The conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians has now been going on for more than seven decades. In addition to the Israelis and the Palestinians, the third dominant player in this conflict has been the United States, ostensibly playing the role of an impartial broker between the above two warring groups. Although there now exists a vast literature on the many complexities of this seemingly interminable conflict, author Rashid Khalidi contends that relatively little has been written on the nature and the effects of the US role in putatively promoting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Given this state of affairs, the objective of this book is to study “an American-brokered political process that for more than thirty-five years has reinforced the subjugation of the Palestinian people...and made considerably more unlikely the prospects of a just and lasting settlement of the conflict between Israel and the Arabs” (p. x). Khalidi undertakes this study by looking at three distinct epochs in recent history. To give the reader an adequate flavor for the intellectual contributions of this book, in what follows, I shall comment on two of these three epochs.
The first epoch was in 1982. During this time, a key issue was the question of Palestinian autonomy. The lead Israeli and US players were Prime Minister Menchem Begin and President Ronald Reagan. Following the defeat of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Syrian forces in Lebanon, the Reagan administration launched the so called “Reagan Plan.” Khalidi does a good job of noting that, despite the possession of excellent intelligence by the US, Prime Minister Begin would be completely inflexible in his interpretation of the notion of Palestinian autonomy and in his desire to expand Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. The Reagan administration demonstrated a high degree of “political cowardice” and made no serious attempt to challenge Begin’s position, which was meant to “preclude permanently any form of Palestinian national self-determination” (p. 21). A key point that Khalidi makes here is that the Israeli position enunciated by Begin and the zeal with which this position was articulated were unsurprising. What was surprising was the US acquiescence that had the effect of actually supporting Begin’s hardline, radical, and uncompromising position.
The third epoch concerns the time period from 2009 to 2012, when the key Israeli and US players were Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama. Khalidi emphasizes two points about this epoch. First, he notes that even though President Obama has been pilloried by extreme right-wing zealots in the US and in Israel as being antithetical to Israeli interests, in fact, his actions towards Israel have displayed much continuity with four out of five of his predecessors in the Oval Office. Second, Khalidi observes that all things considered, President Obama’s efforts at bringing peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians have amounted to very little because his actions have been effectively “dictated by the contours of the political map in Washington and the rest of the country...” (p. 104).
This book is based on careful research, it is thought-provoking, and it documents the fact that instead of being an impartial broker in the interminable peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the US has more often than not served as Israel’s lawyer. This position has not resulted in peace; it has built resentment among the Arabs, and it has promoted the subjugation of the Palestinians. Having said this, it is important to point out that Khalidi does not think that the lack of a more salubrious environment between the Israelis and the Palestinians is all the fault of the Israelis and the US. He notes—although this could have been done more expansively—that although Arab regimes have frequently paid lip service to the Palestinian cause, in reality they have done little to pressure the US to adopt a more evenhanded attitude in its dealings with the Israelis and the Palestinians. In addition, the Palestinians have frequently been let down by their own leaders, who have either displayed insufficient foresight in comprehending matters of considerable strategic importance or have chosen to bicker among themselves and to the detriment of their own people. I recommend this book to all readers who wish to learn why, despite decades of efforts, we still do not have peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.