Palestinian activist describes "fiction of peace process"

April 5, 2001 9:56 p.m.

Note: A correction is appended to this posting.

In a visit to Princeton Thursday, Edward W. Said, the most high-profile spokesman for the Palestinian cause in the United States, called for a global campaign to pressure Israel into granting Palestinian autonomy and self-determination.

Addressing a capacity crowd in Wood Auditorium in McCosh Hall, Said, an author and professor at Columbia University, compared Palestinians' lot in Israel with that of black South Africans under apartheid.

"What we need to develop is a strategy of liberation like the African National Congress did," spurring international diplomatic and economic pressure as well as local resistance against Israeli rule, Said added. "Out of that struggle, I think new forms of political life will emerge."

A consistent critic of "the fiction of a peace process" that started in 1993 with the Oslo agreements, Said spent an hour describing his view of the process to date and its effects on daily life for Palestinians.

"The Palestinian people are undergoing collective punishment of the cruelest sort," Said said, adding that he would "make no pretense at evenhandedness, because to do so is to ignore the facts and distort the truth."

Using a series of maps to chart the shifting lines of Israeli and Palestinian rule over pockets of land in Israel, Said discussed the difficulties of travel and obtaining vital resources for Palestinians.

Still, he said, "the overwhelming impression that you get" from U.S. news media "is that Israel is under siege."

Taking questions from the audience after his talk, Said engaged in a brief shouting match with a listener who took issue with his characterization of the recent violence. Several other audience members tried to shout additional opposing views, but they were not called upon.

The author of more than 20 books, including the seminal work "Orientalism" and the critically-acclaimed "Culture and Imperialism," Said is a professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University.

A controversial figure, Said was compelled to correct his 1999 autobiography, "Out of Place: A Memoir" as it was about to hit bookstore shelves when inconsistencies were revealed in the story of his upbringing and the ownership history of a family home in Jerusalem.

And last month, the Freud Society of Vienna canceled a lecture Said was scheduled to deliver after he was photographed poised to throw a stone at an Israeli guardhouse on the Lebanese border.

Said's book "The End of the Peace Process: Oslo and After," published last fall, formed the basis of his talk. Most of the essays in the book were first published in the English-language supplement of Egypt's leading newspaper, Al-Hayam, and in the London-based, Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat.

His lecture was sponsored by the Institute for the Transregional Study of the Contemporary Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia.

CORRECTION: This Web report referred incorrectly to Edward Said's response to allegations that there were inconsistencies in his account of his background. Said has maintained that his account is accurate, and he made no changes to his autobiography, "Out of Place." The allegations, made in the media by Said's critics, appeared around the time his book was published in 1999.

Contact: Justin Harmon (609) 258-3601