Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)
Introducing the book, Khaled Elgindy recounts a situation in 2007 where President George W Bush announced that the US would lead a revived Israeli-Palestinian peace process. When, as an advisor to the Palestinian leadership, Elgindy questioned whether President Abbas was mandated to negotiate given the deep divisions in Palestinian politics, he was sternly told that the Hamas ‘coup’ did not affect the PLO mandate. This was a central premise for the US as well. This story reveals both a significant evolution in the US understanding of the Palestinians and a stable ‘blind spot’ in this thinking. On the one hand, the inclusion of the PLO in a US-led peace process would have been unthinkable as late as the early 1990s, but by 2007 Yassir Arafat, and then Mahmoud Abbas, had regularly met with US Presidents. On the other hand, the inability of the US to appreciate the divisions within the Palestinian national movement revealed a consistent myopic reading of Palestinian politics. While Elgindy’s concern is clearly contemporary, he traces the problems in the US approach towards the Palestinians as far back as the Truman administration and all the way into the Trump era. This historical analysis allows Elgindy to flesh out the evolution from Truman’s humanitarian approach to the Palestinian refugees via Carter’s call for a Palestinian ‘homeland’ to Clinton’s invitation of Arafat to the White House, as well as the persistent blindness towards Palestinian domestic considerations. Elgindy’s analysis is sharp and he has an impressive ability to make long and complicated historical lines easy to read. There is much value in this account, both for the seasoned researcher and for newcomers to the field.