T. MItchell Reviews Khalidi’s ‘Brokers of Deceit’

T. MItchell Reviews Khalidi’s ‘Brokers of Deceit’

Independent scholar and blogger, Thomas G. Mitchell, Ph.D., provides us with his review (below) of Prof. Rashid Khalidi’s most recent book, Brokers of Deceit (Beacon Press, 2013; 120 pp.—plus 37-page introduction):

Prof. Rashid Khalidi

The title of Rashid Khalidi’s latest book—a continuation of the Columbia University historian’s themes from his 2007 book, The Iron Cage—reminded me of the classic Sa’adia Touval book on mediation in the Middle East, The Peace Brokers (Princeton University Press, 1982). Touval examined every serious mediation attempt in the Arab-Israeli conflict between 1948 and 1979—from Count Bernadotte to the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. He looked at the issue of mediator bias. In the end he concluded that being unbiased was not a requirement to being an effective mediator as long as the party that the mediator was biased against believed that he could change the bias through his actions. Thus, although Henry Kissinger ultimately had a pro-Israel bias, he was successful because Anwar Sadat thought that he could change him. The reverse was true with Jimmy Carter, who was biased in favor of Anwar Sadat, and Menachem Begin thought he could influence him otherwise.

Prof. Khalidi starts chronologically where Touval finished off, with three cases from 1982, 1991-93, and 2009-12, and stresses American bias in favor of Israel and against the Palestinians. In his 37-page introduction, Khalidi spells out his basic themes: Since Truman in 1945, the United States has been biased in favor of Israel, and against the Palestinians in particular and the Arabs in general. This bias is mainly due to American domestic politics, which overwhelmingly favors Israel against the Palestinians. During the Cold War, the United States supported Israel (or opposed it in 1956) for reasons having to do with countering the Soviet Union. Finally, because America is allied with undemocratic oil-producing regimes in the Gulf and with Egypt and Jordan, this pro-Israel bias is not as harmful as it otherwise might be, but is storing up problems for the future when the region democratizes.

The examples he uses from 1945 to 1978 are mostly of Truman’s policy from 1945 to 1948 (where his analysis is similar to that of John Judis in Genesis) and of the Nixon administration from 1969 to 1971. He uses the first to illustrate the effect of electoral influences, and the second—along with a brief mention of Eisenhower’s actions in 1956—to illustrate the effect of Cold War considerations on American Middle East policy.

Khalidi stresses a number of features of continuity: First, he contends that American policy in the conflict is always subordinate to Israeli policy—but not the reverse—and that the Americans working the process are never willing to push the envelope to see how far they can make Jerusalem bend. Second, Israel’s approach to the Palestinians since 1977 has been guided by Begin’s autonomy plan, which is based on the concept of autonomy for the people—the Arabs of Judea and Samaria, in the language of the Camp David Accords—but not for the territory. Begin’s plan was drawn from something his mentor, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, published in the last year of his life (1940), which in turn was based on Austro-Hungarian policy towards its national minorities.

Khalidi makes a good case but at times overstates it. He never gives Rabin credit for changing his thinking toward the Palestinians. Moreover, he sees the Arab states as bowing to Washington and unwilling to challenge American policy on behalf of the Palestinians; he never considers that after 1990, Gulf Arab attitudes might have something to do with Yasir Arafat’s betrayal of Kuwait in supporting the Iraqi invasion that year.

In the first case, in 1982, neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis were really interested in a peace deal.  Arafat still believed in armed struggle, while Begin and Sharon believed in a military solution to the Palestinian problem, and that they could forcefully change the political architecture of the region.

In the second case, the situation was not ripe for mediation and negotiations until Rabin was elected to replace Yitzhak Shamir as prime minister. And it was only really ripe after Arafat had manipulated the Palestinian delegation in Washington to demonstrate that Israel had to go through the PLO if it wanted a deal. But because Khalidi is so critical of the Oslo agreement that Arafat and Abu Ala negotiated with Israel, he does not give credit to anything having been accomplished.

After the start of his second term in 2009, Benjamin Netanyahu was only willing to pay lip service to a Palestinian state but not actually allow one to come into being—the reverse of Rabin’s position. At the same time, with Palestinians being divided between Fatah/PA in Ramallah and Hamas in Gaza, Pres. Obama has seemed more committed to honoring campaign commitments to his early supporters than to actually delivering peace, and he was really handicapped after the Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in 2010.

This book is worth reading for some of the insights that Khalidi offers, particularly regarding American policy. But be aware, as Khalidi makes clear, that he is not a dispassionate neutral observer; he was an adviser to the Palestinian delegation at the Washington talks which emerged from the Madrid Conference of 1991. Being an insider at this event, it makes his account all the more interesting. But it’s like reading a litigating lawyer’s recounting of a famous case rather than an analysis by a legal-affairs reporter.

Khalidi is at his best in discussing the presidency of Obama. Khalidi sees Obama as acting essentially in line with four of his five immediate predecessors (Carter, Reagan, Bush Sr., Clinton) in that he initially experimented with a diplomatic initiative regarding the Palestinians, but then backed off once he met resistance from Israel and domestically. Pres. Obama then turned up the standard pro-Israel rhetoric about Israeli security needs, Jewish suffering, etc.

Obama met with domestic opposition over his Arab-Israeli policy for three reasons: First, for some his Muslim-seeming cultural background (his middle name, his father’s faith, his step-father’s faith, and time spent as a youngster in Muslim Indonesia) explained everything. Second, George W. Bush had raised the bar on what it meant to be pro-Israel and there was tremendous resistance at any attempt to return to prior positions. Third, much opposition was for naked partisan reasons related to the pro-Likud base of the Republican Party. Obama was unwilling to spend precious political capital in order to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—something that this reviewer predicted at the time of his election.

In the conclusion, Khalidi rails against such terms as “peace process” and “terrorism” as Orwellian, contending that they are used to favor Israeli arguing points. He considers many IDF activities to be the equivalent of terrorism. Like many on the Left, he does not distinguish between civilians deliberately targeted and those killed as collateral damage. Khalidi also asserts that the Western media and the American government never refer to Israeli terrorism or American military actions as terrorism. This ignores the State Department’s listing of at least one Israeli settler organization, Kahane Chai, as terrorist.

As for Israel, one thing that appears to have happened over the last couple of decades is that the IDF has become indifferent to causing many civilian casualties. This is a result of both the psychological impact of frequent Palestinian and Hezbollah attacks and of the rise of settlers within the ranks of the IDF.

Khalidi urges the following policy prescriptions on the Palestinians: to dissolve the Palestinian Authority, to end the factionalism between Fatah and Hamas, and then to impose a set of basic guidelines on any future negotiations with Israel—such as insisting on an end to Israel’s expansion of settlements, and agreeing that the final result will be a Palestinian state in control of its territory. But on the main subject of his book, American mediation, he is devoid of new ideas.

In my 2010 book, When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East, I suggested using the mediation in the Northern Ireland peace process as a template for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with the European Union serving as the mediator advocating for Palestinian interests, to balance the U.S. tendency to side with Israel. In order to work, Brussels would have to be an equal partner with Washington. I leave it up to others to dream up a method by which such dual mediation can be implemented over Israel’s objection and that of its most vociferous Republican defenders.

By | 2014-04-14T11:20:00-04:00 April 14th, 2014|Blog|1 Comment

One Comment

  1. Anonymous April 15, 2014 at 5:42 pm - Reply

    Dear Thomas,

    There are a few points to raise here, but also one significant question. Are you asserting this, or are you saying Khalidi did:

    “As for Israel, one thing that appears to have happened over the last couple of decades is that the IDF has become indifferent to causing many civilian casualties. This is a result of both the psychological impact of frequent Palestinian and Hezbollah attacks and of the rise of settlers within the ranks of the IDF.”

    Whoever said it, it sounds very rose-colored glasses to me – the nakba, Kibya, too many other Israeli assaults on Palestinian civilians to count, the invasion and occupation of Lebanon, etc.. The IDF became indifferent?

    Also, collateral damage is not actually collateral damage when it is the very predictable result of a chosen military strategy – see Israel, see the US, etc.. Nice ways to rationalize killing civilians, but doesn’t really hold up to dispassionate scrutiny.

    Thank you,


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