I have just returned from a bit over two weeks in Australia, speaking at
various venues, and am trying to catch up with work here at home. 

As usual there are many updates on ZNet's top page
(www.zmag.org/weluser.htm) and  all over the site. But the paramount
issue of the moment is the escalating carnage in the Middle East. Please
check ZNet for regular coverage...on our top page and our Middle East
Watch Page and others linked from both, of course. 

Tonight's Update is sent, however, to convey to you the following query
and answer session with Noam Chomsky. More Updates will follow, more
often than our usual one per ten day rate, depending on unfolding


Interview with Chomsky
April 2, 2002

Z: Is there a qualitative change in what's happening now? 

I think there is a qualitative change. The goal of the Oslo process was
accurately described in 1998 by Israeli academic Shlomo Ben-Ami just
before he joined the Barak government, going on to become Barak's chief
negotiator at Camp David in summer 2000. Ben-Ami observed that "in
practice, the Oslo agreements were founded on a neo-colonialist basis,
on a life of dependence of one on the other forever." With these goals,
the Clinton-Rabin-Peres agreements were designed to impose on the
Palestinians "almost total dependence on Israel," creating "an extended
colonial situation," which is expected to be the "permanent basis" for
"a situation of dependence." The function of the Palestinian Authority
(PA) was to control the domestic population of the Israeli-run
neocolonial dependency. That is the way the process unfolded, step by
step, including the Camp David suggestions. The Clinton-Barak stand
(left vague and unambiguous) was hailed here as "remarkable" and
"magnanimous," but a look at the facts made it clear that it was -- as
commonly described in Israel -- a Bantustan proposal; that is presumably
the reason why maps were carefully avoided in the US mainstream. It is
true that Clinton-Barak advanced a few steps towards a Bantustan-style
settlement of the kind that South Africa instituted in the darkest days
of Apartheid. Just prior to Camp David, West Bank Palestinians were
confined to over 200 scattered areas, and Clinton-Barak did propose an
improvement: consolidation to three cantons, under Israeli control,
virtually separated from one another and from the fourth canton, a small
area of East Jerusalem, the center of Palestinian life and of
communications in the region. And of course separated from Gaza, where
the outcome was left unclear. 

But now that plan has apparently been shelved in favor of demolition of
the PA. That means destruction of the institutions of the potential
Bantustan that was planned by Clinton and his Israeli partners; in the
last few days, even a human rights center. The Palestinian figures who
were designated to be the counterpart of the Black leaders of the
Bantustans are also under attack, though not killed, presumably because
of the international consequences. The prominent Israeli scholar Ze'ev
Sternhell writes that the government "is no longer ashamed to speak of
war when what they are really engaged in is colonial policing, which
recalls the takeover by the white police of the poor neighborhoods of
the blacks in South Africa during the apartheid era." This new policy is
a regression below the Bantustan model of South Africa 40 years ago to
which Clinton-Rabin-Peres-Barak and their associates aspired in the Oslo
"peace process." 

None of this will come as a surprise to those who have been reading
critical analyses for the past 10 years, including plenty of material
posted regularly on Znet, reviewing developments as they proceeded. 

Exactly how the Israeli leadership intends to implement these programs
is unclear -- to them too, I presume. 

It is convenient in the US, and the West, to blame Israel and
particularly Sharon, but that is unfair and hardly honest. Many of
Sharon's worst atrocities were carried out under Labor governments.
Peres comes close to Sharon as a war criminal. Furthermore, the prime
responsibility lies in Washington, and has for 30 years. That is true of
the general diplomatic framework, and also of particular actions. Israel
can act within the limits established by the master in Washington,
rarely beyond. 

Z: What's the meaning of Friday's Security Council Resolution? 

The primary issue was whether there would be a demand for immediate
Israeli withdrawal from Ramallah and other Palestinian areas that the
Israeli army had entered in the current offensive, or at least a
deadline for such withdrawal. The US position evidently prevailed: there
is only a vague call for "withdrawal of Israeli troops from Palestinian
cities," no time frame specified. The Resolution therefore accords with
the official US stand, largely reiterated in the press: Israel is under
attack and has the right of self-defense, but shouldn't go too far in
punishing Palestinians, at least too visibly. The facts -- hardly
controversial -- are quite different. Palestinians have been trying to
survive under Israeli military occupation, now in its 35th year. It has
been harsh and brutal throughout, thanks to decisive US military and
economic support, and diplomatic protection, including the barring of
the long-standing international consensus on a peaceful political
settlement. There is no symmetry in this confrontation, not the
slightest, and to frame it in terms of Israeli self-defense goes beyond
even standard forms of distortion in the interests of power. The
harshest condemnations of Palestinian terror, which are proper and have
been for over 30 years, leave these basic facts unchanged. 

In scrupulously evading the central immediate issues, the Friday
Resolution is similar to the Security Council Resolution of March 12,
which elicited much surprise and favorable notice because it not only
was not vetoed by the US, in the usual pattern, but was actually
initiated by Washington. The Resolution called for a "vision" of a
Palestinian state. It therefore did not rise to the level of South
Africa 40 years ago when the Apartheid regime did not merely announce a
"vision" but actually established Black-run states that were at least as
viable and legitimate as what the US and Israel had been planning for
the occupied territories.

Z: What is the U.S. up to now? What U.S. interests are at stake at this

The US is a global power. What happens in Israel-Palestine is a
sidelight. There are many factors entering into US policies. Chief among
them in this region of the world is control over the world's major
energy resources. The US-Israel alliance took shape in that context. By
1958, the National Security Council concluded that a "logical corollary"
of opposition to growing Arab nationalism "would be to support Israel as
the only strong pro-Western power left in the Middle East." That is an
exaggeration, but an affirmation of the general strategic analysis,
which identified indigenous nationalism as the primary threat (as
elsewhere in the Third World); typically called "Communist," though it
is commonly recognized in the internal record that this is a term of
propaganda and that Cold War issues were often marginal, as in the
crucial year of 1958. The alliance became firm in 1967, when Israel
performed an important service for US power by destroying the main
forces of secular Arab nationalism, considered a very serious threat to
US domination of the Gulf region. So matters continued, after the
collapse of the USSR as well. By now the US-Israel-Turkey alliance is a
centerpiece of US strategy, and Israel is virtually a US military base,
also closely integrated with the militarized US high-tech economy. 

Within that persistent framework, the US naturally supports Israeli
repression of the Palestinians and integration of the occupied
territories, including the neocolonial project outlined by Ben-Ami,
though specific policy choices have to be made depending on
circumstances. Right now, Bush planners continue to block steps towards
diplomatic settlement, or even reduction of violence; that is the
meaning, for example, of their veto of the Dec. 15 2001 Security Council
Resolution calling for steps towards implementing the US Mitchell plan
and introduction of international monitors to supervise the reduction of
violence. For similar reasons, the US boycotted the Dec. 5 international
meetings in Geneva (including the EU, even Britain) which reaffirmed
that the Fourth Geneva Convention applies to the occupied territories,
so that critically important US-Israeli actions there are "grave
breaches" of the Convention - war crimes, in simple terms - as the
Geneva declaration elaborated. That merely reaffirmed the Security
Council Resolution of October 2000 (US abstaining), which held once
again that the Convention applied to the occupied territories. That had
been the official US position as well, stated formally, for example, by
George Bush I when he was UN Ambassador. The US regularly abstains or
boycotts in such cases, not wanting to take a public stand in opposition
to core principles of international law, particularly in the light of
the circumstances under which the Conventions were enacted: to
criminalize formally the atrocities of the Nazis, including their
actions in the territories they occupied. The media and intellectual
culture generally cooperate by their own "boycott" of these unwelcome
facts: in particular, the fact that as a High Contracting Party, the US
government is legally obligated by solemn treaty to punish violators of
the Conventions, including its own political leadership. 

That's only a small sample. Meanwhile the flow of arms and economic
support for maintaining the occupation by force and terror and extending
settlements continues without any pause. 

Z: What's your opinion of the Arab summit? 

The Arab summit led to general acceptance of the Saudi Arabian plan,
which reiterated the basic principles of the long-standing international
consensus: Israel should withdraw from the occupied territories in the
context of a general peace agreement that would guarantee the right of
every state in the region, including Israel and a new Palestinian State,
to peace and security within recognized borders (the basic wording of UN
242, amplified to include a Palestinian state). There is nothing new
about this. These are the basic terms of the Security Council resolution
of January 1976 backed by virtually the entire world, including the
leading Arab states, the PLO, Europe, the Soviet bloc, the non-aligned
countries -- in fact, everyone who mattered. It was opposed by Israel
and vetoed by the US, thereby vetoed from history. Subsequent and
similar initiatives from the Arab states, the PLO, and Western Europe
were blocked by the US, continuing to the present. That includes the
1981 Fahd plan. That record too has been effectively vetoed from
history, for the usual reasons. 

US rejectionism in fact goes back 5 years earlier, to February 1971,
when President Sadat of Egypt offered Israel a full peace treaty in
return for Israeli withdrawal from Egyptian territory, not even bringing
up Palestinian national rights or the fate of the other occupied
territories. Israel's Labor government recognized this as a genuine
peace offer, but decided to reject it, intending to extend its
settlements to northeastern Sinai; that it soon did, with extreme
brutality, the immediate cause for the 1973 war. The plan for the
Palestinians under military occupation was described frankly to his
Cabinet colleagues by Moshe Dayan, one of the Labor leaders more
sympathetic to the Palestinian plight. Israel should make it clear that
"we have no solution, you shall continue to live like dogs, and whoever
wishes may leave, and we will see where this process leads." Following
that recommendation, the guiding principle of the occupation has been
incessant and degrading humiliation, along with torture, terror,
destruction of property, displacement and settlement, and takeover of
basic resources, crucially water. 

Sadat's 1971offer conformed to official US policy, but Kissinger
succeeded in instituting his preference for what he called "stalemate":
no negotiations, only force. Jordanian peace offers were also dismissed.
Since that time, official US policy has kept to the international
consensus on withdrawal (until Clinton, who effectively rescinded UN
resolutions and considerations of international law); but in practice,
policy has followed the Kissinger guidelines, accepting negotiations
only when compelled to do so, as Kissinger was after the near-debacle of
the 1973 war for which he shares major responsibility, and under the
conditions that Ben-Ami articulated. 

Official doctrine instructs us to focus attention on the Arab summit, as
if the Arab states and the PLO are the problem, in particular, their
intention to drive Israel into the sea. Coverage presents the basic
problem as vacillation, reservations, and qualifications in the Arab
world. There is little that one can say in favor of the Arab states and
the PLO, but these claims are simply untrue, as a look at the record
quickly reveals. 

The more serious press recognized that the Saudi plan largely reiterated
the Saudi Fahd Plan of 1981, claiming that that initiative was
undermined by Arab refusal to accept the existence of Israel. The facts
are again quite different. The 1981 plan was undermined by an Israeli
reaction that even its mainstream press condemned as "hysterical,"
backed by the US. That includes Shimon Peres and other alleged doves,
who warned that acceptance of the Fahd plan would "threaten Israel's
very existence." An indication of the hysteria is the reaction of
Israel's President Haim Herzog, also considered a dove. He charged that
the "real author" of the Fahd plan was the PLO, and that it was even
more extreme than the January 1976 Security Council resolution that was
"prepared by" the PLO, at the time when he was Israel's UN Ambassador.
These claims can hardly be true, but they are an indication of the
desperate fear of a political settlement on the part of Israeli doves,
backed throughout by the US. The basic problem then, as now, traces back
to Washington, which has persistently backed Israel's rejection of a
political settlement in terms of the broad international consensus,
reiterated in essentials in the current Saudi proposals. 

Until such elementary facts as these are permitted to enter into
discussion, displacing the standard misrepresentation and deceit,
discussion is mostly beside the point. And we should not be drawn into
it -- for example, by implicitly accepting the assumption that
developments at the Arab summit are a critical problem. They have
significance, of course, but it is secondary. The primary problems are
right here, and it is our responsibility to face them and deal with
them, not to displace them to others. 

Michael Albert
Z Magazine / ZNet

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