Professor of linguistics at MIT for over half a century, Chomsky is the author of dozens of books on US foreign policy. His most recent is called Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy.
As the US convenes a Mideast summit in Annapolis, Maryland today, we spend the hour on the Israeli-Palestine conflict with two of the world’s leading thinkers: former South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and world-renowned linguist Noam Chomsky. Chomsky says US backing of continued Israeli occupation and annexation of Palestinian land is the biggest obstacle to peace. He says, “The crimes against Palestinians… are so shocking that the only emotionally valid reaction is rage and a call for extreme actions. But that does not help the victims. And, in fact, it’s likely to harm them. We have to face the reality that our actions have consequences, and they have to be adapted to real-world circumstances, difficult as it may be to stay calm in the face of shameful crimes in which we are directly and crucially implicated.” [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: Leaders from around the world are gathering in Annapolis, Maryland today to take part in a US-sponsored summit on the Middle East. President Bush met separately with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House Monday. More than forty organizations and countries, including Saudi Arabia and Syria, are attending the conference today. Hamas was not invited.
A final agenda has not yet been drawn up, but a draft of a joint document was leaked to the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz. It makes no mention of the situation in Gaza or of core issues like the status of Jerusalem, settlements, borders, the separation wall and Palestinian refugees.
Today, we spend the hour on the Israel-Palestine conflict with two of the world’s leading thinkers: former South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and world-renowned linguist and author Noam Chomsky. They recently spoke at a conference in Boston sponsored by Sabeel, a Palestinian Christian organization. The conference was called “The Apartheid Paradigm in Palestine-Israel: Highlighting Issues of Justice and Equality.”
We begin today with Noam Chomsky, professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for over a half-century. Chomsky is the author of dozens of books on US foreign policy. His most recent is called Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy. Noam Chomsky spoke before a packed audience at Boston’s historic Old South Church.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Before saying a word, I’d like to express some severe personal discomfort, because anything I say will be abstract and dry and restrained. The crimes against Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and elsewhere, particularly Lebanon, are so shocking that the only emotionally valid reaction is rage and a call for extreme actions. But that does not help the victims. And, in fact, it’s likely to harm them. We have to face the reality that our actions have consequences, and they have to be adapted to real-world circumstances, difficult as it may be to stay calm in the face of shameful crimes in which we are directly and crucially implicated.
Well, I’ve been asked to talk about the apartheid paradigm and the proper response here, so I’ll do that, though not without some additional reservations. We have to recognize that there will be no clear answer as to the question of whether the apartheid paradigm applies in Israel or in Boston, right here, or elsewhere. The genre has, after all, only one example: South Africa. And there are similarities elsewhere in many dimensions, and it’s fair enough to bring them up, but there’s very little point debating whether they are close enough in one or another case to count as apartheid, because that will never be settled, we know that in advance.
I’ve brought up similarities in the past, when I thought that they were appropriate. Actually, the one time I recall clearly was exactly ten years ago. That was at a conference at Ben Gurion University in Be’er Sheva. It was on the anniversary of the thirtieth year of the military occupation. And in the talk there, I quoted from a standard history of South Africa on elections in the Bantustans, which I’ll read; and just change a few words, and you’ll know what it’s about.
“South African retention of effective power, through its officials in the Bantustans, its overwhelming economic influence and security arrangements, gave to this initiative of elections elements of a farce. However, unlikely candidates as were the Bantustans for any meaningful independent existence, their expanding bureaucracies provided jobs for new strata of educated Africans tied to the system in a new way and a basis for accumulation for a small number of Africans with access to loans and political influence. Repression, too, could be indigenized through developing homeland policy and army personnel. On the fringe of the Bantustans, border industry growth centers were planned as a means of freeing capital from some of the restraints imposed on industrial expansion elsewhere and to take advantage of virtually captive and particularly cheap labor. Within the homelands, economic development was more a matter of advertising brochures than actual practical activity, though some officials in South Africa understood the needs from their own perspective for some kind of revitalization of the homelands to prevent their economies from collapsing even further.”
Well, I won’t waste time expressing the similarities to the Occupied Territories, but you can do that quite easily. Ten years ago, that was the optimistic prospect for the Occupied Territories. By now, even that’s remote, and reality is far more grim than it was then. There’s no time and, I presume, no need to review the harrowing details.
We’re now approaching George Bush’s historic Annapolis conference, as it’s called, on Israel-Palestine, so we can anticipate a flood of deceit and distortions to set the proper framework. And we should be prepared to counter the propaganda assault, which has already begun. Just to pick a couple of examples, Bostonians could read in the Boston Globe a few days ago that at the Taba Conference in January 2001 — now quoting — “Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak accepted ideas floated by President Bill Clinton that would have produced a Palestinian state in 97 percent of the West Bank and 100 percent of Gaza,” but these forthcoming gestures failed. The evil Palestinians refused Israel’s generous offers, keeping to their time-honored insistence on seizing defeat from the jaws of victory and proving they’re not partners for negotiation.
Well, there’s one fragment of truth in this conventional fabrication: there was a conference in Taba. And, in fact, it did come close to a possible settlement, but the rest is pure invention. In particular, the conference was terminated abruptly by Prime Minister Barak. The truth is completely unacceptable, so the facts are either suppressed, as they generally are, or, as in this case, just inverted. And we can expect a good deal more of that. Actually, the truth about the Taba Conference merits attention. That week, in one week in January 2001, that was the one moment in thirty years when the United States and Israel abandoned the rejectionist stance that they have maintained in virtual isolation until the present.
And that may suggest some thoughts about another familiar fairytale that you could read about a couple of days earlier in the New York Times, where the respected policy analyst and former high government official, Leslie Gelb, wrote that every US administration since 1967 has privately favored returning almost all of the territory to the Palestinians for the purposes of creating a separate Palestinian state. Note the word "privately." Crucial. We know what the administrations have said publicly. Publicly they have rejected adamantly anything remotely of the sort ever since 1967 — ’76, when the United States vetoed a Security Council resolution calling for a two-state settlement on the international border, incorporating all the relevant wording of UN 242 — it’s the basic diplomatic document to which Washington appeals when it’s convenient. The US veto — it’s worth bearing in mind — is a double veto. One part of the veto is that the actions are barred, of course. And it’s also vetoed from history, as in this case, so you’ll work really hard to find it, even in the scholarly literature.
AMY GOODMAN: We’ll come back to Professor Noam Chomsky’s address in Boston, and then we’ll go on to South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu. They were both speaking at the Sabeel conference.
AMY GOODMAN: We return to MIT professor and author Noam Chomsky speaking recently in Boston at the Old South Church at a conference called the Apartheid Paradigm in Palestine-Israel.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Sometimes the public rejection of a separate Palestinian state is more articulate and considerably more extreme, so it takes a George Bush no. 1, who is reputed to be the most hostile to Israel of US presidents. In 1988, as you know, the Palestinian National Council formally accepted a two-state settlement, and the Israeli government responded. This was the coalition government of Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Shamir. They responded by issuing a formal declaration that there can be no additional Palestinian state between Jordan and Palestine — “additional” because for Shimon Peres and his Labor coalition, Jordan already was a Palestinian state. It’s a view that’s attributed to the right wing, but that’s mistaken. This is Shimon Peres. The United States reacted to that with what was called the Baker Plan — James Baker, Secretary of State. The Bush Baker Plan endorsed Israel’s position without qualification and went on to add that any Palestinian negotiators would have to accept that framework, namely no second Palestinian state in addition to Jordan. That’s Bush no. 1, the alleged critic of Israel, and the respected diplomat James Baker. Again, the truth is inconvenient, so virtually none of this was reported, and you’ll have to work — search hard to extricate it from the web of self-serving propaganda that dominates commentary and reporting, of which Leslie Gelb’s article in the New York Times is a typical, but not unusual, example.
Well, I’m not going to go on with that, but the diplomatic record is one of uniform rejectionism, apart from the week in Taba, and unilateral rejectionism, increasingly so. By now, virtually the entire world agrees on the two-state international consensus of the past thirty years, pretty much along the lines that were almost agreed upon at Taba. That includes all the Arab States, who actually go beyond to call for full normalization of relations with Israel. It includes Iran, although you won’t find that published here, which accepts the Arab League position. It includes Hamas; its leaders have repeatedly endorsed, called for a two-state settlement, even in articles in the US press. That also includes Hamas’s most militant figure, Khaled Meshaal, who’s in exile in Syria. And it includes the rest of the world. Israel rejects it, and the United States backs that rejection fully, not in words just, but in actions.
Bush no. 2 has gone to new extremes in rejectionism. He’s declared the illegal West Bank settlements must remain part of Israel. That’s in accord with the Clinton position, expressed by his negotiator Dennis Ross, who explained that what he called “Israel’s needs” take precedence over Palestinian wants. That’s Clinton. But the party line remains undisturbed. Facts don’t matter. Bush, Rice and the rest are yearning to realize Bush’s vision of a Palestinian state — somewhere, someplace — persisting in the noble endeavor of the longtime honest broker.
Well, what’s happened in the past is — of course, rejectionism goes far beyond words. It includes settlement programs, the annexation wall, closures, checkpoints, and so on. Settlements increased steadily right through the Oslo years, peaking actually in Clinton’s last year, the year 2000, right before the Camp David Accords. And the story is now being repeated before our eyes — shouldn’t surprise us.
So to take just one example, with the Annapolis conference approaching, Israel has just confiscated more Arab land to build a bypass road from Palestinians — I’m quoting now — “in order to push the Palestinian traffic between Bethlehem and Ramallah deep into the desert and effectively bar Palestinians from the central part of the West Bank." That’s part of the so-called E1 project, which is designed to incorporate the town of Ma’ale Adumim within Israel and effectively to bisect the West Bank. “With such policies” — continuing to quote — "With such policies enacted by the government, the famous Annapolis conference is emptied of all meaning long before it convenes." This is quotes from the Israeli peace organization Gush Shalom. All of this is backed by the honest brokers in Washington and paid for by US taxpayers, who, incidentally, overwhelmingly join the international consensus, in opposition to their own government. But that’s not what we’re going to hear.
Well, in fairness, it should be added that there is occasional public criticism of the settlement programs. So in the New York Times a couple of weeks ago, there was a favorable review of a very important study, which has just been translated into English, Lords of the Land by Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar, which bitterly condemns the US-backed Israeli programs in the West Bank and the takeover of Israeli political life by their advocates. It’s a strong and important book.
The review, however, goes on with conventional fairytales. Among them, it tells us that within the Green Line in Israel itself, Israel is what it calls a “vibrant democracy” in which non-Jews have equal rights and, unlike the West Bank, there are no Arab villages made inaccessible, because their roads have been dug up by army bulldozers. Well, again, there’s a fragment of truth in the description. So take, for example, the village Dar al-Hanoun in the so-called Triangle, Wadi Ara, it’s older than the state of Israel, but it’s one of the innumerable unrecognized villages in Israel. So it’s true that there’s no road dug up by bulldozers, and the reason is that there’s no road. No road is permitted by the state authorities, and no construction is permitted. No services are provided. That’s not an unusual situation for Palestinian citizens, who are also effectively barred from over 90% of the land by a complex and intricate web of laws and administrative arrangements. Technically, that was overruled by the high court seven years ago, but, as far as I can determine, only technically. And we may recall that in the United States it took over a century for even formal implementation of the Fourteenth Amendment, guaranteeing equal rights to all persons, and actual implementation of it is still remote a century-and-a-half later.
Well, let’s turn briefly to the important question, the most important question: what can we do about it? Here, it’s useful to think about the apartheid analogy, and it’s useful to remember a little history.
In 1963, the UN Security Council declared a voluntary arms embargo on South Africa. That was extended to a mandatory embargo in 1977. And that was followed by economic sanctions and other measures — sometimes officials, countries, cities, towns — some organized by popular movements. Now, not all countries participated. In the United States, the US Congress did impose sanctions over Reagan’s veto, but US trade with South Africa then increased by various evasions, along with concealed support for South African terrorist atrocities in Mozambique and Angola, which took a horrendous toll. It’s about 1.5 million killed and over $60 billion in damage during the Reagan years, the Reagan years of constructive engagement, according to UN analysis. In 1988, the Reagan administration declared Mandela’s African National Congress to be one of the world’s most notorious terrorist groups — that’s 1988 — while it described RENAMO in Mozambique merely as an indigenous insurgent group. That was after it had just killed about 100,000 people, according to the State Department, with, of course, US-backed African support. Thatcher’s record was similar or maybe worse. But most of this was in secret. There was just too much popular opposition.
And the popular opposition made a difference. There was a very significant anti-apartheid movement decades after the global decision of the Security Council to bring apartheid to an end. In 1965, boycotts and other measures would not have been effective. Twenty years later, they were effective, but that was after the groundwork had been laid by activist, educational and organizing efforts, including within the powerful states, which is what matters in an ugly world.
Well, in the case of Israel-Palestine, the groundwork has not been laid. The quotes that I just gave are perfectly representative examples; you can fill them out in books, yeah. The kind of popular measures that were effective against apartheid by the late 1980s are not only ineffective in the case of Israel-Palestine today, but in fact sometimes backfire in harming the victims. We’ve seen that over and over. It’s going to continue until the organizing and educational efforts make real progress. It’s not just the United States; the European Union is hardly different. So, for example, the European Union does not bar arms deliveries to Israel. It joined the United States in vicious punishment of Palestinians, because they committed the grave crime of voting the wrong way in a free election. And there was very little internal protest in Europe. Populations support the international consensus, but they don’t react when their governments undermine any hope for its realization.
Well, in the coming weeks and the longer term, there’s plenty of educational and organizational activity that will have to be carried out among an American population that happens to be largely receptive, though deluged with propaganda and deceit. And it’s not going to be easy. It’s never been easy. But much harder tasks have been accomplished with dedicated and persistent effort.
AMY GOODMAN: MIT Professor Noam Chomsky, speaking recently in Boston at a conference called “The Apartheid Paradigm in Palestine-Israel,” sponsored by the Palestinian Christian organization Sabeel.