Palestine and Its Nemesis

By Faisal Tbeileh

The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood
By Rashid Khalidi
Beacon Press: Boston, 2006

To understand why the Palestinians have failed to achieve the goals of self-determination, statehood and the protection of their land from the Zionist onslaught, it is imperative to recognize the multi-dimensionality of their struggle. Professor Rashid Khalidi’s book, “The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood,” does a commendable job of delineating the various dimensions of the conflict and how they play into this seemingly unsolvable impasse.

Khalidi eloquently describes the four main participants in these conflicts: the Palestinians, the Israelis and their worldwide coreligionists (particularly in the West), the Arab states, and the Western powers represented predominantly by Britain, France and the United States. The book provides a wealth of historical and contemporary information about these participants and how each has contributed to the conflict. It is essential reading for understanding why the Palestinians, despite extensive attention and financial support from Arab countries and the international community, have so far failed to achieve their goals. Khalidi’s analysis is both relevant and useful in the context of the current derailment of “the peace process.”

The struggle for the control of land is a critical component of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It is also at the heart of the Palestinian people’s struggle for national independence and self-determination. The goal of the Zionist project is not limited to colonizing the land of Palestine. The goal includes denying the legitimacy of the Palestinian claim to nationhood and self-identification as a distinct political community. The present struggle for Palestinian statehood seeks not solely to thwart Israeli attempts to erase them from the political map of the region, but also to resist attempts to subsume them within the larger body known as the “Arab Nation.”

What is discouraging about this book is the revelation of just how little the core dynamics of the conflict have changed. On the Israeli side, there is a sophisticated, well-organized and generously financed group pursuing a clear and well-defined goal: grabbing as much land as possible and creating facts on the ground by building an extensive web of colonial settlements, all connected by a system of highways accessible only to Jewish settlers. A closer look at Israeli attitudes toward Palestinians demonstrates a single-minded determination to deny Palestinians their political and economic rights in the area, signatures on the Oslo Accords or subsequent agreements notwithstanding.

As for the Palestinians, they remain dominated by a disunited elite that lacks a sophisticated understanding or analyses of the world around them. This ignorance and lack of sophistication has been evident in their diplomacy, first with Britain, and later with the United States. Yasser Arafat’s blunders in dealing with Bill Clinton are reminiscent of Haj Amin al-Hussaini’s dealings with the British in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Both exhibited incompetence and single-minded egoistic authoritarianism detrimental to the Palestinian cause. Clearly, Mahmoud Abbas and the present leadership of Hamas have not fared much better.

The Arab states entered the conflict as a collection of conflicting, semi-independent and ineffective political and military entities that utterly failed to protect the Palestinians. Since then, the Palestinian “cause” has been trumpeted by Arab leaders in their competition for power and influence in the region, and as a basis for solidifying their authoritarian rule; none of this has helped the Palestinians. Despite their large number (22 states) and their vast oil wealth, the Arab states have failed to substantially influence the policies of Britain and the United States, both of which have provided and continue to provide massive unilateral support for Israeli policies through monetary and military aid. This support can be explained by a variety of political, cultural, strategic, domestic and religious reasons – all of which Khalidi deftly explains.

“The Iron Cage” appropriately concludes on a pessimistic note. Unless the United States changes its stance regarding Palestinian aspirations, unless the Israeli lobby in Washington drops its obstructionist demands on American politicians, no significant change will occur in the Israeli resolve to deny Palestinians their legitimate demand for self-determination. In the last three decades, the Palestinians and the majority of the Arab states have practically begged for a workable deal with Israel. So far, they have been ignored. While the duration of this impasse cannot be predicted, it is clear that as long as Israel continues to receive unconditional support from the West, despite demonstrating a lack of respect for Palestinians’ human rights, they have no incentive to change or to offer a meaningful solution. As we watch Syria plead for negotiations and the Saudis offer a peace plan that is overwhelmingly dismissed, we see clear evidence that Israel has chosen land-grab over worldwide acceptance as a legitimate member within the community of its neighbors.

Israel is manifesting its refusal to learn from the experiences of previous doomed colonial settler projects in Algeria, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

This review appears in Al Jadid Magazine, Vol. 12, nos. 56/57 (Summer/Fall 2006)

Copyright (c) 2006 by Al Jadid