Is There Any Way to End the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict? – The New York Times

Posted By on January 28, 2020

Khalidis core thesis is that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is best understood as a war of colonial conquest, one that closely hews to the pattern and mind-set of other national-colonial movements of the 19th century. As he points out, an early Zionist slogan calling for a Jewish homeland in Palestine a land without people for a people without a land not only discounted the presence of the estimated 700,000 Palestinians already there, but echoed a great body of settler lore that required conquered lands to be void of people, or at least inhabited only by lesser ones: Think of the expansion onto Indian lands in the American West, or white Australias long denigration of the Aborigines. Zionism had the added advantage, Khalidi argues, of adorning itself with a biblical coat that was powerfully attractive to Bible-reading Protestants in Great Britain and the United States.

Consolidating this colonial settler paradigm, in Khalidis telling, was the 1948 Israeli War of Independence or the Nakba (Catastrophe), as the Palestinians call it. By seizing control of nearly 80 percent of the land that constituted the British Palestine Mandate, and overseeing the expulsion or flight of a similar percentage of its native Arab population, the Israeli pioneers were emulating the model of earlier victorious settlers. Once outside actors became involved, Khalidi contends, matters only turned worse for the Palestinians. After the 1967 war, for example, the United Nations passed Resolution 242, demanding Israel return to its prewar borders. As Khalidi astutely points out, while SC 242 is generally regarded as the foundational basis for future Arab-Israeli peace talks, for the Palestinians it represented a one-two punch: Nowhere in the resolution are they referred to by name they are merely refugees while a return to the 1967 borders meant the outside world was now legitimating their 1948 expulsion. In Khalidis view, each subsequent diplomatic breakthrough in the region has served only to further negate or marginalize the Palestinians. The 1979 Camp David peace treaty between Israel and Egypt meant that the Palestinians had lost a cornerstone ally in the region, while the much-heralded 1993 Oslo Accords served to co-opt the Palestinian leadership and maroon their followers into tiny enclaves under ultimate Israeli control.

While many of Khalidis insights are thought-provoking, their persuasiveness is undermined at times by a tendency to shave the rhetorical corner. He quite justifiably labels the Irgun, an early Jewish paramilitary organization, as a terror group, but is markedly more charitable when similar tactics were used by armed Palestinian factions. There is also a slipperiness to some of his formulations. To cite one particularly stark example, Khalidi contends that vital to the settler-colonial enterprise has been an Israeli campaign to sever the link displaced Palestinians feel for their homeland. The comforting idea, he writes, that the old will die and the young will forget a remark attributed to David Ben-Gurion, probably mistakenly expresses one of the deepest aspirations of Israeli leaders after 1948. Well, if the writer himself notes that the source of a quote is probably wrong, then its deeply problematic to use that quote.

But the bigger weakness of this book, to my mind, can be distilled to a simple question: Where does it get you? Even if one fully accepts Khalidis colonialist thesis, does that move us any closer to some kind of resolution? This may seem an unfair criticism. After all, it is not incumbent on a historian to offer up possible remedies except this is the closing task Khalidi sets for himself. It is also where his insights become noticeably threadbare.

His most intriguing suggestion is that the Palestinians stop regarding the United States as an honest broker in negotiations with Israel, but recognize that Washington will always ultimately side with Israel. He further suggests that with American influence in the region waning, it might be one of the new powers emerging on the scene China or India or Russia that could more honorably fulfill the arbiter role. While Khalidis first point has considerable merit, its exceedingly hard to see the United States, waning influence or no, ever taking a diplomatic back seat in the region to another external power, or forcing Israel to make the sorts of concessions that a new intermediary would surely demand. And with the possible exception of the current occupant of the White House, its even harder to imagine anyone thinking a solution to their problems can be found in the tender embrace of Vladimir Putin.

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Is There Any Way to End the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict? - The New York Times

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