Failures on the part of the international community have contributed to the stormy history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Columbia professor Rashid Khalidi told an audience of community members and students in a lecture Saturday afternoon.
"Among the most important of the constraints on Palestinians were international ones, from the League of Nations [to] the U.N.," he said to the crowd gathered in the Computer Science Building.
Two years ago, the University considered Khalidi, the director of Columbia's Middle East Institute, for a professorship in contemporary Middle East studies. Members of the board of the Center for Jewish Life objected to the nomination, arguing that Khalidi's academic work was motivated by a political agenda. The University selected Islam scholar Muhammad Qasim Zaman instead.
In December 2005, The Daily Princetonian reported that Khalidi was again under consideration for a position in the history department being vacated by retiring professor Robert Tignor. History professor Philip Nord has since been appointed to the professorship.
Khalidi did not mention those interactions with the University — or the firestorms surrounding them — during the lecture, titled "International Law, Legitimacy and the Palestinian Question."
In the talk, he chronicled the history of Palestine after World War I, when a League of Nations mandate established British control over Palestine.
Britain, Khalidi said, had promised self-determination to the Palestinian Arabs, who comprised 90 percent of the area's population. The mandate, however, only formally granted mandatory rights to the Jewish minority. "For decades," he said, "Britain twisted and turned over pressure from contradictory poles of respect for self-determination ... and its faithfulness to create a Jewish national home."
After World War II, Khalidi added, when the United Nations applied the principle of self-determination universally, it considered making states independent a key goal. At the same time, he said, the United States and the Soviet Union sought to fragment the preexisting colonial empire for their own interests.
"Rooseveltian idealism and cynical superpower realpolitik acted as a solvent," he said, "and it gradually and then very rapidly dissolved bonds of great colonial empires."
In breaking apart the colonial imperial structure, the international community promised to grant Palestine self-determination, he said. But it did not follow through on its pledge, he added, focusing instead on creating a Jewish state.
The lecture was sponsored by the New Jersey division of the United Nations Association of the United States of America, a grassroots organization supporting the United Nations.