Prof. Muhammad Ali Khalidi Blames Authoritarian Regimes for Lack of Arab Support for Palestinians
This interview was published by Fars News Agency on 11 October 2015.
After several decades of military occupation, the living conditions of the Palestinian people haven’t improved significantly, and the leaders of the Arab states also seem to be indifferent towards their suffering. Figures and statistics show that unemployment, poverty and inflation pervade in the Occupied Territories, Gaza Strip and West Bank, and even the juniors and schoolchildren are deprived of educational opportunities and proper schooling. Surrounded by violence and trauma, the people of Palestine are looking for a brighter future, while things still seem bleak and uncertain for them. A Canada-based scholar and university professor believes that the Arab states in the region are not determined to help the people of Palestine because they’re still led by “authoritarian regimes.” “The Arab regimes are on the whole not responsive to their peoples, who are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and support the rights of the Palestinian people, as a matter of principle,” said Prof. Muhammad Ali Khalidi in an interview with Fars News Agency. “Despite the hopes generated by the ‘Arab Spring’, the vast majority of Arab states are still ruled by authoritarian regimes and it’s not in their interest to be genuine advocates of the Palestinians or to risk their relationship with Western governments in order to advocate for Palestinian rights,” he added.
Muhammad Ali Khalidi, an Associate Professor at the Department of Philosophy at the York University since 2008, tells us that the economic prosperity of Palestinians, which will lead to their political self-sufficiency, would be challenging for Israel, and that’s why Tel Aviv keeps them impoverished and destitute.
“It’s not in Israel’s interest for Palestinians to achieve economic prosperity. Israel knows that genuine economic self-sufficiency for the Palestinians, as opposed to mere handouts, will lead to greater political power and more leverage to demand their rights,” he noted. “The global community has largely responded to the situation with financial aid, which is what they can do without jeopardizing their relationship with Israel.”
Prof. Khalidi has taught at different universities, including the American University of Beirut, University of Minnesota and University of Virginia. He has written four books, the latest of which is “Natural Categories and Human Kinds: Classification in the Natural and Social Sciences” published by the Cambridge University Press in 2013. He has given lectures on the Middle East current affairs across the world and is the author of several book chapters and scholarly essays.
FNA talked to Prof. Khalidi about the international responses to the plight of the Palestinian citizens and the continued military occupation of their homeland. The following is the text of the interview.
Q: Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories and Gaza Strip are coming to grips with military occupation, checkpoints, restriction on their freedom of movement, shortage of water and food, coupled with sporadic bombardment of their homes. But those Palestinians living in other countries as refugees are coping with their own difficulties, including being denied a “right to return” to their homeland. What’s your viewpoint about the hurdles the Palestinian refugees are facing, especially those living in the Lebanese refugee camps?
A: Humanitarian conditions are dire in the refugee camps of Lebanon. But in my experience, whenever I’ve spoken with refugees in Lebanon, the discussion always comes back to their expulsion from their homeland and the denial of their right of return. In all my conversations, their right of return and political self-determination is their primary concern, not the lack of facilities and services. This is, of course, not to absolve the Lebanese authorities of blame for not granting Palestinian refugees civil rights, including the right to property ownership and full employment rights without the need for a work permit. The Lebanese political establishment has always been hostile to granting Palestinians civil rights on the pretext that this would be a prelude to resettlement in Lebanon. But their attachment to Palestine is so strong and is not diminishing with time, so granting them civil rights would do nothing to undermine their attachment to their right to return.
Q: Why is it that the Arab states of the region, with extensive financial resources and political sway on the pressing regional issues, don’t take action to help the crisis-hit Palestinians, especially the people of Gaza Strip? Why don’t they use their ties with the United States and the EU as a leverage to alleviate the suffering of their fellow Arabs in Palestine and convince Israel that aerial strikes, siege and mass killing are not workable choices?
A: The Arab regimes are on the whole not responsive to their peoples, who are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and support the rights of the Palestinian people, as a matter of principle. Despite the hopes generated by the “Arab Spring”, the vast majority of Arab states are still ruled by authoritarian regimes and it’s not in their interest to be genuine advocates of the Palestinians or to risk their relationship with Western governments in order to advocate for Palestinian rights. When it comes to alleviating the suffering of the Palestinians with their vast financial resources, many contributions from both Western nations and Arab states have a frankly deleterious effect on the Palestinians. Indeed, much of this financial assistance is intended to relieve pressure on Israel and to institute a regime of permanent dependency. So I don’t think that humanitarian assistance is always what is needed from the Arab states or the West.
Q: In one of your articles, you noted that following its plan for “disengagement” from Gaza in 2005, Israel continued keeping control over Gaza’s airspace, territorial waters, borders, entry and exit points as well as electricity grid, water supply and other urban infrastructure. Why did Israel insist on maintaining the control of Gaza’s civilian infrastructure and even its electricity grid at the same time as claiming that it’s disengaging from Gaza?
A: Israeli policy – and Zionist policy before the establishment of Israel – has always aimed to control as much of the land of Palestine as possible. “More land, less Arabs” has been the mainstay of this strategy. Since Gaza is an integral part of the land of Palestine, Israel wants it to remain permanently under its control. In the contemporary world, ruling over territory crucially involves controlling airspace, borders, ports, telecommunications and other aspects of infrastructure. That’s why Israel is intent on controlling Gaza’s civilian infrastructure. After the “disengagement” from Gaza, Israel has been able to dominate Gaza more effectively without having to place troops on the ground to protect Israeli settlers. Since there are no longer any settlers in the Gaza strip, the Israeli military is free to rule Gaza by remote control, and to launch period full-scale assaults on its population, roughly every two years since 2005.
Q: You discussed in your piece on the volume 16, issue 1 of the online journal “Theory & Event” the reasons why Israel continuously launches aerial strikes on the Gaza Strip. Could you please give us a summary of the reasons why you think the Tel Aviv leaders decide from time to time to pound Gaza with artillery and missiles? Is it a test for Israel’s military might, an effort to demoralize the Palestinians or an action for solidifying the occupation?
A: In my opinion, it’s all of the above. But most importantly, I think it’s a means of demoralizing the Palestinians and making life in Gaza intolerable for them. This is done with two aims in mind; first, to induce as many of them as possible to leave Gaza, thus contributing to the depopulation of Palestine It’s not easy for Palestinians to leave Gaza, but some manage to do so in search of economic opportunities elsewhere, and Israel does everything it can to accelerate the process. Second, it does so in order to make the remaining Palestinian population quiescent and amenable to any political regime that it imposes upon them. Israel knows that it can’t make all Palestinians disappear, so in the long run, the best option for Israeli leaders is to rule over a subjugated population within the borders of “Greater Israel.” They think that they can deny their political rights indefinitely and render them amenable to this denial by means of intimidation.
Q: Is the Dahiya Doctrine of deliberately using disproportionate force against the civilian areas in Palestine still being implemented by the IDF, specifically in the Gaza Strip? The former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories Prof. Richard Falk has called this doctrine “state terrorism” and a “violation of the most elementary norms of the law of war.” What’s your viewpoint about the compatibility of this doctrine with the international law and the obligations of Israel?
A: The “Dahiya Doctrine” is clearly a violation of international humanitarian law (IHL), the body of international law that governs warfare. One of the main principles of IHL is the Principle of Distinction, which calls on all parties to a conflict to distinguish between civilians and combatants and to direct attacks only against combatants and not against civilians. So it’s a blatant violation of the first rule of IHL, which is enshrined in the Geneva Conventions. In my view, the theoretical basis of the Dahiya Doctrine is contained in the lesser-known “ethical code” of the Israeli military. This remarkable document tries to justify the claim that Israel has a right to give greater weight to protecting the lives of its own soldiers than to protecting the lives of Palestinian civilians. But the justifications given are either spurious or irrelevant, as I’ve argued in an article on this topic, [entitled] “‘The Most Moral Army in the World’: The New ‘Ethical Code’ of the Israeli Military and the War on Gaza,” [published on the] Journal of Palestine Studies, 39:3 [in] spring 2010.
Q: Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, as one of the world’s mostly densely-populated regions, bars people and goods from leaving or entering the crisis-hit territory, and the UN information tell us that Gaza’s economy has already collapsed. The World Bank stated in a May 2015 report that unemployment in Gaza runs at 43 percent, the highest rate of joblessness in the world. Moreover, 80 percent of the coastal strip’s 1.5 million residents live on less than $2.30 per day. Israel is able to introduce some leeway for the improvement of the people’s living conditions there, but it doesn’t seem to be willing to do so. Why is it so? Why doesn’t the global community come to the help of Gaza’s impoverished population?
A: The main issue when it comes to the Palestinian people is not economic deprivation. Though they are largely impoverished and destitute, especially in Gaza, the source of their misery is the occupation of their land and their inability to govern themselves and control their own destiny. Frankly, there are worse humanitarian crises in the world and there are populations that are more severely deprived. But there are very few other populations that have been denied the right to political self-determination for so long simply because of their ethnicity and religion. If they had sovereignty and were masters of their own fate, they could export their agricultural products, establish industries, encourage tourism, and otherwise achieve economic self-sufficiency.
As for why Israel and the rest of the world allow this situation to continue, it’s not in Israel’s interest for Palestinians to achieve economic prosperity. Israel knows that genuine economic self-sufficiency for the Palestinians, as opposed to mere handouts, will lead to greater political power and more leverage to demand their rights. The global community has largely responded to the situation with financial aid, which is what they can do without jeopardizing their relationship with Israel.
Q: The Israeli propaganda and “public diplomacy” campaign, known as “Hasbara”, has been able to dishearten many Palestinians and discourage them about any future openings. As a result, a large number of Palestinian citizens are now hopeless, assuming that there’s no progress and change in sight. Could you please give us an overview of some of the Hasbara techniques and the way it’s propped up to demoralize and threaten the Palestinians?
A: I think of Hasbara more as a way of deflecting criticism of Israel internationally rather than as a means of demoralizing the Palestinians. As time goes on and the discriminatory and exclusionary nature of Israel becomes clearer to people all over the world, pressure can only increase on it from international public opinion. To counter this criticism, Israel needs to portray itself as “a light unto the nations,” to use a Biblical phrase that was misappropriated by the Zionists. That’s why we see a growing number of news articles and items on social media, and press releases about Israel’s supposed technological breakthroughs and scientific discoveries. It is also why we see “fluff” pieces on Israel as a tourist destination, culinary mecca, a source of archaeological treasures, and so on. These reports are intended to shift the focus away from the fact that the very existence of Israel as a Jewish state is premised on the denial of Palestinian rights.
Q: The worst news for Israel, as you’ve implied in your writings, would be unity between the different rival Palestinian groups, including Fatah and Hamas. In what ways can the cooperation of Fatah and Hamas, especially after the April 2014 unity deal, be unwelcome and worrying to the Israelis?
A: I’m not sure that it’s the worst news for Israel, but it’s certainly a source of concern if the Palestinians unite and put up a cohesive political front. The agreement between Fatah and Hamas has not yet resulted in genuine political unity, but more solidarity among the Palestinian factions might lead to greater reluctance on the part of their leaders to enter into dead-end negotiations. The so-called “peace process” – which has brought nothing but war, has been an excellent smokescreen for Israel for over two decades. It has allowed Israeli political leaders to claim that they are negotiating in good faith with the Palestinians while continuing to deny their rights and consolidate the occupation of their land. If that process is suspended, it would make it harder for Israel to pretend to be interested in ending the occupation and would expose it to criticism from international public opinion.
Interview by Kourosh Ziabari