India and China hold the key to Palestine, says historian Rashid Khalidi

China and India will have more to say about the Middle East in the 21st century than they did in the previous one, believes Khalidi, a professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University

India and China hold the key to Palestine, says historian Rashid Khalidi
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Vishnu Makhijani

India and China can play a more pro-active role in resolving the Palestine crisis, says historian Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University and Director of the Middle East Institute at Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs.

"The Palestinian national movement was in a difficult situation before four Arab states normalized relations with Israel, largely because of its internal divisions. These moves by the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan, all driven by considerations completely unrelated to Palestine, make its situation more difficult," Khalidi said.

"According to all reputable surveys, however, Arab public opinion does not approve of the moves by these four states, and is still supportive of the Palestinians. The Biden administration has already taken a less overtly pro-Israel position than its predecessor, but it is unlikely to change the decades-long US policy of supporting Israel at the expense of Palestinian rights," he pointed out.

What role could India play in such a situation?

"India could play an important role, if it helped to right the imbalanced situation between Israel and the Palestinians, and put its weight on the side of the weaker party. Given a status quo that is highly unfavorable to the Palestinians, 'even-handedness' translates into support for Israel's continued oppression of the Palestinians, and its now semi-permanent occupation of the West Bank, Arab East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights," he maintained.

To do so, however, India "must eschew its current bias in favour of Israel, which tips the scales even further in favour of the stronger party, and helps to perpetuate instability, violence and injustice in Palestine," said Khalidi, whose great-great-great uncle, Yusuf Diya al-Din Pasha al-Khalidi, heir to a long line of Jerusalemite Islamic scholars and legal functionaries, was the first to engage with Viennese journalist Theodor Herzl, who, in 1896 had published "Der Judenstaat", laying down his vision of a Jewish state.

"Were India able to take a balanced position, it could play a role as a mediator, or as one of the architects of a new structure for negotiation between the two sides. This would replace the entirely discredited role of the US, Israel's closest ally, a role which over many decades has served only to entrench further Israeli occupation, colonization and abuse of the Palestinian people," Khalidi added.

His book, "The Hundred Years War on Palestinians: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance" (Profile Books/Hachette) is remarkable in its sweep as it guides the reader from the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917, that declared Britain's intention to establish the Jewish state, to the present day.

"A lasting, sustainable resolution of the war on the Palestinians lies in recognition of its nature as a settler colonial conflict; and accepting that justice and equity must form the basis of such a resolution. That means that all the individual, civil, religious and national rights of both peoples must be recognized and implemented in a way that does not infringe on the rights of others.

To this end, Khalidi, writes in the book that working with Israel is a long-term process and points to the success of Algeria and Vietnam in shaking off the colonial yoke. “Neither the Algerians nor the Vietnamese "short-sightedly denied themselves the opportunity to convince public opinion in the home country of their oppressor of the justice of their cause - efforts that contributed measurably to their victory. Nor should the Palestinians," Khalidi writes.

Though Israel is the nuclear regional hegemon, its domination is not uncontested in the Middle East, nor is the legitimacy of the undemocratic Arab regimes which are increasingly becoming its clients. Finally, the United States, for all its power, has played a secondary role - sometimes no role at all - in the crises in Syria, Yemen, Libya and elsewhere in the region. It will not necessarily maintain the near monopoly over the Palestine question, and indeed over the Middle East, that it has enjoyed for so long," Khalidi explains.

The United States will most likely not continue to have the free hand that Britain once did. (IANS)

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