Author: Rashid Khalidi
Publisher: Beacon Press
Hardcopy: 167 pages
Book Review by Shazia Arshad
In Brokers of Deceit, Dr Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University, draws on his own experiences as a Palestinian negotiator to give readers a unique perspective on historical documents and meetings that would otherwise have remained hidden for many more years. Khalidi, an eminent American Palestinian professor, explores how the "peace process" has failed over the last seven decades primarily because of the role the US has played. Indeed he even places the "peace process" in quotation marks because he thinks that "it is manifestly clear that it has not brought peace to the Palestinian and Israeli people, nor has it resolved the conflict between them."
The book examines, in particular, America's role in negotiating peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Although positioning itself as an honest broker, Khalidi illustrates how the US has primarily had the interests of Israel at heart throughout the entire process. To frame his argument, Khalidi breaks the "peace process" down into three historical moments: the Reagan Plan of 1982, the Madrid Peace Conference of 1991 up until Oslo, and the period since President Barack Obama's election in 2008. These moments in history chronicle the development of negotiations and illustrate how catastrophic they have been for Palestinians. What makes Khalidi's analysis so unique is that he draws on his own experiences as an adviser to the Palestinian delegation during the pre-Oslo negotiations to provide new insights into the historical documents and the on-going negotiations.
While commentators and academics have noted throughout the years of the Palestinian struggle that the US has never taken a neutral position, Khalidi carefully documents the ways in which this bias has been manifest throughout the history of the negotiations. For example, during the period of the Reagan plan up until 1982, what he calls the first moment, he shows how the US strengthened its weight behind Israel as both parties attempted to force the Palestinians into a position that would ensure that no Palestinian state would ever be created. Essentially, Khalidi argues that the US worked to weaken the Palestinians during this period, what he describes as the "low ceiling" of American policy. He also analyses the foundations of American ideas about Palestinians, describing the language as "Orwellian" because on the one hand the Americans offer their assistance to the Palestinians, claiming to support them in their search for peace, yet on the other they do more to undermine the peace process than both Israel and Palestine. Khalidi explains how during this period the US did so much to demonstrate that it was a close ally of Israel that the idea the US could ever act as "an impartial intermediary between Israel and the Palestinians was utterly disproved."
The second moment that Khalidi explores is the period of the 1991-93 Madrid-Washington negotiations, which is an intriguing part of his analysis because he reveals how his own pessimism of the "peace process" emerged during this time. For example, he explains that when he was approached to participate in the Madrid Conference, he "believed that there were scant prospects for any such conference ever eventuating, in view of the Shamir government's first opposition to any serious Palestinian participation." And while US governments may have put themselves forward as impartial negotiators, the reality is that the US put Israel's interests clearly ahead of anyone else's. In fact, Khalidi argues that quite often America's position was more hard-line than Israel's, which is part of the reason why the Madrid-Washington negotiations took second place to the Oslo negotiations. He points out that in some cases Israel was willing to offer more and negotiate further than the Americans would allow. He notes that "historic opportunities … were missed by the US and Israel for a just and lasting settlement not only with the Palestinians, but also with Syria and Lebanon."
In the last moment, the period since President Obama's election in 2008, Khalidi brings his readers up to date and explores how Obama, rather than being anti-Israeli as his detractors would have everyone believe, has "in fact followed very much the same trajectory in dealing with Palestine and Israel as most previous administrations over the past 35 years." He describes President Obamas as "a pragmatic, cautious politician" who confronted opposition on the Israel/Palestine question by doing the "politically safe thing". Khalidi explains that Obama has faced the same problems as his predecessors, including domestic politics, the Israeli lobby and many other factors that have shaped American behaviours.
One of Khalidi's most interesting contributions is his discussion of the use of language and how discourse has reproduced the Zionist project. Describing the US language as Orwellian, he argues that "such terms and tropes are the essential building blocks of a lofty and solid edifice of denial of an entire narrative, of the existence of an entire people, which is basic to the affirmation of a formidable counter-reality." The US discourse has enabled the Zionist narrative to have what Khalidi calls an echo chamber that serves to reaffirm the Zionist fiction while precluding the existence of the Palestinian narrative, thus denying the Palestinian people their history and present, as well as their possible future.
Brokers of Deceit explores how the US has essentially acted as "Israel's lawyer". The book contributes valuable insights into how the peace process has failed largely due to the role that the US has played. Khalidi's pessimism for peace in the Middle East and a successful resolution to the conflict is directly related to the central role that the US continues to play because it prevents Palestinians from being able to narrate their own struggle. Whilst the US has often claimed impartiality, the reality is that the Americans have put themselves forward to defend Israel, almost at any cost, and as of yet the Palestinians remain on the back foot having to fight for survival against a brutal occupation supported by a superpower. As Khalidi notes, "without this American echo chamber, extending back for many decades, the entire Zionist project in Palestine could not have been so successful."