Fisking Martin Kramer’s fisking-UPDATED


Martin Kramer claims my earlier post about Rashid Khalidi is a “tissue of errors.”

Martin notified me of his posting not long before “Life on Mars,” my new favorite guilty pleasure about a cop in 2008 who gets knocked back to 1973 (I indulged, hence the late posting.). The cop’s constantly caught between knowing what happens next and not really knowing.

Kind of like Martin’s fisking. The Oct. 23 1991 New York Times report he cites does indeed report concerns by the Israelis that a newly announced team of advisers, including Rashid Khalidi, might be unacceptable because it has not been vetted for PLO ties, among other reasons.

The problem with this is that evidently, the team, led by Faisal Husseini subsequently proved acceptable. I say “evidently” because they attended the Madrid talks, and by the time they were launched on Oct. 30, Khalidi is in Madrid speaking to the Jerusalem Post for the wider team. I can’t find any further Israeli objections to the team, except for Husseini and Hanan Ashrawi, but not because of the PLO affiliation.

Did Israeli intelligence vet the names of the advisers, too? It’s likely they did; the original 14 delegates were announced only on Oct. 21; by Oct. 23 Israel had cleared them. An additional vetting would not have taken much longer. Reading Dennis Ross’ account of the talks in “The Missing Peace,” it’s also clear that the Americans were also closely vetting all participants.

We know Israel objected to Husseini because of his murky relationship with the PLO, but that’s part of why the United States invited him: there was nothing to pin him directly to the organization.

We also know that the more serious objection Israel had to the advisers was that Husseini and Ashrawi were residents of east Jerusalem who did not have Jordanian citizenship; that posited a Palestinian claim to Jerusalem.

I found the Jerusalem Post article through the paid archives, but here’s what it quoted Khalidi as saying:

“There is, has been, and always will be constant consultation between the PLO in the occupied territories and outside the PLO; everyone knows this,” said Rashid Khalidi, an advisory committee member who teaches Middle East history at the University of Chicago.

However, Khalidi added that Palestinians would respect the ground rules of the peace conference which bar open contact with the PLO and its overt participation in the peace talks.

“The Palestinians don’t want to provoke a breakup of this process. We want this process to succeed and if doesn’t we don’t want it to be our fault.” he said.

Like I said in my earlier post, the ban on PLO participation was a nudge and a wink; yet clearly, under the rules Khalidi described, he was not and could not have been officially involved with the organization.

Martin also cites the 1982 Tom Friedman article and says that surely Khalidi would have corrected it, because the New York Times is the paper of record – except that Khalidi was quoted in Beirut on the third day of Israel’s invasion. The same chaotic conditions cited by Martin to prove that Khalidi MUST have sought an alliance, and furthermore he must have sought it with Fatah surely prevented him from calling home and finding out what the New York Times was saying. The detective in Life on Mars is constantly regretting the absence of the Internet in 1973; Martin apparently doesn’t realize it wasn’t readily available in 1982 either.

Maybe when Khalidi eventually got back to New York in 1983, he dropped by 43rd Street, thumbed through the archives, and thought “Well, Tom more or less got it right.”

Or maybe not. Here’s Friedman himself three years later reviewing Khalidi’s 1985 book, “Under Siege – P.L.O. Decisionmaking During the 1982 War”:

Rashid Khalidi witnessed this war at first hand. An Oxford-trained Palestinian historian with close contacts in the Palestine Liberation Organization leadership, he had both the academic background and the political sources needed to assess Palestinian decisionmaking during the weeks of siege. After having conducted additional interviews with members of both the P.L.O.’s leadership and the American Administration, and having sifted through the extensive archive of telexes and documents maintained by the P.L.O., Mr. Khalidi has produced an extremely valuable analysis of how and why the P.L.O. made the decisions it did during that fateful summer of 1982.

For students of the Middle East, his generally objective, lucid and incisive account of P.L.O. decisionmaking fills a critical void in the literature about the Israeli invasion – the Beirut side of which has been dominated by angry, and not particularly useful, accounts by journalists or memoirs in Arabic by P.L.O. officials. If Mr. Khalidi’s book is read alongside Ze’ev Schiff and Ehud Ya’ari’s excellent analysis of Israeli decisionmaking, ”Israel’s Lebanon War,” a reasonably complete picture of events can be drawn.

I’d like to hear from Friedman (does he read JTA?), but you’d think that if he knew Khalidi was a PLO staffer, it would merit mention in this description of the author. Yes, Khalidi “had close contacts in the PLO leadership;” I would hope that a historian of his discipline would. And Friedman contrasts Khalidi’s “objective” account with the self-interested tomes of – who? – actual PLO officials.

UPDATED: Martin wants me to give up. His argument is that Friedman, a professional (I agree) would necessarily have asked Khalidi how he wanted to be described (I don’t agree). First, Friedman has interviewed Khalidi multiple times over the years; this is the single time he affiliates Khalidi with the PLO. (I chose the book review because Friedman’s list of Khalidi’s bona fides would be the most obvious place to cite PLO employment.) Second, the error might not be Friedman’s; the story would have undergone multiple editings, including in the Times’ Beirut bureau. (In 1989, a reference under Friedman’s byline misspells Khalidi’s name as Khalidy.) Third, Friedman in the story identifies Khalidi with employment – as a director of the Palestinian news agency, Wafa – that describes Khalidi’s wife, a confusion that might have been made by Friedman or another staffer.

Martin finds an earlier New York Times reference to Khalidi – as Khalidy – as “working for the PLO.” Yet this writer clearly didn’t ask Khalidi how to spell his name. (The loose rules of Arab transliteration would not apply to a New York-born U.S. citizen; Khalidi is consistent on how one spells his name.)

A couple of incidental thoughts:

*This started because the McCain campaign describes Khalidi as a “PLO spokesman.” Yet neither of the New York Times descriptions say he is a “spokesman” – he is a director of a PLO-run news service, according to Friedman in a single 1982 reference, but that does not imply “spokesman” (although, having monitored Wafa, I would acknowledge that it also does not confer journalistic legitimacy.) In 1978, he is simply identified as working for the PLO.

*”Spokesman” elisions aside, the point of this assault is to show that Obama is friendly with a former PLO employee. And he is! With Mona Khalidi, who directed Wafa’s English language service. Remember it is the couples – the Obamas and the Khalidis – who are friendly. Why isn’t more made of this? Is it because…

*The whole thing is ridiculous? Remember, my original post started by showing that, as we speak, the Bush administration and the Israeli government are actively engaged with Mahmoud Abbas, who actually leads the PLO, and has been in its leadership for decades? Rashid Khalidi has complex, provocative ideas, as the Washington Post noted in Friday’s editorial; Mona Khalidi is a translator and editor. If Barack Obama’s detractors were to charge, “Hey, he and Michelle are buddies with someone who decades ago did translation work for a PLO news service” wouldn’t it sound like… reaching? But if you couple Obama with a man who has a huge body of work that can be sliced and diced for controversial quotes ripped out of context and then link him to a cryogenically preserved idea of the PLO circa 1982, now THAT can go somewhere…

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