Ceasefire (Frank Barat): What is the definition of negotiations in Israel-US language and why is the Palestinian Authority playing along?
Noam Chomsky: From the U.S. 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.
CF: In your opinion, 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.
CF: So it’s pretty much to survive that they indeed accept the framework?
NC: If they were 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
CF: 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 effect 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-Shafi, 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 the side-track through Oslo, gained control and Haider Abdel-Shafi 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.
CF: 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.
CF: 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 under 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.
CF: What about talk of a US strike then, do you think it’s going to happen?“Gaza in Crisis: Reflections on Israel’s War Against the Palestinians” his book with Noam Chomsky and Ilan Pappe, is out now. The French edition of the book, published in 2013, features an extended interview with Stephane Hessel.
Noam Chomsky is emeritus professor of linguistics and philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts.