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On this episode of Unlocking Us

Khaled Elgindy is a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute where he also directs MEI’s Program on Palestine and Israeli-Palestinian Affairs. He is the author of the book, Blind Spot: America and the Palestinians, from Balfour to Trump. In this episode we talk about the internal political struggles among Palestinian leadership and the US’s involvement in the failed peace agreements between Israel and Palestine.

About the guest

Khaled Elgindy

Khaled Elgindy is director of the Middle East Institute’s Program on Palestine and Palestinian-Israeli Affairs and adjunct instructor in Arab Studies at Georgetown University. He is the author of the 2019 book, Blind Spot: America and the Palestinians, from Balfour to Trump (Brookings Institution Press). Elgindy previously served as a resident scholar in the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution from 2010 through 2018. Prior to arriving at Brookings, he served as an adviser to the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah on permanent status negotiations with Israel from 2004 to 2009, and was a key participant in the Annapolis negotiations of 2007-08.

Show notes

Blind Spot: America and the Palestinians, from Balfour to Trump

Blind Spot: America and the Palestinians, from Balfour to Trump The United States has invested billions of dollars and countless diplomatic hours in the pursuit of Israeli-Palestinian peace and a two-state solution. Yet American attempts to broker an end to the conflict have repeatedly come up short. At the center of these failures lay two critical factors: Israeli power and Palestinian politics.


Brené Brown: Hi, everyone. I’m Brené Brown, and this is Unlocking Us.


BB: This is part three of a three-part series focusing on Israel and Palestine, and it’s a follow-up to an essay I posted it on As I’ve mentioned, the first two podcasts, the discourse was really tough on the comment section of the website, but really smart. And some people agreed and some people were really disappointed and hurt and pissed off. I was held accountable in important ways. I just think it was the right discourse. You’re going to see that on issues like this, I probably will not be having these conversations on social media, they’ll be happening, I think, in a place where there’s more room to expand. The comments were such important debate and discourse, so thank y’all for that. My intention for sharing a new essay and these podcast episodes is to really share what I’m learning for the purpose of, for me personally, to be a better global citizen. And more importantly, I want to highlight the work of people that have really dedicated their lives to bringing justice and peace and equality to people who deserve it so much. All three of the episodes are dropping this week. I have talked to Palestinian-Israeli activists on the ground. You’ve met folks from the Parent Circle-Family Forum, from Taghyeer, that’s Ali Abu Awaad.

BB: We talked in the last podcast to the folks of Standing Together. And today I’m talking to Khaled Elgindy, he is a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, where he also directs the Middle East Institute’s program on Palestine and Israeli-Palestinian affairs. He’s the author of the book Blind Spot: America and the Palestinians, from Balfour to Trump. He has served as a fellow in the foreign policy program at the Brookings Institution, he did that from 2010 to 2018. Prior to being at Brookings, he served as an advisor to the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah on permanent status negotiations with Israel from 2004 to 2009. He was also a key participant in the Annapolis negotiations of 2007, 2008. He is an adjunct instructor in Arab Studies at Georgetown University. For those of you following a lot of this work, you’ll probably have seen him. Khaled has been on CNN, he’s got publications in the Christian Science Monitor, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Quarterly. He is quoted everywhere for his expertise, he is an incredible scholar. And let’s jump into the conversation. Before we do that real quick, I want to thank Vox Media again, our new partner in podcasting.

BB: For agreeing to do this three-part series in a non-commercialized, non-revenue, ad-free way. I know that’s not normal, and I appreciate them agreeing to the importance in it. Let’s meet Khaled Elgindy and do some tough learning. And I’m going to say right now, before we jump in, I am still challenged. I have read the book twice, and I am still challenged in ways that I need to really pay attention to.


BB: I really appreciate you joining us for this podcast series. Thank you very much.

Khaled Elgindy: Yeah, thanks for having me on.

BB: I am reading, rereading, dog-earing, highlighting, writing down a million questions as I make my way through your book Blind Spot: America and the Palestinians, from Balfour to Trump. So I just want to say, it is such an incredible piece of scholarship.

KE: Thank you.

BB: Can I read some kind of an overview of the book to you, and then we’ll jump into a conversation?

KE: Yeah.

BB: Okay. You write, “The United States has invested billions of dollars in countless diplomatic hours in the pursuit of Israeli-Palestinian peace and a two-state solution, yet American attempts to broker an end to the conflict have repeatedly come up short. At the center of these failures lay two critical factors, Israeli power and Palestinian politics. While both Israelis and Palestinians undoubtedly share much of the blame, one also cannot escape the role of the United States as the sole mediator in the process in these repeated failures. American peacemaking efforts ultimately ran aground as a result of Washington’s unwillingness to confront Israel’s ever-deepening occupation or to come to grips with the realities of internal Palestinian politics.” So your book looks at the interplay between the US led peace process and internal Palestinian politics and how badly flawed peace processes really helped to weaken Palestinian leaders and institutions and create additional dysfunction and destabilization. I’ll end by sharing this from the book,  “Shaped by the pressures of American domestic politics and the special relationship with Israel, Washington’s distinctive blind spot to Israeli power and Palestinian politics has deep historical roots.

BB: Dating back to the 1917 Balfour Declaration and the British Mandate. The size of the blind spot has varied over the years from one administration to another, but it has always been present.”

KE: Yeah.

BB: When you look back at the scholarship and the analysis in Blind Spot today, what are your thoughts?

KE: Well, my thought is, I think I correctly diagnosed the problem. I think I may have even understated how bad it is and the severity of the implications of it. As a scholar you try to not speak in hyperbole and to try to deal with facts and evidence and to come to conclusions that are reasonable and plausible. And I think I did that, I feel like now, given what is happening on the ground, I feel like the blind spot is much bigger even than I had anticipated. And a lot of that is wrapped up in the person of Joe Biden and he is, I think, uniquely blind to certain realities in ways that others in his party, that even previous Republican administrations have not been. I’m excluding from that Donald Trump who’s sort of in a class of his own, and has a similar kind of all-encompassing blind spot when it comes to the Palestinians. It was surprising to see the extent to which the Biden administration is blind, not only to these realities of Israeli power. We see the damage that Israel is inflicting on Gaza and its people overwhelming, almost the complete destruction of Gaza as a society. And also, again, the blindness to the realities of Palestinian politics.

KE: People like me have been screaming for years, this Palestinian division is highly destabilizing and it is going to eventually explode. And of course, it did and what I didn’t realize is the extent to which it’s not only a blind spot toward Israeli power and Palestinian politics, but even to Palestinian humanity. And that’s the part that I didn’t anticipate, how deep it ran in certain segments. I think it’s not universal, as I said in the quote that you read, the blind spot varies in size in different moments in history. I think Joe Biden and his administration represents the blind spot in its purest and most devastating form.

BB: Okay, can I get into what you just said and kind of tease out some things because I don’t understand them all fully?

KE: Yeah.

BB: I want to get into the Joe Biden piece for sure. I want to start with when you said;  and I want to make sure I’m quoting you correctly, so correct me. “The Palestinian division was more destabilizing possibly than we anticipated.” Well, I don’t think we anticipated anything because I don’t think people are paying attention to Palestinian internal politics. But can you define the Palestinian division for us and walk us through what that means?

KE: There are the two main political parties in Palestinian politics are Fatah, which is the ruling party of President Mahmoud Abbas, and that has dominated Palestinian politics for most of the last 50 plus years. It is one of the oldest Palestinian political factions that was established in the late 1950s. And it’s main political; and there’s a whole spectrum of leftist groups on the center and there are Islamist political factions, particularly Hamas. So Hamas is the second largest political movement in the Palestinian political arena. And they are an Islamist party that draws their inspiration from the Muslim Brotherhood that has branches throughout the region in most Arab countries, and has spawned political parties of one variety or another, there’s a spectrum among the Brotherhood and Islamists. So this has been the main rivalry since the late 1980s, these two dominant factions, the leftist factions have waned in their importance over the last few decades. And so this is the main rivalry between the ruling Fatah party and Hamas as the embodiment of the kind of Islamist vision for Palestinian liberation. And what made Hamas different from all other factions is that it was never incorporated into the PLO being the Palestine Liberation Organization.

KE: That was the umbrella for all Palestinian political factions and it was a state in exile, a virtual state. And it was supposed to represent all Palestinians and it is still today officially the political address for the Palestinian people. So when the Palestinians have an embassy or diplomatic mission, it’s that of the PLO. It’s the PLO that sits at the United Nations. Hamas was never incorporated into the PLO. And then of course, when the Oslo agreement came along in 1993 and created the Palestinian authority, that was supposed to become the embryo of a future Palestinian state. Hamas was politically and ideologically opposed to the Oslo process. They boycotted the Palestinian Authority elections in 1996, but 10 years later, in 2006, they decided to contest those elections. If you can’t beat them, join them essentially is the conclusion that they drew. And their goal was essentially to take over Palestinian politics, but through the system that had been established. So they ran for those elections and they won an outright majority, much to everyone’s surprise. And again, mind you, this is just the Palestinian Authority, not the PLO, they’re still not part of the PLO. So now they have the ability to form a government on their own.

KE: They are designated by the European Union and the United States as a terrorist organization. So the international community cannot deal with them. The funds are cut off to the PA. And eventually that leads to a civil war between the PA, between Fatah as the dominant group that had run the PA for, since Oslo is beginning. And Hamas wins that civil war in Gaza and there’s a split. They create a parallel authority in the Gaza Strip under Hamas’s control. And then there’s the Palestinian Authority that the rest of the international community deals with operating only in the West Bank. And that division becomes a source of constant and very predictable instability. There are repeated wars in Gaza because Gaza is placed under an Israeli blockade. The aim of which presumably was to topple the Hamas government there, and that never worked. And so that lasted for 17 years and we had time and again war in 2008 and 2009, in 2012, in 2014, in 2021, in 2022. And it became so normal, the Israelis called it mowing the grass.

BB: Oh.

KE: Every now and again, we have to mow the grass and that means when the pressure on Gaza gets tight and then there’s a violent reaction, because of the blockade, there’s rocket fire on Israeli towns and then Israel does a bombing campaign for a week or two weeks or three weeks. And then there’s a ceasefire, there’s some new arrangements put in place, work permits for Palestinians to work in Israel, they expand the fishing zone, allow a few more trucks into a few more exports. And so that becomes this cycle. So a lot of us in the analyst community have been warning, this is not sustainable. This kind of deadly, I think I even referred to it at one point as a kind of morbid or macabre Groundhog Day reality in which we have this very predictable cycle of violence, and it’s entirely preventable if people would pay attention to the realities. So what I was writing about in the book is this mindset that American officials had absorbed because they are so close to the Israelis, and they tend to look at the issue through an Israeli lens. And for the Israelis, it was clear, divide and conquer. That’s the strategy of every colonial power in history. So if we can keep Palestinians divided, keep a weak authority operating in the West Bank.

KE: Keep a weak authority operating in Gaza, don’t allow anything like a unitary national leadership to emerge that could actually become a Palestinian state, or that would be a interlocutor in negotiations that was credible. That was Israel’s goal. So Israel fueled that division. And for understandable reasons, because Israel wants to maintain control and doesn’t want to end its occupation and so the divide and rule strategy was effective. What I didn’t understand and what I thought was a tragic mistake was for the United States to buy into that same logic. And so a lot of people like me were arguing, there’s no hope for a negotiated two-state solution without a unitary, cohesive Palestinian leadership that has legitimacy, that has credibility in the eyes of its own people. And that was never a concern for the Americans, they thought when the split happened under the Bush administration, they thought, this is great. Now we have a Palestinian partner in the West Bank, Mahmoud Abbas that we can deal with, that we can negotiate with. And we will all work together to isolate that other Palestinian group in Gaza and because Hamas was a terrorist organization. So it’s completely illogical that you would make peace with one set of Palestinians and at the same time war with another, right?

KE: Because Palestinians view themselves as a single people, as a single nation who want to have a single leadership. And both Hamas and Fatah are part of the Palestinian political fabric and even if it’s just Hamas operating as the opposition, like any opposition, right? People understand when the Palestinians go to negotiate with an Israeli leadership, that leader is bringing with him his opposition, right? Because he’s accountable to his parliament, to his public, to his political base, to the electorate. And so everybody instinctively understands that internal politics are part of any negotiation, right? They are the invisible members of the negotiate at around the negotiating table, but people ignored that when it came to Palestinians, right? Palestinians weren’t allowed to have a political opposition. Opposition to the peace process, if you were Palestinian, meant you were put on the terrorism list and you were isolated and trying to be… the goal was to crush them. And so that’s highly problematic, because that creates then a conflict within Palestinians to the point that actually led to a civil war. And rather than realize the mistake and say, “Oh, no, we broke the Palestinian Authority that is supposed to be the future state, let’s try to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.”

KE: They said, “No, this is perfect because we can keep Hamas isolated, pretend that it doesn’t exist for the purposes of negotiations and only deal with the good Palestinians that we like, because they’re for a two-state solution, and therefore all the things that we like.” But that’s not how it works. And that was always going to be a recipe for disaster because Hamas could act as a free agent and simply disrupt the process whenever they wanted, because they had an incentive to do that. So I was arguing, in order to make peace with Palestinians, you have to make peace with all of them. And that includes groups like Hamas, because at the end of the day, nobody makes peace with their friends, right? You make peace with your enemies. So pretending that Hamas could not be a disruptor, or that it should have no say, or that… It just didn’t make any sense. It was treating the peace process as though it was a reward for Palestinian good behavior instead of a way to resolve this very difficult conflict. And that’s just not how you deal with conflict.

BB: It reminds me of something you wrote in the book. Can I read it to you?

KE: Sure.

BB: And I think this is in reference to a specific moment in 2008 when The Annapolis Talks collapsed. But this is a paragraph that I read like 20 times. That I had to learn it then I had to get rid of a lot of stuff to unlearn, and then I had to read it again, so, “The fact that U.S. officials saw a weak and increasingly dysfunctional Palestinian leadership as an asset to the peace process rather than a liability was striking in and of itself. More important, it was indicative of a systemic blind spot in America’s stewardship of the peace process in two critical areas of diplomacy: power and politics. Since the 1990s, American peacemaking in the Middle East has operated according to two interrelated and equally flawed assumptions: first, that a credible peace settlement could be achieved without addressing the vast imbalance of power between Israel and the Palestinians, and second, that it would be possible to ignore, or… ” this is such a word that you use right here, “it would be possible to ignore or bend internal Palestinian politics to the perceived needs of the peace process. The size of the blind spot has varied, but it’s always been present.”

KE: Yeah.

BB: So this is what we’re talking about right now, right?

KE: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. It’s this idea that the first part of the blind spot in terms of Israeli power, the underlying assumption there was, Israel is our ally. We have a special relationship. They have unique security needs. Their security is paramount. It’s the key to any peace negotiation of any successful diplomatic process. And so the goal, the key to success is to give Israel assurances. And the only way you can have those assurances is if their security is met. Once the Israelis feel secure, they’ll be able to take what American officials have called, “risks for peace.” That no Israeli official will be able to take steps toward Palestinian freedom and statehood without those security guarantees, and then they will be willing to “take risks for peace.” That assumption was fatally flawed. It has never panned out. You may have heard the term in reference to the Biden administration, Biden’s bear hug of Israel, right?

KE: That we have to give Israel love, assurances, carrots, in order for them to feel strong enough and secure enough to make concessions to the Palestinians. And so you don’t criticize Israel, you don’t condition aid, you don’t impose sanctions. You don’t punish the Israelis. You do those things with the Palestinians, because the flip side of the blind spot, if Israelis need to be reassured, then Palestinians need to be reformed. Their politics are flawed, their grievances are not fully legitimate, and they need to be turned from this kind of intransigent group of more or less extremists into a suitable peace partner. And so this manifestation of the blind spot, Israelis can only be reassured. Palestinians have to be reformed, re-engineered even, that’s the key to peace. Those two underlying assumptions have been catastrophic failures. They’re based on completely illogical premises that sort of defy human nature.

KE: So the end result was, you put pressure on the weak side, the Palestinians, to reform, to meet all these conditions, to jump through all these hoops, and you give only carrots and positive incentives to the Israelis. So there’s no pressure on the stronger side. And what that ends up doing is taking this very asymmetrical reality that exists between the occupier and the occupied, and it deepens it. And so what I argue in the book isn’t just that the United States tried to be a mediator and failed, it’s that it actually contributed to the deepening of the conflict. People can be forgiven at, “We tried to be a mediator. It didn’t work.” But they did more than that. The United States exacerbated the conflict by deepening that power imbalance. And we’re seeing it play out today in really horrific form when.. think about what is it that the United States is doing right now?

KE: It is arming this conflict, right? It is arming Israel. It is fast tracking those weapons without any congressional approval or scrutiny, and it is providing diplomatic cover. Three different times they have vetoed ceasefire resolutions at the Security Council. So is the United States a force for conflict resolution, or is it a force for deepening of the conflict? It’s clearly the latter. All you have to do is look at what’s happening now. The United States is fueling this conflict, creating an entire new generation of traumatized people, and it’s going to make it far more difficult in the future to negotiate a resolution after all of this death and destruction. And so what is happening now is basically the most extreme version of what the United States has done in the past. And that has always had its thumb on the scale in Israel’s favor. If there was violence, US supports Israeli violence, opposes Palestinian violence and tries to contain the Palestinians.

KE: And look what happened. The attack that Hamas carried out was obviously horrific in its scale, in its brutality on Israeli civilians. Hundreds and hundreds of Israeli civilians killed. But at the end of the day, Hamas is a non-state actor. Israel is the most powerful military in the region. There is no single force, including state armies or any collection of state armies in the region that could pose an existential threat to Israel, with the exception maybe of a nuclear-armed Iran. That’s probably the only exception. Hamas is not that. Hamas does not pose an existential threat to Israel.

KE: Israel, on the other hand, does pose an existential threat to Palestinians. As we’re seeing now in Gaza. The complete annihilation of Gaza as a society, as a place that can be inhabited by 2 million people. 70% of Gaza’s homes have been destroyed. Most of Gaza’s infrastructure, all of Gaza’s universities have been completely destroyed; hundreds of mosques, institutions. This is the destruction of a society, and there’s a very real possibility that a million or more Palestinians could be pushed out of Gaza because it’s become unlivable, and because people are being starved. So how has America’s role in this conflict done anything but exacerbate conflict? It’s just amazing to me that anyone thinks that all this death and destruction could somehow lead to a credible peace process, much less one under the supervision of the very country that enabled it, meaning the United States.

BB: I highlighted something in the book here that really speaks to, I think what you’re saying here. Can I read it to you? Is that okay?

KE: Yeah.

BB: “As part of the perennial quest to reassure Israeli leaders, U.S. presidents from both political parties have been prepared to deviate from the established ground rules of the peace process, even from official U.S. policy on several core issues of the conflict, such as withdrawal of the settlements, control of Jerusalem, and the return of the Palestinian refugees.” It’s not just that the thumb is on the scale. The thumb is on the scale in a way that we are declarative about being wrong. Is that fair to say?

KE: Yeah. We’re basically saying, like any diplomatic process, there are rules, right?

BB: Yeah.

KE: There are a certain set of principles in diplospeak. We call these in negotiations. We call them terms of reference. And so the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had certain basic terms of reference that everybody understood. These are the ground rules. Israel’s occupation established in 1967 has to come to an end, settlements are, if not illegal, then at least highly problematic. The US has flip-flopped on that position, on the legality of settlements. But under international law, settlements are illegal, under the UN Charter, the basic principle is, you can’t acquire territory by force and you cannot annex. And so you have to negotiate the outcome of these. Resolve the conflict through negotiations. And those were the ground rules that the US endorsed that was backed by the international community, but that the United States would selectively disregard.

KE: Settlements are a problem. But you know what? I know how settlements are important to this Israeli coalition. We’ll allow them to build in Jerusalem, but in a limited way. We’ll allow them to build in the settlement blocks, but not outside the settlement blocks. There are all these exceptions that the US officials engaged in to try to accommodate the needs of the Israeli leadership and say, “Yeah, settlements are bad, but go ahead and build in these areas.” The focus of the peace process wasn’t on ending Israel’s occupation, because that was hard. They instead became on things like, how do we build Palestinian institutions? And how can we improve the Palestinian economy? And how can we end Palestinian corruption? And how can we reform their security services? And how can we have them perform better to provide security for Israel? And leaving aside the difficult things like dismantling settlements, talking about Jerusalem.

KE: So if you’re prepared to violate the rules of the game, of the diplomatic game, then you can’t be surprised that people don’t take your word seriously. Right?

BB: Yeah.

KE: It’s a basic rule of law issue. If the rules are not applied evenly or if they’re only applied selectively, there’s a focus on Palestinian incitement, but everybody ignores Israeli incitement. If you are only applying the rules to one side, and it’s the weaker side, then the process loses any meaning. It’s pretty straightforward. And so what incentive does Israel have? So this idea that if Palestinians were reformed and jumped through all the hoops, and then they would get their state. And at the same time, if Israelis felt secure and there was no violence, there was no terrorism, then they would be, Israel would be, willing to take those difficult steps that would lead to Palestinian statehood, but it never happened because it runs contrary to human nature.

BB: Yeah.

KE: If Israel can have security, which is all it really wants. And it’s the number one priority for any Israeli leadership is just security for their citizens. They can have that upfront without having to withdraw from settlements and hand over sovereignty of East Jerusalem to the Palestinians. Why would it ever do those things? So this is the problem of putting the cart before the horse. If Israelis have security, well then they have less incentive to negotiate. And the fact that Mahmoud Abbas’s leadership did play by the rules and did crack down on violence and did jump through all the hoops, well, that just made him ignorable. Right? Great, so now the West Bank isn’t a problem. So if you look at the years between 2008 and 2012, especially, the number of terrorist attacks, you could count on two hands. The number of Israeli fatalities were in the low hundreds.

KE: Actually, if you look at from 2008 until 2022, less than 300 Israelis are killed. Half of them are soldiers in that entire period, 15 years, right?

BB: Yeah.

KE: Compare that to October 7th, in which 1,200 are killed in a single day. So things were going very well for these Israelis. It was calm. It was quiet. Everything was working, except it wasn’t working for Palestinians in that same period, from 2008 until the end of 2022, 6,000 Palestinians were killed in that same 15 year time period compared to less than 300 Israelis. So what passes for calm is only calm for Israelis. So when people say there was a ceasefire in place on October 6th, that’s not true. It’s only true if you ignore Palestinians and Palestinian deaths and casualties. And so that’s the only way we can understand. October 7th, it was an explosion based on this pent up rage and frustration where the rest of the world was comfortable with the status quo, including the Israelis, but it was quite painful and becoming more and more painful for Palestinians.

BB: Let me ask this question. Is there really ever a secure Israel without a free Palestine?

KE: No. That’s the argument that we’ve all been making, is that to truly guarantee the security of Israelis. Palestinians also have to be secure.

BB: Yeah.

KE: And free. And so this notion that Israeli security has to come at the expense of Palestinian security is just not tenable. It doesn’t make sense from a logical standpoint, it’s just, but that’s where we are, because that’s the only way to understand what is happening now. Is that somehow people believe that destroying most of Gaza and killing 30,000 people, including 13,000 children. I mean imagine the trauma inflicted on these families. 17,000 orphans, thousands of people who have lost their homes. That somehow Israelis can only be secure with this level of destruction of Palestinians. That doesn’t make any sense. And in fact, you’re actually sowing the seeds for future conflict for decades. Which is why, to me, it’s not only unconscionable what is happening and inhumane, but just colossally stupid.

KE: If you look at it from a strictly geopolitical standpoint, eventually, if you create this level of misery and suffering, people will want to settle scores, right?

BB: It’s human nature.

KE: Right. And so that’s how you perpetuate conflict. It’s just basic common sense. The fact that we in the United States and in Israel just rationalize all that death and destruction and say, “Well, it’s collateral damage, and well, people suffer during war. It’s too bad, but it’s necessary.” We rationalize that way. But Palestinians aren’t rationalizing that way. They’re not looking at their dead children and saying, “Well, I guess they deserve to die, because Israelis don’t feel secure until Hamas is destroyed.” And so what they’re really laying the ground for is probably something worse than Hamas. It’s just fundamentally illogical. And like you said, the only way Israel can really have security is if Palestinians are also secure and free.

KE: Because, if your whole project is based on suppressing and subjugating an entire people indefinitely, just because you have the power to do so, then you cannot be surprised when there’s resistance. And sometimes that resistance will be violent, and sometimes it will be really awful kinds of violence, like what we saw on October 7th. And that’s not a justification, it’s just an explanation. I don’t think we should exceptionalize Israelis or Palestinians. If you keep people locked up for long enough and deny them of their rights, and gradually take their land and kill their children and blockade their societies, destroy their economy, eventually you’re going to get people who want to inflict harm on the people who are doing that.

KE: And they might even do so in a way that we all find horrible and completely unjustifiable. So there’s cause and there’s effect, and to treat this problem as though there weren’t cause and effect as though Palestinian terrorism comes out of nowhere. The only way we can understand October 7th, it’s just an act of pure evil, divorced from any context, divorced from any causal reality, it just magically appeared out of this thing called evil to inflict death on Israelis who were otherwise minding their own business. When in fact, you have a very, very violent, brutal Israeli occupation in place for 56 years and a devastating blockade on the Gaza strip in the last 17 years. And so it makes sense, there’s cause and effect.

BB: Is there in your mind, a solution…and I have to be really careful because I’m always trying to check my own blind spots as I’m talking… is there a solution in your mind where seven million Israelis leave this land or seven million Palestinians leave this land, or is every plausible solution about these 14 million people living free together?

KE: Yes, the latter. I think there is no solution in which seven million Israeli Jews or seven million slightly more Palestinian Arabs leave the country. I think that’s unreasonable, and nor should we imagine a solution where one group dominates or subjugates the other, and so the only possible solutions are either you have this land and you divide it into two pieces of territory, and you have Palestinians in one sovereign state of their own and Israelis in a different sovereign state of their own, and that’s the basis for a two-state solution. So you can partition the land, but it has to; either way, it has to be based on equality. Either two equal states that have equal levels of sovereignty and freedom and dignity, so that Palestinians live and can determine their own fate and future.

KE: Or you say, “Well, we can’t draw an arbitrary line somewhere and create a border and so we keep it all as one state in which everyone who lives there is an equal citizen of whatever you want to call that state, Israel, Israel Palestine, something new.” Those are the only two options. Short of ethnic cleansing and genocide, so if two million people have to leave Gaza, that’s ethnic cleansing, through war and through starvation and through devastation of the society.

BB: Disease.

KE: Disease. Exactly.

BB: Yeah.

KE: And so the difference is the power dynamics, because one side has the ability to pose an existential threat to the other side. Whatever we think of Hamas, Hamas does not have the ability to destroy Israel. But the bottom line is that nobody should be destroyed, nobody should be displaced, nobody should be forced to leave their homes or their country. And so either you divide the land into two states or you keep it as one state in which everyone has equal rights. There’s really no other option.

BB: I’ve been talking to peace and justice workers on the ground in Israel and Palestine who support a very non-violent action. Their goal is to create the political will within Israel and across into Palestine as well, to end the occupation in a non-violent way. Do you think that stands a chance? I mean these are people at Standing Together, this is the Parent Circle-Family Forum, a bereaved people coming together. What are your thoughts?

KE: We all want to believe in ideas of non-violent resistance, and particularly if it crosses the line and involves joint Arab Jewish Israeli Palestinian action and mobilization, because at the end of the day, even if there is a hard border between Israelis and Palestinians at some point, their lives are interwoven with one another, and Jerusalem itself is going to be a place that they’re going to have to share.

BB: Right.

KE: There’s no total separation that is possible, and so I think those kinds of efforts are important, but you need to build a culture for that in both societies, and it’s very hard to do that in moments of intense violence and trauma.

BB: Yes, impossible. Right?

KE: Yeah, because people only think in terms of my personal safety, and people are thinking in existential terms, us or them. And if someone is going to suffer, it better be them and not us.

BB: Yeah.

KE: And so that’s the place that we are. I know Palestinians have tried non-violent forms of resistance in the past. The First Intifada in the late 1980s, the first major uprising against Israeli military occupation was mostly non-violent. There were general strikes and stone-throwing, occasional Molotov cocktails, but it was not an armed rebellion, and it was fairly effective in terms of mobilizing international public opinion and changing the political dynamics and forcing Israel to the negotiating table eventually in a way that led to the Oslo process in the early 90s. By contrast, the Second Intifada was quite violent and had the opposite effect, they’d cemented in Israeli mindset, the need… We have to crush them. That’s the only language I understand is violence.

KE: But over the past many years, there have been other non-violent attempts at non-violent resistance and they’ve consistently been met with violence, and so that’s where it all falls apart.

BB: Yeah.

KE: We had, for example, in Gaza, the Great March of Return in 2018, right up until around COVID, or around 2020, it fizzled out with the pandemic. But every week, Palestinians were going to demonstrate at the border fence. And what happened? Non-violent resistance was met with deadly violence, Israeli snipers, they killed dozens. I think maybe even hundreds over that two-year period of protesters, who were not throwing rockets, they were not firing guns, but they were taken out by snipers.

KE: So non-violent resistance can only work when it triggers a response in Israeli society, in the international community of outrage. That, “Oh, people are being met with violence to their non-violent acts, this is terrible, this has to stop,” they put pressure on Israelis, then you can have space for non-violent resistance to work. But if that doesn’t happen. If nobody bats an eye, or just simply, it gets explained away, then the result is those people walk away and say, “Clearly non-violence doesn’t work, the only thing that will work is if they suffer,” and so violence is the path. And that’s where we are.

BB: I want to go back to something, when we started at the beginning, I said, I wanted to kind of tease out some of the things you said. I want to go back to Joe Biden for a second. It was interesting to me when I was speaking with some of the activists on the ground, and this is an Israeli-Jewish activist co-founded with an Israeli-Arab activist, Palestinian, and they are trying to put pressure through non-violence on the Israeli government to end the occupation. And they were telling me how popular and influential Joe Biden is with the Israeli public. Why?

KE: Because Joe Biden was there for them in their greatest moment of need, October 7th, was the worst attack, and deadliest attack that Israelis had suffered since the creation of the state in 1948, it was a huge collective trauma in addition to the individualized trauma of the families that were directly affected. And Joe Biden, his solidarity his support, his words of comfort were genuine, and I think Israelis felt that, and he offered Israel unconditional support for whatever they had to do to retaliate, to deal with the threat posed by Hamas. He did it in a way that I think was reckless and catastrophic for the people of Gaza and for American credibility, but from the Israeli standpoint, that unconditional support was greatly appreciated in their time of need.

BB: I thought I was maybe missing something historically, but it really comes down to how he showed up after October 7th that you think gained the goodwill of the Israeli people. So can I just ask a question? I know it’s probably naive, but I really don’t understand…

KE: No.

BB: Whether it’s like the parliament, whether it’s the security council, whether it’s us. What is the hesitation around a cease fire, like I am completely lost.  Around… I don’t know who else to call, write to, threaten. I don’t know what else to do. What…

KE: What is the hesitation in this country or in Israel?

BB: Well, in this country. I understand it, I think I understand it in Israel, but what is it in this country, like why are even the people politically with whom I thought I was aligned?

KE: Yeah. Because the people making the decisions are looking at the issue through an Israeli lens. So it’s the same blind spot, it’s the same lens that leads to the blind spot, and if you look at it through an Israeli lens, or the Israeli perspective is, “We can never allow another October 7th to happen.” That means Hamas has to be completely destroyed, not weakened, not debilitated, not kneecap, but destroyed in both political and military terms.

KE: So that zero-sum calculation was made from the get-go in Israel, and I think it was adopted more or less, ‘as is’ by the administration, by President Biden himself. It’s really only in the last few weeks that US officials have begun backing away from this idea though. I, and others, have been arguing Hamas isn’t going to be destroyed, it’s nonsensical even to, and it’s quite irresponsible to even claim that as a goal. So for the United States to buy into that zero-sum logic, I think was the key mistake that they made, and they painted themselves into a corner. So once they said, “No ceasefire,” because the ceasefire means Hamas will just regroup in a matter of weeks, months, years, whatever it is, and that must never happen. Hamas must never be allowed to regroup.

KE: And so once you go down that path, and you climb all the way up that tree and you’ve kicked out the ladder, you’re stuck. And then you have the dynamic that exists in American politics where Republicans. Well, there’s nothing Israel can do that was too extreme or not, that they’re going to support anything Israel does, even if it means ethnic cleansing. And we have people on the House floor say, “There’s no such thing as Palestinian civilians in Gaza. They’re all Nazis.” They’re literally saying that. At least a couple of them have said that. So the discourse on the Republican side is very dehumanizing of Palestinians. Nobody is questioning Israel.

KE: On the Democratic side, you have at least the pocket of House and Senate members who are uncomfortable with what’s happening, but didn’t want to oppose a Democratic President…

BB: Election.

KE: Going into an election and weaken the President, and so we saw silence even from Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and the progressive wing of the party that we would have expected would have been the first to come out and say, “Ceasefire.” They have now since basically said stuff that amounts to a ceasefire. But in the first two or three months when it was most critical, everybody avoided the word ceasefire like the plague. They would say, “Stop the bombing, release the hostages,” do everything, but don’t say ceasefire because ceasefire meant that you wanted Hamas to survive and that means you were okay with Hamas carrying out another attack.

KE: And that was not based in reason, was not a rational view, but it was an understandable one, given the shock of October 7th, and it became the conventional wisdom in American politics. And in fact, you had pro-Israel groups saying, “Anyone who says the word ceasefire is pro-terrorist and maybe even an anti-Semite.” And so if that’s where the discourse is, people are afraid politically to say ceasefire.

BB: I think I have screwed it up in my efforts to not screw it up. But I think I wrote something that said, “A ceasefire now, free the hostages and end the occupation.” And someone said, “Make up your mind.  Which is it?”

KE: Yeah.

BB: And so I guess it can’t be all three, right? Or can it?

KE: Sure it can. Sure it can. A ceasefire, so that you like, when if you’re a school teacher and you see two kids fighting in the schoolyard, your first impulse is to do what? You separate them.

BB: Stop the bloodshed.

KE: You stop the fighting. Before you even determine who’s at fault, who did what first, you stop the damage, first. Then you decide, “Oh, who did what? Okay, let’s assign responsibility and accountability, and then there are consequences.” So of course, yes, ceasefire now. Then look at what led to October 7th. There should be accountability for the people who carried out the attack. There were clear war crimes. They should be tried in the Hague. They should face consequences.

KE: But the two million people in Gaza did not carry out…

BB: Right.

KE: The attack of October 7th. And they are the ones bearing the brunt, doing most of the dying and the suffering, while Hamas will survive. Gaza may not survive, but Hamas will survive. So, ceasefire, take stock of how we got here, do some real honest soul searching, not self-serving analysis of they started it, therefore everything is their responsibility. And then address the root causes, which, as you said, end the occupation. And of course the hostages should be released. So all three of those make perfect sense. They’re only incompatible if you believe that October 7th came from nowhere and has no cause and effect, has no context, has no roots. There is no occupation. Palestinians don’t have valid grievances.

BB: Yeah, and I think that’s an important piece for me. I think the other important piece for me that your book changed fundamentally in my thinking and in my beliefs is, the role of the US and their, not their, our complicity in that. I think that blind spot is so fricking contagious because it’s so seductive. It’s so comfortable. Yeah. How tenuous is Netanyahu’s position right now in Israel?

KE: I think it’s very tenuous. He needs this war to continue for as long as possible in order to stave off the inevitable reckoning that will happen once the war ends. October 7th, I think it’s impossible to overstate what a colossal intelligence, security, political failure it was, just on a massive, massive scale. And so, of course, the people who allowed that to happen, happened on their watch. It happened on Netanyahu’s watch. And so there will be a reckoning.

KE: He’s trying to delay that reckoning for as long as he can get away with. And so he needs that rhetoric of total victory, we’re going to fight, we’re going to keep going.

BB: Zero sum.

KE: Zero sum because for him, it is existential in the sense of his political and personal survival. He’s facing corruption trial, in addition to losing his political position and being remembered. It’s also about his legacy. He’s going to be remembered as the prime minister that allowed October 7th before going to jail. So he’s trying to change that. And I think once there is a ceasefire, a long-term pause, whatever we want to call it, there will be a reckoning.

KE: And we’re already seeing a rekindling of the mass protests that the anti-Netanyahu protests we saw before October 7th, starting to reemerge. And so there is definitely opposition to Netanyahu. That opposition was muted after the trauma of October 7th, but is now starting to reemerge. And I find it hard to believe that he will survive politically. But given his past, if anybody can survive, it would be him. He’s been able to reengineer his survival.

KE: He’s been counted out so many times and then managed to stay on. So I wouldn’t discount it, but I think it’s still unlikely.

BB: I’m definitely recommending we’re going to do a Blind Spot read across the org, because I think it’s important to understand, it’s just such a counter narrative. And so I’m grateful for the book.

KE: Yeah. Well, I’m grateful that you read it and are encouraging others to read it. So thank you.

BB: It was a hard personal reckoning for me in some ways, because I didn’t know what I didn’t know, whatever, regardless of intention, the impact is the same. And I have to be accountable for the impact.

KE: Yeah.

BB: In addition to supporting kind of non-violent peace and justice work, people on the ground in Gaza and Palestine doing this work together side by side, which is how I came up as an activist. What else can we be doing putting pressure on the US government? That seems to be like really frustrating right now. What else can we do?

KE: Yeah. I think communicating with your elected representatives, if not in Congress, then also at the local and state levels. One thing that I’m seeing a lot of because people feel helpless is a lot of city councils are passing ceasefire resolutions and speaking out that way, even though obviously as a matter of jurisdiction, cities and towns don’t have any say in foreign policy making, but it’s important in terms of mobilizing communities, raising awareness, and that pressure filters upward. When you have a city like Chicago, which is as far as I know, the largest city to pass a ceasefire resolution at that level.

KE: Barack Obama was from Chicago, and there are other politicians. There are two senators from Illinois, and there are how many dozen or so House members from the Chicago area. So they’ll pay attention. Illinois is the key state. It’s not as much of a swing state as Michigan and other places. But things like the uncommitted vote in Michigan, that sends a message to the president that you need to change course, if not for geopolitical and human reasons, then for at least the narrow electoral purposes of being reelected.

KE: And so I think any kind of mobilization at the local level, the county level, school boards, wherever people can speak out.

BB: Grassroots.

KE: Yeah, absolutely. And so there’s always a forum.

BB: That’s really helpful. Last question. We’ve been very critical of Biden. I’m very frustrated. I voted for Biden. A Trump presidency means what for Palestinians and Israeli-Palestinian peace?

KE: I think the Trump presidency would be terrible for Americans and for the world and not great for Palestinians and those who seek peaceful resolution to the conflict. I don’t imagine it could be much worse than it already is. Right?

BB: Yeah.

KE: If you’re a Palestinian from Gaza, and Gaza has been already destroyed, and 30,000 people are already dead, and many more will die of disease and hunger in the coming weeks and months. And so the damage has been done. And so if I’m a Palestinian, looking at it from a Palestinian standpoint, I don’t think there’s anything Donald Trump could add to this situation that would make things worse. Maybe for Americans, American Muslims and American Arabs and women and minorities and all kinds of other people, it might get worse.

KE: But on this narrow issue of providing unconditional support for Israel, Biden’s already done that. He’s already overseen the destruction of a society. And so the people have been traumatized. Now, obviously, you could have more trauma and you could have more suffering and things could get worse, under Trump or even a second Biden administration. We’ve not seen any real movement in the needle at all in this administration. There’s been no learning curve. So I think for Israel-Palestine, the future is equally bleak, whether it’s a Trump presidency or a second Biden term.

KE: I don’t see any prospect of a negotiated settlement happening, certainly not one led by the United States.

BB: Yeah. So the blind spot doesn’t belong to just one party here?

KE: Nope, not at all. But it is time limited in the sense that I do see a major generational shift in attitudes in this country. And we see the protests happening on college campuses all over the country. We see people shutting down Grand Central Station, and we sit-ins and die-ins and all kinds of civil disobedience, or the people who blocked the Golden Gate Bridge and threw their keys into the bay. And it’s just not going away. Every member of this administration who speaks publicly anywhere gets heckled and hounded by protesters. So that shift, I think, is somewhat hopeful in the sense that this generation, especially of young people, they’re not currently empowered, but they will be when at a certain point, when they enter positions of influence in the economy and public policy in the media and whatever professions they enter into, it will change.

KE: I think the policy will change because Americans are changing their outlook on this issue. And I think it’s happening across the board, but it’s especially true of young people. And so I think eventually things will change.

BB: Thank you so much for your time. Thank you so much for your book. I’m grateful for both. I’m grateful for the work you’re doing and I will keep listening and keep learning and share it as widely as I can.

KE: Yeah, thank you for having me. And thank you again for reading the book. I’m truly humbled to know that the book had that sort of an impact. And it’s a pleasure to talk to you about it.

BB: Thank you so much.

KE: Thanks again.


BB: I really appreciate y’all listening. It was an important conversation, a hard conversation. I hope it was important and meaningful to you. You can find Khaled’s work, articles to interviews he’s done on, on the website episode page. I appreciate you being here. I’m really grateful.


BB: Unlocking Us is produced by Brené Brown Education and Research Group. The music is by Carrie Rodriguez and Gina Chavez. Get new episodes as soon as they’re published by following Unlocking Us on your favorite podcast app. We are part of the Vox Media podcast network. Discover more award-winning shows at


© 2024 Brené Brown Education and Research Group, LLC. All rights reserved.

Brown, B. (Host). (2024, March 1). Blind Spot: America and the Palestinians, from Balfour to Trump. [Audio podcast episode]. In Unlocking Us with Brené Brown. Vox Media Podcast Network.

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