Khalidi's article is essentially a summary of his new book, which deals with the question:
Why did the Palestinians fail to establish an independent state before 1948, and what was the impact of that failure in the years that followed, down to the present? These questions are important, first, because Palestinian history must be properly understood if we are to comprehend the present, and because this history has significance in its own right.
In the West this is a hidden history, one that is obscured by the riveting and tragic narrative of modern Jewish history. In a sense, the history of the Palestinians has disappeared under the powerful impact of the painful and amply recounted story of the catastrophic fate of the Jews of Europe in the 20th century. However, achieving any serious understanding of the Middle East conflict requires comprehension of Palestinian history in its own terms, which includes but cannot be subsumed by Jewish and Israeli history.
This effort is important for another reason: namely, to ascribe agency to the Palestinians, to avoid seeing them either as no more than helpless victims of forces greater then themselves, or alternatively as driven solely by self-destructive tendencies and uncontrollable dissension.
Neuwirth's response begins this way:
Professor Rashid Khalidi raises a very pertinent question in his article Unwritten History, recently published in the Boston Globe. In essence, he laments that the Palestinians have not written down their own history and he observes that their failure to do so has made their claim for Palestinian statehood more problematic.
Peoples – real ones – know their history. History precedes the collective consciousness of a people. Jews, Kurds, Tibetans, Mongols, and a myriad others are very much aware of who they are. They need no latecomer to remind them of their origins, or to forge a newly minted history to redefine their identity. They know their past achievements and they have a common will for the future. So, if forty years after the word "Palestinian" entered the international lexicon – in its new, twisted and widely circulated meaning – we are still in search of their history, we may conclude it is because there has never been such a people. The "Palestinian people" was a late creation for political purposes aimed only at destroying the national aspirations of a real people – the Jews – rather than building a peaceful society.
...And proceeds to get worse from there. Suffice to say that these sorts of assertions of Palestinian non-peoplehood aren't taken seriously anymore outside of the Jabotinskyite fringe and Martin Peretz's dining room, so we don't really need to bother with them. (For those interested, Kimmerling and Migdal's The Palestinian People and Khalidi's earlier Palestinian Identity are two of the best works on the subject.)
In the way that one might follow a bad smell to discover its source, I decided to check out Neuwirth's website, which is called "Middle East Solutions." The site is built around Neuwirth's cunning plan for solving the Arab-Israeli conflict. And that plan is...population transfer. No, really, go read it. Rachel Neuwirth supports the complete ethnic cleansing of the Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza. For their own good, of course. If you think this sounds suspiciously like other "solutions" you've heard before, you're forgiven. Neuwirth does not specify whether the Palestinians would be placed on train boxcars, but I suppose that will all get sorted out later, after they've been made to see how it's in their best interests to leave the homes and communities in which they've lived for generations, so that some newly arrived Russian immigrants can have a pool.
So the woman's obviously a nutcase, as if that weren't already abundantly clear. But leaving aside both Neuwirth's morally abhorrent advocacy of ethnic cleansing, to say nothing of her rather pathetic and disingenuous attempt to critique Rashid Khalidi, what interests me is this: How does challenging the fact of Palestinian peoplehood fall anywhere within the scope of Campus Watch's stated mission?
Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum, reviews and critiques Middle East studies in North America, with an aim to improving them. The project mainly addresses five problems: analytical failures, the mixing of politics with scholarship, (Good one! -ed) intolerance of alternative views, apologetics, and the abuse of power over students. Campus Watch fully respects the freedom of speech of those it debates while insisting on its own freedom to comment on their words and deeds.
As I wrote, the historical fact of Palestinian peoplehood has been pretty well established. The political argument against the Palestinians' right to a state in their own homeland, based upon crank theories about the undifferentiated Arab-ness of the Palestinians, however, persists.
It's one thing to police the debate about Israel, to defend Israel's reputation, and attack and attempt to intimidate its critics, or to vigorously criticize the Palestinian leadership as dishonest and corrupt. It's another thing entirely to suggest that the Palestinians don't exist as a people with a unique cultural identity, or that they exist only to the extent that they embody the desire of the Arabs to destroy Israel. That is, I think, unnacceptable. Such arguments, and the people who make them, deserve to be relegated to the same intellectual ghetto as Holocaust denial, and the Middle East Forum, which runs Campus Watch, puts itself squarely in such company when it publishes this sort of garbage.