Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Rashid Screeds It

Historian Rashid Khalidi, whom I met a Joseph Alper's secret Pal.-Yesha meeting No. 1 (I was rejected as not "moderate" enough for future meetings) tries to explain in a Salon interview why Palestinians have failed to create a nation

Excerpts from Nation building (Interviewer: Jonathan Shainin)

This book ["The Iron Cage"] begins during the British Mandate, but your depiction of that era departs from the conventional narrative.

This book is an attempt to talk specifically about Palestinian history, not the history of the conflict or the history of Israel or Zionism. And there are, as you suggest, many versions of the Palestinian story in this era. One says, essentially, that the Palestinians entirely deserved what they got; they missed a number of opportunities, and were mired in backwardness by comparison with the Yishuv [the Zionist community in Palestine] and later with Israel. That version, both in scholarly work and in popular understanding, is quite widespread. There is another Palestinian and Arab version of the story, which has it that the Palestinians were overwhelmed by forces beyond their control, were helpless victims and had no agency -- they could have done nothing else. They were overwhelmed by a tragic fate. I am actually trying to deal more with the latter than the former. The former ... whatever. I address it in the book; I don't think it's grounded in historical reality.

My focus is on the Palestinians, and on an issue that I was surprised to discover had not really been addressed, which is the Palestinian view of statehood, the idea of state power and governance. No one, it seems to me, has asked, Why did the Palestinians not establish a state before 1948? Why have they failed since to do so? Implicit in both of the narratives that I reject are answers to these questions. The first one says, Because they were backward and stupid, and the second, Because they were overwhelmed by a superior force. But I don't think either of those answers is sufficient.

...From the beginning, the British assumed that they could finesse the issue of the Arabs; they gave them institutions, religious institutions, primarily, which the British hoped would keep them busy, divert them, distract them, give them a certain degree of status. The Jews were a people, and the Jewish Agency was given prerogatives and rights according to the terms of the mandate. There wasn't an Arab Agency because the Arabs, in the British view, were not equal to the Jews. Even at a time when the Jewish population of Palestine was rather small, they had diplomatic representation, the ability to take issues before the League of Nations and so on. The Arabs, during the entire period of the mandate, never achieved this because of the way the British saw them. Over time, the British were forced to modify this view, and by the late 1930s the Palestinians were able to come to the table. But it was two decades too late.

Rashid, the Pals. squandered then and later all opportunities presented to them. They simply preferred the solution of killing Jews to any other political or diplomatic act.

...The religious institutions that were ostensibly at the head of the Palestinian community, as you observe, were essentially created by the British.

I'm not sure anyone has ever fully teased out and pulled together the degree to which these institutions were completely new and artificial, created by the British for the Muslim community. Consider the Supreme Muslim Council, and the grand mufti of Palestine, institutions and positions that had never existed in the history of the country, which the British created on the basis of patterns of indirect control they had employed elsewhere -- Egypt, especially, but also in Ireland and India.

Exactly - all of Palism is artificial in the main.

There is surely an irony here, with the Palestinians, not a particularly pious people, led by a pretend religious figurehead created by the British.

Anybody who looks at the history will say, no, not a particularly pious people. Quite the contrary, in fact, a particularly secular people, in this period and for decades thereafter. The mufti himself was not a pious character -- he was a secular figure until he was anointed by the British.

Sorry, Professor. That statement is historically pretentious and indefensible.

Look at how Gaza has been treated since the evacuation of settlements; Israeli control over Gaza is in some ways even more complete. The settlements are gone, true, and Israel doesn't administer some aspects of life. But it still controls entry, exit, the economy, death, movement, everything.

In Gershom Gorenberg's recent book about the first decade of the settlements, he depicts an essential paradox of the Israeli occupation, in which policymakers felt they could not keep the occupied territories, but they couldn't leave them either. From this perspective, the withdrawal from Gaza is a bit like a magic trick --

Leaving and not leaving. It is a magic trick. I mean, it was a magic trick, but I think we're seeing the screen lifted and the Wizard of Oz mechanics revealed. In fact, they never left. They're getting away with murder in the sense that there's no international opprobrium. But that doesn't mean that the situation is not going to come back and haunt everybody.

That's pure propaganda.

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