By Chemi Shalev, Haaretz – 5 Dec 2011
Following is a transcript of the interview with Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University’s Department of History.
THE PALESTINIANS: “We already have a one-state solution”
Q. Let’s talk about the Palestinians. Why has the Arab Spring passed them by? And do you think the two-state solution is still possible? Your detractors say that you would not be unhappy about such a development
A. Anyone who is an advocate of the two state solution has to tell me how a forty plus year old process can be reversed. That process, even since Meron Benvenisti starting talking about it in the late eighties, hasn’t changed one bit. No Israeli government has ever stopped it. I mean Rabin did a little bit, but that’s it. It’s inexorable – the bulldozers never stop.
Explain to me how a two state solution is compatible with the continuation of that dynamic. Your newspaper chronicles better than most the rise of that ideology and how it has taken over institutions of the state, one by one, including the army, how the imperatives of this movement, which used to be Harav Kook and a few people in the Revisionist movement who had never been in power – you could count them on the fingers of your hand in 1967 – are now sitting on top of a bulldozer that will never stop, unless somebody stops it. Anyone who’s interested in a two state solution – an Israeli, an American, a Palestinian or an Arab – has to explain to me how that process can be reversed, or how the continuation of that process indefinitely into the future is compatible with what anyone would call a “state” can come about in the occupied territories. This is a value-free assessment.
Q. Well people will tell you that with a five per cent swap, with a ten percent swap – it is still feasible. But obviously they are not going to stop it while…you know there was an attempt by the Obama administration.
A. I’m not talking about a settlement freeze. That’s not what’s at issue. I’m talking about how you uproot what I call “the settlement-industrial complex”, which is not 500 or 600 hundred thousand in the occupied West Bank and in Occupied Arab East Jerusalem, it’s the hundreds of thousands in government and in the private sector whose livelihoods and bureaucratic interests are linked to the maintenance of control over the Palestinians, in the finance ministry, collecting taxes, the people who work for these companies that control these data bases, every Palestinian is on these multiple data bases, four million people, how many entries, how many highly paid software engineers, how many programmers, how many consultants, how many executives – we’re talking hundreds of thousands of people. Most of them live prosperous lives right near the Mediterranean and wouldn’t go near the occupied territories if their lives depended on it. But their lives and their livelihoods are utterly bound up with the people who live on the West Bank and, to the extent possible, with those who live in Gaza.
I’d love to see an Israeli politician with the courage to deal with those issues. I haven’t seen one. So I’m not saying it can’t happen – the late Tony Judt once said “anything that one politician has done another politician can undo” – I can see it’s conceivable to have a two state solution, but I also see a dynamic…this is not a dynamic that depends on this American president, this is a wider dynamic.
Q. Do you personally support a two state solution?
A. If it was possible? I think it would be real way station towards a just resolution of this conflict.
Q. You say a way station. That is a codeword, you know. So it would not mean the end of conflict.
A. It’s a way station, because a two-state solution will not resolve is the fact that there are not just four million Palestinians in the occupied territories and another million or million and a half inside Israel, there are several million other Palestinians. Now some of those Palestinians are perfectly integrated into where they live, and all they might want is a passport and a vacation home or a burial plot – but they have rights, and they have aspirations and they have weight in Palestinian politics. I don’t see how a two-state solution that is the final and sole resolution according to Israel’s vision, in which nobody comes back to Israel proper – is going to solve all of this.
Another problem is – how do you address the growing problem that is constituted by this large indigenous minority inside Israel. The two-state solution doesn’t address this. That’s part of the Palestine problem. It’s an Israeli problem. Transfer is not the solution. Ethnic cleansing is not the solution.
Q. Our foreign minister has a solution…
A. Why are we talking about this but for the fact that the United Nations gave 55% of a country that was two-thirds occupied by Palestinians? 35% of the population, who owned 7% of the land, and who in the Jewish state laid out by the UN Partition Plan would have had to deal with a 50% Arab minority. This was resolved by “dumping” the Palestinians, so dumping more Palestinians won’t solve the problem.
Q. You know that what you say is playing into the hands of people who oppose a diplomatic solution who will cite this as proof that you’re not going to make do with an independent Palestinian state, but you will continue to demand the right of return as well as a solution to the Israeli Arab minority.
A. They are not an Israeli Arab minority alone; they are also part of the Palestinian people. So no solution to the Palestine question which is final, which is just, which is agreed – can act as if this was an internal Israeli problem and the Israelis can treat the Palestinians inside Israel exactly as they please. It won’t work.
Q. So what – they will be extra-territorial citizens? Extra judicial?
A. No. Israelis have to figure out a way to reunderstand their own citizenship so that these people can be Israelis and they can be Palestinians at the same time. They are more indigenous than anyone else there, except for a few people whose great-great-great-great grandparents were also there. They have more rights, in a certain way of understanding rights, than anybody else, and they certainly have the right to be citizens of the state they live in, an Israeli state, and that has to be squared with the idea of Jewish nationhood, of Jewish people, of Israel as the national home of the Jewish people and those things could probably be solved – but it’s not an external thing, that’s not “we’ve solved the borders now shut up and let us deal with our Arabs”. The Israelis are free to do it. They have the power to do it. But it won’t work. In fact, one of the things that Palestinians resent is that the PLO leadership ignored this issue in the 1990’s. That won’t be possible in the future.
At the same time, a two-state solution is part of a larger solution and it also requires the Palestinians to reimagine what a Palestinian state can be. I think they have a very impoverished way of thinking. Why not have a Palestinian state in which Jews live? What’s wrong with that? Why shouldn’t a Palestinian state be a binational state, or a state which has two nationalities? It would be the national home of the Palestinian people, just as Israel is the national home… No Israeli thinks of only the 1947 or the 1949 borders as a place to which the national imagination of the Jewish people is restricted – nor should the Palestinians. And that’s not incompatible with a two-state solution. As far as Palestinians are concerned, all of Palestine is Palestine, just as in the eyes of Israelis, all of that country is Eretz Yisrael. And that has to be part of the solution as well.
So, my problem is not with the two-state solution, because partition is problematic but it may be the least bad solution. My main issue with the two state solution is that I don’t see the current dynamic being reversed. I don’t think we need to talk about how many states can dance on the head of a pin before we deal with that.
Q. So you think we’re headed for a one-state solution?
A. We already have a one-state solution. There is only one state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. There are two or three levels of citizenship or non-citizenship within the borders of that one sovereign state that’s in control, or at least the state that decides everything that is important. When I go in, I don’t go into a Palestinian state, I cross Israeli borders, whether it’s at the river or at Ben-Gurion airport. So we have a one state solution, and that’s what we’re going to have for the foreseeable future, unless the Israelis or people who have the ability will persuade the Israelis to reverse the dynamic that has made a two-state solution virtually impossible. You have to spend a lot of time in the occupied territories to understand what Amira Hass described as “the matrix of control” – how is that going to be extirpate? It’s not percentages. It’s much more complicated than that. You can control the entire West Bank with three or five or ten per cent – and I don’t think it’s as small that, by the way, because it doesn’t include Jerusalem and it doesn’t include the Jordan River and it doesn’t encompass the issue of jurisdiction. When we were negotiating between 1991 and 1993 with Elyakim Rubinstein we came up against this complex issue of jurisdiction. It’s not just a question of geography. Talking about percentages you sort of fudge it and get away from the situation that has been created during the past forty years.
Q. What is the situation of the Palestinian leadership at this time? The UN recognition appears to have fallen flat.
A. I think both Palestinian leaderships, the Ramallah PA and the Hamas in Gaza, seem to fell impelled to change what they’ve been doing. That’s I think why Abbas went to the UN and that’s why he’s been so stubborn in his dealings with the US and Israel, and that’s why Khaled Mashal seems to be willing to contemplate some form of reconciliation. It’s partly the changes in the Arab world and it’s partly their own unpopularity with their people. Nobody believes that firing rockets and getting 1400 people killed in response is “resistance” that is going to liberate Palestine, and nobody believes that talking with the US 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.
So, both leaderships are actually in a state of crisis, internally – there is a succession crisis inside the Fatah, inside the PLO, there’s a legitimacy crisis, there’s a hollowing out of institutions and Hamas, as you may know, is not terribly popular now that it’s controlled the place for five or six years.
But I don’t know if this will eventuate. Israel and the US have interfered in order to prevent any kind of reconciliation. And there is strong resistance to it internally.
Q. You support it.
A. I think that if the Palestinians cannot get their act together, they have no hope of resolving their problems. Palestinian problems are caused, in the first instance, by Palestinians. You can blame Israel, or the United States or the Arabs – and they have their share.
Q. But there is a danger that the end result will be that Hamas will rule both Gaza and the West Bank.
A. I’m not as worried about that as other people, because firstly I don’t think that Hamas has the popularity that other people think it has. Secondly because I don’t think either of the two sides is going to give up control of what they already control. And thirdly because I think a continuation of the status quo is disastrous for both of them – but mainly for the Palestinian people.
In addition, what they’re talking about is integrating Hamas into the PLO – which necessitates all kinds of changes in the public positions of Hamas, vis-a-vis Israel and vis-a-vis agreements entered into by the PLO and vis-a-vis resolutions of the Palestinian National Council. I don’t know if they’ll be able to do this. This is what they say they’re going to do. They say they will have elections for the PNC. They say you’ll then have a completely different makeup of the PLO and changes in the makeup of the Palestinian Authority. I wonder whether they will ever fully integrate the Gaza and the West Bank PA, but there’s no particular reason that the police and the fire departments and so on shouldn’t. The real security services probably not but the other services – there’s no reason why not. There’s no reason why a real PA administration of the border with Egypt couldn’t lead to a fundamental change in the status of Gaza. That would be to everybody’s advantage.
I think Palestinian reconciliation as a precondition for the Palestinians to get out of the run they’re in. It doesn’t solve the problem but it allows the Palestinians to address the problem in a unified manner.
Q. And what should be their strategy?
A. One thing they should be doing is renouncing violence. It’s something they’ve renounced in principle – but they have to do it in practice. Violence has brought nothing but catastrophe to them. Secondly, they should understand the impact of violence on Israel – it strengthens the worst forces in Israel. Thirdly they should understand that they have to operate within the framework of the international legal framework, which prohibits violence against civilians. If you demand those standards to be upheld against your opponents, you have to uphold those standards yourself. Not because the Israelis want it or because the United States demand it, but because it’s the right thing, it’s the smart thing, it’s the strategic thing to do.
The second thing they have to figure out is that allowing the United States to dominate the negotiations is worse than dealing with Israel directly. I was in negotiations where the American diplomat offered a bridging proposal that was worse than the Israeli position. America is more Israeli than the Israelis – why do you need them? Of course Israel wants them because its doubles Israel’s power and strength – but from a Palestinian perspective? Anybody or nobody is better.
Finally, the whole structure that was imposed in Madrid, Oslo and Washington is designed to perpetuate the status quo. That is not a peace process, it is a process to manage the conflict in America’s and Israel’s interest. You have to completely jettison that.
Negotiations have to be strategic and deal with the real problems – not another interim solution. And you have to be able to put pressure on the other side, and if you can’t use violence, you have to use other forms of pressure. There are ways to do that, but you have to first mobilize your people, you have to get them out their expensive Audis and Mercedes, out of the bubble in Ramallah where everybody is prosperous and there is no unemployment and there are bars and nobody knows what’s happening ten kilometers away, outside the bubble.
Q. They used to say that about Tel Aviv…
A. Israel is a huge prosperous economy, Israelis can deal with that themselves, that’s something for Israeli protestors to deal with, Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Dizengoff, whatever. That’s their issue. People who are living off the fat of the land in Gaza and off the much more fat in Ramallah – that’s their issue.
There are strategies – public relations for example. No Israeli delegation comes to New York without spending seventy five per cent of their time talking to Congress, talking to the media. No Palestinian delegation that has come to New York has ever spent serious time doing public diplomacy.
Q. There’s Hanan Ashrawi, Nabil Sha’ath.
A. They still talk perfectly good English, but you don’t see them. But I’m not talking specifically about them, but about a failure that goes back to the twenties and thirties, a failure to understand the international environment, a failure to understand both the Israeli and the American domestic environment. It was never true in Europe and in the rest of the world – the Palestinians are fairly good at making their case there – but they have this huge blind spot when it comes to the US and Israel, which are the most important countries.
U.S. PRESIDENT OBAMA: “He’s done considerably worse than I would have expected”
Q. Finally, on the issue of your relations with President Obama
A. I don’t talk about that.
Q. Are you disappointed with him?
A. I had low expectations and my low expectations were more than fulfilled. He’s done considerably worse than I would have expected. But I never assumed that this would be someone who would be able to break the whole mold of American politics. And he didn’t. Quite the contrary. This has been an Administration that on certain key issues has been almost as bad as and sometimes even worse than the Bush Administration. In its first two years, when they still controlled Congress, they frittered away the opportunity to do things when they still could have. And then since they lost Congress, 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 they want to go. The President can’t do that.
You actually had two Obama Administrations: in the first two years when they thought they could do certain things and didn’t, and in the last year and a half…
Q. Even peace-loving Israelis will tell you that they were mistaken in demanding a settlement freeze.
A. Yes, well, whatever. I frankly think the whole process was broken. This is a corpse that has had formaldehyde pumped into its veins for over a decade. The problems go back to the nineties. It’s not what Obama did or what Clinton did in 2000 or Bush in 2004. Those are serious failures, but this is basically a failure to understand that a process that is rooted in Menachem Begin’s idea of autonomy is not going to lead to a two-state solution. It will lead to what Begin wanted it to lead to, which is more settlements, Israeli control of Jerusalem Israeli control overall. That’s what “interim self-governing authority” laid out in 1978 was meant to achieve, that what Yitzhak Shamir was insisting on, that’s what Dennis Ross and all those people including American presidents have bought into ever since. That’s the problem, not that Obama didn’t say this or that in 2010.
Q. Still, if you compare Obama to the Republican candidates, with the exception of Ron Paul, I would assume that Obama is more agreeable to you.
A. There are structural issues that are much more important. In any case, it is the economy that will determine who will be elected. If Europe goes down and the economy slows, Obama will lose no matter what, but if there is even a modest revival, he will win, no matter who the Republican candidate will be.
EGYPT AND THE ARAB SPRING: “It’s the Salafis who really worry me”
Q. It seemed in your articles from a few months ago that you were optimistic about the forces that would lead the Arab Spring. But the people who organized the Tahrir revolution in Egypt have been outmaneuvered and outvoted by the Muslim Brotherhood, and the West is now concerned about where all of this is going.
A. One thing that’s obvious is that the kind of forces that organized the revolution do not have the skills to run in elections. And so it’s not surprising that the Muslim Brotherhood has done so well in the initial results of the first round. My guess is that the Brotherhood is going to do well, and that shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. It’s the Salafis who are doing much better than expected, and that came as a shock to me. That should be a subject of more concern than the Brotherhood.
One of the reasons that the revolution succeeded is that it was not organized hierarchically – it was organized in terms of a network and it didn’t have any real formal structural organization. That enabled them to elude the surveillance of the Mukhabarat (secret services). And it’s why the revolution was so wildly successful. That’s why they eluded the secret police of various Arab countries.
But elections are not won by enthusiasm or networks – and I lived in Chicago for 16 years – elections are won by pyramid-like structures with money and organizations; elections are won by machines. Anybody who didn’t think that the Muslim Brotherhood would do well in these elections, especially once the National Democratic Party was disqualified, was not looking at reality.
I would say that the thing that’s been quite surprising to me, there and elsewhere, is the different levels of support that the Salafis have had. In Tunisia they got no support at all, and secular parties got 60% of the vote, even though they were far less organized than [the more moderate Muslim party] An-Nahda. The Salafis and the extreme right wing got nothing. That surprised me.
But in Egypt I am most disturbed by the Salafi vote. Had they not done so well I don’t think people would be saying what they’re saying about the Brotherhood vote. I don’t know why the Salafis did so well, but I’ll be in Egypt soon to find out. Some people point to money, money from abroad. There are forces in the Arab world that are strongly supporting both the Salafis and the Brotherhood.
Q. You mean the Saudis?
A. The Saudis and the Qataris. 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”, depending on how many of these leading figures within the royal family choose to have an active profile. Money coming from the Gulf may have had a role in this – where, from what prince, from what emirate, I don’t know.
Q. So what’s your explanation?
A. Secular parties have had a problem for a long time in the Arab world, because they are associated with the failures of nationalism, socialism, communism and even old secular liberal ideologies, and they clearly have not recovered from that. The people who have not yet had a chance to fail, the way the Baath parties have has failed, are the organized Islamist parties. The Algerian military prevented that from happening, or we would have had a cycle of failures already.
The only people who have had even a small chance to govern have been Hamas, and if you look at the polls from Gaza you can see that governing doesn’t do good for a lot of these people. 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”. Well, Hamas didn’t do very well with some of those issues and the Algerian Islamists would have long been kicked out of office had they been allowed to take office in 1992. So this is a process that’s going to fall through – if it’s not short-circuited by hysterical people from the outside.
Q. People are very concerned about this and are saying “well, we were better off with Mubarak” and so on. And, indeed, is it not dangerous to the area? At a time when confrontation with Iran is looming?
A. What was really dangerous was the artificial life support that dictatorial and authoritarian regimes were put on, partly by external actors, that provoked, to a certain extent, what we are seeing now. Mubarak’s regime had its own domestic sources of legitimacy and strength, but the extent to which it was held up by American tear gas, 3 billion dollars of American aid, support from the Europeans, support from Israel and so forth – well, every action brings a reaction, and that’s part of the backlash that we are seeing now. The only people who consistently opposed this regime, and thereby gained the support and trust of the Egyptian people, who hated it, were the Islamists.
I’m really sorry about that. And anybody who supported the Mubarak regime is now the object of dislike the Egyptian people. So, if you think that the Mubarak regime was the solution to Israel’s problems or to America’s problems – you have a problem now, partly caused by your own solutions in the past. I don’t see any reason why that should not be as obvious as the sun.
And I don’t think the solution is more authoritarianism or another general. That will cause much worse problems, because the genie has been let out of the bottle. The people know their power in these countries. That doesn’t mean that they can’t be divided, or there can’t be outside intervention – but I’m more concerned now by intervention from within the region, by which I don’t mean Israel or Iran, but the Gulf countries. These are a lot harder to deal with. The United States is easy, Israel is easy, even Iran or Turkey, they’re all outsiders. This is coming from within the Arab system, I find that disturbing.
Q. Do you think Israelis need to be concerned about their peace treaty with Egypt?
A. No. Not as long as the Muslim Brotherhood is the dominant force in Egypt. Not at all. These are very serious, pragmatic characters, who, first and foremost will not endanger a certain modus vivendi with the military. And secondly they understand that they will lose power if they push that red line, and they want to hold on to power. I don’t think that that is a serious concern.
I would argue though that Israel had better get used to having a different relationship with the region. It’s not going to be able to impose itself, as it has in the past, on Egypt for example. Israel cannot determine what happens in Gaza the way it has since 1967, with every major decision being made by Israel, with the exception of certain things like the tunnels that they could never close. Those days are going to end. I would suggest that the whole attitude towards Iran has got to change, which means layers of hysteria, and lies and exaggeration and propaganda and so forth are going to have to be peeled back.
IRAN: “Ahmadinejad is a technician who has no real role in security or foreign policy”
Q. But you know that even the most peace-loving Israeli is certain that Iran is seeking a nuclear bomb and that if it attains it, it will irrevocably change Israel’s strategic position for the worse.
A. Iran has already changed Israel’s position, as has Egypt, as has Turkey. You can hold up your hands and try to stop the sun. Unless Iran is destroyed, which would be a catastrophe for everybody. The likelihood is that Iran is going to be a factor that’s going to have to be dealt with differently.
Q. And you don’t think that the nuclear issue is a sort of red line?
A. Why don’t we make Israel’s enormous nuclear arsenal an issue…
Q. I don’t want to get into an ideological argument, but the reason is that we don’t have a leader who is threatening to annihilate another country, for example. They do.
A. You have a defense minister who spoke in your newspaper about attacking Iran.
Q. There’s a big difference. He’s not threatening to wipe Iran off the map.
A. The difference is that Israel can actually do what it’s threatening to do. Iran has no hope in the foreseeable future of carrying out any threats. I would suggest that a little more careful look be taken into what Iran is up to. A politician makes a speech – who is he talking to? Are they really talking to Israel, or to the Arab world, or are they talking to some domestic political struggle?
People talk about Ahmadinejad – 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. But he’s not important in these decisions. He may talk, he’s an important part of the Iranian political scene, he represents important forces and what he says is entirely a function of his struggles with others in Iran – but it has nothing to do with his understanding of the world or what he can actually do. If Khamenei was saying some of these things, that would have more significance, but even then I would want someone who understands where these people are coming from to translate them and not these rubbish, garbled translations that we often get.
This is not a parliamentary regime and the elected president has so much less power in the system established under Khomeini. I sometimes wonder: Israel has all these great Iran specialists why don’t they elucidate for Israeli public opinion how unimportant statements by Ahmadinejad are, in terms of actual foreign policy and security and nuclear weapons?
Q. So you think that Israel is exaggerating the danger from a nuclear Iran?
A. I would only accuse those who actually know well enough, who know what the Iranians are actually saying, who understand the internal Iranian political balance and who understand the very limited capabilities that Iran has to project power. Where they are in terms of missile development, where they are in terms of weapons development, where they are in terms of nuclear development. Anyone who knows these things and is saying some of the things that Israeli leaders are saying – the Americans are much more careful, and I’m not talking about the politicians who get on their hind legs in Congress, and who, to be fair to them, are completely ignorant, they don’t know anything, they are told things by their aides but they don’t know anything, they’re innocent – no I’m talking about people within the intelligence community, within academia, within government, in the US and Israel who know these things, and some of these people who are saying the things they’re saying about Iran are really acting irresponsibly.
Now is the Israeli public scared? Of course it’s scared. It’s being scared. By people who in some cases are acting very cynically, very irresponsibly, and are playing with fire and are using this in order to maintain Israel’s dominance over the region in ways that may no longer be possible. Israel is always going to be stronger than everyone else because of its nuclear arsenal, because of its conventional edge, because of its technological edge, because of its links to the United States and I can go on and on and on.
The idea that Israel is under any existential danger is fantasy. Is that deeply implanted in many Israelis’ minds because of Jewish history? Yes. Is that an irrational fear? Yes. We can talk psychology, but we’re talking nuclear capabilities, actual intentions, the ideological orientation of this regime, who actually controls things – those are factual matters. Ahmadinejad does not control anything and this regime is not suicidal – I mean there are people who should know better who say that it is. Anybody who says that is to be pitied. The idea that they 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.
Q. Well, perhaps they are irrational…
A. I think the holders of that idea are irrational, because there are tons of evidence of what this regime consists of.
Q. You don’t think they are irrational
A. Well I’m not an Iran specialist, but all these books in my library and anybody who I know that knows anything about Iran agrees that they’re not. Ruthless, maybe, you can say many things about them – but irrational, I don’t think so.
SYRIA: “Sectarian violence would be catastrophic for the whole region”
Q. What is your take on the situation in Syria?
A. I am most concerned about a civil war and sectarian violence, which could be terrible. There are elements that are pushing to that. That would be a catastrophic outcome for the whole region. External intervention is a very bad thing, but sectarian war would be terrible. I lived in Lebanon, and it hasn’t yet recovered from the sectarian conflict twenty years ago.
God help the Syrians if that happened. I blame the regime, first and foremost but I also blame the opposition forces, who are supported, I am sure by the outside, particularly the Gulf countries, which are turning this into a sectarian direction.
This is a regime that has always had a preponderance of minority representation, including Sunnis who were outsiders, Ismailis, Druze, Kurds, Christians, people from the Jazira, people from outside the centre. It was the outsiders and the minorities against the Sunni bourgeoisie in the cities and over time this situation unleashed these sectarian forces, also because of the Syrian involvement in Lebanon. Mistakes were made by this Assad, by Bashar, in terms of not leaving commerce to the Sunni bourgeoisie in Damascus and Aleppo but members of the family horning in instead and taking over huge sections of the economy in the past ten years. Liberalization has basically meant personal appropriation of huge sectors of what used to be public into the private hands of the extended family extended – and all of them are Alawis.
This has already unleashed a sectarian element even before all of this happened. The Brotherhood was always there, but there are much more extreme elements than the Brotherhood. You know the Brotherhood are not beloved by the Saudis. The Brotherhood have friends in Qatar. It’s the Salafis that the Saudis really favor. I don’t like the Brotherhood, but I don’t worry about the Brotherhood. I don’t just dislike the Salafis – I worry about the Salafis.
Q. What is the explanation for the Arab League’s surprising vehemence towards Assad?
A. It’s partly sectarian, on the part of the Saudis, for example. It’s partly that like the Turks, they are tired of being lied to by the Assad regime. And it’s partly because they are all driven by public opinion, even the conservative monarchies and the remaining authoritarian regimes. And public opinion is very worked up by the Arab revolution and by Syria in particular.
Among many other things, Rashid Khalidi is also a member of the IOA Advisory Board.