U.S. Policy on Palestine: From Wilson to Clinton

By Gerges, Fawaz A. | The Middle East Journal, Summer 1996 | Go to article overview

U.S. Policy on Palestine: From Wilson to Clinton


Gerges, Fawaz A., The Middle East Journal


U.S. Policy on Palestine: From Wilson to Clinton, ed. by Michael W. Suleiman. Normal, IL: Association of Arab-American University Graduates Press, 1995. vi + 244 pages. Bibl. to p. 253. Contribs. to p. 256. Index to p. 263. $15.95 paper.

Reviewed by Fawaz A. Gerges

United States foreign policy often is criticized for being inconsistent and contradictory. Not so with US policy on Palestine. The United States has consistently opposed in practice Palestinian efforts to attain self-determination, including the establishment of an independent state. Michael Suleiman's fine and comprehensive volume not only examines the history of US policy toward the Palestinians, but also tries to explain the societal sources behind the anti-Palestinian bias.

Suleiman's first chapter, "Palestine and the Palestinians in the Mind of America," sets the intellectual and philosophical framework for the text. To understand fully the making of US foreign policy on Palestine, argues Suleiman, requires a thorough analysis of the way Americans have historically perceived Palestine and the Palestinians. He traces the development and formation of a negative image of Palestinians to two sources: First, Europe's traditionally hostile attitudes toward Muslims that were transferred to America with the European settlers; and second, the Puritans' perception of their own role in the unfolding of God's human kingdom, specifically as it related to Jews in the Holy Land and ignored the existence of Palestinians. As a result, "Palestinians either did not register much on the consciousness of Americans or they were seen in a negative light" (p. 2).

As the rest of the chapters on the various US administrations show, American negative attitudes and orientations concerning Palestinians have had definite implications for the making of US foreign policy toward the region. This historically complex interpretation avoids the common tendency to explain US Middle East policy by reference to domestic political forces, particularly the powerful Zionist lobby in Washington. Instead, the approach adopted in this book takes into account the role of the United States' Eurocentric history, and its environment, culture, and security interests.

The political roots of US foreign policy toward the Palestinians were set in World War I and its aftermath. As Hisham Ahmed notes in his chapter on this period, President Woodrow Wilson was reluctant to apply the principle of self-determination to the Palestinian people. …

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