Brokers of Deceit: How the US Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East

KHALIDI-BrokersOfDeceit-1In the constantly expanding list of world conflicts the multi-decade Israeli occupation of Palestine is perhaps the most vehemently talked about and simultaneously the most distorted. A highly sophisticated and pervasive public relations campaign ensures that any damning facts about Israeli criminality or US complicity in these crimes is kept in the dark. The so-called peace process is perhaps the most dramatic illustration of this reality. Typically, the US is portrayed as an “honest broker” working tirelessly to bring two recalcitrant parties to the negotiating table, but if one examines the documentary record they will discover that this couldn’t be further from the truth. Quite apart from an “honest broker” the US has aggressively backed Israeli criminality for many decades. Furthermore, US diplomats and Presidents have systematically undermined any effort to bring about a peaceful resolution to what author and scholar Ilan Pappe termed the “incremental genocide” of the Palestinian people. This mythology of the “peace process” is reviewed in painstaking detail in Rashid Khalidi’s masterful study of US diplomatic obstructionism Brokers of Deceit: How the US Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East. Khalidi identifies three pivotal periods to frame his analysis: the official Israeli position on Palestine between 1978 and 1982, the Madrid/Oslo talks of the 1990s, and the policies of President Obama from 2009 to 2012.

One characteristic shared by all three of these historical periods is that they reveal the unconditional support that consecutive US administrations have lavished upon Israel, a country that never intended to grant the Palestinian people anything vaguely resembling authentic self-determination. Key to the Israeli position in the Palestinian territories was a doctrine most clearly articulated in the 1977 Likud Party platform: “Judea and Samaria will not be handed over to any foreign administration. Between the sea and the Jordan River there will only be Israeli sovereignty.” The “foreign administration” referred to in this statement is a reference to the indigenous Palestinian population and “Judea and Samaria” are the Biblical terms that the Israeli government headed by Manachem Begin used to denote the West Bank. Absolutist policies of this kind—the endorsement of “Eretz Israel”—are vital in denying the Palestinian people the territory due them under international law.

Meanwhile, the US lends Israel uncritical support as they consolidate this colonial project. Take for example the position of the Reagan administration. Before his election to office, Israeli “settlements”—more appropriately illegal colonies—were formally recognized as illegal within the United States. Reagan departed from this traditional understanding and revised the status of the colonies as a mere “obstacle to peace.” Consequently, the Begin government felt emboldened to intensify their theft of Palestinian territory. So extreme was the criminality of Begin that when Reagan proposed a mild “peace” plan acknowledging the grievances of the Palestinians he was subjected to torrents of ridicule within the Israeli press and the US media. This phenomenon, which demands excessive fealty to the Israeli point of view, played out in astonishing terms years later during the Oslo talks. While conventional historical narratives portray these negotiations as the shining moment of the Clinton administration, symbolically consummated with the famous handshake between Arafat and Rabin on the White House lawn, the factual record paints a far less flattering picture.

Though little noted, the Oslo talks consisted of two separate series of negotiations. One series was mediated by Washington. This is the series that adorns the pages of history books. Nonetheless, there also was another series of talks taking place in secret without the mediation of the imperial guardian. After Washington’s role in the talks became so toxic that US negotiators began taking positions “less forthcoming” than Israel itself, Israel and the PLO decided to carry out direct talks without the US. When the US discovered these covert negotiations, they were outraged. Accustomed to managing every aspect of the conflict, the US simply could not accept the fact that any resolution could be crafted without the influence of Washington. Today we can see just how deep this influence runs. After Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received word that the Palestinians were thinking about bringing criminal charges against Israel for war crimes carried out during “Operation Protective Edge” he had to call on Washington, “Israel’s lawyer”, to block such a move.

The contempt that Israelis and their US apologists displayed when it came to the prospect of genuine Palestinian self-determination speaks volumes to just how incorruptibly close the US and Israel remain. For example, when the PLO proposed that they, and not Israel, should be in charge of the security situation within the Palestinian territories, US negotiator Aaron David Miller dismissed the very notion as “otherworldly.” Following in the footsteps of Begin, who pioneered the facade of Palestinian “autonomy”, any serious peace proposal, a proposal of this world, required sovereignty to be limited to the Palestinian “people” and not have it extended to Palestinian “territory.” The territory, in accord with the 1977 position, remained eternally in the hands of “Eretz Israel.” Incidentally, it’s worth noting how this disgraceful record of diplomatic gangsterism is obscured whenever Miller is invited on news programs to provide “expert analysis” on the situation in Israel-Palestine.

It was also because of this consistent pattern of elite rejectionism that the Oslo Accords, quite apart from accepted orthodoxy, considerably worsened the situation for Palestinians. As Khalidi astutely observed “this sequence of agreements arguably made achieving such a peace much more difficult,” adding “by indefinitely delaying a resolution of any of these core issues, while allowing uninterrupted expansion of Israeli settlements and of Israel’s control of the occupied territories … these accords gravely exacerbated the deepest problems between the two sides.” Accordingly, it would be safe to conclude that Secretary of State John Kerry also “exacerbated the deepest problems between the two sides” when he took precisely the same position in his talks with Israelis. On August 14, 2013 Democracy Now! reported “John Kerry insisted the ongoing settlement expansion doesn’t threaten the prospects of reaching a peace deal.” Going beyond his Reaganite predecessors, Kerry didn’t even see the “settlements” as an “obstacle to peace.”

More than Carter, Clinton, Reagan or George Bush Sr., the Obama administration truly excelled in cheering on some of the most grotesque and appalling atrocities of the Israeli government. Before he was justifying  mass murder in Operation Protective Edge he was delivering speeches that exceeded the expectations of some of the most ardent Israeli nationalists. On the topic of Obama’s 2011 speech at the United Nations Khalidi revealingly notes “Netanyahu’s super hawkish and openly racist foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, was ecstatic about the 2011 General Assembly speech, declaring ‘I am ready to sign on [to] this speech with both hands.'”  And the love affair did not stop here. The next year in March when Netanyahu visited the White House the topic of the Israeli occupation and the Palestinian people did not arise once, prompting Netanyahu’s political adviser to note “This is the first time in memory that an Israeli prime minister met with a US President and that the Palestinian issue was not even mentioned, it never came out.” Part of the reason the Israeli political elite found Obama’s ideological stance so attractive was because he kept rigorously to firmly entrenced doctrines of Israeli hasbara. For instance, President Obama “has always accepted a constant, central element of Israel’s self-presentation: its victim status, to which it has always clung fiercely and aggressively.”

Underlying these fabrications is a hardcore coterie of Israeli apologists eager to amplify these fairy tales at a moment’s notice. Aside from Aaron David Miller, another cheerleader for this criminality was one of Obama’s closest political advisers, Dennis Ross. Chief among the strategies deployed by Ross to undermine any positive diplomatic initiatives was a “pre-emptive capitulation to what he described as the [Netanyahu] coalition’s red lines.” It was precisely this “excessive solicitude” which in the past led to US officials “[taking] a more ‘Israeli’ line than even the Israelis themselves.”  Crucially, Khalidi’s meticulous study of Washington’s historic role as “Israel’s lawyer” exposes, in no uncertain terms, the degree of culpability that US officials share in the crimes against humanity that are carried out against the besieged people of Palestine on a daily basis. Khalidi eloquently states “I have attempted to show that beyond underwriting and defending the process of subjugating the Palestinian people and subjecting them to this system, the United States has played a key historical role in enabling and echoing both counterreality and denial,” adding “without this American echo chamber, extending back for many decades, the entire Zionist project in Palestine could not have been so successful.”

Certainly, all the historical indignities piled upon the people of Palestine can be traced, inexorably, to the “honest brokers” in Washington and the compliant press, which is never unprepared to wash their hands of the affair when the bloodshed exceeds tolerable limits of “civilized” society.  Regarding the latest US “peace” proposal in the wake of the mass murders in Operation Protective Edge, Khalidi’s conclusion was grim. Writing for the Institute of Palestine Studies he stated “the United States hewed closely to the script for the Palestinians written by the Israeli and US playwrights who brought us the farce of Oslo and its many sequels.” Khalidi continued “the nominally ‘American’ proposals, as best can be discerned from the leaks on every side, closely mirror the Israeli position on all the important issues.” Until this decisive material, diplomatic, and ideological support is engaged with the same passion and rigor that is routinely reserved for “enemy states” there can be no reasonable expectation that this tragedy will reach a peaceful solution. Reading Khalidi’s text is just one way to deepen one’s commitment in pursuit of this urgent task.


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