Middle East studies in the News
Khalidi Condemns US 'Fruitless Peacemaking'
The Sunday Business Post (Ireland)
A Palestinian American scholar and erstwhile friend of US president Barack Obama has told The Sunday Business Post that American interests will be "gravely harmed" if the administration in Washington does not fundamentally rethink its approach to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
Rashid Khalidi, a professor of Modern Arab Studies at New York's Columbia University, accused the Obama administration of "adding yet another year to the history of fruitless American peacemaking" in the region.
Khalidi as speaking in the wake of vice-president Joe Biden's trip to the Middle East, during which the US was widely perceived to have been humiliated by the Israeli government, led by Binyamin Netanyahu.
Shortly after Biden had proclaimed his strong affinity for Israel, the Israelis announced that they were planning the construction of 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem, the part of the city which was seized during the Six Day War of 1967 and which the Palestinians want to be the capital of any future independent state.
The announcement was greeted with fury by the Palestinians and condemned in unusually strong terms by Biden.
"This seems to be standard operating practice," Khalidi said.
"The Israeli government seems to feel it is obligatory to give any visiting American envoy a slap in the face."
Khalidi is well-known as a critic of Israeli policy in the region, but his comments have in recent years been more closely scrutinised because of his acquaintanceship with Obama.
He and his wife, Mona, held a fundraiser for the young politician when he was making his first, unsuccessful bid for a seat in the US Congress in 2000.
Obama reportedly told those attending that he wanted America to take a more "even-handed" approach to the conflict.
Three years later, at an event to mark Khalidi's departure from Chicago to New York, Obama said that his conversations with the couple had been "consistent reminders to me of my own blindspots and my own biases".
Obama's allies have rejected the idea that the relationship is particularly close, and there is no suggestion that Obama seeks Khalidi's advice.
But even those who are opposed to Khalidi's basic position seemed to share his displeasure about what transpired during Biden's trip last week.
Abraham Foxman, the trenchantly pro-Israel national director of the Anti-Defamation League, wrote on the Huffington Post website that the East Jerusalem move had been "a disaster".
He added: "Whatever the motivation and whoever the responsible party, it is the government of Israel that justifiably is held accountable for converting an optimal moment in US-Israel relations into a moment of crisis."
Questions remain over the machinations that lay behind the announcement. The decision was apparently made by Israel's interior minister, Eli Yishai, who heads the ultra right-wing Shas party. Netanyahu claimed that he was left in the dark about it until the last minute.
In a statement last week, he also said that he had "expressed his displeasure at the timing of the announcement" during a meeting with Yishai.
But it was widely noted in the US and elsewhere that Netanyahu did not express disagreement with the principle of the new construction.
Even moderate observers expressed scepticism about Netanyahu's professions of ignorance. Martin Indyk, who served as US ambassador to Israel during the administrations of Bill Clinton and George W Bush, wrote on the Daily Beast website that "the excuse that Netanyahu was blind-sided by settler gremlins in the Interior Ministry strains credulity".
Biden's trip came amid hopes that so-called proximity talks would soon begin between Israel and the Palestinians. The future of those talks now appears uncertain.
Reports emanating from the Arab League suggested that the Palestinians would not participate in any negotiations for some time. But the New York Times reported that the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, had only sought Biden's help to stop the new settlement, and had made no threat to withdraw from the talks.
Back in Washington, the problems surrounding Biden's trip are likely to fuel the sense that the Obama administration has struggled to come to grips with the conflict in the region.
Shortly after assuming office, Obama made a public call for a total cessation of settlement-building by the Israelis. His request went unheeded.
Then, last autumn, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proclaimed that a much more modest Israeli concession - Netanyahu promised to stop some, but not all, construction - was "unprecedented".
Clinton's comment provoked anger in the Arab world and she backtracked on it to some degree. Shortly afterwards, she read a prepared statement which emphasised that "as the president has said on many occasions, the United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements".Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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