Blogs > HNN > Don Peretz: Review of Rashid Khalidi's Resurrecting Empire: Western Footprints & America's Perilous Paths in the Middle East (Beacon Press, 2004)

Oct 14, 2004 7:39 pm

Don Peretz: Review of Rashid Khalidi's Resurrecting Empire: Western Footprints & America's Perilous Paths in the Middle East (Beacon Press, 2004)

Mr. Peretz is Professor Emeritus in political science at the State University of New York at Binghamton. He was Director of the Southest Asia North Africa Program and is the author of Israel and the Palestinian Refugees, The West Bank and other publications.

Rashid Khalidi, an American of Palestinian descent, holds the Edward Said Chair in Arab Studies at Columbia University and directs the university’s Middle East Institute. He has been an astute critic of Western, particularly U.S. policy in the Middle East. In his introduction he writes: “I found it difficult to maintain a restrained tone in writing this book… [I] was particularly infuriated …as a historian, because all too much of the extensive public debate ” about these relations has been in a historical vacuum “driven by wildly inaccurate and often racist stereotypes.”

The major thrust of the book, he argues, is a critique of the Bush administration’s “rush to war” in Iraq resulting from policies devised by “muscular nationalists” and “neoconservatives” --- members of the “War Party” surrounding the president. Several of them, Khalidi maintains, served in the past as advisors to “extremist” Israeli leaders including former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Most were ignorant of Middle East history and the social structure of the region’s diverse ethnic groups.

Khalidi presents a survey of recent Middle East history with major emphasis on the past century. He discusses the impact of Western colonialism and the resistance to its intrusions by indigenous populations. Until recently U.S. relations with the region were “pacific and mutually satisfactory.” This situation prevailed until the post- World War II era, when it was transformed by the rise of our status as a global power with a network of political and economic interests throughout the world.

European imperialists differed from Americans. Although they gave priority to their British or French national goals, some of them were sympathetic to and informed about peoples with whom they worked. Many like T.E.Lawrence, Gertude Bell, and H.St. John Philby and others learned the “native” languages and understood their cultures unlike American empire builders in the neoconservative movement seeking hegemony in the Middle East. Khalidi derides the Bush administration’s claim that its policies seek to bring democracy to the region. The experiences of Americans familiar with the region, so-called Middle East experts, are disregarded by higher government officials. Their views, the author observes, are “diluted and buffered by layers of bureaucracy.”

One of his five chapters is a critique of the American role in the Palestine/Israel conflict. Though it was Great Britain not the United States that created the problem, Khalidi observes, it has become the American lot to cope with it. Americans have been attracted to the lure of Zionism by the “potent” influence of the Bible, by the images of brave settlers taming the land opposed by “ignorant fanatical nomads.”

Khalidi believes that, following 9/11, policies of the Bush administration and Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon have reached the point where they are “virtually indistinguishable in a number of realms.” The shared rhetoric concerning “terrorism” is a prime example. It remains to be seen how this convergence of American and Israeli policies and interests will impact America’s standing in the Middle East. Khalidi traces the development of American policy from “even-handed” at the end of World War II to partisan by the 1960s when Israel was used by the U.S. as a “proxy stick” against Soviet activities in the region. Until now, he asserts, the U.S has done little to resolve the problem, ignoring the Palestinians, focusing instead on relations with the surrounding states.

In addition, he berates the Oslo “peace agreement,” which was supposed to lead to mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO; since then life for ordinary Palestinians has gone “downhill almost from the beginning.” Their lives have become considerably worse, impacted by closures, economic deterioration, and loss of land to expanding Israeli settlements in Gaza and the West Bank.

If there is ever to be substantive progress toward peace, Khalidi believes, the approach taken by recent administrations on all sides must be completely reversed. Talks on the critical issues: refugees, Jerusalem, borders, water allocation, etc., must be started “immediately,” before Israel gobbles up “the pie that the two sides must ultimately agree to share.”

Finally, although the book has no bibliography, the thirty four pages of notes contain valuable data and extensive references, many of them primary sources to support the author’s often sharp critiques and startling observations.

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