Sept. 10, 2014 by Darius
I recently finished The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood by Columbia University professor Rashid Khalidi. Khalidi tells the story of the Palestinian people and their quest for self-determination from the perspective of the Palestinians themselves, rather than from the perspective of their more powerful neighbors or great powers an ocean away.
There were two parts of The Iron Cage I found to be particularly worthwhile. The first is the extensive attention Khalidi devotes to the Palestinians during the British Mandate period, which lasted from 1923 to 1948. Khalidi examines the reasons for the Palestinians’ inability to develop the social, societal, and governmental structures of a state, ranging from failures of Palestinian leaders themselves to the crushingly unfair terms of the British Mandate. This period of Palestinian history, and its impact on what followed, is often left out of analyses of the Middle East and Palestine.
The second part of The Iron Cage I found valuable was Khalidi’s discussion of why the Oslo Accords were a total failure for the Palestinians. It wasn’t just because the Palestinians gave up too much for what they got in negotiations. More importantly, it was during the 1990s, during the “peace process,” that Israel greatly reinforced its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. For the first time, movement restrictions and Israeli checkpoints became facts of life for most Palestinians. As a result of this clampdown, the Palestinian economy tanked. During the post-Oslo period of negotiations with Israel, average Palestinians saw their quality of life and basic freedoms severely decline. No wonder negotiations were perceived as failures.
The Iron Cage isn’t the most enthralling book ever written, but given Khalidi’s controversial reputation, it isn’t surprising that he chose impeccable scholarship and extensive footnotes over exciting narrative. The Iron Cage should be read by anyone with a serious interest in Palestine, its people, or the region as a whole.