By most accounts, Barack Obama delivered a masterful speech to a group of Israeli youth in Jerusalem last week as part of his first tour of Israel and the West Bank. Amid rounds of cheering, he outlined why an independent Palestinian state is a necessity for Israel's long-term security interests, and compelled the young crowd to place themselves in the Palestinians' shoes. Appealing to Israeli benevolence, he fell short of imposing concrete requirements for resolving the conflict.
Given the desperate status quo that hangs over the lives of Israelis and Palestinians after nearly 45 years of occupation, the speech was a tragedy. Instead of a diplomatic show of force, Obama's visit was little more than a whistle stop tour in which every opportunity was taken to reinforce the sanctity of the Zionist dream. While in Ramallah, Obama could only muster praise for the Palestinian Authority's American-trained security forces, who were busy suppressing protesters in the centre of town.
Few expected anything positive to come out of the president's trip in the realm of the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, but many, especially on the Palestinian side, were surprised at the intensity of Obama's reinforcement of Israel's narrative. Given the president's established pedigree on the issue of Palestine - including firm statements about Israeli occupation in his 2009 Cairo address and a very public spat with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - some harboured hopes that Obama's second term would bring real pressure to bear on the Israeli- Palestinian negotiations.
No such American pressure will be exerted and, given the complexion of Israel's next government, in which radical settler leaders occupy positions of power in the housing ministry, a surge unlike any other in Israeli settlement activity is expected to sweep the West Bank.
Is this anything new? Is Obama, like many American presidents before him, perpetuating the cycle of violent status quo, Israeli domination and Palestinian dependence? Rashid Khalidi, the distinguished Middle Eastern historian and professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University, might have the answers to these questions in his new book.
In Brokers of Deceit: How the US Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East, Khalidi sheds light on how and why America has become, in the words of Aaron David Miller, Israel's lawyer. Not only does Khalidi's research demonstrate the need for some fresh thinking on Israel and Palestine, it attempts to explain how the situation has become so hopeless in the first place.
The book examines how Israel has become a domestic issue in American politics and how the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia, America's other ally in the region, effects the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Khalidi doesn't mince words when it comes to the attitudes of certain Arab states with regards to American and Israeli positions on Palestine. Underlying American devotion to Israel, manifest in aid and structuring of geopolitical alliances, is a pattern of almost complete ambivalence about the fate of Palestinians.
When Menachem Begin became Israeli prime minister in 1977, he made it near policy to ensure that a Palestinian state would not come into existence. Driving Khalidi's arguments is the notion that every Israeli prime minister after Begin followed his lead, regardless of whether they were adherents of his firebrand "greater Israel" ideology.
For example, when Yitzhak Rabin and the Israeli leadership allowed exiled PLO fighters to return to Gaza and the West Bank, they did so in order to use them as an internal Palestinian police force with full knowledge they would not be serving in an independent army. For Khalidi, what is crucial is the extent to which the US was fully aware and complicit in Begin's programme. Citing a recently declassified 1982 American CIA memo, Khalidi shows conclusively that the US was under no illusions about Israel's clear rejection of Palestinian independence.