Ehud Barak sit down at a second Camp David.  You have a American president who is a dead duck, he’s not even a lame duck, he’s in last month of his eight years’ presidency.  Arafat has lost most of the support he had when he came back because people have seen that the thing is failing.  And Barak has already lost his majority in the Knesset and is on his way to a colossal defeat at the polls in a few months later at the hands of Sharon.  So, you have three leaders who are extremely weak, in no position to make a deal.  And no deal was made and consequently--everybody of course blames Arafat, but the deal that was offered by the Americans.  The Israelis never formally gave the Palestinians a deal.

CH: Well, and this gave rise to Hamas.

RK: Well, Hamas is growing even before this, because a lot of people see the failures of the PLO.  They see the corruption, they see the patronage and the--and the clannishness.  They most importantly that this is not a path of negotiation via the mediation of a power that’s completely favorable to Israel, via American mediation is not gonna lead to any achievement of any Palestinian national objectives.  And so public--popular support begins to swing towards Hamas.  And they of course try and sabotage the agreements that are being made with in the mid-’90s with suicide bombings and then later on during the Second Intifada with a major increase in suicide bombings inside Israel.

CH: You’re quite critical of the Second Intifada, I think correctly.

RK: Right.  Well…

CH: Because it played into the Israeli narrative of Palestinian as terrorist.

RK: Well, Exactly.  Firstly, I think it’s very useful to contrast the First and Second Intifada.

CH: Yeah.  I covered both Intifadas.

RK: The First Intifada was a limited Palestinian victory, because Israeli public opinion was reached internationally because of opinions reached.

CH: Well, because it was nonviolent, because it was nonviolent.

RK: It was mainly nonviolent.

CH: Well, they threw rocks but…

RK: Precisely.  It was--it was unarmed, let’s put it that way.

CH: Unarmed.

RK: And that had a positive effect, ultimately.  The Israeli suppressed it brutally, but it had a--the Second Intifada was not only armed but involved direct attacks on Israeli civilians.

CH: Well, there were suicide bombing and bus.

RK: Precisely, suicide bombings.

CH: Let’s end with what’s happened now.  Because you get through this book and it’s clear that there’s no real rupture, despite--you know, however egregious this Kushner-Trump plan is.  Talk about its continuity with what went before.

RK: Right.  I think--I think that you can see all the lineaments, all the basic lines of what we have in the Kushner Trump plan in American policy up to now.

CH: Which was--the Palestinians had no--let’s be clear, the Palestinians weren’t even consulted.  This was probably cooked up in Netanyahu’s office.

RK: But, you know, that’s also the case for Madrid and Washington, that’s also the case for Oslo.  I mean, the Palestinians voluntarily entered into those negotiations.  But they were entering into negotiations where the ground rules were set behind their backs by the Americans and the Israelis.  In this case, they didn’t even invite the Palestinians.  That’s the difference.

CH: Maybe it’s more honest.

RK: It probably is.  This is a diktat.  This is a--this is a situation where the victors are telling the defeated, “This is what you’re going to get.”

CH: And what are they telling them?

RK: What they’re telling them is, “You will not have sovereignty, you will not have security control, we will take the Jordan River Valley, we will annex all the settlements, we will take all of Jerusalem.   The scraps of the suburbs that we choose to give you, you can call Jerusalem should you choose…”

CH: This is East Jerusalem which is after ‘67 is largely Palestinian.

RK: Exactly.  And finally, all of this, you have to accept within four years and you have to also give up any possibility of the return of Palestinians not only to Israel but even to the Palestinian State.  Because Israel will vet who can return and who cannot, in other words, a maintenance into eternity of the status quo.  Israel is the only state between the Mediterranean and the river.  And Israel is the only security power in that area.  It is--it is a one-state solution, with Israel the one state.

CH: It’s an apartheid state.

RK: And the Palestinians, exactly, can live as second or third-class citizens without any national or many other rights.

CH: What does this mean as we roll into the future?

RK: Well, one thing that means is the idea of the United States as a broker should be discarded.  United States is partisan and should sit on the other side of the table with Israel in any negotiation.  The second thing that we should realize is a lot of solutions people have thought of as possible like a two-state solution have to be very carefully rethought.  How are you going to turn the clock back, after 50-some odd years of Israel ensuring, building, pouring cement to make sure there can’t be a two-state solution, how are you going to do that?  And finally, if you want a solution based on justice, how do you convince the Israelis to give up some of the privileges and the prerogatives that they’ve obtained…

CH: Since you…

RK: …at the expense of the Palestinians?

CH: …since you teach at Columbia and probably can’t say this, I would say BDS, that if the US pulls the plug, that is--which we give them three billion a year.  If the US pulls the plug…

RK: Closer to four, but anyway…

CH: Closer to four that’s a blow, and that it--like we saw with the apartheid regime in South Africa, I think that’s the only mechanism we have left.  Certainly public opinion in the United States, you know, especially among young Jews, is changing.

RK: Israel has always been dependent on external support.  It’s a powerful nuclear state, it has all kinds of assets, but it’s still dependent on external support.  Should that external support be severely compromised, Israel will be forced to take different positions.

CH: Well, this is what I think our only hope is.

RK: Well--and I think you’re right.  There are changes taking place here on college campuses, among the Jewish community, among young people in particular, among some churches, in--at the base of the Democratic Party.  You can see Bernie Sanders saying things no American politician has said before.

CH: Well, he got--he got pushed to say them because he wasn’t always very good on this issue.  He--in 2008 what he voted was a hundred senators of kind of like the Politburo, voting on Israel’s right to defend itself as it was bombing defenseless civilians in Gaza.

RK: In Gaza.

CH: That was author and professor Rashid Khalidi about his book Brokers of Deceit, How the US Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East.

RK: Thanks, Chris.

CH: Thank you so much.

RK: That was great.

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