Brit Tzedek hosted a conference call with Rashid Khalidi today that was most interesting. I was most impressed with how acute his thinking is on the conflict. This is the kind of person who could’ve been a prominent international lawyer or even foreign policy wonk if he’d chosen to be. Not the type of person who suffers fools gladly.
Khalidi revealed something that may be common knowledge to some familiar with U.S. Mideast policy but it was news to me. He claims that after Hamas came to power Eliot Abrams advocated a “hard coup” against the Hamas-led PA to be led by Mohammed Dahlan. Bringing Fatah back to power forcibly was to be the essence of U.S. policy toward the Palestinians, Khalidi derisively claimed.
Khalidi, in explaining why no Arab-American was invited to speak before a recent House committee discussing the Israeli Arab conflict, gave an interesting colloquy on Arab American political power. He likens the community to the Jewish community in the 1930s. He said that while there were many American Jews in 1930s America and that their leaders appeared to hold a certain level of status, in reality American Jews had very little power. Khalidi explained that Jews were ignored by FDR and other policy makers because they COULD ignore them and get away with it. As future generations of Jews became more educated about their rights and savvy about wielding political power, this could no longer happen.
Arab-Americans, who are largely first-generation, are in such a position right now. That is why a House committee chair could deign to hold a hearing on the I-P conflict and ignore the existence of the Arab side. But this will not be the case once Arabs become more savvy about wielding their political clout.
Khalidi feels that the Right of Return will be the thorniest problem to tackle between the two sides, even more difficult than Jerusalem and other territorial issues. The outline of what must happen to resolve this matter is that Israel will have to acknowledge the devasatation that the 1948 Nakba caused to Palestinian life. It won’t even have to apologize. But it will have to concede what happened. In kind, the Palestinians will have to give up their dreams of physically resettling their old homes within Israel proper. These will be two extremely difficult processes for both sides to come to terms with.
He noted that a certain number of Palestinian refugees should return to Israel and those should be the ones in Lebanon. They have never been absorbed into Lebanese society because of the political fracturing of that system. Many of these Palestinians origanally left northern Israeli Arab villages in the Gallilee which still exist. Khalidi’s argument is that these villages could easily reabsorb the refugees who return to them. He believes that Palestinian refugees in other places like Jordan, the U.S., Europe, etc. HAVE been reabsorbed into these societies and so it is far less imperative that they have a physical Right of Return.
By the way, if someone reading this knows Khalidi’s work better than I could you go to the Wikipedia article I link to above and edit it to read more neutrally. As it currently stands, two-thirds of the article details accursations by Khalidi’s critics with no rebuttal whatsoever. These two paragraphs should be entirely rewritten by someone with a more balanced perspective.