Papers of the Palestinian Delegation

BROKERS OF DECEIT

The 15 documents that appear here chronologically are appendices to Rashid Khalidi's new book Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East. These previously unpublished documents related to the Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations in the early 1990s appear for the first time here. The bibliography to the book also appears below.


About the book

"A stinging indictment of one-sided policymaking destined, if undisturbed, to result in even greater violence."

--Kirkus Reviews

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When President Obama travels to Israel in mid-March, he will be following in the footsteps of American presidents, going back to 1978, who have nurtured an enduring bond with Israel while failing to negotiate peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  

Now, in his new book, Brokers OF Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East, noted Middle East scholar, Rashid Khalidi, examines three historical moments to reveal why the American brokered negotiations, going back thirty-five years, have not only failed, but have actively undermined progress towards a peace settlement. The misuse of language has corrupted both thought and action surrounding Palestine and Israel, notes Khalidi, especially with regards to terms such as “terrorism,” “security,” and “self-determination.”  America’s oft repeated mantra about a “peace process,” he writes in the introduction, has long “served to disguise an ugly reality: whatever process the United States was championing, it was not in fact actually directed at achieving a just and lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis.”

In unveiling what he sees as a dishonest, yet carefully constructed narrative surrounding US policy towards Palestine, Khalidi focuses on the Reagan Plan of 1982, the 1991-1993 period from the Madrid Peace Conference to the signing of the Oslo Accords, and President Obama’s retreat from his initially firm positions on the pre-conditions for a resolution to the  Palestinian-Israeli conflict.   Khalidi, who was an advisor to the Palestinian delegation during the Madrid and Washington negotiations leading up to Oslo, bases his analysis on recently declassified memos and US government records, on confidential documents in his possession, and on his survey of public statements and actions taken by the American and Israeli governments.  These documents, as well as the historical record going back to Truman, explains Khalidi, reflect three patterns that have consistently shaped American policy towards the Israeli-Palestine conflict: intense concern with US domestic politics, driven by Israel’s powerful supporters in America, the absence of pressure from the oil-rich Arab Gulf monarchies, and little or no concern for the rights of Palestinians.  

In the lead up to his examination of the Reagan Plan, Khalidi discusses the diplomatic history around the Israeli-Palestinian problem, including Jimmy Carter’s thwarted efforts to change the discourse around Palestinian rights, Gerald Ford’s secret 1975 letter which promised Israel prior approval of American initiatives in Middle East peace negotiations, and Anwar Sadat’s separate 1979 peace treaty with Israel, which contributed in the following years to the failed negotiations regarding Palestinian autonomy.   It was against this backdrop, explains Khalidi, and in the wake of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in June 1982, and the American brokered cease-fire and the evacuation of the PLO from Beirut, that Ronald Reagan and his secretary of state George Schultz saw the opportunity for a new Middle East peace initiative. 

In tracing the eventual demise of the Reagan Plan, which called among other things for ending Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land and halting settlement expansion, Khalidi points to a confidential National Intelligence Council memo that presciently detailed for US policymakers the obstacles Menachem Begin could be expected to raise.  Khalidi also refers to a newly declassified handwritten note by Begin that spelled out his government’s bottom line, including the many restrictions they would insist on placing on Palestinian autonomy and their assertion that the Camp David Accords ruled out the emergence of a Palestinian state. The memo’s significance, argues Khalidi, lies in the fact that “over time the very low ceiling established by Menachem Begin and his successors for what the Palestinians under occupation would be allowed to obtain by Israel has become the continuing limit on what American policymakers will allow, or even foresee, for them.”

This limit, argues Khalidi, would be repeatedly bumped up against, including during the second moment he focuses on, the 1991-1993 negotiations leading up to the Oslo Accords.  As in the wake of the 1982 war, he explains, President Bush and Secretary of State James Baker saw in the quick expulsion of Iraq from Kuwait in the 1991 war, and the consequent weakening of the PLO’s position as a result of backing Saddam Hussein, an opportunity to renew efforts at resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict.   From this strategic moment, which also included the decline of the USSR and its weakened influence in the region, Khalidi traces the negotiating process, drawing on his direct experiences of the events as an advisor to the Palestinian delegation in both Madrid and Washington.  He details why the Palestinians were disadvantaged throughout the talks, including the conditions set for limiting their representation, which impaired the effectiveness of their negotiators, the establishment of a “transitional period” that allowed the Israelis to further entrench their occupation and expand settlements, and the long delay of “final status” negotiations, all of which hugely reinforced a status quo favorable to Israel. 

Khalidi highlights the roles of various key figures during this period, including chief American negotiators Dennis Ross and Aaron David Miller; their Israeli counterpart, Elyakim Rubinstein; the national leader and physician who headed the Palestinian delegation, Haidar ‘Abd al-Shafi; and PLO leader Yasser Arafat.  Arafat, explains Khalidi, ignored the advice of his advisors and, seduced by finally being recognized as a legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, blundered gravely in negotiating the deal reached in Oslo. “In effect,” he writes, “it allowed Israel to continue gobbling up the pie, the partitioning of which the two sides were, eventually, supposed to negotiate.”   Explaining why the PLO agreed to the Oslo deal, which ultimately confirmed Begin’s scheme of refusing Palestinian self-determination, Khalidi points to the weakening of the PLO during their long exile in Tunis, the absence of financial support from Arab Gulf countries after the PLO’s miscalculation in backing Saddam Hussein in the war with Kuwait, and, perhaps most significantly, their utter failure, after twenty-five years living outside the country, to understand the daily experience of Palestinians living under Israeli’s occupation regime. 

Ultimately, though, the Israeli-PLO secret negotiations leading up to the Oslo Accords, argues Khalidi, underscored how American refusal to push beyond what they inaccurately perceived as Israeli “red lines” had the effect of hobbling US diplomacy, with the Israelis stepping around the US to talk directly with the PLO.   Turning to the Obama administration, Khalidi examines how this advantaging of Israel has continued to squander the possibilities for Israeli-Palestinian peace.  He traces the President’s stance toward the Palestinian problem, including how his initial attempts to recalibrate policy were thwarted by the newly elected Binyamin Netanyahu’s hard line, including his constant invoking of the Iran threat, and complicated by domestic politic considerations, especially after the House Republicans’ victory in the midterm elections.  Today Obama’s climb-down to a conventional “pro-Israel” stance is complete, notes Khalidi, as reflected in his September 2011 speech to the UN General Assembly, which repeated longstanding rhetoric about Israel’s victim status and security concerns.  

Khalidi concludes with a discussion of how the US’s two main Middle East allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, have shaped American policy in the region, especially with regard to Iran and the tragic proxy war in Syria.  He underscores that there is no serious Arab counterweight or constellation of international powers to challenge the US’s role, particularly having to do with Palestine and Israeli’s stated agenda of continued occupation and settlement.  “American statesmen and stateswomen have perpetuated a fiction,” maintains Khalidi.  “This is that they can be faithful to solemn commitments made to Begin and subsequent Israeli leaders starting thirty-five years ago at Camp David, while at the same time supporting true Palestinian self-determination and achieving a sustainable, just, and peaceful resolution of the conflict.  They cannot.”


About the Author

RASHID KHALIDI is the author of seven books about the Middle East, including Palestinian Identity, Resurrecting Empire, The Iron Cage, and Sowing Crisis. His writing on Middle Eastern history and politics has appeared in the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, and many journals. For his work on the Middle East, Professor Khalidi has received fellowships and grants from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the American Research Center in Egypt, and the Rockefeller Foundation, among others. He is Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University in New York.