Hamas and the Palestinian Authority should unite, unequivocally renounce violence and jettison the U.S.-led peace process which is "a corpse that has had formaldehyde pumped into its veins for over a decade" – this is the diagnosis and prescription of Professor Rashid Khalidi, one of the leading Palestinian intellectuals in the world.
"Nobody believes that firing rockets and getting 1,400 people killed in response is 'resistance' that is going to liberate Palestine, and nobody believes that talking with the U.S., with Dennis Ross putting his thumb on the scales in favor of Israel, which is already overwhelmingly superior, is going to produce an equitable and just and lasting solution of the Palestine question. If you still believe that - you have to have your head examined," the U.S.-born Khalidi said.
Khalidi, a member of the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid peace process in the early 1990s, and one of the first proponents of a two-state solution expressed grave doubts about the chances for its implementation, because of what he describes as the "inexorable work of the bulldozers" and Israel's "settlement-industrial complex". In any case, he added, the two-state solution was but a "way station" that would not mean end-of-conflict and would still necessitate agreement on Palestinian refugees and on Israel's "Palestinian minority" before a comprehensive settlement could be achieved.
A "one-state solution already exists," he added, because "there is only one state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, in which there are two or three levels of citizenship or non-citizenship within the borders of that one state that exerts total control."
Laying much of the blame for their situation on the Palestinians themselves, he called on them to "re-imagine" the way a Palestinian state would work. "Why not have a Palestinian state in which Jews live? What's wrong with that?" And in what might sound as an echo of Israeli complaints about the "Tel Aviv state", Khalidi said that Palestinian leaders need to mobilize their people and "get them out their expensive Audis and Mercedes and out of their bubble in Ramallah where everyone is prosperous and there is no unemployment."
Khalidi refused to discuss any aspect of his personal relations with U.S. President Obama, which featured so prominently in the 2008 presidential campaign and was used to criticize Obama's attitude toward Israel. But Khalidi's criticism of the President's Middle East policies is withering: "I had low expectations and my low expectations were more than fulfilled. He's done considerably worse than I would have expected."
Khalidi said that Obama had squandered his chance of making meaningful changes during his first two years in office, when the Democrats still controlled Congress "and since they lost Congress a year and a half ago, Benjamin Netanyahu has more influence over these issues than the president does. Because he has a House and a Senate that will carry him on their shoulders as far as he wants to go. The President can't do that."
In a wide-ranging interview conducted in his office at Columbia University in New York, where he is the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies, Khalidi also dismissed Israel's existential fears of Iran as "fantasy" and said that the leaders of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood are "pragmatic" and would not abrogate Egypt's peace agreement with Israel.
On the other hand, Khalidi expressed grave concern about the extremist Salafi party's performance in the Egyptian parliamentary elections, which "shocked" him, and suggested that its success may be connected to Saudi funding. "There are several scores of Saudi princes who have personal budgets as large as medium-sized states. So there are 20 or 30 Saudi 'foreign policies,'" he said.
At the same time, Khalidi believes that Islamist parties will have a hard time maintaining their current popularity in the Arab world, a development that already be seen in what he described as the Gaza public's growing disenchantment with Hamas. "It's perfectly fine to come in with a slogan that 'Islam is the solution', but try to solve a housing crisis, or infrastructure, or unemployment, with 'Islam is the solution', he said.
"This is a process that's going to fall through – if it's not short-circuited by hysterical people from the outside," he added.
On Iran, Khalidi believes that "Ahmadinejad is a technician who has no real role in security or foreign policy or where the military is concerned. You try to convince Americans of that – as far as they are concerned, he's Hitler's little brother."
He said that Israeli leaders are "cynically and irresponsibly" drumming up fears of Iran in order to "maintain Israel's dominance over the region" and that Jerusalem must change its attitude towards Teheran "which means layers of hysteria, and lies and exaggeration and propaganda are going to have to be peeled back."
"The idea that Israel is under any existential danger is fantasy. The idea that the Iranians would incinerate a 3,000-4,000 year old civilization for some apocalyptic reason and destroy themselves as a government, as a regime, and as individuals – is irrational," Khalidi said.
Khalidi, who lived for many years in Beirut, also warned of an outbreak of "civil war and sectarian violence" in Syria, which would be "catastrophic for the whole region". He accused the Gulf countries of stirring the pot in Syria and of drumming up sectarian animosity.