12 May 2011 **** Front Page

Gaza and the new Middle East

By Tapani Lausti

Noam Chomsky and Ilan Pappé, Gaza in Crisis: Reflections on Israel's War Against the Palestinians. Edited by Frank Rabat. Hamish Hamilton 2010.

When Barack Obama told the world that Osama bin Laden was dead, Robert Fisk described his performance as a "petty, boastful, Hollywood speech". Fisk also wrote: "For there is one home truth which the world still has not grasped: that the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt — and, more pressing, the bloodbaths in Libya and Syria and the dangers to Lebanon — are of infinitely graver importance than blowing away a bearded man who has been elevated in the West's immature imagination into Hitlerian proportions." (If this is a US victory, does that mean its forces should go home now? (The Independent, 4 May 2011)

Indeed, Egypt was where Obama gave his famous speech which for a moment created the illusion that he is bringing something new to world politics. In this collection of articles and interviews, Noam Chomsky describes Obama's style in these words: "Barack 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." (p. 206)

After the Cairo address Obama signalled to American journalists 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." (The New York Times, quoted by Chomsky, p. 208) Of course "authoritarian" was "far too mild a label for his friend", Chomsky notes.

When an amazing democractic movement swept Mubarak away, Obama pretended that democracy was what he had always wanted in the Middle East. Chomsky comments: "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 taste." (p. 209)

The Gaza massacre in December 2008 and January 2009 took place just before Obama's inauguration. The president-to-be showed no signs of being angered by the Israeli Operation Cast Lead which much of the world watched with horror. Subsequently, all hope of Obama opening a new page in the US policies in the Israel/Palestine conflict have disappeared. It soon became clear that even under Obama's watch the huge miliitary aid to Israel, in Chomsky's words, "extends far into the future, whatever circumstances might be down the road." (p. 91)

In his review of the US involvement in the Palestine question, Ilan Pappé writes: "We can clearly see, from the very beginnings of the attempt to construct a Pax Americana in Palestine — more or less since 1969 — that what the Americans marketed as a peace plan was a formula meant to satisfy the Israeli point of view. The result was a constant and curious disregard of the Palestinian point of view and, more importantly, of what American experts had themselves earlier defined as the heart of the problem: the refugee issue. Today, because the process is in essence an American show, the refugee issue is still written out of the peace script. It is hard to think of a similar concentrated diplomatic effort in modern times that has evaded the root problem of a given conflict." (p. 49)

In his Cairo speech, Obama warned against seeing the Israel/Palestine conflict only from one side or the other: "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." Chomsky notes that Obama forgot the third party, his own government. Chomsky adds that this way of describing the conflict is understandable, if one adheres to the doctrine of the US's benign intentions: "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." (p. 207)

Operation Cast Lead in Gaza woke much of the world to reality: with US backing Israel was again allowed to cause immense suffering on a defenceless population. In this sense, Gaza was nothing new. Chomsky quotes Israel's most prominent military analyst, Zeev Schiff: "... the Israeli Army has always struck civilian populations, purposely and consciously...The Army", he said, "has never distinguished civilian [from military] targets...[but] purposely attacked civilian targets." (p. 82)

The attack against Gaza was supposed to turn the population against Hamas. Now Hamas is again in the news with the new deal with Fatah, with Israel making aggressive noises about how this harms the "peace process". Here is what Chomsky writes about Hamas (whose social policies he doesn't like): "Hamas is regularly described as 'Iranian-backed Hamas, which is dedicated to the destruction of Israel.' One will be hard put to find something like 'democratically elected Hamas, which has long been calling for a two-state settlement in accord with the international consensus' — blocked for more than thirty years by the United States and Israel." (p. 85)

Much debate has taken place lately about whether the solution to the Israel/Palestine should be a two-state or one-state formula. Chomsky likes to remind people that the two-state solution is supported by international consensus, the majority of Americans and even Hamas. In a recent interview, Chomsky had this to say: "Nobody supports-I mean, you can talk about a one-state solution, if you want. I think a better solution is a no-state solution. But this is pie in the sky. If you're really in favor of a one-state solution, which in fact I've been all my life-accept a bi-national state, not one state-you have to give a path to get from here to there. Otherwise, it's just talk. Now, the only path anyone has ever proposed. is through two states as the first stage." (Chomsky: I've been for one-state all my life, but we need two states first by Philip Weiss, Mondoweiss, 4 April 2009)

Be that as it may, the one-state solution has been gaining ground. Pappé is one of its leading thinkers. He says that the Oslo accord showed that "the discourse of two states and peace provided a shield that enabled the pragmatic Zionist governments to expand the settlement project in the West Bank and escalate the oppressive policies against the Gaza strip." (p. 129) Pappé writes that the US and Israel have been following this Zionist interpretation of the two-state solution and even the PLO had to accept this version. A further problem, according to Pappé, is that issues "such as the refugees' right of return, the colonialist nature of Zionism, and the need to accomodate the multireligious and multicultural fabric of society seem to have no room in the two-state solution." (p. 130)

Writing before the Arab spring, Pappé speculates briefly on the possibility of developments "beyond our control and influence" which might push people into new thinking about the Israel/Palestine conflict. In a recent article, Ramzy Baroud, commenting on the Hamas-Fatah deal, wrote about "a powerful paradigm shift" which not "even a fiery speech by a discredited Israeli Prime Minister could prevent". (Palestinian Unity and the New Middle East, The Palestine Chronicle, 4 May 2011) It remains to be seen where this development takes the conflict.


Visit the archive: Middle East, Noam Chomsky, Ramzy Baroud, Robert Fisk, Moshé Machover


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