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Reframing The Argument: Brokering Middle East Peace


Palestinian scholar Rashid Khalidi has closely watched the role of the United States as mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In his new book "Brokers of Deceit," he argues that U.S. involvement has made the goal of a lasting peace less attainable than ever. Rashid Khalidi is with us now from our studios in New York.

Welcome to the program.

RASHID KHALIDI: Thank you, Rachel.

MARTIN: So you wrote in a New York Times op-ed this past week, that President Obama should ignore what you call the stale conventional wisdom of the American foreign-policy establishment on the issue of a peace process. Explain what you meant by that. What conventional wisdom do you think should be rejected?

KHALIDI: Well, there's the sort of consensus of idiocy which has prevailed for the better part of three and a half decades since Camp David back in 1978, that the Palestinians should be forced to accept a set of conditions that no self-respecting people would accept. What we have now is the result of that process and you would think that by now somebody would be saying this process has failed. It cannot possibly bring a resolution of the conflict.

It's produced a situation where the numbers of Israeli settlers has almost tripled in the occupied territories, where Palestinians have infinitely less freedom of movement than they did before. Essentially, all prospects, in my view, under the structure, this framework of progress towards a real resolution of this conflict is completely blocked.

MARTIN: You mentioned the Israeli settlements. In his first term, President Obama tried to get peace negotiations going. And as a precondition, he insisted that Israel put a stop to the expansion of settlements in the West Bank.

KHALIDI: He did.

MARTIN: Eventually Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu allowed construction to resume. So are you kind of overestimating the leverage that the U.S. has in this issue?

KHALIDI: American presidents have said this again and again and again. President Carter tried to get Prime Minister Begin to do the same thing at Camp David and afterwards. President Reagan tried to do the same thing with the Reagan Plan in 1982. President Bush Sr. and Secretary of State Baker put on a full-court press to try and stop - they stopped loan guarantees to Israel for a while. President Clinton and now President Obama have all tried and failed.

I would suggest that, obviously they're not trying hard enough. And obviously this is not seen as important enough to require the kind of outlay of political capital that American presidents have been willing to undertake, when really important things were needed to be done - like making peace between Israel and Egypt.

You saw the same thing over Iran. Our government is not going to put its head into a meat grinder and get into a war with Iran, and the president stood up to Prime Minister Netanyahu. That was seen as a vital interest. Apparently, Palestinians are not.

MARTIN: Are the Palestinians and Israelis capable and interested in coming to the table without being prodded by a third party?

KHALIDI: There's a problem on both sides, in my view. The problem in Israel is most Israelis don't feel that this is an issue. You could see in the last Israeli election, you can see in the formation of this coalition government, the Palestinian issue has sunk to fourth or fifth or third in terms of Israeli domestic concerns.

And on the Palestinian side, you have this enormously costly and divisive and foolish split, and the complete absence of any kind of clear strategic thinking of a Palestinian consensus on where to go next. Unfortunately, in the short run, neither side is really in a situation that's propitious in my view for deal.

MARTIN: So I'm going to ask the question, but you've just articulated three huge issues that are preventing any kind of sustainable peace process: Israeli attitudes, the Palestinians themselves are too fractured, and you're arguing that the American government - the United States - doesn't seem this as a political priority. In light of the fact, what is achievable at this point?

KHALIDI: I think the part of the problem that we can do something about it, as Americans and our government can do something about, is that part of the problem that we created. We are bankrolling a process that has killed a two-state solution. Do you want to continue to do that? Do we want American weapons to be used in blatant violation of U.S. law to kill people in Palestine?

Those are questions that are American questions for American citizens and American taxpayers. And that doesn't require the Palestinians or the Israelis cooperating. We can determine here in the United States, in Washington, what we want to do about those things.

MARTIN: Rashid Khalidi is a professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University. His latest book called "Brokers of Deceit."

Mr. Khalidi, things are a much for talking with us.

It was a pleasure, Rachel. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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