Rashid Khalidi: Palestine's Struggle Can Teach America About the Middle East

Historians in the News

With inter-Palestinian violence on the rise, and the Bush administration's hands-off approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Rashid Khalidi's new history of Palestine calls for a retrospective look into the major decisions -- both within and outside the Middle East -- that sculpted the Palestinian conflict during the last century.

Khalidi, the Edward Said Chair of Arab Studies at Columbia University, asks a simple question: In the wake of the colonial Middle East, why have Palestinians failed to achieve statehood? A cursory look into Palestinian history shows that it's not for a lack of desire. But as their Arab neighbors have gained independence, it remains an elusive goal for the Palestinians.

In"The Iron Cage," Khalidi argues that since the British took administrative control of Palestine in 1922, Palestinians have been forced to play politics with some of the world's most significant powers. In their uphill battle for statehood, Palestinian leaders have faced not only the British, but the well-organized Zionist movement, and what Khalidi calls the"shark-infested waters of Arab politics." Khalidi visited San Francisco recently during his national book tour, and met me at Union Square to discuss his new book. Liv Leader: Your last book"Resurrecting Empire" was published a year into the war in Iraq. Many of your dismal predictions about the Iraq war have proven true. So why did you choose to write about Palestine when Iraq is on everyone's mind?

Rashid Khalidi: You're right, Iraq is a timely issue. I've been working on"The Iron Cage" for more than 10 years. I actually interrupted this book to work on"Resurrecting Empire" because I just couldn't focus on this issue in the wake of 9-11. I saw that a number of disastrous wars were coming at us and that people were going into them completely, totally and utterly blind. I wrote"Resurrecting Empire" as an attempt to affect the public debate on the Iraq war.

In a way The Iron Cage doesn't fit as well into the current political season as would another book on Iraq. In a way I think it's germane. Our policy in the Middle East is so utterly wrong-headed and our policy on Palestine is a part of it. American policy is not just rooted in the history of American policy towards Palestine since the 1940s, but in the history of great powers policies since the 1920s.

One of the things that has to be looked at is the responsibility of the international community and of the dominant powers, whether Britain in the 1920s and 1930s, and the United States since World War II, to creating this situation. So I think it actually is timely and speaks directly to what I think should be a major issue.

Why is the U.S. so loathed and hated by the people in the Middle East, who actually have nothing against our freedoms, democracy, and love our economic system They are dying to go to Disneyland, but they cannot stand our foreign policy. Could it possibly be that fact that they think that what we do in terms of Palestine is stupid and morally wrong?

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