by Mehdi Hasan
We continue our discussion of President Trump’s long-awaited Middle East plan to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which he has described as the “deal of the century.” The plan was drafted by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner without any input from Palestinians and would give Israel sovereignty over large areas of the occupied West Bank, control over all of Jerusalem, and keep all illegal settlements built in the occupied West Bank. We speak with Mehdi Hasan, senior columnist at The Intercept, and Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said professor of modern Arab studies at Columbia University. Khalidi’s latest book is titled “The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine.”
January 29, 2020
senior columnist at The Intercept and host of their Deconstructed podcast. He’s also host of UpFront on Al Jazeera English.
Edward Said professor of modern Arab studies at Columbia University. He’s the author of several books, including his latest, The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren responded to President Trump’s so-called Middle East peace plan.
Sanders issued a statement saying, quote, “Any acceptable peace deal must be consistent with international law and multiple UN Security Council resolutions. It must end the Israeli occupation that began in 1967 and enable Palestinian self-determination in an independent, democratic, economically viable state of their own alongside a secure and democratic state of Israel. Trump’s so-called ‘peace deal’ doesn’t come close, and will only perpetuate the conflict, and undermine the security interests of Americans, Israelis, and Palestinians. It is unacceptable,” Sanders tweeted.
Elizabeth Warren tweeted, “Trump’s ‘peace plan’ is a rubber stamp for annexation and offers no chance for a real Palestinian state. Releasing a plan without negotiating with Palestinians isn’t diplomacy, it’s a sham. I will oppose unilateral annexation in any form—and reverse any policy that supports it,” Senator Warren said.
Well, we go now to Washington, D.C., where we’re joined by Mehdi Hasan, senior columnist at The Intercept and host of the Deconstructed podcast. He’s also host of UpFront at Al Jazeera English. And still with us in New York, professor Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said professor of modern Arab studies at Columbia University. His new book, The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine.
Mehdi Hasan, if you can respond to the presidential candidates responding to the Middle East plan, and then how the media has covered it?
MEHDI HASAN: I’m glad that some of the presidential candidates, Amy, have come out strongly. Elizabeth Warren came out very quick, Bernie Sanders referring to it as “annexation.” Obviously, I would like them to go further, but I know the limits of U.S. political discourse when it comes to Israel-Palestine. It’s good at least that in this election cycle you have two candidates, Warren and Sanders, talking very explicitly about Netanyahu’s racism, about annexation, about this “peace plan,” quote-unquote “peace plan,” being a sham. In fact, I think anyone who describes this as a, quote-unquote, “peace plan” — and, there you go, I just fell into the trap, because we keep hearing this phrase all the time — it’s malpractice. This is not a peace plan. When you hear any political candidate for office, any journalist referring to it as a “peace plan,” you really need to stop and think twice about that, because this is a plan for apartheid, this is a plan for settler colonialism, as Professor Khalidi mentioned earlier, before the break. And I think we need to be clear about our terms.
And, of course, you know, The New York Times put out a tweet yesterday when the plan came out, a breaking news tweet, where they talked about the Palestinians being asked to make more concessions. Just that language that we have here in the U.S. about Israel-Palestine, the idea that an occupied people, who have had their land stolen from them, are expected to concede that land to the people who have occupied them and stolen their land, it’s madness. It’s not language we would use in any other walk of life or in any other conflict. We don’t use it in the context of Crimea, Ukraine and Russia. But we do use it, and we have used it for years, in the Middle East in relation to the Occupied Territories.
What’s so interesting about the current moment, of course, is that Donald Trump — there’s always a silver lining to Donald Trump’s awfulness. And that is that he takes any issue, and he’s so extreme on it — he’s so extreme even by American presidential standards — that he forces people off whatever fence they were sitting on. And I think what he’s done in the last 24 hours, with the help of his son-in-law, with the help of Netanyahu and MBS of Saudi Arabia, who has also endorsed this plan, is the he’s forced people to basically take off the blinkers and recognize this for what it is. The conflict now is no longer Israel versus Palestine, as it’s often set up — as Professor Khalidi pointed out, it’s not; it’s a one-sided war — but it’s apartheid. And Americans now have to decide: Do they support apartheid, or do they not support apartheid? There’s no more nonsense about two-state solutions and all of that rubbish. That’s gone. That’s finished, finally over. No one pretends it’s still there on the table. It’s: Do you support apartheid, or do you not support apartheid? That is what we should be asking Democratic presidential candidates, and that is what journalists should be discussing in the media, in their op-eds, in their cable news discussion panels.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Mehdi, talk about American opinion polls. They’re very interesting on the issue of Israel-Palestine.
MEHDI HASAN: Yes. So, we are often told by supporters of the Israeli occupation in Washington, D.C., especially Republicans, that the reason the United States backs Israel so blindly, gives it billions of dollars, turns a blind eye when it massacres children in Gaza, is because American public opinion is behind Israel, because Americans want to support the, quote, “only democracy in the Middle East,” as it’s often sold, which is not actually true. Going back many, many years, if you look at the polling on this subject, most Americans, the majority or plurality of Americans, say they don’t want the United States to take the side of Israel or the Palestinians. They want the United States to be what it claims to be, but of course is not, and that is an honest broker, an impartial outside force, which it’s never been, of course.
And what’s so interesting is, about — I think it was about a year ago, at the University of Maryland, Shibley Telhami, who’s a great academic and pollster, carried out some polling of Americans on the Middle East, which found that there was almost an even split between Americans on whether they support a two-state solution, as is framed by the establishment, 36%, I think, of Americans, versus a one-state solution, a democratic, binational, secular state in which Palestinians and Jews all have, you know, one vote — one person, one vote — equal rights, and that was around 35%. It was almost even. It was a third of Americans were two-state, a third of Americans were one-state. And here’s what’s so interesting, Amy. When you tell Americans that there is no two-state solution, that option is gone, the vast majority, two out of three Americans, say, “We support a one-state solution with equal rights for everyone,” because Americans — shock, horror — like the idea of one person, one vote. That’s what this country is supposed to be built on. And they don’t like the idea of saying, “You know what? We’re going to take a people and put them under occupation and disenfranchise them in perpetuity.”
And that’s what this Kushner plan does. It basically says, “You’re never getting anything else. This is what you get.” Israel gets to annex what it likes, takes over whatever part of the West Bank it likes. And the Palestinians know they don’t get any rights. What’s so astonishing about this plan — and, you know, Americans, I would argue, the average American, would not support this idea — that a Palestinian refugee not only loses their status as a refugee under this plan forever, but Israel gets to veto Palestinian refugees from returning even to a Palestinian state, not just to Israel. Forget the right of return to Israel. Under this plan, if you look at the small print, they can’t even return to a Palestinian state without an Israeli veto.
So, I think this is all a reminder once again that — you know, Edward Said said it best back in 1978. He said, here in the United States and in the West, amongst establishment types, the Palestinian person politically does not exist. They have been completely obliterated. And I think we saw that in the last 24 hours, where you have a White House press conference, at which no Palestinian spoke, a White House meeting with the Israeli leadership but not with any members of the Palestinian leadership, and a plan put forward by the White House which had no Palestinian input whatsoever. It’s the complete and utter erasure of the Palestinians by the U.S. political establishment, by the U.S. administration.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Mehdi Hasan, before we move on to the issue of the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump that’s taking place at the same time — it seems to have motivated a great deal in President Trump, from January 3rd, the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, to his setting precedent last Friday speaking at a “right to life” march in Washington, D.C., the first sitting president ever to do this, and then suddenly announcing he’s releasing a Middle East “peace” plan — I wanted to turn back to Rashid Khalidi. You had talked about some Gulf states perhaps supporting the president. If you can talk about the significance of Saudi Arabia, perhaps one of the most closest allies with the United States, along with Israel?
RASHID KHALIDI: Well, I think this brings up something that people don’t think about very often. The only reason that Israel is able to maintain its regional superiority is because most Arab states are not democratic. The only countries that could or would buy into this are countries which can suppress their domestic public opinion. So, the absolute monarchies of the Gulf, including the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Bahrain, whose ambassadors were at this shameful ceremony yesterday in Washington, are countries, like a few others in the Arab world, Egypt and so forth, ruled in different ways, but in ways that completely exclude representation, democracy, parliaments, public opinion, a free press, and so on and so forth. In those Arab countries where those things do exist, countries like Lebanon or Kuwait or Tunisia, you have popular outrage at what is being done in Washington. The absence of democracy in the Arab world is a precondition for this kind of thing happening. Only regimes which completely — which are capable of completely suppressing their public opinion would support such an outrageous derogation of international law, Arab rights, Arab dignity, as, unfortunately, a few of these governments have and, I’m afraid, will.
But it’s vital to represent, and it’s vital to understand, these are not the Arabs. These are a group of kleptocrats who control their countries absolutely, against the will of their people, and who are able to get away with this partly because they’re protected by the United States. So, you have had a few Arab governments that have either squeaked their approval or failed to indicate their disapproval or shamefully sent their ambassadors to this sham ceremony. But it is vital to understand what they are and who they are and what they represent. They don’t represent anybody except the elites which dominate those countries.
AMY GOODMAN: Rashid Khalidi, we want to thank you for being with us, Edward Said professor of modern Arab studies at Columbia University. His latest book, just out, The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine.
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