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Edward Mentioned noticed the way forward for Israel and Palestine

The author Edward Said is pictured in Paris on November 25, 1996. Ulf Andersen / Getty Images

Radicalism is nothing more than understanding the root of a problem. Time and again, the late Palestinian and American thinker Edward Said slapped the delusions, inadequacies, and prejudices that underlie US foreign policy. Throughout the 1990s, when the "end of history" seemed nigh and ushered in by a US-mediated global peace, Said warned of the "charade" of the US Middle East peace process. Towards the end of his life he despaired of a change in the disastrous position of the Palestinians, whose leadership had written off all the achievements in the national struggle for self-determination with the Oslo Agreement, which he described as an "instrument of Palestinian surrender" at the Palestinian Versailles. "

Places of the Mind: A Life of Edward Said, Timothy Brennan; Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 464 pages, $ 35, March 2021

Recent events in Palestine and Israel have shown that Said is one of the few who correctly articulates this issue. The US media is beginning to catch up with what was considered radical in his day, largely because of the deep historical awareness his writings demonstrated. The change has been spearheaded by the conversion of American liberals such as Peter Beinart, whose recent articles promoting Palestinian rights in Jewish currents have given him a profile in the New Yorker. But the US establishment is seldom willing to consider the idea that the Palestinian national liberation struggle – in so far as it had any hope of leading to a two-state solution – ended more than began with US-mediated talks in the 1990s. That 30-year delay has done great damage to US foreign policy in the region as well as US national policy.

The conflict in Palestine is as much a "war of images and ideas" as it is a question of politics, as Said clearly understood. For several decades, Said was the most influential Palestinian spokesman in the United States – a lonely and courageous position at a time when the word "Palestine" was seen as a political provocation. The complacency of the US public is one of the greatest aids to Israeli influence in US politics – and this is where Said's eloquence celebrated its greatest triumph, with even the American Israel Public Affairs Committee warning its supporters that “challenging him is only going to look bad leaves". ." Today, Israel's leaders can no longer take for granted public approval or, as Said put it, the "almost complete triumph of Zionism" in US public and political discourse. There should be no doubt that this is largely the legacy of Edward Said.

Said was a political activist, scholar, memoir writer, and literary and music critic. Every U.S. humanities student has grappled with his or her legacy over the past several decades. Said's book Orientalism paved the way for a revolution in the study of literature, history, and politics. This unexpected scientific bestseller showed that the European humanities – whether it be writing a novel or studying foreign languages ​​- played a role in advancing the injustices of global imperialism. In Places of Mind: A Life of Edward Said – the iconic thinker's first major biography since his death in 2003 – author Timothy Brennan said that Said wrote Orientalism to tackle the unjustified portrayal of Palestine in the US media to get. Finally, Said went further into the history of Western literature and colonialist discourse to understand how modern experts could so roughly subsume events such as the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 or the discriminatory state of Israel under the mere rubric of the "Middle East conflict".

"Said's political work," said Brennan, "found its basis in literary criticism." This is true in the truest sense of the word: Said analyzed, edited and helped translate several texts of the Palestinian movement in the 1970s and 1980s, including the first address given by nationalist leader Yasser Arafat to the United Nations. Said's role in this movement also mediated his study of modern literary theory. In the end, he was more of a die-hard anti-colonial thinker than a scholastic of the trivialities of post-colonialism. ("I don't think the" post "is even true," Said once told a colleague.) This enabled Said to continue his battle against the seedy ducks of the US foreign policy establishment, most notably the Middle East "peace process".

Edward Said was Professor of English and Literature at Columbia University in October 1980 and a leading political commentator and advocate for the Palestinian cause. Sophie Bassouls / Sygma via Getty Images

In addition to his achievements as a literary scholar and representative of the Palestinian movement, Said should be remembered as a thinker of US foreign policy. This is a claim that Brennan addresses but does not make sweeping. With astonishing sovereignty, Said rejected the Oslo Accords of 1993 and the subsequent Middle East peace process, which was one of the main stages of US diplomacy in the Belle Epoque prior to September 11th. The essays and interviews he gave in the years that followed filled five volumes and represented some of his strongest, most enduring, and clairvoyant writings.

Said described the protests, strikes and boycotts of the First Intifada in the late 1980s as "certainly the most impressive and disciplined anti-colonial uprising of this century". Instead of building on that, he felt that Arafat was writing off all profits in the nationalist cause for the US government's flimsy promises to be an honest broker. Over the next few years, he repeated, it was the only time that an occupied people had agreed to negotiate with their occupiers before a withdrawal had taken place or had been agreed.

Said believed that the purpose of the peace negotiations was to give Israel security – not to give the Palestinians a state within the so-called Green Lines. That position created a bitter rift between Said and Arafat, but others within the Palestinian leadership – including the politician and writer Hanan Ashrawi – agreed with much of his position. For the next decade, Said maintained a frantic pace of writing as the extent of the Palestinian defeat mounted.

The root of the problem was that the US government – the "great white father," as Said pungently called him – has never equated the Palestinians with the Israelis; This is not just a moral issue, but an inadequacy of US diplomacy that precluded any deal. The Declaration of Principles – the document known as the Oslo Accords – does not make a single reference to a Palestinian state, self-determination or sovereignty, but rather provides for a kind of "local self-government" (as Said called it) without you undertaking the Israeli one End occupation of the West Bank or Gaza Strip. (Here it only commits itself to limited Israeli “transitions”.) Some people hoped Arafat could build on this in the fabled “final status negotiations” the deal promised. Instead, the United States took a so-called incremental approach, largely driven by Israeli demands for further Palestinian concessions, but doing nothing to stop the expansion of Jewish settlements that had already made a two-state solution nearly impossible.

"Does this mean ominously that the intermediate phase can actually be the last?" Said asked. It almost had to be like that, since Said understood the power politics behind it. The year after his death, Clayton Swisher's The Truth About Camp David: The Untold Story About the Collapse of the Middle East Peace Process was published. This book should be a classic study of the historical failures of US diplomacy and its advocacy for Israel. Yet the expectation remains that the Palestinians should be content with less than other national groups have accepted (a "pretend state", as Israeli writer David Grossman called it, with no full sovereignty over water, air, or land) . The peace plan of the former US President Donald Trump – which the current administration has so far rejected – showed that Israel does not want a two-state solution, but rather another surrender of the Palestinians.

Then-United States President Bill Clinton watches then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and then Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat shake hands in the garden of the White House in Washington on September 13, 1993. MPI / Getty Images

Brennan said that as a writer, Said reserved "his greatest anger for Middle Eastern experts". The "silly solemnity" with which the US establishment welcomed Trump's Abraham Accord was reminiscent of Said's characterization of the White House by former President Bill Clinton in his essay "The Morning After," as the US president as a "Roman emperor of the 20 about "vassal kings" in the handshake between Arafat and the then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Of course, all of this was theater and nothing but another Arab surrender – just like the Abraham Accords, which recognize the normalization between Israel and several Arab states, with which it had for the most part longstanding ties.

US diplomats speak as if the two-state solution is possible or just a question of resuming talks. In fact, the duck of the two-state solution was used to justify the Abraham Accords, which had nothing to do with enforcing Palestinian rights. From the 1990s onwards, Said foresaw how the US peace process prevented anything but a one-state reality. As Brennan said, Said "overtook" the intellectuals in Washington think tanks.

That is not to say that Said was an oracle of the current situation in Palestine or the region. Indeed, Brennan wrote letters to his shaky debut in Arab politics during his time in Beirut in the 1970s. But it was Said's unusual, almost outsider, approach to understanding the Middle East that gave him an independence of thought where others clung to political orthodoxy. Said, an American professor of English literature at Columbia University, has always been on the sidelines of Arafat's movement as he felt on the fringes of the US establishment for being born an Arab and Palestinian.

Said's positions on Palestinian affairs were as often heretical as they were orthodox, from the perspective of the nationalist movement. Starting with The Question of Palestine – the book that followed Orientalism – Said tactically foresaw the concessions the Palestinian struggle would have to make. In essence, this meant finding a way to divide the land of Palestine. This consistent belief in equality drove Said to a two-state solution that would leave most of historical Palestine to the Jewish state – a position later supported by Arafat's group.

Towards the end of his life, it was the same belief in equality that convinced Said of a one-state solution – regardless of the federal, binational or other constitutional form. Recently, this rights-based approach has received more attention after key reports by Israeli group B’Tselem and Human Rights Watch concluded that Israel is practicing apartheid against the Palestinians.

Edward Said (left) and Palestinian-American scholar Ibrahim Abu-Lughod address the 26th Secretary of State George Schultz. Charles Tasnadi / The Associated Press

Edward Said throws a stone from Kafr Kila in southern Lebanon at Israeli soldiers on July 3, 2000. Said, who was visiting Beirut, traveled to southern Lebanon to visit the formerly occupied territory that Israel evacuated more than a month ago. AFP via Getty Images

Said was a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, although, according to Brennan, he considered much of his influence on US politics "catastrophic". This establishment railed against Trump's alleged betrayal of US foreign policy and US values. Then there was the feeling of relief, even exuberance, when Trump beat Syria.

Trump was the sum of the duplicity between the US and the Middle East – he just pulled the curtain away. The US Senate unanimously passed a resolution that approved Trump's relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem and the "50. Anniversary of the (Israel) reunification ”of the holy city. This was referring to Israel's conquest of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War, which simply ignored how international law regards it as occupied territory. The resolution also called for the resumption of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations "without preconditions" and affirmed US policy that "the permanent status of Jerusalem remains a matter to be decided between the parties through negotiations on the final status of a two-state solution". None of this makes sense. Besides, what else is there to negotiate?

The resolution was a language breakdown that reflected longstanding US practices. "The silence and wanton speech murder that is evident in the phrase 'peace process'," noted Said, "are central to the Israeli (and American) project." Said referred to, among other things, Washington's misrepresentations of the Israeli state in the 1990s. These included Warren Christopher, former US Secretary of State, whose signature was scrawled on the Oslo Accords and who, during his confirmation hearings, refused to call Israel's military control of the Palestinian territories an "occupation". When asked for a "clear statement on settlement policy", the deputy spokesman for his department gave an incoherent response that postponed the issue to "final status" talks. "There is a causal link," concluded Said, "between this kind of talk and Israel's encouraged land expropriation."

This habitual abuse of the English language in the peace process has done enormous damage to US politics. After 9/11, it began to manifest in many ways. Said described the Patriot Act, passed in October 2001, as "an Israelization of US politics". He had forewarned: "The terrorism craze is dangerous because it solidifies the immense, unrestrained pseudo-patriotic narcissism that we nurture." Democratic President, Clinton, spoke. There is a straight line from the disguised falsehoods of the "peace process" to those of the "war on terror", the "pro-democracy" invasion of Iraq (promoted by US liberals like Beinart), Trump's embrace of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and what now seems like a discredited US political establishment.

Many American liberals have taken refuge in the idea that a "right-wing" Israeli government is the problem. Netanyahu is not the root of the problem, but the ideas he represents. A large part of The Question of Palestine is devoted to explaining the beginnings of Zionism in 19th-century European colonialism and early Zionist thinkers such as Theodor Herzl. It was no coincidence that the idea of ​​a "land without a people for a people without a country" was linked to Victorian ideas of using biblical scholarship to prove the inferiority of today's inhabitants of Arab countries. In modern times, Israeli Prime Ministers have been referring to the West Bank as Judea and Samaria since Menachem began, which led to the real possibility of annexation – which former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, insisted it was not an "annexation" acted everything because "Israel's historical claim to this territory goes back over three millennia".

Edward Said is pictured in Modena, Italy on September 18, 2001. Leonardo Cendamo / Getty Images

In the last month, any television viewer will have seen the US media increasingly allowing Palestinians to tell their story (although it is important to stick to the trending stereotypes of “terrorism” in the 1990s or “Islam” in the early 2000s Years to remember low bar for considering the Arab perspective in American discourse). This was a problem that Said outlined in his magisterial essay, Permission to Narrate. Israel and its supporters worked to deny the Palestinians the right to share their experiences. The lack of a Palestinian narrative broadly meant that there was no need to recognize a Palestinian people, a Palestinian history, or a Palestinian right to self-determination within a homeland.

"Facts do not speak for themselves at all," said Said, "but require a socially acceptable narrative to be recorded, maintained, and circulated." As noted elsewhere, the United States' reckoning with its history has the Racism accelerates cultural change that exposes the inadequacies of US representation of Palestine. Finally, it seems, society could have a socially acceptable narrative to tell the story of the Palestinians alongside that of Israelis, Jewish Americans, Arab Americans, black Americans, and others. Looking at Said's legacy within the American university system, Brennan said Said opened the door to a new generation of scholars from the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Without this fundamental change in the American upper middle class, it is difficult to imagine that US MP Rashida Tlaib – who wears no less a keffiyeh – would denounce US support for "Israel's apartheid government" from Congress.

As Said's graduate student at Columbia University, Brennan cleverly tracked his former mentor's maneuvers through the American Academy, but stumbled upon Middle Eastern politics. Brennan seemed to give Said more credit as a key mediator for Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the US State Department. Examples such as Said's invitation to consult with the Reagan administration on the Palestinian "problem" were often measures for how the United States refused to take the Palestinians seriously as an appreciation for Said's political influence in the PLO leadership ; Wherever they were in exile, Israel preferred that Washington not negotiate with them directly. Brennan also refrained from seriously criticizing Said's views on Arab politics and letters – or his aversion to Beirut's intellectual life – even if those views were shaped by personal grievances or his emigrant life in the United States.

Edward Said speaks during the PEN 2001 Lecture at the Apollo Theater in London on December 5, 2001. Yui Mok / PA Images / PA Images via Getty Images

In his day, many of Said's most vicious critics came from the American liberal establishment such as the New Republic, where Secretary of State Anthony Blinken began as a reporter in the 1980s, and where Beinart later preached liberal Zionism prior to its recent crisis in Trust. Today the New Republic runs columns condemning the White House for ignoring the "Palestinian struggle". But Beinart's conversion or Tlaib's speech in Congress should not create the illusion of an impending and dramatic shift in US support for Israel, which in Washington has the rare difference of general bipartisan consensus.

As Said and other scholars of his generation argued, some ideas are endowed with authority or legitimacy only because of the power discourses. In and of itself, the "peace process" has ceased to mean a lot. But the State Department still peddles "bilateral negotiations," a "two-state solution," and almost always leads with "Israel's right to defense," while wisely warning that the present moment is for a final settlement of the "conflict . " The White House is trying to "manage" a deeply historic war with temporary truces (the key word of the moment, according to former US peace processor Martin Indyk). Said aimed at this disregard for history in his criticism of the US media, foreign policy, and national politics – and it was this sensitivity to the inevitable inventory of history that made his criticism so compelling.

"History knows no mercy," wrote Said in "The End of the Peace Process: Oslo and After". "There are no laws in it against suffering and cruelty, no internal equilibrium that will restore a people against whom much has been sinned to their rightful place in the world." This should not be misunderstood as a message of hopelessness. Said as a writer was not a sentimentalist, but followed the maxim of the Italian thinker Antonio Gramsci: "Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will". Not much remains to be done today, except to analyze Said's writings on the so-called “peace process” and ask what can be done differently.

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