Chomsky: Prospects for Peace in the Middle East

December 12, 2001 at 12:54 pm
Contributed by:

Hi all,

Here’s another excellent Chomsky article I highly recommend reading. It’s another long one, good to print out and consume a little at a time–I use them as bathroom reading.

Of course, I encourage your feedback.

–C

Prospects for
Peace in the Middle

East

Noam Chomsky

 

Presented at the
First Annual Maryse Mikhail Lecture

“No peace
without justice; no justice without truth”

The University of
Toledo, March 4, 2001

 


Thank you all. I’m really delighted to

be
able to have the privilege of opening the Maryse Mikhail
lecture series. I wish I could open it on a celebratory note, but that
wouldn’t be realistic. Perhaps more realistic is to adhere to the famous
dictum that we should strive for pessimism of the intellect but optimism of
the will.


With regard to the topic, before getting into it, let me just make a few
preliminary comments. The first is just to plagiarize the cover of the
announcement. Peace is preferable to war.  But it’s not an absolute value. And
so we always ask, “what kind of peace?” If Hitler had conquered the world
there would be peace but not the kind we would like to see.


Second comment is that there are many dimensions to this particular topic:
Prospects for Peace in the Middle East. There are several areas of ongoing
serious violence — three in particular, which I’ll say something about. One is
Israel and Palestine. Second is Iraq – there, it’s both sanctions and bombing.
Third is Turkey and the Kurds. That’s one of the most severe human rights
atrocities of the 1990s, continuing in fact. And there are plenty of other
issues. There is the question of the place of Iran within the region. And
everywhere you look, virtually without exception, there is severe repression,
human rights abuses, torture, and other horrors. So the question of peace in
the Middle East has many dimensions.


Third and last comment is that the US role is significant throughout these
cases and very often decisive—and in fact decisive in the four specific cases
that I mentioned. Furthermore, however important a factor it might be, it
should be central to our own concerns for perfectly obvious reasons—it’s the
one factor that we can directly influence. The others we may deplore, but we
can’t do much about them. That’s a truism, or ought to be a truism. But it’s
important to emphasize it, because it is almost universally rejected.  The
prevailing doctrine is that we should focus laser-like on the crimes of others
and lament them, and we should ignore or deny our own. Or more accurately, we
should structure the way we view things so as to dismiss the possibility of
looking into the mirror—shape discourse so the question of our own
responsibilities can’t even arise, or more accurately, can arise only in one
connection—namely the connection of how we should react to the crimes of
others. So for example by now there’s a huge literature—in the last couple of
years it’s been a torrent—both popular and scholarly about what are called the
“dilemmas of humanitarian intervention” when others are guilty of crimes, as
they often are. But you’ll find scarcely a word on another question, a much
more important topic—the dilemmas of withdrawal of participation in major
atrocities. In fact, there are no dilemmas, but that’s the window that has to
be kept tightly shuttered or else some rather unpleasant visions will appear
before us that we’re not supposed to look at.


Exactly how the evasion of the central themes is accomplished is an
interesting and important topic about which there’s a lot to say, but
reluctantly I’m going to put it aside and keep to the special cases that
concern us here, merely leaving it a sort of background warning. I should add
that this shameful stance is by no means a novelty — in fact it’s kind of a
cultural universal. I think you’d have to search very hard for a case in
history, or elsewhere in the present, where the same theme is not dominant.
It’s not an attractive feature of Homo sapiens, but a very real one.


Let’s take the cases at hand.  Let’s begin with Iraq. The only serious
question about the sanctions is whether they’re simply terrible crimes or
whether they are literally genocidal, as charged by those who have the most
intimate acquaintance with the situation, in particular the coordinator of the
United Nations programs, Denis Halliday, a highly respected UN official who
resigned under protest because he was being compelled to carry out what he
called “genocidal acts,” as did his successor Hans von Sponeck. It’s agreed on
all sides that the effect of the sanctions has been to strengthen Saddam
Hussein and to devastate the population—and yet we must continue—with that
recognition.  There is no serious disagreement that these are the
consequences.


There are justifications offered, and they merit careful attention — they tell
us a good deal about ourselves, I think. The simplest line of argument to
justify the sanctions was presented by the Secretary of State, Madeleine
Albright.  You’ll recall, I’m sure, that she was asked on national television
a couple years ago about how she felt about the fact that she had killed half
a million Iraqi children.  She didn’t deny the factual allegation.  She agreed
that it was, as she put it, “a high price,” but said, “we think it’s worth
it”. That was the end of the discussion. That’s the important fact, and it’s
very enlightening to see the reaction. The comment is hers; the reaction is
ours. Looking at the reaction we learn about ourselves.

A
second justification that is given commonly is that it’s really Saddam
Hussein’s fault. The logic is intriguing.  So, let’s suppose the claim is
true:  it’s Saddam Hussein’s fault.  The conclusion that’s drawn is that
therefore we have to assist him in devastating the civilian population and
strengthening his own rule. Notice that follows logically if you say it’s his
fault but that we have to go on helping.


The third argument that’s given, which at least has the merit of truth, is
that Saddam Hussein is a monster. In fact if you listen to Tony Blair, Bill
Clinton, Madeleine Albright, or almost anyone who comments on this, they
justify the sanctions repeatedly by saying that this man is such a monster
that we just can’t let him survive. He’s even committed the ultimate
atrocity—namely, using weapons of mass destruction against his own people in
his horrendous gassing of the Kurds. All of which is true, but there are three
missing words.  True, he committed the ultimate atrocity—using poison gas and
chemical warfare against his own population— WITH OUR SUPPORT.  Our support in
fact continued, as he remained a favored friend and trading partner and ally—
quite independently of these atrocities which evidently didn’t matter to us,
as evidenced by our reaction; continued and in fact increased. An interesting
experiment which you might try is to see if you can find a place anywhere
within mainstream discussion where the three missing words are added. I’ll
leave it as an experiment for the reader. And it’s an illuminating one. I can
tell you the answer right away — you’re not going to find it.  And that tells
us something about ourselves too, and also about the argument.


The same incidentally is true of his weapons of mass destruction. It’s
commonly claimed that we can’t allow him to survive because of the danger of
the weapons of mass destruction that he’s probably creating — which is all
correct except it was also correct during the time when we were providing him
consciously with the means to develop those weapons of mass destruction at a
time when he was a far greater threat than he is today. So that raises some
questions about that argument.


The fourth argument is that Saddam Hussein is a threat to the countries of the
region. And there is no doubt that he is a serious threat to anyone within his
reach, exactly as he was when he was committing his worst crimes with US
support and participation. But the fact is that his reach now is far less than
it was before, and the attitude of the countries in the region towards, for
example, the US bombing the other day – that reveals rather clearly what they
think of this argument.


Well that as far as I know exhausts the arguments we’ve been given. But those
arguments entail that we must continue to torture the population and
strengthen Saddam Hussein by imposing very harsh sanctions. All of that as far
as I can see leaves an honest citizen with two tasks—one is to do something
about it—remember that it is us, so we can. The second is intellectual—try to
understand what the actual motives are, since they can’t possibly be the ones
that are put forth.  Makes no sense.

On
the side, I don’t want to downplay the threat. There are very serious reasons
to be concerned about the threat of Iraq and Saddam Hussein. There were even
greater reasons during the period when we were helping build up the threat—but
that doesn’t change the fact that there are reasons today.  And more
generally, there are reasons to be concerned about the threat of extreme
violence and devastation in the region. And that’s not just my opinion; it’s
underscored for example by General Lee Butler, who was the head of the
Strategic Command under Clinton. That’s the highest military agency that’s
concerned with nuclear strategy and use of nuclear weapons. General Butler
said

that:

 

“It is dangerous in the
extreme that in the cauldron of animosities that we call the Middle East, one
nation has armed itself, ostensibly, with stockpiles of nuclear weapons,
perhaps numbering in the hundreds,

and that inspires other nations to do so.”



 

Or
to develop other weapons of mass destruction as a deterrent—which has an
obvious threat of a very ominous outcome.  And there’s little doubt that
General Butler is correct in that. Actually the threat becomes even more
ominous when we add something else — that the superpower patron of that nation
demands that it itself be regarded as “irrational and vindictive” and ready to
resort to extreme violence if provoked—including the first use of nuclear
weapons against non-nuclear states.  I’m citing high level planning documents
of the Clinton administration, plans that were then implemented by
presidential directives. All this is on the public record if anybody wants to
learn something about ourselves and why much of the world is terrified of us.

In
fact it is understood in the world—and strategic analysts here understand it
too, and write about it— that others are naturally impelled to respond with
weapons of mass destruction of their own as a deterrent. These are prospects
that are recognized by US intelligence and by US strategic analysts—and are
pretty obvious.  And they also recognize pretty clearly, it’s not hidden, that
the threat to human survival is enhanced by programs that are now underway.
For example, the development of the National Missile Defense which almost
every country in the world regards as a First Strike weapon. Quite
realistically so.  Therefore potential adversarie
s
will presumably respond by developing a deterrent to it of one sort or
another. That’s taken for granted pretty much by US intelligence and strategic
analysts and raises questions about why we insist on pursuing a policy which
raises the threat of destroying ourselves as well as others. Another question
one might ask.


Going back to the Middle East, it poses perhaps the primary danger in this
regard—not the only one, but it certainly ranks high at least.

It
is worth mentioning that in 1990 and 91, on the eve of the Gulf War, these
questions arose. They were raised by Iraq. Several days before the Gulf
War began, Iraq offered — once again; they’d apparently made several such
offers— offered to withdraw from Kuwait but in the context of a settlement of
regional strategic issues, including the banning of weapons of mass
destruction. That position was recognized as “serious” and “negotiable” by
State Department Middle East experts. Independently of this, that happened to
be the position of about two-thirds of the American public according to the
final polls that were taken before the war—a couple of days before.

We
do not know whether these Iraqi proposals were indeed serious and negotiable
as State Department officials concluded. The reason we don’t know is that they
were rejected out of hand by the United States. They were suppressed to nearly
a hundred percent efficiency by the media. There were a few leaks here and
there. And they’ve been effectively removed from history. So therefore we
don’t know. However, the issues remain very much alive—very much as General
Butler said—and they remain alive even though they had been removed from the
agenda of policy, and from public discussion. Again that is a choice that we
can make. We’re not forced to agree to have them removed.


Well, let me turn to the second issue—Turkey and the Kurds. The Kurds have
been miserably oppressed throughout the whole history of the modern Turkish
state but things changed in 1984.  In 1984, the Turkish government launched a
major war in the Southeast against the Kurdish population. And that continued.
In fact it’s still continuing.

If
we look at US military aid to Turkey—which is usually a pretty good index of
policy—Turkey was of course a strategic ally so it always had a fairly high
level of military aid. But the aid shot up in 1984, at the time that the
counterinsurgency war began.  This had nothing to do with Cold War,
transparently. It was because of the counterinsurgency war. The aid remain
high, peaking through the 1990s as the atrocities increased. The peak year was
1997. In fact in the single year 1997, US military aid to Turkey was greater
than in the entire period of 1950 to 1983 when there were allegedly Cold War
issues. The end result was pretty awesome: tens of thousands of people killed,
two to three million refugees, massive ethnic cleansing with some 3500
villages destroyed—about seven times Kosovo under NATO bombing, and there’s
nobody bombing in this case, except for the Turkish air forces using planes
that Clinton sent to them with the certain knowledge that that’s how they
would be used.


The United States was providing about 80 percent of Turkey’s arms—and that
means heavy arms. Since you and I are not stopping it—and we’re the only ones
who can—the Clinton administration was free to send jet planes, tanks, napalm,
and so on, which were used to carry out some the worst atrocities of the
1990s. And they continue. Regularly there are further operations carried out
both in southeastern Turkey and also across the border in Northern Iraq,
attacking Kurds there. There the attacks, with plenty of atrocities, are
taking place in what are called “no-fly zones” in which the Kurds are
protected by the United States from the temporarily wrong oppressor. The
operations in northeast Iraq are similar in character to Israel’s operations
in Lebanon over the 22 years when it was occupying Southern Lebanon in
violation of Security Council resolution but with the authorization of the
United States, so therefore it was okay. During that period they killed—nobody
really knows because nobody counts victims of the United States and its
friends—but it’s roughly on the order of 45,000 it would seem over those years
judging by Lebanese sources. In any event, non-trivial. And the operations in
northern Iraq are kind of similar. That’s the no-fly zone.


Without going into further details—how is all this dealt with in the United
States? Very simple. Silence. You can check and see—I urge you to do so.
Occasionally, it’s brought up by disagreeable people. And when it is brought
up and can’t be ignored, there is a consistent reaction: self-declared
advocates of human rights deplore what they call “our failure to protect the
Kurds,” and so on.  Actually we are “failing to protect the Kurds” roughly in
the way that the Russians are “failing to protect the people of Chechnya.”

Or
it’s claimed that the US government was unaware of what was happening. So when
Clinton was sending a huge flow of arms to Turkey—in fact Turkey became the
leading recipient of US military aid in the world (I’ll qualify that in a
minute)
during this period —and his advisers didn’t realize that the arms were going to be used. When they
were supplying 80 percent of the arms to Turkey—increasing as the war
increased—it just never occurred to them that these were really going to be
used for the war that was then going on and that coincided very closely with
the arms flow.  The disagreeable folk who bring the matter up and suggested
otherwise are lacking in “nuance,” sophisticated commentators observe.

Or
sometimes it’s argued that the US was unable to find out what was going
on—actually, it’s kind of a remote area—who knows what’s happening in
southeastern Turkey?  An area that happens to be littered with US air bases,
where the US has nuclear-armed planes and that is under extremely tight
surveillance. But how could we know what’s going on there? And of course
nobody can read the human rights reports, which are constantly describing in
detail what is going on.  Or many other studies. But that’s the reaction.

I
mentioned that during this period, Turkey became the leading US arms recipient
in the world. That’s not quite accurate—the leading recipients are in a
separate category.  They are Israel and Egypt. They are always the leading
recipients. But aside from them, Turkey reached first place during the period
of the counterinsurgency war. For a while it was displaced by El Salvador,
which was then in the process of slaughtering its own population and moved
into the first place. But as they succeeded in that, Turkey took over and
became first.


That continued until 1999. In 1999, Turkey was replaced by Colombia. Colombia
has the worst human rights record in the hemisphere, and for the last ten
years, when it’s had the worst human rights record, it received the bulk of
the US military aid and training — about half. That’s a correlation the works
pretty closely incidentally. Why did Colombia replace Turkey in 1999?  Well,
we’re not supposed to notice that by 1999 Turkey had succeeded in repressing
internal resistance and Colombia hadn’t yet succeeded—and just by accident
that happened to be the year in which the huge flow of arms to Colombia
increased and displaced Turkey in first place, aside from the two perennials.


All of this is particularly remarkable because of something that you all know:
we been inundated in the last two or three years by a flood of self
adulation—unprecedented in history to my knowledge—about how we are so
magnificent that for the first time in history we are willing to pursue
“principles and values” in defense of human rights and especially in crucial
cases, to borrow President Clinton’s words, we cannot tolerate violations of
human rights so near the borders of NATO, and therefore we have to rise to new
heights of magnificence to combat them. Again there are a couple of missing
words.  Apparently we can’t tolerate human rights violations near the borders
of NATO, but we can not only tolerate them but in fact encourage and
participate in them WITHIN NATO’s borders. Try to find those missing words—you
won’t and it will tell you something again. Well, that’s the second case.


Let me turn to the third case—Israel-Palestine.  Let me start with right
today.  I’ll go back a little bit to the background but just take a look now.
So let’s take a look at the current fighting, what’s called the Al-Aqsa
Intifada, and look closely at the US reactions. That’s the part the concerns
me most and the part that should concern us most.


There is an official US position — it was reiterated just yesterday by US
ambassador Martin Indyk. He said we do not believe in rewarding violence. That
was a stern admonition to the Palestinians yesterday, and there are many
others like it. And it’s easy to assess the validity of that claim. So let’s
assess it just in the obvious way. The Al-Aqsa Intifada, the violence that
Indyk deplores, began on September 29th.  That’s the day after Ariel Sharon,
now prime minister, went to the Haram Al-Sharif, the Temple Mount, with about
a thousand soldiers. That passed more or less without incident, surprisingly.
But the next day, which was Friday, there was a huge army presence as people
left the mosque after prayers; there was some stone throwing and immediate
shooting by the Israeli army and Border Patrol, which left about a half a
dozen Palestinians killed and over a hundred wounded. That’s September 29th.
On October 1st, Israeli military helicopters, or to be precise US military
helicopters with Israeli pilots, sharply escalated the violence, killing two
Palestinians in Gaza. On October 2nd, military helicopters killed 10 people in
Gaza, wounded 35. On October 3rd, helicopters were attacking apartment
complexes and other civilian targets. And so it continued. By early November,
the helicopters were being used for targeted political assassinations.


And how did the US react?  Well, the US reaction is interesting—and that’s us
remember; we can control this if we choose.  In mid September, before the
fighting started, the US sent a new shipment of advanced attack helicopters to
Israel. Also in mid September, there were joint exercises of the US Marines
and elite units of the Israeli army, the IDF—training exercises for
re-conquest of the occupied territories. The role of the Marines was to
provide new advanced equipment that Israel didn’t have and training in usage
of it and techniques. That’s mid September.

On
October 3rd — that is the day that the press was reporting that military
helicopters were attacking apartment complexes and killing dozens of people —
on October 3rd, the Israeli press announced and then the international press
repeated that the US and Israel had reached a deal — the biggest deal in a
decade — for dispatch of US military helicopters to Israel.  The next day
leading military journals reported that this included new advanced attack
helicopters and parts for the former helicopters, which would increase the
capacity to attack civilian targets. Incidentally the Israeli defense ministry
announced that they cannot produce helicopters. They don’t have the capacity
so they have to get them from the United States. On October 19th, Amnesty
International issued a report calling on the United States not to send
military helicopters to Israel under these circumstances—one of a series of
Amnesty International reports.


Just moving to the present, on February 19th, the Defense Department here —
the Pentagon — announced that Israel and the United States had just made
another deal, a half billion-dollar deal, for advanced Apache attack
helicopters. That brings us about to the present.  I’ve just sampled of
course.


Now let’s look at how this is dealt with. Well, actually I asked a friend to
do a database analysis on this one.  It turns out all of this did not pass
unnoticed in the Free Press.  There was a mention in an opinion piece in a
newspaper in Raleigh North Carolina. To date, that is the total coverage of
what I have just described.  That’s pretty impressive, I think.


Now it’s not that it’s unknown. Of course it’s known. There’s no news office
in the country that isn’t perfectly well aware of it. Anyone who can read
Amnesty International reports knows about it. In fact anybody who wants to
knows about it.  Irrelevantly, it has been brought specifically to the
attention of editors of at least one major US daily, reputed to be the most
liberal one.  And there is surely not the slightest doubt in any editorial or
news office that it is highly newsworthy.  But those who control information
evidently don’t want to know or to let their readers know.  And they have good
reasons not to.  To provide the population with information about what is
being done in their name would open windows that are better left shuttered if
you want to carry out effective domestic indoctrination.  It simply wouldn’t
do to publish these reports alongside of the occasional mention of US
helicopters attacking civilian targets or carrying out targeted political
assassination, and reports of stern US admonitions to all sides to refrain
from violence.


That is an illustration, one of many, of how we live up to the principle that
we do not believe in rewarding violence. And again it leaves honest citizens
with two tasks:  the important one—do something about it.  And the second one,
try to find out why the policies are being pursued.


Well, on that matter, the fundamental reasons are not really controversial, I
think. It’s long been understood that the Gulf region has the major energy
resources in the world—it’s an incomparable strategic resource and a source of
immense wealth, and whoever controls that region not only has access to
enormous wealth but also a very powerful influence in world affairs because
control of energy resources is an extremely powerful lever in world affairs.
These are incomparable, way beyond anywhere else, as far as is known — at
least easily accessible resources.  Furthermore that crucial importance of
Middle East energy resources is expected to continue and in fact to increase—
maybe sharply increase—in coming years.


The importance of control over oil—that was understood by about the time of
the First World War. At that time, Britain was the major world power and
controlled a lot of that region. Britain however did not have the military
strength after the First World War to control the region by direct military
occupation. It had declined to the point where it couldn’t do that. So it
turned to other means. One was the use of air power, and also poison gas,
considered the ultimate atrocity at that time.  The most enthusiastic
supporter was Winston Churchill, who called for the use of poison gas against
Kurds and Afghans.


The British use of poison gas had been suppressed for many years. Records were
released, including Churchill’s enthusiasm, around 1980. Every time I went to
England and gave a talk on any topic I made sure to bring that up, and
discovered that everybody’s ears were closed.  By the time of the Gulf War
information was beginning to seep through, but the details on how the military
followed Churchill’s directives were still sealed.  In 1992 the British
government under popular pressure instituted an “open government” policy —
meaning that in a free and democratic society people should have access to
information about their own government. The first act taken under the open
information policy was to remove from the Public Records office all documents
having to do with England’s use of poison gas against the Kurds and Afghans
and Churchill’s role in it. So that’s one that we’re not going to know a lot
about thanks to the dedication to freedom and democracy for which we praise
ourselves effusively.


Alongside of the military component of the control there were also political
arrangements, which in some fashion persist. The British Colonial Office
during the First World War proposed and then implemented a plan to construct
what they called an “Arab facade”:
weak pliable states which would administer the local populations, under
ultimate British control in case things got out of hand. France at that time
was also involved—it was a reasonably major power—and the United States though
not a leading power in world affairs was powerful enough to take a piece of
the action there.  The three entered into the Red Line agreement in 1928 which
parceled out Middle East oil reserves among the three powers. Notably absent
were the people of the region. But they were controlled by the facade,
with the muscle in the background. That was the basic arrangement.

By the time of the Second World War the US
had become the
overwhelmingly dominant

world power and was plainly going to take over Middle East energy resources

no question about that. France was removed unceremoniously. And Britain
reluctantly came to accept its role as a “junior partner,” in the rueful words
of a Foreign Office official, its role gradually decreasing over time by
normal power relations. By now Britain has become sort of like a US attack dog

an important but secondary role in world affairs.  
  I should
add that the United States controlled most of the oil of the western
hemisphere.  North America remained the largest producer for about another 25
years.  It controlled western hemisphere oil particularly effectively after
the Wilson administration had kicked the British out of Venezuela, which is
the major producer.


 


The US took over the British framework — the basic principle remained. The
basic principle is that the West (that means primarily the United States) must
control what happens there.  Furthermore the wealth of the region must flow to
the West. That means to the US and Britain primarily: their energy
corporations, investors, the US treasury which has been heavily dependent on
recycled petrodollars, exporters, construction firms, and so on. That’s the
essential point.  The profits have to flow to the West and the power has to
remain in the West, primarily Washington, insofar as possible. That’s the
basic principle.


That raises all sorts of problems. One problem is that the people of the
region are backward and uneducated and have never been able to comprehend the
logic of these arrangements or their essential justice. They can’t seem to get
it through their heads somehow that the wealth of the region should flow to
the West, not to poor and suffering people right there.  And it continually
takes force to make them understand these simple and obvious principles—a
constant problem with backward people.

A
conservative nationalist government tried to extricate Iran from the system in
1953. That was quickly reversed with a military coup sponsored by the US and
Britain which restored the Shah. In the course of that the US edged Britain
largely out of control over Iran.


Right after that, Nasser became an influential figure and was soon considered
a major threat. He was a symbol of independent nationalism — he didn’t have
oil — but he was a symbol of independent nationalism and that’s the threat. He
was considered what’s called a “virus” that might “infect others” — the virus
of independent nationalism. That’s conventional terminology and a fundamental
feature of international planning—not just there.

At
that point the United States was developing a doctrine that modified and
extended the British system of an Arab facade
with British force behind it — namely it was establishing a cordon of
peripheral states which would be what the Nixon administration later called
“local cops on the beat.” Police headquarters are in Washington, but you have
local cops on the beat. The two main ones at that time were Turkey, a big
military force, and Iran under the Shah.

By
1958, the CIA advised, I’m quoting, that “a logical corollary” of opposition
to Arab nationalism “would be to support Israel as the only reliable
pro-Western power left in the Middle East.” According to this reasoning,
Israel could become a major base for US power in the region. Now that was
proposed but not yet implemented. It was implemented after 1967. In 1967,
Israel performed a major service to the United States — namely, it destroyed
Nasser, destroyed the virus. And also smashed up the Arab armies and left US
power in the ascendance. And at this point essentially a tripartite alliance
was established — Israel, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia technically was
at war with Iran and Israel but that makes no difference. Saudi Arabia has the
oil — Iran and Israel (and Turkey is taken for granted) were the military
force; that’s Iran under the Shah, remember. Pakistan was part of the system
too at that time.


That was very clearly recognized—both by US intelligence specialists, who
wrote about it, and also by the leading figures in planning. So for example
Henry Jackson who was the Senate’s major specialist on the Middle East and oil
— he pointed out that Israel, Iran, and Saudi Arabia “inhibit and contain
those irresponsible and radical elements in certain Arab states, who, were
they free to do so, would pose a grave threat indeed to our principal sources
of petroleum in the Middle East” (meaning, as he knew, primarily profit flow
and a lever of world control).  Saudi Arabia does it just by funding, and by
holding the greatest petroleum reserves by a good measure. Iran and Israel,
with the help of Turkey and Pakistan, provided regional force. They’re only
the local “cops on the beat,” remember. So if something really goes wrong, you
call in the big guys—the United States and Britain.


Well that’s the picture. In 1979, a problem occurred—one of the pillars
collapsed: Iran fell under the grip of independent nationalism. The Carter
administration immediately tried to sponsor a military coup to restore the
Shah. Carter sent a NATO general, but that didn’t work.   He couldn’t gain the
support of US allies in the Iranian military.


Immediately afterward, Israel and Saudi Arabia, the remaining pillars, joined
the US in an effort to bring about a coup that would restore the old arrangement
by
the usual means: sending arms.  The facts and the purpose
were exposed at once, but quickly suppressed.  Bits and pieces reached the
public later when it became impossible to suppress.  It was then called an
“arms for hostage” deal. That has a nice humanitarian sound, even if it was a
“mistake”: the Reaganites were seeking a way to release US hostages taken in
Lebanon. What was actually happening was that the US was sending arms to Iran
— meaning to specific military groupings in Iran — via Israel, which had close
connections with the Iranian military, funded by Saudi Arabia. It couldn’t
have been an arms for hostage deal for a rather simple reason: there weren’t
any hostages. The first hostages in Lebanon were taken later (and they
happened to be Iranian).  In fact it was just normal operating procedure.

If
any you decide to go into the diplomatic service and you want to know how to
overthrow a civilian government, there’s a straightforward answer.  I suppose
it must be taught in courses somewhere, though perhaps it’s so obvious that no
lessons are necessary.  If you want to overthrow a civilian government, well,
who’s going to overthrow it?  Elements of the military. So you establish
connections with elements of the military, you fund them, you train them, you
establish good relations, you convince them to overthrow the government, and
then you’ve got it made. It’s very reasonable and it usually works. Indonesia
and Chile were two recent cases where it had worked very well – it didn’t work
very well for the hundreds of thousands massacred in Indonesia and the
tortured corpses in Chile, but it worked pretty well for the people who
count.  And it was entirely reasonable to try the same policy in Iran.

It
was in fact quite public. It’s not that it was secret. So high Israeli
officials, including the Israeli ambassador to the United States Moshe Arens,
reported what was happening to the US media; he was quickly silenced.  In an
important and prominently presented BBC documentary, Uri Lubrani, who had been
de facto Israeli ambassador to Iran under the Shah, said that if


we
can find someone who’s willing to shoot down thousands of
people in the streets, we can probably manage to restore the arrangement with
the Shah.  Former high Israeli and US intelligence officials reacted by saying
that they didn’t know for sure, but it seemed the natural way to proceed. 
Apparently, that’s what the arms were for — there were, again no hostages.  It
was all public, except for the population in the US.  The plans didn’t work. 
The Iranian government discovered the plot, found the US-Israeli contacts in
the military, and executed them. Then came another phase, that’s the Oliver
North phase that you have heard about, but there’s good reason to suppose that
that’s just a continuation of the first phase.  If so, and so it seems, then
it is all quite reasonable and conventional, along with the virtual
suppression of the crucial first phase, in which there is no possible “arms
for hostage” justification.

At
the same time, the United States was backing an Iraqi invasion of Iran — that
is, supporting its friend Saddam Hussein in an Iraqi invasion of Iran, again
for the same purpose—try to reverse the disaster of an independent, not Arab
in this case, but independent oil producing state. Saddam’s Iraq was also too
independent for comfort, but Iran had been one of the firmest pillars of US
policy in the region.  Independently of that, Iran had committed the grave and
unpardonable crime of reversing the US-backed military coup that had blocked
the attempt to move towards independence 25 years before.  That kind of
disobedience cannot be tolerated, or “credibility” will be threatened.


Well that brings us up to the mid 80s. US support for the Iraqi invasion was
taken extremely seriously. It was not just the support for Saddam Hussein
throughout all the major atrocities, but much beyond that. So the United
States began sending military vessels to patrol the Gulf to ensure that Iran
would not be able to block Iraqi oil shipping. And that turned out to be
a
very
serious matter. The depth of US commitment to Saddam
Hussein is illustrated by the fact that Iraq is the only country apart from
Israel that has been granted the right to attack an American ship and kill in
this case 37 sailors, with complete impunity. Not a lot of countries are
allowed to get away with that. Israel did so in 1967 and Iraq in 1987, but
there’s no other case. That’s an indication of the depth of commitment.

It
went beyond that.  The next year, in 1988, a US destroyer, the US Vincennes,
shot down an Iranian commercial airliner, Iran Air 654, killing 290 people, in
Iranian airspace.  In fact the destroyer was in Iranian territorial waters;
there’s no serious dispute about the basic facts. Iran took that extremely
seriously. They concluded the US was willing to go to extreme lengths to
ensure that Saddam Hussein wins, and at that point they capitulated. It wasn’t
a minor event for them. It’s a minor event here because that’s just our
atrocity, and by definition the powerful have no moral responsibilities and
cannot commit crimes.


It’s likely — let me emphasize that here I’m speculating—it’s reasonable to
assume that Pan Am 103 was blown up in retaliation.  The immediate assumption
of Western intelligence was that this is Iranian retaliation for the shooting
down of Iran Air 654, and judging by what’s happened since I think that
remains a plausible speculation. The evidence that Libya was responsible
remains very shaky. The strange judicial proceedings in the Hague, after the
US and Britain finally agreed to allow the case to proceed (Libya had offered
to permit it in a neutral venue years earlier), have only increased doubts
among those who have followed the matter closely. But that’s not going to be
allowed to be discussed—we can be pretty sure that.  It has, for example,
apparently been deemed necessary to suppress entirely the “Report on the
Lockerbie Trial in the Netherlands” by the international observer nominated by
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, pursuant to Security Council Resolution 1192
(1998).  His report, released a month ago, was a sharp condemnation of the
proceedings.  One may speculate, again, that if he had confirmed the official
US-UK position, the report might have received some mention, probably
headlines.

If
Iran was responsible, it’s quite likely that they would have sought “plausible
deniability” — the kind of service that the CIA provides for the White House —
and used agents, as the CIA apparently did when it arranged the worst act of
international terrorism in Beirut in 1985, a car bombing outside a Mosque,
timed for when people would be leaving, which killed 80 people and wounded
unknown numbers of others — a US atrocity and therefore not a crime, by the
usual conventions.  Possibly Iran might have even chosen a Libyan agent.  But
this is all speculation.  Probably we will never know, since these are not the
kinds of topics that are appropriate for inquiry.


Well despite all of this, Iraq remained a kind of an anomaly. In 1958 Iraq had
extricated itself from the US-dominated system. That was anomalous, and it was
anomalous in another respect too. Iraq was using — however horrendous the
regime may be, the fact of the matter was that it was using its resources for
internal development.   So there was substantial social and economic
development internal to Iraq, and that’s not the way the system’s supposed to
work — the wealth is supposed to flow to the West. So there were complicated
and anomalous relations all along. There’s no time to go into them.  But that
is over. Now the effect of the war and particularly the sanctions has been
essentially to reverse these departures from good form. By the time that Iraq
is permitted, as it almost surely will be, to reenter the international system
under US control, at that point there will no longer be any serious danger of
it using its resources internally. It will be lucky to survive and partially
recover. So that problem is, perhaps, more or less over. One might argue about
whether that’s part of the purpose of the sanctions, but it’s likely to be the
consequence.


Well, all of this raises a question — what about our fabled commitment to
human rights?  How are human rights assigned to various actors in the Middle
East?  The answer is simplicity itself: rights are assigned in accord with the
contribution to maintaining the system. The United States has rights by
definition. Britain has rights as long as it is a loyal attack dog.  The Arab facade
has rights as long as it manages to control its own populations and ensure
that the wealth flows to the West. The local cops on the beat have rights as
long as they do their job.


What about the Palestinians? Well they don’t have any wealth. They don’t have
any power. It therefore follows, by the most elementary principles of
statecraft, that they don’t have any rights. That’s like adding two and two
and getting four. In fact, they have negative rights. The reason is that their
dispossession and their suffering elicits protest and opposition in the rest
of the region, so they do not exactly count as zero but rather as harmful.


Well, from these considerations, it’s pretty straightforward to predict US
policy for the last roughly 30 years. Its basic element has been and remains
an extreme form of rejectionism. Now I have to explain here that I’m using the
term in an unconventional way — namely in a non-racist way. The term, “rejectionist,”
is used conventionally in an purely racist sense in Western discourse: the
term refers to those who reject the national rights of Jews. They’re called
“rejectionist” (as they are).  But if we use it in a non-racist sense, then
the term refers to those who reject the national rights of one or the other of
the competing forces in the former Palestine. So those who reject the national
rights of Palestinians are rejectionists.  And the US has led the rejectionist
camp in the non-racist sense for the last thirty years. In fact, it is the
only significant member of the rejectionist camp that it has led, and still
does.


The ‘67 war was dangerous;
it came very close to nuclear confrontation.  And it was agreed that there has
got to be some diplomatic settlement. The diplomatic settlement that was
proposed, by the United States primarily, and the other great powers, was
called UN 242.  Notice that it was explicitly rejectionist.  It calls for
recognition of Israel’s right to live in peace and security within recognized
borders, but says nothing about rights of the Palestinians, apart from a vague
allusion to the problem of refugees.  UN 242 calls for a settlement among
existing states of the region. The agreement was, to put in simple terms, that
there should be full peace in return for full Israeli withdrawal from the
occupied territories. That’s UN 242. And it was official US policy at the
time. Withdrawal could involve marginal and mutual adjustment of borders;
perhaps straightening a crooked border here and there.  But nothing more.  And
of course any settlement or development within the occupied territories is
barred.  There is no dispute over the fact that it would be in violation of
the Geneva Conventions.  On this, world opinion is unanimous, apart from
Israel and the US.  And in this case the US has been unwilling to articulate
publicly its antagonism to international law and the Conventions that were
established to bar crimes of the kind carried out by the Nazis, so it abstains
from resolutions that pass unanimously apart from Israeli objection and US
abstention.


The US held to this interpretation of UN 242 until 1971. In 1971, a very
important event took place.  President Sadat had taken power in Egypt, and he
offered a settlement in terms of UN 242 — in terms of official US policy: full
peace in return for full Israeli withdrawal.  In fact his stand was even more
forthcoming: he offered full peace in return for Israeli withdrawal from
Egyptian territory, leaving open the status of the occupied territories and
the Golan Heights.  Of course, his proposal also was firmly rejectionist,
saying nothing about the Palestinians.


Well, the US had a choice—was it going to accept that or was it going to
reject UN 242?  It was understood that Sadat’s proposal was, as Israel put it,
“a genuine peace offer”— a “milestone on the path to peace” as Yitzhak Rabin,
then Israeli Ambassador to the US, describes it in his memoirs.


The US had a decision to make.  There was an internal confrontation.  Henry
Kissinger won out, and Washington adopted his policy of “stalemate”: No
negotiations, just force. So the US effectively rejected UN 242 in February
1971 and insisted that it means “withdrawal insofar as the US and Israel
decide.” That’s the operative meaning of UN 242 under US global rule since
1971.


Officially, the US continued to support UN 242 until Clinton.  He is the first
president to declare that US resolutions are inoperative.  But until then, at
least verbally, the US accepted UN 242.  That was only words, however.  In
practice the US following the Kissingerian interpretation. For every
president, UN 242 in practice meant partial withdrawal as Israel and the
United States determine.  Carter, for example, forcefully reiterated US
support for UN 242 and continues to do so, but also increased aid to Israel to
about half of total US aid (as part of the Camp David settlement), thus
ensuring that Israel could proceed to integrate the occupied territories
within Israel and to prevent any meaningful fulfillment of UN 242 (and to
attack its northern neighbor), exactly as was predicted, and as it did.


The rejectionist commitments of the international system changed by the mid
70s. By the mid 70s, an extremely broad international consensus, in fact
essentially everyone, came to accept Palestinian national rights alongside of
Israel. In January 1976, the Security Council debated a resolution, which
included the wording of 242 but added Palestinian national rights in the
territories from which Israel would withdraw. The US vetoed it, and therefore
it’s vetoed from history, so you can’t even find it in history books with rare
exceptions. The same is true of the events of February 1971.  With diligent
search one can discover the facts, but they have efficiently been removed from
historical memory.


This continued. I won’t run through the whole record. The US vetoed a similar
Security Council Resolution in 1980, and voted against similar General
Assembly resolutions year after year, usually alone (with Israel),
occasionally picking up some other client state.  Recall that a unilateral US
rejection of a General Assembly resolution is, in effect, a double veto: the
resolution is inoperative, and it is vetoed from history, rarely even
reported.  Washington also blocked other negotiating efforts: from the
European and Arab states, the PLO, in fact any source. And so things continue
up until the Gulf War.


This process of preventing a peaceful diplomatic settlement has a name,
exactly the one that one would expect in the age of Orwell: it is called “the
peace process.”


The Gulf War changed things. At that point the rest of the world realized that
the US is making a very clear statement: the US is going to run this area of
the world by force, so get out the way. That was the understanding throughout
the world.  Europe backed off.  The Arab world was in total disarray.  Russia
was gone.  No one else counts.  The US immediately moved to the Madrid
negotiations, where it could unilaterally impose the US rejectionist framework
that it had protected in international isolation for 20 years.


That leads in various paths to Oslo, and the White House lawn on September 13,
1993, where the Declaration of Principles (DOP) was accepted with much fanfare
in what the press described as “a day of awe,” and so on.  The DOP merits a
close look.  It outlines clearly what is coming, with no ambiguity.  For what
it’s worth, I don’t say this in retrospect: I wrote an article about it at
once, which appeared in October 1993.  There have been few surprises since.


The DOP states that the “permanent status,”
the ultimate settlement down the road, is to be based on UN 242 and UN 242
alone. That’s very crucial. Anyone with any familiarity with Middle East
diplomacy knew on that day exactly what was coming. First, UN 242 means
“partial withdrawal, as the US determines”; the Kissingerian revision. And “UN
242 alone” means UN 242 and not the other UN resolutions which call for
Palestinian rights alongside Israel.  Recall that 242 itself is strictly
rejectionist.  The primary issue of diplomacy since the mid-1970s had been
whether a diplomatic settlement should be based on UN 242 alone, or UN 242
supplemented with the other resolutions that the US had vetoed at the Security
Council, and (effectively) vetoed at the General Assembly.  And the second
issue was whether 242 would have the original interpretation, or the operative
US interpretation after it rejected Sadat’s 1971 peace offer. In the DOP, the
US announced firmly and clearly that the permanent settlement would be based
on UN 242 alone, keeping to Washington’s unilateral rejectionism: anything
else is off the table.  And since this is a unilateral power play, 242 means
“as the US decides.” There was no ambiguity. One could choose to be deluded —
many did so.  But that was a choice, and an unwise one, particularly for the
victims.

So
matters continue.  One can’t really accuse Israel of violating the Oslo
agreements, except in detail. It continued to settle the occupied territories
and integrate them within Israel. That means you and I did it, because the US
funds it knowingly, and the US provides crucial diplomatic and military
support for these gross violations of international law.  The successive
agreements spell out the details.  They are worth a close look. I reviewed the
main one in print in 1996, if you happen to be interested. The details are
striking, including the purposeful humiliation built into them.  And they have
been fairly closely implemented.


Looking very closely, through a powerful microscope, we can discern a
difference between the two main political groupings in Israel (as in the US). 
There is, however, a noticeable difference in the US attitude towards them,
but the reason is a difference of style more than substance. So take the man
who was just appointed two or three days ago as the minister of defense, Ben
Eliezer—he’s described now as a “Labor hawk.” He was the housing minister
under Shimon Peres, hailed as the Labor dove. In February 1996, towards the
end of Peres’s term, the peak of “dovishness,” he announced an expanded
settlement program in the territories—I’ll read it because it’s essentially
was happening now.  This was February 1996. He said, “It is no secret that the
government’s stand, which will be our ultimate demand, is that as regards the
Jerusalem areas — Ma’ale Adumim, Givat Ze’ev, Beitar, and Gush Etzion — they
will be an integral part of Israel’s future map.  There is no doubt about
this.” He also announced the building of what Israel calls Har Homa, that’s
the last section around Jerusalem, mostly expropriated from Arabs.  That was
put on hold under the Netanyahu government because of strong international and
domestic opposition.  But the Peres project was picked up again by Barak, and
proceeded with no protest.

A
look at the map will explain what this means.  The “Jerusalem area,” so
defined (as it had already been by Yitzhak Rabin, after Oslo), effectively
partitions the West Bank: the city of Ma’ale Adumim was developed primarily
for this purpose, and addition of other parts of the “Jerusalem areas” merely
firms up the effective partition.


Ben-Eliezer also explained in February 1996 that Labor “builds quietly,” with
the full protection of the Prime Minister, not ostentatiously like the rival
Likud coalition.  the Prime Minister can be Rabin, Peres, Barak (who broke all
records in construction)
or anyone else, but “we build quietly”:  that’s the crucial
phrase. And that is the reason why the US always prefers Labor to Likud. Labor
does it quietly. They’re the “doves.” Likud tends to be arrogant and noisy
about it, and that makes it harder to pretend that we don’t know what we’re
actually doing.  So Labor’s always preferable.


The reason traces back to different electoral constituencies. Labor is the
party of managers, professionals, intellectuals—generally the more secular and
Westernized sectors who understand very well the norms of Western
hypocrisy—and are therefore easier to deal with, hence more admired in the
West.  The policies differ somewhat; as noted, Labor has often been more
aggressive in construction (and also military actions) than Likud, sometimes
the reverse, but that is secondary.


Without going into the details, you’ll notice that in all of the current
discussion about the remarkable negotiations and the “forthcoming” and
“generous concessions” of Clinton and Barak, there are some notable
omissions.  One is maps. Try finding a map in one of the US newspapers
describing what’s happening.  Well, the reason there aren’t any maps, I
suppose, is because what’s being implemented under the Camp David proposal,
and Clinton’s last plan and Barak’s plan, is pretty much what Ben Eliezer
described.   The places I mentioned are pretty much those being incorporated
within Israel, along with others.  A second crucial omission is that there
cannot be “generous concessions” because there cannot be territorial
concessions at all, any more than when Russia withdrew from Afghanistan or
Germany from occupied France.


What’s called “Jerusalem” extends extensively in all directions, separating
Ramallah to the north from Bethlehem to the south, and effectively
partitioning the West Bank.  Ma’ale Adumim is called in the US press “a
neighborhood of Jerusalem”; in fact, it is a city constructed by the US and
Israel, primarily during the Oslo period, well to the east of Jerusalem.  Its
planned borders are supposed to reach to a few kilometers from Jericho. 
Jericho itself is now surrounded by a seven-foot deep trench to prevent people
from getting in and out—and the same is planned for other cities.  That means
that the “Jerusalem” salient effectively bisects the West Bank, separating the
Palestinian sections into two enclaves; and the whole Palestinian region is
separated from the traditional center of Palestinian life in Jerusalem (now
vastly expanded, with Israeli settlement only).  There’s another salient to
the North, which effectively separates the northern and central regions. 
Discussion of Gaza is vague, but judging by settlement and development
patters, something similar is probably planned.  Remember that all the
settlements are within vast infrastructure projects designed to integrate them
within Israel and remove West Bank Palestinians from sight, contained within
their enclaves.


These are the forthcoming and generous concessions. 
They’re well understood.  I’ll just end with the comment by one of the leading
Israeli doves, Shlomo Ben-Ami, who was the chief negotiator under Barak and is
indeed a Labor dove—pretty much at the extreme.  In an academic book written
in 1998 in Hebrew, just before he entered the government, he pointed out,
perfectly accurately, that the goal of the Oslo negotiations is to establish a
situation of “permanent neocolonial dependency” for the occupied territories. 
In Israel, it’s commonly described as a Bantustan solution—if you think about
South African policy, it’s similar in essentials.


It’s worth noting that among the leading supporters of this solution have been
Israeli industrialists.  About ten years ago, before the Oslo agreement, they
were calling for a Palestinian state of roughly this kind—and for quite good
reasons.  For them, a permanent neocolonial dependency makes a lot of sense.
Kind of like the US and Mexico or the US and El Salvador, with maquiladoras,
assembly plants, along the border on the Palestinians side.  This offers very
cheap labor and terrible conditions, and there is no need to worry about
pollution and other annoying constraints on profit making.  And the people
don’t have to be brought into Israel, always dangerous.  Who knows?  Some of
those derided as “beautiful souls” might see the way they are treated and call
for minimally decent working conditions and wages.  It is far better for them
to be across the border, in their own “state,” like Transkei.  Not only does
that relieve the threat of protection of human rights and improve profits, but
it is also a useful weapon against the Israeli working class.  It offers ways
to undermine their wages and benefits.  And furthermore it offers means to
break strikes, a device common

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