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Why Is This Happening? Understanding life inside Palestine with Rashid Khalidi

Chris Hayes speaks with historian and professor Rashid Khalidi about the state of Palestinian politics.

What happens when the bombing stops? The unfortunate reality of American news coverage of Israel and Palestine is that it centers almost entirely on times of extreme violence, broadcasting dramatic images of explosions and destruction. But as soon as some sort of ceasefire is reached, any future coverage of the area instead turns to the state of Israeli politics.

The result is not only an asymmetry between our knowledge of Israeli and Palestinian politics, but also an ignorance around what life is actually like for Palestinians in the region. To understand the grinding struggle of life under occupation, the state of Palestinian politics, and the role the United States plays, we’re lucky to hear from one of the most celebrated Palestinian-American intellectuals in the world, Rashid Khalidi.

Note: This is a rough transcript — please excuse any typos.

Professor Rashid Khalidi: When the Palestinians do anything non-violent against it, there’s no echo. And it’s not just the American press, it’s the Arab press, it’s the world press. It’s only when the rockets start to fly, and that’s what a friend of mine calls the ‘perpetual beginning.’ That’s when Palestine gets in the news - when a rocket is fired. When people can be beated to death, people die under torture, people can be arrested by the hundreds, by the thousands by the Isrealis, the daily oppression can reach very high levels. Nobody pays attention. The moment the first rocket flies, then suddenly the world pays attention.

Chris Hayes: Hello, and welcome to, "Why Is This Happening?" with me, your host Chris Hayes. It's an unfortunate reality about American media coverage, and I implicate myself in this because it's true for me as well. And in fact, today is a small attempt to rectify that a little bit, which is that American coverage of Israel and Palestine tends to center on when there is violence, essentially. If there is violence happening, if there is bombing, or rockets being fired, or a war or a small version of a war, then we cover it and then there's some kind of ceasefire that's struck, And we tend to turn our attention to other things, frankly.

Of course, the lives of everyone in that region continues, particularly in Gaza, which is one of the strangest and most deprived places in the world. It's a small strip of land with two million people that have no essential control of the borders, functionally ruled by Hamas, but with no genuine governmental authority, a blockade for years, incredibly high rates of malnutrition and the like. And what happens I think is that the reality of that life sort of grinds on in the background. US politics will sometimes focus on what's going on in Israel, we'll cover Israeli elections. And that has to do with the very close US-Israel relationship, the politics of Israel in the US both between the Jewish diaspora, in evangelical Christians, but we just don't cover what's going on in Palestinian politics at all. It just does not exist as a beat that the US media tends to cover.

And I think that's an enormous oversight, And I think what it ends up doing is wherever you're coming from on the issue and the conflict and the current status in Israel and Palestine, it's like everybody wakes up afresh in American media, "Oh, there's rockets being fired by Hamas and the Israelis are bombing Gaza." And no one can tell you, not a single American if you put them in the street who is the executive? Who's the head of Hamas in Gaza? No one will tell you that. They can tell you probably that Netanyahu recently was the executive in Israel recently replaced by Naftali Bennett. But there's just this complete asymmetry in just granular understanding, forget the sympathies, the political affiliations, which party you think is wronged or wronging the other, just in the basic knowledge.

And so today I'm going to speak with one of the most celebrated Palestinian American intellectuals in the entire world, certainly here in the US and the English speaking world, Rashid Khalidi. He's a distinguished professor at Columbia University. He has been writing and thinking about the history of Palestine and Israel for decades. His latest book is called "The Hundred Years' War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance, 1917 and 2017." Professor Khalidi, it's great to have you on the program.

Professor Rashid Khalidi: It's great to be on Chris, thanks for having me.

Chris Hayes: I want to start a little bit with, again, because I think that... There's a weird thing I think that happens in American politics, it's like there's a vague awareness that there's a thing called politics that happens among the Israelis, they have arguments and conflicts in different parties, but then there's no sense that that happens among Palestinians too, although obviously that is true of Palestinians as well. And I wonder if you could just start with that a little bit? You can get the state of play in a million different places about like, what's up with this new Israeli Coalition and Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid, and what does that mean? But let's talk about the state of play of Palestinian politics, starting in the West Bank, which is under the extensible control, in a very limited way, the Palestinian Authority and Mahmoud Abbas. And basically what the situation there is right now, because there has been some really troubling developments in terms of civil society in the West Bank.

Professor Rashid Khalidi: Right, right. Well, I think you put your finger on a couple of things there. We're familiar with Israeli politics, they are like us. We have an intimate sense of what's going on in Israel. Any medium gives you very granular detail about society, politics and so on. And that's just not the case with the Palestinians at all, so you're completely right. And you're right also that the old media adage, when it bleeds, it leads, applies, people suddenly pay attention. And they don't pay attention to what's going on, not only within Palestinian politics, but in this grinding struggle between an occupying power and a people under another people's control. And the violence that that entails, and the way in which people are dealing with it every day, whether it's the seizure of Gaza, which you mentioned, or whether it's checkpoints or whether it's the blowing up of people's homes or whatever. Those things just are never, never, never mentioned, unless occasionally there is an outbreak of violence and sometimes you get some background.

So the situation in the occupied territories and in Israel where there are, 20% of the population is Palestinian citizens of the state of Israel, is actually well worth discussing. In the West Bank you have an authority which has no sovereignty, very little jurisdiction, and is essentially dependent on the Israelis in many, many ways, and which was installed after the Oslo Accords with the hope, on the Palestinian side, that that would lead to a independent Palestinian state. You will have noticed that since 1993 that has not happened, and I've argued that it was not intended to happen either by the United States or Israel.

But in any case, that authority has been there since the early '90s, it had elections, a couple of elections, but Mahmoud Abbas has been president now for a period of 12 years since his term ended. So he is a person who is there without having been elected, since 2012 was the end of his term, in fact. Similarly, the Palestinian Legislative Council which was supposed to be part of this authority has been dysfunctional, partly because the Israelis have arrested a very large number of members of it, and partly because Abbas is happy to rule without a parliament in effect. So that's the situation in the occupied West Bank.

Palestinians inside Israel live in a different situation. They are discriminated against, literally by dozens of laws, some people have counted as many as 60, which put Jewish Israelis in a position above Palestinian Israeli citizens. They vote, they are certainly not living in the same kind of squalor as the people of Gaza. They certainly don't have the same kind of intrusive policing and oppression that the people of the West Bank suffer. But we saw during the conflict in different cities inside Israel, mob violence mainly directed against Palestinians, and the police coming down always on the Palestinian. So they have lived under a regime, which doesn't treat them as first class citizens, but certainly they're better off than Palestinians in the West Bank.

Finally, you have the people of Gaza who've grown under several forms of oppression. One of them is from their own government, again, the Hamas government that took power in 2006, as a result of elections, incidentally, which the United States never recognized.

Chris Hayes: Which the Bush administration pushed forward incredibly strongly.

Professor Rashid Khalidi: Exactly, exactly.

Chris Hayes: And then said, "Whoopsie."

Professor Rashid Khalidi: That's not what we wanted. We wanted this result, not that result precisely. And the second form of oppression is this siege that they suffer from, everything coming in and out is decided on by either by Israel or by Egypt. And finally, they are in a situation where they can't go in, they can't go out, they can't import, they can't export, they can't go fishing without the permission of somebody else. So this is by far the worst situation of any group of Palestinians inside Gaza. And there was some hope in the spring that there would be new elections that would somehow lead to an end to the split between Fatah, which dominates the authority in the West Bank and Hamas, but Mahmoud Abbas unilaterally canceled those on a flimsy pretext.

Professor Rashid Khalidi: And recently there has been a lot of unrest in the West Bank, much of it directed against the Israeli occupation, but some of it directed against the Palestinian authority and the authority has fiercely repressed this. I have seen no coverage of this, people who died under torture, people are being arrested all the time. I've seen no coverage of this in most of the American media.

Chris Hayes: Yeah, can we talk about that a little bit? That was one of the things that precipitated my wanting to talk to you, although I've had you on the list for a long time, is you've got this... And again, I want to sort of center from your perspective that the chief problem here is the occupation which makes any actual democratic self rule or sovereignty impossible, just almost definitionally. I mean, if you don't control your own borders you don't have an actual nation state, you can't actually achieve democratic sovereignty, so I want to just make that central in your analysis and re-emphasize that. But beneath that, the degree to which the Palestinian Authority has become, I think in the eyes of many Palestinians in the West Bank and people that I am in dialogue with, a kind of adjunct essentially to the occupation.

Professor Rashid Khalidi: Absolutely. That's absolutely correct. And I think that perhaps a majority of Palestinians feel that way, certainly most Palestinians outside, and I think an increasing number of Palestinians inside Palestine, whether they live in the West Bank or whether they live in Gaza or whether they live in Israel have taken a very negative view of the Palestinian Authority. I mean, it performs some of the functions, social services and so on of a state, but every important decision is made by the Israeli military, whether you can register your child, whether you can marry somebody inside Israel, whether you can import, export, enter, leave, go to a hospital in Israel, go to a hospital in Jordan, go to a hospital in Egypt. All of those decisions are made by the military, which has this enormous intelligence network, and which exploits the need of Palestinians under occupation to get permission to do A, B, C through Z to try and turn people into informers against their own people.

So you have this sinister occupation, military intelligence net over the people, and then you have these horrific checkpoints and other things that make daily life difficult, if not impossible. So on top of that, we have a Palestinian authority who in the eyes of Israel and the United States has one main responsibility, which is to protect Israel and its occupation and its settlers. And Palestinians find this horrific, they don't have security, but the security of Israel is being provided, in part, at least, by the Palestinian Authority, which works hand in glove through something called Security Cooperation with the Israeli military. So to call them a collaborationist authority, to call them quislings, to call them a Vichy would not be in the eyes of many Palestinians too extreme.

Chris Hayes: There's also the fact, in terms of when we're talking about Palestinian politics, Palestinian forms of civil society and expression, that, and this is something that I've covered throughout my career, but again, I've probably done too little of. I do think that there's something deeply sick and perverse about the fact that because the American media takes this, if it bleeds, it leads... In some ways the American media helps to incentivize violence as a form of resistance, because... But no, really, because-

Professor Rashid Khalidi: Unfortunately, I agree with you.

Chris Hayes: Because if you don’t… if rockets aren't flying, there's no story. But if people are marching to protect olive groves, which is a thing that happens day by day, throughout both the occupied West Bank and then actually parts of Israel-proper, no one covers that. But there has been sustained non-violent protest by Palestinians in the Occupied Territories for years. There are leaders of that movement, it continues. Some of the protest around Sheikh Jarrah, which is a neighborhood in East Jerusalem… so East Jerusalem of course, is even though sort of in the sense of international law on the other side of the 1967 line is actually under...

Professor Rashid Khalidi: Exactly.

Chris Hayes: But what is this... I'm sorry that I'm portraying my ignorance, but the liminal status of Palestinians in Eastern Jerusalem is always very confusing to me.

Professor Rashid Khalidi: Well Israel wants the land without the people. So when they annexed East Jerusalem, they didn't give citizenship to the people who lived there. And in 1967, the entire population of East Jerusalem was Arab, so they were given permanent residency, which they could lose. And they were able to travel and work inside Israel, which they do, but unless they opted for it, they were not offered, they were not given, I should say Israeli citizenship. So Israel, as far as Israel is concerned, this is an inalienable eternal part of the capital and of the country. But as far as the international law is concerned, as far as the Palestinians are concerned, certainly, it's occupied territory. It doesn't fall under the Oslo Accords. It's not under the control of the Palestinian Authority.

Professor Rashid Khalidi: In fact, Mahmoud Abbas's excuse for not having an election was that the Israelis wouldn't give a guarantee that they will allow voting in east Jerusalem, even though the Oslo Accords, which Israel violates systematically and has since the beginning, guarantee that Palestinians in East Jerusalem can vote. And they have voted in previous elections, but the Israelis wouldn't accept that. And this government, this right wing government, that is to say the then Netanyahu government and probably it's successor, certainly wasn't willing to offer that guarantee, which again is by treaty they're obliged to do. So East Jerusalem is in this liminal, exactly as you say, in this liminal position.

Let me say something about the point you made, which I think is actually quite acute, about the media incentivizing violence. One of the tragedies is that Palestinian nonviolence has never obtained very much. It's only when the Palestinians have resorted to violence that they got world attention. And that in some cases they actually achieved something. Now, I can give you historical examples. The first Intifada, which was essentially a civil uprising without weapons, it did involve some violence. But it mainly was demonstrations, boycotts, strikes, refusal to pay taxes, refusal to import Israeli products, and a variety of ways that raising Palestinian flags, which is illegal, was illegal. Holding events, public events, which are illegal. You can't have a public gathering in the occupied territories. It is a jackboot military occupation. It's been going on since 1967, so we've passed 54 years of this.

And when the Palestinians do anything non violent against it, there's no echo. It's not just the American press, it's the Arab press, it's the world press. It's only when the rockets start to fly, and that's what a friend of mine has called the perpetual beginning. That's when Palestine gets into the news, when a rocket is fired. Yet people can be beaten to death, people can die under torture, people can be arrested by the hundreds, by the thousands, by the Israelis. The daily oppression can reach a very high level. Nobody pays attention. The moment the first rocket flies, then suddenly the world pays attention.

Chris Hayes: I have to say that I've only been to Israel and Palestine once in my life, and I just essentially know nothing, right? I'm just a bit of a journalist, I cover from afar. But I definitely had the thought of going to the Qalandia checkpoint from the West Bank into Israel proper.

Professor Rashid Khalidi: Into Jerusalem, actually.

Chris Hayes: Into Jerusalem.

Professor Rashid Khalidi: Yeah, right, it's one of the Northern checkpoints into Jerusalem.

Chris Hayes:It was like the rush hour, and there's I think that people maybe don't understand how much population flow there is because Palestinians play a role in Israeli society that's I think similar in some ways to immigrants in, say, in the Northeast from South America in terms of like there's a huge amount of lowly paid labor undertaking. And a huge labor force-

Professor Rashid Khalidi: Right, they do the dirty jobs that Israelis don't want to do.

Chris Hayes: Which is the thing that people say about South Americans, or whatever, Mexicans here in the United States. That's obviously a gross generalization, but point being that watching this checkpoint which is just a brutal thing to watch, and again, to be very fair like constructed in the aftermath of the second Intifada and this just intolerable levels of horrific bloodshed. But watching people commute basically while still... Think of like the worst TSA line times 1000 two hours each like every morning. It was just like... it was really it was eye-opening. I have to say, it's just really I don't think most people have seen that. I honestly don't think most people lay their eyes on it. When you use the word grinding before, again, if you're a 55-year-old Palestinian man who makes his living working construction or something in Israel, and that's your community every day, the toll of that is really something to consider.

Professor Rashid Khalidi: No, you're absolutely right, you're absolutely right. People have to go through that in many cases every day to go to school, to go to work, and so on, see a doctor, whatever the case may be. The pretext for these checkpoints and the pretext for the wall and the security barrier that Israel erected was, of course, the suicide bombings during the second Intifada starting in 2000. The irony of it, of course, is that this barrier is completely permeable. People can cross all the time. There were tens of thousands of Palestinian workers who sneaked through every day. Anybody who wanted to engage in violence by sneaking through could of course do it. The barrier is entirely permeable.

The essential objective of this was to take territory because most of the barrier is inside the occupied West Bank. It's just basically annexed land to Israel. Secondly, to chop the Palestinians into segments, such that Israel could take as much land as it wanted, and it has been doing that annexing and settling and colonizing systematically for 54 years. Also to chop the Palestinians up into little groups that can be easily controlled and to show them who's boss. I think we've learned a little bit about a certain aggressive policing in the United States in the last year or two or three, since maybe Ferguson, since George Floyd. This kind of dominance by force leading up to, in some cases, police riots. We've seen this in our own country.

You can see it in many other countries, including democratic countries, France you see it sometimes, other countries you see it. But in Palestine, it's a tool of the occupation. To keep a people completely under your boot, you have to keep kicking them. It's not enough to just keep the boot on their neck, you actually have to humiliate them and show them who's boss. At least, that's the theory that seems to guide the Israeli security forces. This is not a benign situation of police in a Gentile suburb, which we might think of in the United States. This is the nastiest kind of policing you can imagine on steroids with guns and automatic weapons. It's not just a glock or a nine millimeter. The death toll in so-called accidents, incidents, whatever is constant. The people who are brutalized are, as I think as you say, psychologically affected in ways that are very hard for us to understand from a distance.

Chris Hayes: I think the argument that... and again I don't think it's really useful for you and I to recapitulate the extremely well-worn arguments around each of these points because I can already see the emails that I will get. But I do think it's worth considering this because... So I'll say these two things and then let you respond. I think the argument that people would make is that I think the right wing Israelis... In some ways I feel like often right wing Israelis are a little more honest about the entire thing, to be honest. I remember talking to settlers who would just say like, "We took the land, now it's ours." It's like, well, I think that's morally wrong, but it's an honest reflection of reality as opposed to some gaslighting about how it's not actually what it looks like.

I think that right wing Israelis, and I think not even right wing, media in the Israeli would say like, "Yeah, if we take the boot off the neck, they'll kill us, basically." That's what it is.The restraint is necessary because the second that we unlock the restraint, and I think sharing that, and I think it's worth... I would like to hear your feedback on it is it does seem to me that the second Intifada and, the assassination of Rabin and the second Intifada, within a short plan, sends Israeli politics in a extremely right-wing direction. That has horrible reverberations essentially for everyone. That you can't overlook essentially the trauma of that in what's come after. Not to say that whatever's come after is justified by it, but that it does seem to me like that's a billiard striking moment in terms of where the rest of the politics go.

Professor Rashid Khalidi: Yeah. Let me talk to both of those points because they're pretty commonly heard. If you start off from the lovely theme song of the movie, Exodus, which probably a lot of your listeners wouldn't have remembered, it's before their time, "This land is our land. God gave this land to us." That's how most people in their 50s and 60s, that's what they know about Palestine. When they saw Paul Newman and they heard that song in the movie, horrific movie. Anyway, when you start from that premise and you take people's land saying, "It's our land," and you boot them off that land and you refuse to allow them to return. Well, of course, you have a lot to fear. Every settler colonial regime.

I know Zionism has a claim that there's an ancient, historic, legitimate Jewish connection to the land of Israel. But that does not entitle people to steal other people's property, make them homeless. And if they try and come back, kill them or put them under a boot hill. There is a guilt to the settler, until and unless the settler is either completely the native we, the United States did that more or less. Put them in reservations or killed them all. Canada did that, Australia did that, New Zealand to a lesser extent also did that. Or you have to hold them down the way the French held down the Algerians. Obviously, the Israeli case is different to all of these other cases, but as long as you are taking people's land that they have held since time immemorial as private property, and now you take it and say, "No, it belongs to the State of Israel and you have no recourse."

As long as you kick them out, the people in Gaza didn't come from Gaza. There were some Gazans, I know people from Gaza whose families had been in Gaza for hundreds of years, but most of the people in the Gaza strip are refugees driven out of towns, villages, and cities right across the border in some cases. They see Israelis happily tilling land that was their great grandfathers. As long as you do that and you say, "It's ours. God gave it to us. We're the only people with the right here and hell with you." Well, of course, they have to fear. They have a good reason to fear the return of the native. It's normal, and until you decolonize, until you understand that this is what happened and figure out a way that the settler and the native can come to terms and do it on the basis of honesty and reality.

Not saying there's this nuclear superpower, and there's this people that's never had independence and let them negotiate with the kind offices of the strongest ally of this regional superpower. If you say that of course you're saying, "We're going to squash you and make you accept whatever terms we have to offer.” Basically, that's what we found. I was an advisor to the Palestinian delegation that negotiated from Madrid for about two years. We were not offered, the Palestinian delegation was not offered self-determination independence control of its own borders. There was no state on offer, and there has never been, in fact.

Chris Hayes: Right, and what were the ones that happened after Oslo?

Professor Rashid Khalidi: Well, there were a whole series of them, including a meeting at Camp David, a variety of others. The signing on the White House lawn was the declaration of principles. There were a variety of agreements. All of them are generically known as the Oslo Accords. And part of the problem is that, again, history started when the first suicide bomb went off in 2000. As far as, again, when it bleeds it leads and perpetual beginnings. Well, actually, a lot happened between the Oslo Accords in 1993 and 2000. One of the things that happened is all the promises that were made at Oslo were not kept. The Palestinian authority was supposed to be there for five or six years. It ended by the Oslo Accords in 2006 or 2007.

But Israel did not do what it promised to do, which is to go into final the status talks that would have solved all of these issues like sovereignty, like Jerusalem, like water, like borders, and so on and so forth. When the Intifada explodes in 2000, it's a result of the massive frustration, partly because Rabin had been assassinated in 1995. And a right wing government comes into office a year later that starts to tear up. Netanyahu never accepted the Oslo Accords, so you had an Israeli government for three years that was sabotaging the agreements. You say, "Why did the Palestinians then rebel?" Well, they rebelled because the Israelis were never faithful to the agreement that they had signed. They realized that they were not only not on the way to a state, they were on a way to permanent occupation and permanent colonization, which is what Oslo ended up producing.

Which is why there was this second Intifada. Again, without that background, the Palestinians are these violent animals who come out of nowhere and suddenly start blowing up Israeli cafes and restaurants and buses, and so on and so forth. I'm certainly not apologizing for making an apology for any form of violence against civilians. My point is if you keep people in cages and build walls and put them through things like Qalandia. Which is, by the way, something that started with the Oslo Accords, then you're going to have a reaction that may be a violent reaction, that can be an irrational reaction, but you are creating that reaction by your own action. Of course, if you don't know the background, you suddenly see Palestinians carrying out suicide bombing.

Chris Hayes: So right now, I think, I'd like to talk a little bit about where things stand now. I think the high point of hope for a two-state solution was probably Oslo in '93, and again, that you can spend the rest of your life reading through various accounts of who was wrong and who rejected what. But what is true right now is that the growth of Israeli settlements means that any contiguous Palestinian state seems vanishingly unlikely. And I guess, where do you see things going from here? There's a lot of talk now about one state solution and a place where everyone is an equal citizen under law.

I just think that the Israelis that I know and even the members of the Jewish diaspora in the US seem unenthused about that idea and basically view it as an extinction event. That it would bring about the, essentially, the expulsion and the death of Herzl’s dream and the Zionist dream. But I don't know what is the way forward? What happens now? What are the pushes and pulls at this moment in 2021?

Professor Rashid Khalidi: Well, I think the first thing to say is to follow up on what you started by saying, which is that I think you're right. That the annexation and creeping annexation, which has been going on for 54 years and the colonization, which has been going on for 54 years of the occupied territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, do make a two-state solution impossible and were intended to do that. Israel from the very beginning had no intention of giving back as much as possible of the West Bank. In fact, they hope to keep it all and they still hope to keep it all and keep the Palestinians in reservations or Bantustans, and if they can't, make their lives so miserable that they leave. I don't, and if you look at the Israeli political constellation, which has moved considerably to the right, but it was moving to the right long before the second Intifada, I mean, Likud governments have dominated Israeli politics since 1977. The second Intifada was in 2000. We're talking 23 years of Begin, Shamir, of Sharon, of Olmert, of Netanyahu before the second Intifada. That's the trend of Israeli politics. If you look at the Knesset today, there are perhaps 80 to 90 of the 120 members of the Knesset who are committed to the greater land of Israel. It all belongs to Israel. The Palestinians have no rights here, national rights here whatsoever, or political rights for that matter, and we're going to take it all, or at least as much of it as we can. There's no place for a Palestinian state.

That's the majority of the Israeli Knesset, overwhelming majority of Israeli Knesset. A two-state solution is not going to happen, at least not until there are changes inside Israel, not unless, and until. Now, what is the status quo? The status quo is a one-state solution. There is one state between the river and the sea. That's the state of Israel. There's one population register, Israel controls it. You can not come in, you can not go out, you can not register a child, you cannot marry anywhere within that territory, unless they approve. You can't import, you can't export, you can't exit. There's one state. There's an illusion of a Palestinian authority, which is a Mirage in terms of real sovereignty, jurisdiction, authority. It exists, it performs some governmental services, on sufferance, by permission, but its main job is to keep the Palestinians down, to provide security for Israel as it continues to occupy and colonize.

That's the status quo. If you say to me, what do I think is going to happen? I'm a historian. I don't talk about the future, normally. It seems to me pretty clear that the status quo is going to extend indefinitely into the future, unless and until there were some changes. Unless and until, for example, the country which is primarily responsible for supporting Israel, which is the United States, and I don't just talk about $3.8 billion in military aid, and I don't just talk about 501C3s that support settlements and colonization and annexation. I talk about a whole level of our legal system, which is tailored to and linked to Israeli legal system. Israel's enemies are our enemies. Anybody Israel doesn't like gets persecuted by American law. One could go on and on and on.

Diplomatic protection to the nth degree. Anything Israel doesn't like in the international community, the United States will fight. As long as Israel has that kind of backing, as long as American public opinion doesn't recognize some of the realities there, I think just status quo continues. Israelis have nothing to fear. Israel has moved right not just because of the second Intifada, Israel has moved right because the people who have bleated about a two state solution, the people who continue to mouth that meaningless slogan are not willing to say, "As long as you annex and settle, there will be no two-state solution and we will stop you from doing that in order to have a two-state solution." Unless and until people say "What Israel has done to make a two state solution impossible has to be unraveled." Then there's not going to be a two-state solution. It's completely meaningless.

Let me just say one last thing about this idea that somehow one state, some kind of one state necessarily involves extinction and elimination. It's an existential danger. Well, it may mean the end of a state exclusively for Jews in a country where Arabs were a majority and are about equal today. About a half of whose Arab population was made refugees and live outside. Now, it's like holding the water back in Holland. You can hold it back for forever, perhaps, but you have a bit of a problem there. You've created a Jewish state in an Arab country. Unless and until Israelis figure out some way that they can live with Arabs without stepping on their neck, there is the problem. The problem is not the Palestinians. The Palestinians have said at different times, we want to have a one-state solution. We want to have a two-state solution.

Frankly, the people who never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity in Abba Eban's immortal phrase were the Israelis. The option of some kind of coexistence was always there. There were people who were against it on the Palestinian side, heaven knows, there are people who are opposed to it now, but if Palestinians were offered either complete citizenship in a state which was binational or Cantonal or whatever, or alternatively had a truly independent Palestinian state, I promise you, you'd have an overwhelming majority to prevent violence, but that's never, in my view, really been an offer, in either case.

Chris Hayes: No, I mean, it's definitely not ever been an offer. Well, no, I mean, I don't even mean that, I just mean that in like a historical sense, that's not what ... I mean, it's a very specific historical movement called Zionism that produced the state of Israel and that movement had very specific views about all this and it was never, it was fundamentally a project of essentially nationalist liberation situated in a sort of 19th century view of that. I mean, that was just very much what it was as a historical matter.

Professor Rashid Khalidi: Also an attempt to resolve what was called then the Jewish question, which was the persecution of Jews all over Eastern and Central Europe, leading to ultimately, as we know the Holocaust. Zionism posited itself as a solution to this saying, "You have to have an independent sovereign state, which is Jewish." The only problem was they went to a country that was predominantly Arab. I start my book with a letter from an ancestor of mine, to Theodore Herzll, the guy who founded modern political Zionism. He said to him, "This is a wonderful idea. There's no problem with it. I understand Jews are persecuted." This ancestor of mine had lived in Vienna, he knew of Herzl. He wrote him this letter saying, "But there's one problem. There's people here and they're not going to agree to be superseded." Herzl came back with a very smooth letter in which he basically ignored what my ancestor was saying.

That's a problem that Israelis are, they know that underneath a lot of their kibbutzes and other communities, there are Arab villages. They know that the people on the other side of the border or the people in refugee camps in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are the former residents of those places. They're going to have to come to terms with that. We, in the United States, essentially exterminated enough of the native population that this was never a problem. We can have a reckoning today, hopefully, in the United States. Israelis are going to have a much more difficult reckoning, more than half of Palestinians were expelled from their homes to create what was then Israel in 1948. That's a problem that we're going to have to resolve, all of us.

Chris Hayes: The point I think about the status quo, again, my opinion on this is worth what I'm charging you for. I mean, the point about the status quo to me strikes me as actually an important one. In fact, the Holland metaphor is and important one because yeah, they've just built a lot of dams. I think in conversations that I've had with Israelis, particularly, I think Israeli settlers or others in these sort of exchanges, that is kind of the way they view it. People will say, "Well, the status quo is untenable." It's like, not, I mean I think a lot of Israelis don't think it is.

Professor Rashid Khalidi: They're right.

Chris Hayes: I think they think, right, exactly. They're right, exactly. That's the thing.

Professor Rashid Khalidi: They're right.

Chris Hayes: They're right. They're right.

Professor Rashid Khalidi: Unless we make, we, the United States, who basically provide them with a first class set of assistances in every realm, unless we feel that this is some form of violation of our values, what's happening in Palestine to Palestinians and that having a state which privileges one group and systematically discriminates against another group and completely ignores a large part of that group, giving them no rights, is something that we feel uncomfortable with, until and unless that happens, frankly, yeah, there's nothing untenable about it. They've smoothly glided from American administration to American administration. On the basics, they'd have no problems. I mean, it got to a point in the Obama administration, we all remember this, where Israel was trying to tell the United States what to do in terms of its foreign policy. And Netanyahu had all kinds of arguments about the Iran nuclear deal, but the basics of what he was doing, the basics of colonization, and the United States never, never, never questioned those things.

Chris Hayes: Well, that brings us, actually, to the question of US politics on this, which I think you've teed up as central because they are, because of the geopolitical nature of the relationship. Let's talk about that right after we take this quick break.

Chris Hayes: You were talking about the role of the US plays and obviously it's central. I don't think I have to go through the history of this, but obviously it's been, I think American politicians themselves would say that we are Israel's strongest ally and often will say that Israel is our strongest ally. This is not a controversial topic. The centrality of that relationship is in fact the goal of a huge political movement within the US, that is 100% sincerely held, is not like some concocted, it's not like the-

Professor Rashid Khalidi: It's not AstroTurf.

Chris Hayes: It's not AstroTurf. That's exactly right. It's not like-

Professor Rashid Khalidi: It's a real political force.

Chris Hayes: That's right. Yes. Genuine political force. I mean, it's not some toxic chemical like DuPont coming up with like "Americans have more toxic chemicals in our ..."

Professor Rashid Khalidi: The Saudi lobby is companies, the Israel lobby people and people with money and influence and power and votes.

Chris Hayes: Totally correct. There is no grassroots lobby in the US. There is no actual political movement for pro-Saudi policies, which are entirely a fiction of K Street and money. That's not true, right.

Professor Rashid Khalidi: Exactly.

Chris Hayes: The politics here matter a tremendous amount. I think there's interesting ways in which the politics are changing. There's a fascinating quote that Ron Dermer gave in a conversation-

Professor Rashid Khalidi: The former ambassador.

Chris Hayes: The former ambassador to the US from Israel under the Netanyahu government. I think he was born in the US actually, made aliyah, and became an Israeli citizen. Dermer said, "Look, here's the math of American politics. There's not that many Jews. There's only a few million. If you're talking about political support for Israel, actually the spine of it are evangelical Christians." He said, and he was very clear about this, and I think actually quite accurate in what he was saying. It's a country of 350 million people. There's, I don't know, I think that there's about 3 or 4 million Jewish Americans. There's 30 million evangelical Christians. They're the ones, they're also spread out all over the country in large numbers. They also have tremendous political capital. He basically said, "Look, they're the key to focus on when you're talking about building political support for Israel in the US." What I think we're seeing happen, one of the things that we've seen happen in issue after issue is that issues that used to be bi-partisan getting sorted by partisanship because of the polarization that is pulling at American politics.

Great issue, an example of this is guns. Guns used to actually be much more bi-partisan and the NRA was kind of studiously bipartisan in the way that APAC is. Democrats and Republicans, we're putting all issues aside to come together on this issue. What I think is happening is that what happened to guns, which is now an extremely partisan issue, and also, and the NRA has become essentially just a right-wing organization, I think we're seeing a similar thing happen on the issue of Israel.

Professor Rashid Khalidi: You're right. You're absolutely right.

Chris Hayes: Which is that that polarization is pulling at it in the same way, and also both the Israeli government, and I think APAC and the choices it's making, are leading it to essentially be more and more increasingly viewed by Democrats and people on the left as essentially an adjunct of the right wing movement. I'm curious if you A, agree with that, and B, have thought about what the implications of that are.

Professor Rashid Khalidi: I think you're completely right. I think that Dermer, in saying what he said, was essentially his master's voice. I think this is the Netanyahu thesis. It's the thesis of the Israeli right. They've held it for quite a while now, and they have operated on that basis and they've assiduously worked to gin up support among evangelicals. I would say two things. It gives them an advantage because it means that given the ridiculous US Constitution and the very peculiar way that we run our political system where bison in Montana have more votes than I have in New York City or New Yorkers have, and where the electoral college, rather than the people elect the president, the way in which have Evangelicals are distributed, they are all over the country, but they are particularly in those states in the South, Midwest, and West where the Republicans basically have an undemocratic majority. This is a very shrewd decision on Netanyahu's part. He said, "The Republicans have a shot at power even if they don't have majorities." If you look at the presidential elections, seven of the last eight, they haven't. If you look at what the Senate represents, 30 democratic senators represent more people than the entire Republican caucus. This was a calculation. The other side of it, however, is that the original base of support there, there always was Christian Zionism. I mean, you can look at the way the British cabinet operated in 1917. You can look at Woodrow Wilson. You can look at the things at the time of Harry Truman. There always were people, whether evangelicals or not, who felt sympathy for Zionism, for religious reasons, as well as humanitarian and other reasons. My point is that what is happening here is not just this polarization in terms of Democrats and Republicans, there's a shift going on inside the Jewish community, which I think Netanyahu was understanding would not happen with the evangelicals. So if you look at young people in the Jewish community, you will find the level of questioning of Israel that is inconceivable among most evangelicals. You will see a level of unease, let's put it that way. You see this on college campuses. I mean, Yale Student Council, Columbia BDS vote, Brown, University of Illinois. I mean, I could go on and on and on. Now those are not mainly or even primarily Jewish students, but the leadership of these movements, it's often Jewish students.

I promise you, it's not Arab Americans or Muslims. They're not a powerful group on most of these campuses. It's ordinary American kids. Many of whom are Jewish Americans. I think that was a calculation that they made long ago. The older people in the community, the more conservative people in the community, the Orthodox, are still very, very aligned with Israel, but increasing numbers of more liberal people in the Jewish community, it's a largely liberal community, and especially young people are having doubts in a way that I think they realize they'll not going to have a problem with, with the evangelicals. This was a decision I think, by the Israeli right wing. And I think that it has all kinds of implications for the future.

Chris Hayes: Peter Beinart has written a lot about this, but these sort of generational fissures within the Jewish diaspora. American Jews specifically. We see big generational divides. And I think we will see increasing polarization on this partisan issue, which will have interesting, I think, very interesting consequences. The other sort of trend that I wanted to talk about is within the Arab world and the Middle East, where we've seen this fascinating Alliance in which I think that the kind of proxy war between essentially Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran has become an increasingly kind of dominant theme in the region, particularly in the wake of the US invasion of Iraq and the ways in which that massively bolstered Iranian hegemony in the sort of arc that goes now from, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Iran. The view that this is something explicitly said I think by Netanyahu and by others, that Iran is essentially an aggressive and acquisitive power that’s seeking to project more and more influence. The United Arab Emirates, the Emiratis for sure, certainly the Saudis and others, sort of forming this Alliance with Israel to sort of stop the growth of what they view as Persian hegemony in the region, and I wonder, we've seen this the so-called Abraham Accords in which we have Israel being recognized by Arab states. The UAE has opened up flights with Israel. What that means, how significant it is, what it portends.

Professor Rashid Khalidi: I would start by deconstructing when you say the Emiratis or the Saudis or the Sunnis. When you say the Israelis, you can talk about the government, which is democratic, and which represents its people. And we say the American government, the American people. That's not the case in Saudi Arabia, or most of the Gulf monarchies.

These kleptocrats, these absolute monarchs, these are people who make Louis XIV and King Charles I look like pikers. These people don't represent anybody except their own acquisitive royal families. Public opinion in those countries is actually pro-Palestinian. There are polls that tell us that. Most Arabs, including people who live in countries that are allies of Israel. Morocco is an ally of Israel. The King's bodyguard has been trained by the Israelis since the 1960s. This is not a country at war with Israel. The Emirates' air defenses are controlled and run and managed by Israel, an American company with an Israeli sub-contracting deal. And basically their anti-missile defenses are run by a Raytheon Israel. So these are allies.

It is the regimes that our allies. The public opinion is in a completely different place. Look at polls. American media will talk about Saudi Arabia as if this kleptocratic crown prince, or that monarch represents anything more than his own greed. They don't. And their desire to cling to power. That's all they represent. They do not represent their people.

Do they fear Iran? Yes they do. Do many other people in the Arab world fear Iran? Yes. Many of them do. Some of them for very good reason. But do they represent their people on the issue of Palestine and Israel? Absolutely not. The Arab Center in Doha does polling every single year, which shows that most people in all Arab countries that have been polled, overwhelming majorities, do not support what these governments are doing. They think that there shouldn't be any normalization with Israel until Israel has come to terms with the Palestinians. Netanyahu has made a very shrewd, again, together with the Trump administration, a very shrewd deal with these unpopular undemocratic illegitimate regimes, which are very strongly kept in power by the United States, and which are backed up by every major ... I mean, aerospace wants these people in power. The defense industry wants these people in power. Citibank and the banking sector. Real estate. You know how much real estate these people buy in Paris, London, and New York? Almost every major sector of the American economy wants those regimes to stay in power and that's so our government does.

He made a shrewd decision. These guys are backed by the United States. These guys are terrified of Iran. We have beef with Iran. Perfect. The problem is the people aren't there. Nor in the Sudan, nor in any of these countries that has normalized with Israel. And so I think that you're going to see that even the very limited degree to which things can be said about these agreements, it's going to be seen that they're not quite what they're made out to be. They're not going to have quite that much import.

By the way, one of the weird things that's happening now is a difference between the Saudis and the Emiratis over a whole range of issues, including Israel, apparently. Oil, Israel, and a couple of other major, major issues. They're having differences over Syria. Again, unreported in our media, but actually very important for the region.

Chris Hayes: The craziest detail in all of this to me was the purchase of the ownership stake in Beitar Jerusalem. I mean ... by the Emirati royal family.

Professor Rashid Khalidi: That team in particular.

Chris Hayes: Yes. I mean, so for people that don't know-

Professor Rashid Khalidi: One of their favorite chants is, "Death to the Arabs."

Chris Hayes: Yes. If you have seen-

Chris Hayes: Correct. If you have seen ever chance of Israelis chanting that, the good chance is that they are fans of Beitar Jerusalem Football Club, which is, and this is true all over Europe where teams will have fan groups that have specific politics. This was true in Italy. There was like the Italian team that was like essentially crypto-fascist in their views. And then there was like ... and so this is a very common thing, but Beitar Jerusalem is infamously the kind of team whose fans are the most rapidly right-wing anti-Arab.

Professor Rashid Khalidi: Exactly.

Chris Hayes: And the team is now, I think it's a controlling stake by the Emiratis, which is part of the deal after ... Which I guess, you know, money has no color kind of thing.

Professor Rashid Khalidi: Sure doesn't.

Chris Hayes: It's just the sort of classic example of that. But it sounds to me like you don't think ... I mean, I guess sort of just to leave it here, all these pacts were made with Trump and you have a new administration, you have politics changing, but it seems to me like none of that ... Keep saying like, unless and until there's sort of something stronger, none of that disrupts the sort of continued tenuous equilibrium that we're on in the short term.

Professor Rashid Khalidi: Mm-hmm. No, I don't think it does. I think though, there are political impacts. I think that this sea change in the way in which Israel aligns itself with one side of the American political spectrum has changed the relationship between Israel and the Democratic Party. And the Democratic Party is in principle, the majority party in the United States. It may not have a permanent majority, but the way things are going, it's only the bulwark of an 18th century constitution written by slave owners and aristocrats who didn't want democracy that keeps the Republicans in power.

Professor Rashid Khalidi: Nevertheless, the Democratic Party was insulted by Netanyahu's behavior. Almost every leader of the party has had a problem with Netanyahu, personally. In particular, the undermining of the JCPOA. The nuclear deal with Iran.

Chris Hayes: I mean, the Obama people absolutely just hate the guy.

Professor Rashid Khalidi: I think that that goes right down through the party, including a party leadership, which to a man and a woman is very supportive of Israeli-an principle.

Chris Hayes: Yes, correct.

Professor Rashid Khalidi: But they're very angry about Netanyahu and about the things that he did. Now he's gone. Or maybe gone.

Chris Hayes: Well, he's gone and I think I should note that I think that part of his defeat, not all of it, part of the argument advanced, particularly by Yair Lapid was that essentially he had destroyed this relationship, but by doing exactly that.

Professor Rashid Khalidi: Right. Right. The problem here is values. I mean, Israel passed a law in 2018. The Jewish Nation State Law, which has constitutional force. Israel does not have a formal constitution. There are constitutional laws. Which basically said several things. It said, settlement is a national objective. What does settlement mean? It means Jews taking land from Arabs. It said, there's one people with the right of national self-determination in Israel, that's the Jewish people. And when they say Israel, they don't just mean the territory that Israel controlled before the 1967 June War, what a hundred or 95 members of the Knesset mean is the entire whole land of Israel, i.e. river to the sea. And in fact, Israel controls it all.

So you have a situation where a people is told you have no national existence in your ancestral homeland, and you basically have to give up your property, your land, your homes, to these people, because it's a national objective that they take your land. This is fundamentally discriminatory. I mean, this makes Jim Crow look like a parlor game. You couldn't do those kinds of things in the United States. It's inconceivable in the United States. You can have gerrymandering. You can have fiddling with election laws, which the Republicans are trying to do all over the country. But to say that a whole category of people doesn't have rights? Inconceivable.

That values problem is at the root of what will or will not turn this. There is a fundamental difference between a Jewish state in which Jews are privileged and Arabs are oppressed by law, and between any kind of democratic state where you have some kind of equality, at least in principle between citizens. And we know that that doesn't work in practice always. I'm not talking about utopia, but this is so far from utopia. I think that may be the problem going into the future.

Chris Hayes: Rashid Khalidi is the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University, he’s the co-editor of the Journal of Palestine Studies. His latest book, The Hundred Years War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance, 1917 to 2017. Thank you so much, professor.

Professor Rashid Khalidi: It was a pleasure, Chris. Thanks for having me.

Chris Hayes: Once again, my great thanks to Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University, you can read his latest The Hundred Years War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance, 1917 to 2017." We’d love to hear feedback from you, I’d be shocked if this episode did not generate a lot of it.

Tweet us with the hashtag #WITHpod, email WITHpod@gmail.com. “Why Is This Happening?” is presented by MSNBC and NBC News, produced by the “All In” team and features music by Eddie Cooper. You can see more of our work, including links to things we mentioned here, by going to nbcnews.com/whyisthishappening.