Pressenza publishes here a phone interview with Noam Chomsky by Le Mur a Des Oreilles (recorded on September 6th)
LMaDO: What is the definition of negotiations in Israel-US language and why is the Palestinian
Authority playing along?
NC: From the US point of view, negotiations are, in effect, a way for Israel to continue its
policies of systematically taking over whatever it wants in the West Bank, maintaining the brutal
siege on Gaza, separating Gaza from the West Bank and, of course, occupying the Syrian Golan
heights, all with full US support. And the framework of negotiations, as in the past twenty years
of the Oslo experience, has simply provided a cover for this.
LMaDO: Why is the PA playing along with this and going to negotiations time after time?
NC: It’s probably partly out of desperation. You can ask whether it’s the right choice or not but
they don’t have many alternatives.
LMaDO: So in your opinion it’s pretty much to survive that they indeed to accept the framework?
NC: If they were to refuse to join the US-run negotiations, their basis for support would collapse.
They survive on donations essentially. Israel has made sure that it’s not a productive economy.
They’re a kind of what would be called in Yiddish a “Schnorrer Society”; you just borrow and live on what you can get.
Whether they have an alternative to that is not so clear, but if they were to refuse the US demand
for negotiations on completely unacceptable terms, their basis for support would erode. And they
do have support – external support – enough so that the Palestinian elite can live in a fairly decent
– often lavish – lifestyle, while the society around them collapses
LMaDO: So would the crumbling and disappearance of the PA be a bad thing after all?
NC: It depends on what would replace it. If, say, Marwan Barghouti were permitted to join the
society the way, say, Nelson Mandela was finally, that could have a revitalising efect in organising a Palestinian society that might press for more substantial demands. But remember, they don’t have a lot of choices.
In fact, go back to the beginning of the Oslo Agreements, now twenty years old. There were
negotiations under way, the Madrid negotiations, at which the Palestinian delegation was led by
Haider Abdel-Shaf, a highly respected, Left-Nationalist figure in Palestine. He was refusing to
agree to the US-Israel terms, which required crucially that settlement expansion was allowed to
continue. He refused, and therefore the negotiations stalled and got nowhere.
Meanwhile Arafat and the external Palestinians went on a side-track through Oslo, gained
control and Haider Abdel-Shaf was so opposed to this he didn’t even show up to the dramatic
and meaningless ceremony where Clinton beamed while Arafat and Rabin shook hands. He
didn’t show up because he realised it was a total sell-out. But he was principled and therefore
could get nowhere, and we’ll get nowhere unless there’s substantial support from the European
Union, the Gulf States and ultimately, from the United States.
LMaDO: In your opinion what is really at stake in what’s unravelling in Syria at the moment, and
what does it mean for the broader region?
NC: Well, Syria is descending into suicide. It’s a horror story and getting worse and worse.
There’s no bright spot on the horizon. What will probably happen, if this continues, is that Syria
will be partitioned into probably three regions; a Kurdish region – which is already forming – that
could pull out and join in some fashion the semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan, maybe with some
kind of deal with Turkey.
The rest of the country will be divided between a region dominated by the Assad regime – a
brutal horrifying regime – and another section dominated by the various militias, which range
from the extremely malicious and violent to the secular and democratic. Meanwhile, Israel is
looking by and enjoying the spectacle. If you look at the New York Times this morning there’s a
quote by an Israeli official essentially expressing their joy at watching Arabs slaughter each other.
LMaDO: Yes, I read that.
NC: For the United States, that’s fine, they don’t want an outcome either. If the US and Israel
wanted to assist the rebels – which they do not – they can do it, even without military
intervention. For example, if Israel were to mobilise forces on the Golan Heights (of course, it’s
the Syrian Golan heights, but by now the world more or less tolerates or accepts Israel’s illegal
occupation), if they would just do that, it would compel Assad to move forces to the South
which would relieve pressure against the rebels. But there’s no hint even of that. They’re also not
giving humanitarian aid to the huge number of suffering refugees, not doing all kinds of simple
things that they could do.
All of which suggests that both Israel and the United States prefer exactly what is happening
today, just as reported in that NYT story this morning. Meanwhile, Israel can celebrate, and its
status as what they call a “Villa in the Jungle”. There was an interesting article by the editor of
Haaretz, Aluf Benn, who wrote about how Israelis are going to the beach and enjoying
themselves, and congratulating themselves as being a “Villa in the jungle” while the wild beasts
out there tear each other to shreds. And, of course, Israel in this picture is doing nothing
except defending itself. They like that picture and the US doesn’t seem too dissatisfied with it
either. The rest is shadowboxing.
LMaDO: What about talk of a US strike then, do you think it’s going to happen?
NC: A bombing?
NC: Well, it’s kind of an interesting debate in the United States. The Ultra-Right, the Right wing
extremists who are kind of off the international spectrum, they’re opposing it, though not for
reasons I like. They’re opposing it because, “Why should we dedicate ourselves to solving other
people’s problems and waste our own resources?” They’re literally asking “Who’s going to defend us when we’re attacked, because we’re devoting ourselves to helping people overseas?” That’s the Ultra-Right. If you look at the ‘moderate’ Right, people like, say, David Brooks of the New York Times, considered an intellectual commentator on the right, his view is that the US effort to withdraw its forces from the region is not having a “moderating effect”. According to Brooks, when US forces are in the region, that has a moderating effect; it improves the situation, as you can see in Iraq, for example. But if we are withdrawing our forces then we are no longer able to moderate the situation and make it better.
That’s the Standard view from the intellectual right over to the mainstream, the liberal democrats
and so on. So there’s a lot of talk about, “Should we exercise our ‘Responsibility to Protect’?” Well, just take a look at the US record on ‘Responsibility to Protect’. The fact that these words can even be spoken reveals something quite extraordinary about the US – and, in fact, Western moral and intellectual culture.
This is quite apart from the fact that it’s a gross violation of international law. Obama’s latest line
is that he didn’t establish a “red line” but the world did through its conventions on chemical
warfare. Well, actually, the world does have a treaty, which Israel didn’t sign and which the US has totally neglected, for example when it supported Saddam Hussein’s really horrifying use of
chemical weapons. Today, this is used to denounce Saddam Hussein, overlooking the fact that it
was not only tolerated but basically supported by the Reagan administration. And, of course, the
convention has no enforcement mechanisms.
There’s also no such thing as ‘Responsibility to Protect’, that’s a fraud perpetrated in Western
intellectual culture. There is a notion, in fact two notions: there’s one passed by the UN General
Assembly, which does talk about ‘Responsibility to Protect’, but it offers no authorisation for any
kind of intervention except under conditions of the United Nations charter. There is another
version, which is adopted only by the West, the US and its allies, which is unilateral and says
R2P permits “military intervention by regional organisations in the region of their authority
without Security Council authorisation”.
Well, translating that into English, this means that it provides authorisation for the US and
NATO to use violence wherever they choose without Security Council authorisation. That’s
what’s called ‘Responsibility to Protect’ in Western discourse. If it weren’t so tragic it would be
LMaDO: Thank you Professor Chomsky. Great talking to you.
The original interview is here: http://lemuradesoreilles.org/2013/09/06/interview-pr-noam-chomsky/