Israel in Global Context

Noam Chomsky interviewed by Ludwig Watzal

Challenge, No. 44, July-August 1997 [June 9, 1997]

QUESTION: What is the guiding concept behind American interests and policy?

CHOMSKY: The most infuential factors are of course domestic. The central interest is to maintain the functioning of the multinational com- panies and their profits. Another to maintain the industrial and free-trade system. Both are the foundation for profit-oriented in- vestments. The US also makes sure that the rest of the world plays the role assigned to it. Generally speaking: to guarantee free access to raw materials, cheap labor and unlimited possibilities for investment.

QUESTION: What role does Israel play in the US view?

CHOMSKY: Exactly the role the US National Security Council assigned it in 1958, namely, to be a bulwark against Arab nationalism. Israel was chosen because it is a dependable base for Western dominance in this region. In the 60s this became reality. The Americans feared the effects of Egyptian nationalism on Saudi Arabia’s stability, with a consequent threat to American oil interests. The war of June 1967 dealt a severe blow to this struggle for independence. The event proved pivotal for Israeli-American relations. Israel became a virtual appendage of the US, in other words, another American “ally,” to which the US could turn whenever it wanted a task accomplished.

QUESTION: What role is assigned to the Palestinians in this American strategy?

CHOMSKY: The Paletinians find themselves on the same level as the Kurds or the people in the slums of Cairo. They don’t contibute anything significant to the maintenance of the system. In the Palestinians’ case it is acutally worse, because they have a negative value. Their legitimate claims contribute to the growth of Arab nationalism. The Americans rule over the Middle East the way the British did earlier. It is the same imperial model. The British operated through an “Arab facade” of local notables who regulated daily life. These notables were weak and dependent. They had to be protected from their own people. In the background the British were pulling the strings, just as the Americans do now. They take care that nothing goes awry.

QUESTION: Do you see a lasting solution to the bilateral conflict in the Oslo agreement? Or is it just an instrument of power, which aims to get rid of the Palestinian problem?

CHOMSKY: The concept here is pure power-politics. Since 1971, the US has refused to consider any political solution to the conflict. It no longer insists on a total withdrawal from the occupied territories. By its veto power in the UN Security Council, and by its steadfast refusals in the General Assembly, it has blocked everything that was not in Israel’s interest. This attitude reached its highest expression in one sentence by George Bush after the second Gulf War, “What we say, goes.” At Madrid, too, the US forced its will, and this continued in the Oslo process.

Does it deserve to be described as a “peace process”? Hitler’s campaign to conquer Europe was also dubbed a “peace process”. The “homelands” in South Africa were part of a “peace process.” There are all kinds of peace processes. But it doesn’t take long to discover what kind of peace process is unfolding here. You just have to take a look at the area around Jerusalem or spend an hour in Gaza. Everything is written in the agreement. When Netanyahu claims that the building of settlements is in accordance with Oslo II, he is absolutely right.

QUESTION: So what does the future hold for the Palestinians?

CHOMSKY: It depends on what happens in Palestine, Israel or White society. If some of the Whites hadn’t supported the African National Congress, the movement would have been comlpetely destroyed. It is no natrual law that the US must always take reactionary positions. There are influential forces in the US who are doing what they can to get a peaceful resolution of the conflict. At the moment they do not have the upper hand.

QUESTION: Does Zionism have anything to do with the fate of the Palestinians?

CHOMSKY: This is a very complex problem. It depends on what you mean by Zionism. I was a Zionist activist in my youth. For me, Zionism meant opposition to a Jewish state. The Zionist movement did not come out officially in favor of a Jewish state until 1942. Before this it was merely the intent of the Zionist leadership. The Zionist movement for a long time stood against the establishment of a Jewish state because such a state would be discriminatory and racist.

QUESTION: Can Germany and the other Europeans challenge the US’s global domination?

CHOMSKY: They are already challenging it in Asia. Because of their history and their spheres of interest, this could also happen in the Middle East. What takes place here affects Europe more than the USA. The Americans are deliberately destroying what is left of the Palestinian economy. Under Israeli occupation there was no development whatsover. Israel’s policies were even more repressive than Britain’s. In enlightened self-interest the Europeans ought to compensate for this. They ought to insist that the Palestinian Authority improve the lot of the suffering population. The Europeans have, over the years, always spoken up for the Palestinians’ right to self-detemination. They should do so again.

QUESTION: What does the world look like at the end of this century? Who are the winners, who are the losers?

CHOMSKY: The gap between rich and poor has consistently widened since the 60s; the main contibutor to this has been the growth of the population. Inequality and poverty between countries has increased, social peace has come ever more into question. One can say this much for globalization: it has marginalized the Third World. In these countries, a tiny, privileged elite lives side by side with abject poverty. The gap is getting worse, because the rich lands are clamping down on social welfare policies. They justify this clampdown by referring to the demands of the marketplace, which is utter nonsense. No country in the world believes in the marketplace. All pratice protectionism. The US has always led the way in this respect. The most developed sectors of the US economy depend heavily on governmental subsidies. Many firms cannot survive without them. The governments provide substantial support to big industrial firms, and this has nothing to do with free market forces. Protectionism leads to greater inequality, more suffering and bigger profits. There is nothing in nature that requires such a policy. Whether it keeps on going depends primarily on political decisions.