‘Palestine situation more difficult after Israel-Arab rapprochement’ (IANS Interview)

By Vishnu Makhijani
New Delhi, March 13 (IANS) The already “difficult” Palestinian movement has been made “more difficult” with four Arab states normalising relations with Israel and India can play an important role “to right the imbalanced situation between Israel and the Palestinians”, says Palestinian American historian Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University and Director of the Middle East Institute at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs.

“The Palestinian national movement was in a difficult situation before four Arab states normalized relations with Israel, largely because of its internal divisions. These moves by the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan, all driven by considerations completely unrelated to Palestine, make its situation more difficult,” Khalidi, who has authored the seminal “The Hundred Years War on Palestinians: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance”, told IANS in an interview.

“It should be noted that according to all reputable surveys, Arab public opinion does not approve of the moves by these four states, and is still supportive of the Palestinians. The Biden administration has already taken a less overtly pro-Israel position than its predecessor, but it is unlikely to change the decades-long US policy of supporting Israel at the expense of Palestinian rights,” he pointed out.

What role could India play in such a situation?

“India could play an important role, if it helped to right the imbalanced situation between Israel and the Palestinians, and put its weight on the side of the weaker party. Given a status quo that is highly unfavorable to the Palestinians, ‘even-handedness’ translates into support for Israel’s continued oppression of the Palestinians, and its now semi-permanent occupation of the West Bank, Arab East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights,” he maintained.

To do so, however, India “must eschew its current bias in favour of Israel, which tips the scales even further in favour of the stronger party, and helps to perpetuate instability, violence and injustice in Palestine,” said Khalidi, whose great-great-great uncle, Yusuf Diya al-Din Pasha al-Khalidi, heir to a long line of Jerusalemite Islamic scholars and legal functionaries, was the first to engage with Viennese journalist Theodor Herzl, who, in 1896 had published “Der Judenstaat”, laying down his vision of a Jewish state.

“Were India able to take a balanced position, it could play a role as a mediator, or as one of the architects of a new structure for negotiation between the two sides. This would replace the entirely discredited role of the US, Israel’s closest ally, a role which over many decades has served only to entrench further Israeli occupation, colonization and abuse of the Palestinian people,” Khalidi added.

His book, “The Hundred Years War on Palestinians: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance” (Profile Books/Hachette) is remarkable in its sweep as it guides the reader from the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917, that declared Britain’s intention to establish the Jewish state, to the present day. It contends that the colonialism that existed in the previous century might have collapsed around the world but is still manifest in Palestine but all is not lost – as the key lies in working “inside” Israel and “convincing” its rulers that there is an alternative to the ongoing oppression of the Palestinians.

“A lasting, sustainable resolution of the war on the Palestinians lies in recognition of its nature as a settler colonial conflict; and accepting that justice and equity must form the basis of such a resolution. That means that all the individual, civil, religious and national rights of both peoples must be recognized and implemented in a way that does not infringe on the rights of others.

“To do that, the discriminatory structures of dominance and hegemony established to uphold the rights of one people over the other must be dismantled. That in turn requires Palestinian unity, and changes in the current unequal balance of forces between the two sides. It also requires that the Palestinians put forward a clear vision of how that can be accomplished that can convince the world, including the Israelis, that it is feasible and just,” Khalidi maintained during the interview.

To this end, Khalidi, writes in the book that working with Israel is a long-term process and points to the success of Algeria and Vietnam in shaking off the colonial yoke.

Neither the Algerians nor the Vietnamese “short-sightedly denied themselves the opportunity to convince public opinion in the home country of their oppressor of the justice of their cause – efforts that contributed measurably to their victory. Nor should the Palestinians,” Khalidi writes.

However, it will be a long haul, he cautions.

“The Palestinian people, whose resistance to colonialism has involved an uphill battle, should not expect quick results. They have shown unusual patience, perseverance and steadfastness in defending their rights, which is the main reason why their cause is still alive. It is now essential for all the elements in Palestinian society to adopt a considered, long-term strategy, which means rethinking much that has been done in the past, understanding how other liberation movements succeeded in altering an unfavourable balance of forces, and cultivating all possible allies in their struggle,” the author writes.

Just as important is the popular resistance that the Palestinians can be expected to continue to mount, “whatever the shabby deal to which their discredited leaders may mistakenly assent. Though Israel is the nuclear regional hegemon, its domination is not uncontested in the Middle East, nor is the legitimacy of the undemocratic Arab regimes which are increasingly becoming its clients. Finally, the United States, for all its power, has played a secondary role – sometimes no role at all – in the crises in Syria, Yemen, Libya and elsewhere in the region. It will not necessarily maintain the near monopoly over the Palestine question, and indeed over the Middle East, that it has enjoyed for so long,” Khalidi explains.

He also points to the configurations in global power that have been changing: “Based on their growing energy needs, China and India will have more to say about the Middle East in the twenty-first century than they did in the previous one.”

Also, being closer to the Middle East, Europe and Russia have been more affected than the United States by the instability there and can be expected to play a larger role. The United States will most likely not continue to have the free hand that Britain once did.

“Perhaps such changes will allow Palestinians, together with Israelis and others worldwide who wish for peace and stability with justice in Palestine, to craft a different trajectory than that of oppression of one people by another.

“Only such a path based on equality and justice is capable of concluding the hundred years’ war on Palestine — that began with the Balfour Declaration, stretched through the creation of Israel in 1948, the Six-Day War of 1967, the occupation of parts of southern Lebanon in 1982, the First Palestinian intifada that erupted in 1987, and the Second Intifada triggered by the PLO-Hamas split in the mid-2000s — with a lasting peace, one that brings with it the liberation that the Palestinian people deserve,” Khalidi ends on an optimistic note.

(Vishnu Makhijani can be reached at vishnu.makhijani@ians.in)

–IANS
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