Book Review: Brokers of Deceit: How the US Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East January 24, 2015 17:30
By Rashid Khalidi, Beacon Press, 2013, hardcover, 208 pp.
Reviewed by Andrew I. Killgore
Columbia University history professor Rashid Khalidi begins his latest book with a quote from George Orwell on the corruption of language and thought employed by the United States and Israel when dealing with the Arab-Israeli dispute. An example is the word “terrorism.” In the American/Israeli context it applies exclusively to the actions of Arab militants, never to those of the militaries of Israel and the United States. Other such Orwellian terms include “security,” “self-determination,” “autonomy,” “honest broker” and “peace process.”
Khalidi argues that U.S. support for Israel’s largely “invisible structure” of its occupation of Palestine is so strong that the concept of the “Palestinians as a people” has been in question since 1948. He reminds us that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney could not or would not “see” the silent occupation during a visit to Jerusalem in 2012.
In 1945, Khalidi notes, President Franklin Roosevelt promised King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia that the United States would not take “hostile” action against the people of Palestine. But President Harry Truman ignored his predecessor’s promise. Truman called three serving diplomats back to Washington to see him. He delayed seeing them until after the election of 1948 and then told them that “hundreds of thousands” of Jewish supporters of Zionism looked to him, while there were few Arab-American voters.
Khalidi writes that subsequent American presidents always supported Israel against the Palestinians. Only President Dwight Eisenhower pressured Israel (and Britain and France) in 1956 to withdraw their forces from Egyptian territory.
After a dense and highly detailed “Introduction,” Deceit follows with three moments (chapters): “The First Moment: Begin and Palestinian Autonomy in 1982”; “The Second Moment: The Madrid-Washington Negotiations, 1991-1993” (in which Khalidi took part); and “The Third Moment: Barack Obama and Palestine, 2009-12.”
(Khalidi, a Palestinian intellectual from a distinguished family, formerly taught at the University of Chicago, where he overlapped with Barack Obama, who taught constitutional law. He obviously knew Obama, but avoids any mention of their conversations.)
In Professor Khalidi’s first “Moment” he lists three conditions that were always present in U.S. Middle Eastern negotiations: an almost total lack of pressure from the Arab Gulf monarchies; the impact of U.S. domestic politics, driven by the Israel lobby; and an unconcern about Palestinian rights.
When the Israeli army besieged Beirut in 1982, U.S. Ambassador Philip Habib promised that the Palestinians left behind when PLO fighters left Beirut for Tunisia would be safe and secure. But when Lebanese militants with the connivance of Israel slaughtered hundreds of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, the promise was violated. Khalidi makes the point that promises to the Palestinians generally are not honored, while promises to Israel are kept.
Despite—or perhaps because of—its scholarly brilliance, Deceit is ultimately a depressing book. The whole mood is a downer. In his account Khalidi features Aaron David Miller, David Kurtzer and Dennis Ross, all able Zionists who worked on the “peace process” (while in fact working to thwart peace). On one occasion Palestinian negotiators told Miller and Kurtzer that they (the Palestinians) had secretly agreed with Israel on something without telling the Americans. The Americans were astonished and visibly hurt that they had been left out. In an open recognition that the “peace process” was moving at a painfully slothful pace, then-Secretary of State James Baker said directly to Miller, “Aaron, I want you to know that if I had a second life, I would want to be a Middle East specialist like you, because it would mean guaranteed permanent employment.”
Khalidi’s last chapter is titled “Israel’s Lawyers.” The leading “negotiator” was always the ubiquitous Ross, who was allowed by American presidents to run the show and was prone, as one observer stated, to “pre-emptive capitulations of [Israel’s] red lines.”
Dr. Khalidi’s somber expression of disappointment in America’s conduct of Middle East negotiations is contained in a statement in the final chapter: “Any American decision maker, at any stage from Madrid onward, could have insisted on an outcome that would have resulted in a resolution of the conflict, rather than continuing policies that have exacerbated it and perpetuated the status quo….This would have required a willingness to endure not only serious friction with Israel and its lobby….It also would have necessitated involving input from officials and experts who were closely attuned to the real situation in Palestine and the Arab world….But officials capable of providing such input have long since been driven out of top positions (or learned to keep their mouths shut) in a long-running but quite thorough purge of the so-called Arabists in the State Department.”
I highly recommend Brokers of Deceit, especially for American readers. A non-settlement of the Arab-Israeli dispute, Khalidi argues, harms the Palestinians, the Americans and Israel. As far as U.S. policy toward the issue, an honest person must hang his or her head. ❑
Andrew I. Killgore, a former U.S. ambassador to Qatar, is publisher of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.