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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

USA ISRAEL peace peace shalom salaam

Peace that could happen (but won't)

By Noam Chomsky Apr 29, 2010

The fact that the Israel-Palestine conflict grinds on
without resolution might appear to be rather strange. For
many of the world's conflicts, it is difficult even to
conjure up a feasible settlement. In this case, it is not
only possible, but there is near universal agreement on
its basic contours: a two-state settlement along the
internationally recognized (pre-June 1967) borders - with
"minor and mutual modifications," to adopt official
United States terminology before Washington departed from
the international community in the mid-1970s.

The basic principles have been accepted by virtually the
entire world, including the Arab states (who go on to
call for full normalization of relations), the
Organization of Islamic States (including Iran), and
relevant non-state actors (including Hamas). A settlement
along these lines was first proposed at the United

Nations Security Council in January 1976 by the major
Arab states. Israel refused to attend the session. The US
vetoed the resolution, and did so again in 1980. The
record at the General Assembly since is similar.

There was one important and revealing break in US-Israeli
rejectionism. After the failed Camp David agreements in
2000, President Bill Clinton recognized that the terms he
and Israel had proposed were unacceptable to any
Palestinians. That December, he proposed his
"parameters": imprecise, but more forthcoming. He then
stated that both sides had accepted the parameters, while
expressing reservations.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met in Taba, Egypt,
in January 2001 to resolve the differences and were
making considerable progress. In their final press
conference, they reported that, with a little more time,
they could probably have reached full agreement. Israel
called off the negotiations prematurely, however, and
official progress then terminated, though informal
discussions at a high level continued leading to the
Geneva Accord, rejected by Israel and ignored by the US.

A good deal has happened since, but a settlement along
those lines is still not out of reach - if, of course,
Washington is once again willing to accept it.
Unfortunately, there is little sign of that.

Substantial mythology has been created about the entire
record, but the basic facts are clear enough and quite
well documented.

The US and Israel have been acting in tandem to extend
and deepen the occupation. In 2005, recognizing that it
was pointless to subsidize a few thousand Israeli
settlers in Gaza, who were appropriating substantial
resources and protected by a large part of the Israeli
army, the government of Ariel Sharon decided to move them
to the much more valuable West Bank and Golan Heights.

Instead of carrying out the operation straightforwardly,
which would have been easy enough, the government decided
to stage a "national trauma", which virtually duplicated
the farce accompanying the withdrawal from the Sinai
desert after the Camp David agreements of 1978-79. In
each case, the withdrawal permitted the cry of "Never
Again", which meant in practice: we cannot abandon an
inch of the Palestinian territories that we want to take
in violation of international law. This farce played very
well in the West, though it was ridiculed by more astute
Israeli commentators, among them that country's prominent
sociologist, the late Baruch Kimmerling.

After its formal withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, Israel
never actually relinquished its total control over the
territory, often described realistically as "the world's
largest prison". In January 2006, a few months after the
withdrawal, Palestine had an election that was recognized
as free and fair by international observers.
Palestinians, however, voted "the wrong way", electing
Hamas. Instantly, the US and Israel intensified their
assault against Gazans as punishment for this misdeed.
The facts and the reasoning were not concealed; rather,
they were openly published alongside reverential
commentary on Washington's sincere dedication to
democracy. The US-backed Israeli assault against the
Gazans has only been intensified since, thanks to
violence and economic strangulation which is increasingly

Meanwhile in the West Bank, always with firm US backing,
Israel has been carrying forward longstanding programs to
take the valuable land and resources of the Palestinians
and leave them in unviable cantons, mostly out of sight.
Israeli commentators frankly refer to these goals as
"neo-colonial". Ariel Sharon, the main architect of the
settlement programs, called these cantons "Bantustans",
though the term is misleading: South Africa needed the
majority black work force, while Israel would be happy if
the Palestinians disappeared, and its policies are
directed to that end.

Blockading Gaza by land and sea

One step towards cantonization and the undermining of
hopes for Palestinian national survival is the separation
of Gaza from the West Bank. These hopes have been almost
entirely consigned to oblivion, an atrocity to which we
should not contribute by tacit consent. Israeli
journalist Amira Hass, one of the leading specialists on
Gaza, writes that

The restrictions on Palestinian movement that Israel
introduced in January 1991 reversed a process that had
been initiated in June 1967. Back then, and for the first
time since 1948, a large portion of the Palestinian
people again lived in the open territory of a single
country - to be sure, one that was occupied, but was
nevertheless whole ... The total separation of the Gaza
Strip from the West Bank is one of the greatest
achievements of Israeli politics, whose overarching
objective is to prevent a solution based on international
decisions and understandings and instead dictate an
arrangement based on Israel's military superiority ...

Since January 1991, Israel has bureaucratically and
logistically merely perfected the split and the
separation: not only between Palestinians in the occupied
territories and their brothers in Israel, but also
between the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and those
in the rest of the territories and between Gazans and
West Bankers/Jerusalemites. Jews live in this same piece
of land within a superior and separate system of
privileges, laws, services, physical infrastructure and
freedom of movement.

The leading academic specialist on Gaza, Harvard scholar
Sara Roy, adds:

Gaza is an example of a society that has been
deliberately reduced to a state of abject destitution,
its once productive population transformed into one of
aid-dependent paupers ... Gaza's subjection began long
before Israel's recent war against it [December 2008].
The Israeli occupation - now largely forgotten or denied
by the international community - has devastated Gaza's
economy and people, especially since 2006 ... After
Israel's December [2008] assault, Gaza's already
compromised conditions have become virtually unlivable.
Livelihoods, homes, and public infrastructure have been
damaged or destroyed on a scale that even the Israel
Defense Forces admitted was indefensible.

In Gaza today, there is no private sector to speak of
and no industry. Eighty percent of Gaza's agricultural
crops were destroyed and Israel continues to snipe at
farmers attempting to plant and tend fields near the
well-fenced and patrolled border. Most productive
activity has been extinguished ... Today, 96% of Gaza's
population of 1.4 million is dependent on humanitarian
aid for basic needs. According to the World Food
Programme, the Gaza Strip requires a minimum of 400
trucks of food every day just to meet the basic
nutritional needs of the population. Yet, despite a March
[22, 2009] decision by the Israeli cabinet to lift all
restrictions on foodstuffs entering Gaza, only 653 trucks
of food and other supplies were allowed entry during the
week of May 10 [that year], at best meeting 23% of
required needs. Israel now allows only 30 to 40
commercial items to enter Gaza compared to 4,000 approved
products prior to June 2006.

It cannot be stressed too often that Israel had no
credible pretext for its 2008-9 attack on Gaza, with full
US support and illegally using US weapons. Near-universal
opinion asserts the contrary, claiming that Israel was
acting in self-defense. That is utterly unsustainable, in
light of Israel's flat rejection of peaceful means that
were readily available, as Israel and its US partner in
crime knew very well. That aside, Israel's siege of Gaza
is itself an act of war, as Israel of all countries
certainly recognizes, having repeatedly justified
launching major wars on grounds of partial restrictions
on its access to the outside world, though nothing
remotely like what it has long imposed on Gaza.

One crucial element of Israel's criminal siege, little
reported, is the naval blockade. Peter Beaumont reports
from Gaza that, "on its coastal littoral, Gaza's
limitations are marked by a different fence where the
bars are Israeli gunboats with their huge wakes,
scurrying beyond the Palestinian fishing boats and
preventing them from going outside a zone imposed by the
warships". According to reports from the scene, the naval
siege has been tightened steadily since 2000. Fishing
boats have been driven steadily out of Gaza's territorial
waters and toward the shore by Israeli gunboats, often
violently without warning and with many casualties. As a
result of these naval actions, Gaza's fishing industry
has virtually collapsed; fishing is impossible near shore
because of the contamination caused by Israel's regular
attacks, including the destruction of power plants and
sewage facilities.

These Israeli naval attacks began shortly after the
discovery by the BG (British Gas) Group of what appear to
be quite sizeable natural gas fields in Gaza's
territorial waters. Industry journals report that Israel
is already appropriating these Gazan resources for its
own use, part of its commitment to shift its economy to
natural gas. The standard industry source reports:

Israel's finance ministry has given the Israel
Electric Corp (IEC) approval to purchase larger
quantities of natural gas from BG than originally agreed
upon, according to Israeli government sources [which]
said the state-owned utility would be able to negotiate
for as much as 1.5 billion cubic meters of natural gas
from the Marine field located off the Mediterranean coast
of the Palestinian controlled Gaza Strip.

Last year the Israeli government approved the
purchase of 800 million cubic meters of gas from the
field by the IEC ... Recently the Israeli government
changed its policy and decided the state-owned utility
could buy the entire quantity of gas from the Gaza Marine
field. Previously the government had said the IEC could
buy half the total amount and the remainder would be
bought by private power producers.

The pillage of what could become a major source of income
for Gaza is surely known to US authorities. It is only
reasonable to suppose that the intention to appropriate
these limited resources, either by Israel alone or
together with the collaborationist Palestinian Authority,
is the motive for preventing Gazan fishing boats from
entering Gaza's territorial waters.

There are some instructive precedents. In 1989,
Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans signed a treaty
with his Indonesian counterpart Ali Alatas granting
Australia rights to the substantial oil reserves in "the
Indonesian Province of East Timor". The
Indonesia-Australia Timor Gap Treaty, which offered not a
crumb to the people whose oil was being stolen, "is the
only legal agreement anywhere in the world that
effectively recognizes Indonesia's right to rule East
Timor", the Australian press reported.

Asked about his willingness to recognize the Indonesian
conquest and to rob the sole resource of the conquered
territory, which had been subjected to near-genocidal
slaughter by the Indonesian invader with the strong
support of Australia (along with the US, the UK, and some
others), Evans explained that "there is no binding legal
obligation not to recognize the acquisition of territory
that was acquired by force," adding that "the world is a
pretty unfair place, littered with examples of
acquisition by force".

It should, then, be unproblematic for Israel to follow
suit in Gaza.

A few years later, Evans became the leading figure in the
campaign to introduce the concept "responsibility to
protect" - known as R2P - into international law. R2P is
intended to establish an international obligation to
protect populations from grave crimes. Evans is the
author of a major book on the subject and was co-chair of
the International Commission on Intervention and State
Sovereignty, which issued what is considered the basic
document on R2P.

In an article devoted to this "idealistic effort to
establish a new humanitarian principle", the London
Economist featured Evans and his "bold but passionate
claim on behalf of a three-word expression which (in
quite large part thanks to his efforts) now belongs to
the language of diplomacy: the 'responsibility to

The article is accompanied by a picture of Evans with the
caption "Evans: a lifelong passion to protect". His hand
is pressed to his forehead in despair over the
difficulties faced by his idealistic effort. The journal
chose not to run a different photo that circulated in
Australia, depicting Evans and Alatas exuberantly
clasping their hands together as they toast the Timor Gap
Treaty that they had just signed.

Though a "protected population" under international law,
Gazans do not fall under the jurisdiction of the
"responsibility to protect", joining other unfortunates,
in accord with the maxim of Thucydides - that the strong
do as they wish, and the weak suffer as they must - which
holds with its customary precision.

Obama and the settlements

The kinds of restrictions on movement used to destroy
Gaza have long been in force in the West Bank as well,
less cruelly but with grim effects on life and the
economy. The World Bank reports that Israel has
established "a complex closure regime that restricts
Palestinian access to large areas of the West Bank ...
The Palestinian economy has remained stagnant, largely
because of

the sharp downturn in Gaza and Israel's continued
restrictions on Palestinian trade and movement in the
West Bank."

The World Bank "cited Israeli roadblocks and checkpoints
hindering trade and travel, as well as restrictions on
Palestinian building in the West Bank, where the
Western-backed government of Palestinian president
Mahmoud Abbas holds sway." Israel does permit - indeed
encourage - a privileged existence for elites in Ramallah
and sometimes elsewhere, largely relying on European
funding, a traditional feature of colonial and
neo-colonial practice.

All of this constitutes what Israeli activist Jeff Halper
calls a "matrix of control" to subdue the colonized
population. These systematic programs over more than 40
years aim to establish defense minister Moshe Dayan's
recommendation to his colleagues shortly after Israel's
1967 conquests that we must tell the Palestinians in the
territories: "We have no solution, you shall continue to
live like dogs, and whoever wishes may leave, and we will
see where this process leads."

Turning to the second bone of contention, settlements,
there is indeed a confrontation, but it is rather less
dramatic than portrayed. Washington's position was
presented most strongly in Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton's much-quoted statement rejecting "natural growth
exceptions" to the policy opposing new settlements. Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, along with President Shimon
Peres and, in fact, virtually the whole Israeli political
spectrum, insists on permitting "natural growth" within
the areas that Israel intends to annex, complaining that
the US is backing down on George W Bush's authorization
of such expansion within his "vision" of a Palestinian

Senior Netanyahu cabinet members have gone further.
Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz announced that "the
current Israeli government will not accept in any way the
freezing of legal settlement activity in Judea and
Samaria". The term "legal" in US-Israeli parlance means
"illegal, but authorized by the government of Israel with
a wink from Washington". In this usage, unauthorized
outposts are termed "illegal," though apart from the
dictates of the powerful, they are no more illegal than
the settlements granted to Israel under Bush's "vision"
and Obama's scrupulous omission.

The Obama-Clinton "hardball" formulation is not new. It
repeats the wording of the Bush administration draft of
the 2003 Road Map, which stipulates that in Phase I,
"Israel freezes all settlement activity (including
natural growth of settlements)." All sides formally
accept the Road Map (modified to drop the phrase "natural
growth") - consistently overlooking the fact that Israel,
with US support, at once added 14 "reservations" that
render it inoperable.

If Obama were at all serious about opposing settlement
expansion, he could easily proceed with concrete measures
by, for example, reducing US aid by the amount devoted to
this purpose. That would hardly be a radical or
courageous move. The first George W Bush administration
did so (reducing loan guarantees), but after the Oslo
accord in 1993, president Clinton left calculations to
the government of Israel. Unsurprisingly, there was "no
change in the expenditures flowing to the settlements,"
the Israeli press reported. "[Prime minister] Rabin will
continue not to dry out the settlements," the report
concludes. "And the Americans? They will understand."

Obama administration officials informed the press that
the Bush measures are "not under discussion", and that
pressures will be "largely symbolic". In short, Obama
understands, just as Clinton and Bush.

American visionaries

At best, settlement expansion is a side issue, rather
like the issue of "illegal outposts" - namely those that
the government of Israel has not authorized.
Concentration on these issues diverts attention from the
fact that there are no "legal outposts" and that it is
the existing settlements that are the primary problem to
be faced.

The US press reports that "a partial freeze has been in
place for several years, but settlers have found ways
around the strictures ... [C]onstruction in the
settlements has slowed but never stopped, continuing at
an annual rate of about 1,500 to 2,000 units over the
past three years. If building continues at the 2008 rate,
the 46,500 units already approved will be completed in
about 20 years ... If Israel built all the housing units
already approved in the nation's overall master plan for
settlements, it would almost double the number of settler
homes in the West Bank."

Peace Now, which monitors settlement activities,
estimates further that the two largest settlements would
double in size: Ariel and Ma'aleh Adumim, built mainly
during the Oslo years in the salients that subdivide the
West Bank into cantons.

"Natural population growth" is largely a myth, Israel's
leading diplomatic correspondent, Akiva Eldar, points
out, citing demographic studies by Colonel (res) Shaul
Arieli, deputy military secretary to former prime
minister and incumbent Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
Settlement growth consists largely of Israeli immigrants
in violation of the Geneva Conventions, assisted with
generous subsidies. Much of it is in direct violation of
formal government decisions, but carried out with the
authorization of the government, specifically Barak, who
is considered a dove in the Israeli spectrum.

Correspondent Jackson Diehl derides the "long-dormant
Palestinian fantasy," revived by President Abbas, "that
the United States will simply force Israel to make
critical concessions, whether or not its democratic
government agrees". He does not explain why refusal to
participate in Israel's illegal expansion - which, if
serious, would "force Israel to make critical
concessions" - would be improper interference in Israel's

Returning to reality, all of these discussions about
settlement expansion evade the most crucial issue about
settlements: what the US and Israel have already
established in the West Bank. The evasion tacitly
concedes that the illegal settlement programs already in
place are somehow acceptable (putting aside the Golan
Heights, annexed in violation of Security Council orders)
- though the Bush "vision", apparently accepted by Obama,
moves from tacit to explicit support for these violations
of law. What is in place already suffices to ensure that
there can be no viable Palestinian self-determination.
Hence, there is every indication that even on the
unlikely assumption that "natural growth" will be ended,
US-Israeli rejectionism will persist, blocking the
international consensus as before.

Subsequently, Netanyahu declared a 10-month suspension of
new construction, with many exemptions, and entirely
excluding Greater Jerusalem, where expropriation in Arab
areas and construction for Jewish settlers continues at a
rapid pace. Hillary Clinton praised these "unprecedented"
concessions on (illegal) construction, eliciting anger
and ridicule in much of the world.

It might be different if a legitimate "land swap" were
under consideration, a solution approached at Taba and
spelled out more fully in the Geneva Accord reached in
informal high-level Israel-Palestine negotiations. The
accord was presented in Geneva in October 2003, welcomed
by much of the world, rejected by Israel, and ignored by
the United States.

Washington's 'evenhandedness'

Obama's June 4, 2009, Cairo address to the Muslim world
kept pretty much to his well-honed "blank slate" style -
with little of substance, but presented in a personable
manner that allows listeners to write on the slate what
they want to hear. CNN captured its spirit in headlining
a report "Obama Looks to Reach the Soul of the Muslim
World." Obama had announced the goals of his address in
an interview with New York Times columnist Thomas
Friedman. "'We have a joke around the White House,' the
president said. 'We're just going to keep on telling the
truth until it stops working and nowhere is truth-telling
more important than the Middle East." The White House
commitment is most welcome, but it is useful to see how
it translates into practice.

Obama admonished his audience that it is easy to "point
fingers ... but if we see this conflict only from one
side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth:
the only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides
to be met through two states, where Israelis and
Palestinians each live in peace and security".

Turning from Obama-Friedman Truth to truth, there is a
third side, with a decisive role throughout: the US. But
Obama omitted that participant in the conflict. The
omission is understood to be normal and appropriate,
hence unmentioned: Friedman's column is headlined "Obama
Speech Aimed at Both Arabs and Israelis." The front-page
Wall Street Journal report on Obama's speech appears
under the heading "Obama Chides Israel, Arabs in His
Overture to Muslims." Other reports are the same.

The convention is understandable on the doctrinal
principle that though the US government sometimes makes
mistakes, its intentions are by definition benign, even
noble. In the world of attractive imagery, Washington has
always sought desperately to be an honest broker,
yearning to advance peace and justice. The doctrine
trumps truth, of which there is little hint in the speech
or the mainstream coverage of it.

Obama once again echoed Bush's "vision" of two states,
without saying what he meant by the phrase "Palestinian
state". His intentions were clarified not only by the
crucial omissions already discussed, but also by his one
explicit criticism of Israel: "The United States does not
accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.
This construction violates previous agreements and
undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these
settlements to stop." That is, Israel should live up to
Phase I of the 2003 Road Map, rejected at once by Israel
with tacit US support, as noted - though the truth is
that Obama has ruled out even steps of the first Bush
administration variety to withdraw from participation in
these crimes.

The operative words are "legitimacy" and "continued". By
omission, Obama indicates that he accepts Bush's vision:
the vast existing settlement and infrastructure projects
are "legitimate", thus ensuring that the phrase
"Palestinian state" means "fried chicken".

Always even-handed, Obama also had an admonition for the
Arab states: they "must recognize that the Arab Peace
Initiative was an important beginning, but not the end of
their responsibilities". Plainly, however, it cannot be a
meaningful "beginning" if Obama continues to reject its
core principles: implementation of the international
consensus. To do so, however, is evidently not
Washington's "responsibility" in Obama's vision; no
explanation given, no notice taken.

On democracy, Obama said that "we would not presume to
pick the outcome of a peaceful election" - as in January
2006, when Washington picked the outcome with a
vengeance, turning at once to severe punishment of the
Palestinians because it did not like the outcome of a
peaceful election, all with Obama's apparent approval
judging by his words before, and actions since, taking

Obama politely refrained from comment about his host,
President Hosni Mubarak, one of the most brutal dictators
in the region, though he has had some illuminating words
about him. As he was about to board a plane to Saudi
Arabia and Egypt, the two "moderate" Arab states, "Mr
Obama signaled that while he would mention American
concerns about human rights in Egypt, he would not
challenge Mr Mubarak too sharply, because he is a 'force
for stability and good' in the Middle East ... Mr Obama
said he did not regard Mr Mubarak as an authoritarian
leader. 'No, I tend not to use labels for folks,' Mr
Obama said. The president noted that there had been
criticism 'of the manner in which politics operates in
Egypt,' but he also said that Mr Mubarak had been 'a
stalwart ally, in many respects, to the United States.'"

When a politician uses the word "folks", we should brace
ourselves for the deceit, or worse, that is coming.
Outside of this context, there are "people", or often
"villains", and using labels for them is highly
meritorious. Obama is right, however, not to have used
the word "authoritarian", which is far too mild a label
for his friend.

Just as in the past, support for democracy, and for human
rights as well, keeps to the pattern that scholarship has
repeatedly discovered, correlating closely with strategic
and economic objectives. There should be little
difficulty in understanding why those whose eyes are not
closed tight shut by rigid doctrine dismiss Obama's
yearning for human rights and democracy as a joke in bad

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor emeritus in the
Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is the author
of numerous books, including the New York Times
bestsellers Hegemony or Survival and Failed States. His
newest book, Hopes and Prospects, is out this week from
Haymarket Books.

(Note: All material in this piece is sourced and
footnoted in Noam Chomsky's new book Hopes and

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