U.S. Middle East Policy

Noam Chomsky

Delivered at Columbia University, April 4, 1999


The core issue in the Middle East is very straightforward, namely oil. Since WWI, when the world began to move onto an oil-based economy, the Middle East has become central in world affairs, for the very obvious reason that it has, by far the largest and the most accessible petroleum resources— primarily in Saudi Arabia, secondarily in Iraq, and thirdly in the Gulf Emirates, and elsewhere. It is, as the State Department described it during the Second World War, when the US was taking over: “It’s a stupendous source of strategic power and the greatest material prize in world history.” “It’s strategically the most important part of the world”, as the president of Columbia University described it, as he was making his transition from Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe to supreme commander of the world— in the White House. Which, I guess, says something about Columbia’s rank in the world order. (Laughs)

The smaller, more expensive reserves like North Sea and Alaska are declining. The role of the Middle East in the world energy system is accordingly increasing. And it will become critical probably in the not-too-distant future if, as is widely anticipated, the current oil glut proves to be temporary, which is not unlikely — the rate of discovery has been declining since the 1960’s despite high technology, deep sea drilling, and so on. And the usage of energy is sharply increasing. In fact, about half of the total usage since the oil price rise in the early 70’s and it’s going up. It’s expected that the magical halfway point is— what it’s called when half of the known accessible resources are used, is coming fairly soon. All of this spells prices. It’s possible of course, that some unpredictable breakthrough will take place and things will change, but policy planning is not based upon unpredictable technological breakthroughs. So, we can pretty confidently expect that the US will continue, as in the past to do everything that it can to make sure that the “greatest material prize in world history” remains firmly in its hands.

US Control

Well, the US took over from Britain in the Middle East and, in fact, much of the world, after the Second World War. In fact actually, replaced Britain and France. France was summarily expelled— they weren’t given the time of day. Britain however, was given a role. It was given the role of “junior partner”, as the British foreign office rather ruefully described it, accurately. Britain was going to be our lieutenant— the fashionable word is “partner”— as they were described by a senior adviser in the Kennedy administration. That’s reasonably accurate— you’re seeing an example of it right now. The lieutenant is doing its job— the attack-dog, maybe.

The United States took over from— inherited from Britain, the modalities of control over the region as well. These modalities had changed during and after WWI, when Britain no longer had the force to rule the Empire directly by occupation, and therefore had to turn to airpower and high technology— advanced technology. So, it was explained pretty frankly. The distinguished statesman Lloyd George was commenting on Britain’s success in undermining a disarmament conference— which would have barred the use of airpower against civilians. He pointed out that it was a success because, as he put it: “We have to reserve the right to bomb the niggers.” Which kind of sums up world affairs rather nicely.

Winston Churchill, who was then the Secretary of State at the British War Office, was a great enthusiast for using advanced technology to achieve the same end. His favorite was poison gas. He said (back in the early ‘20’s) that: “Poison gas would be a fine weapon against uncivilized tribesmen and recalcitrant Arabs.” That’s referring to Kurds and Afghans at the time — but they apparently qualify. (Laughs) He said that: “It should inspire a lively terror.” You should recall that using poison gas was called the “ultimate atrocity” in those days. And he said it was simply the use of — the application of Western science to military warfare— to measures of warfare, and therefore, we shouldn’t back off from it. Well, those were the military tactics— they’ve had a distinguished career ever since.

Modalities of Control

On the political side, Britain— (we know from the British Foreign Office records— Colonial Office records, which have been declassified)— they developed a system, which in fact the US has taken over. The idea was, the oil-producing states would be administered by what the British called— secretly of course— what they called an “Arab façade”— constitutional fictions behind which Britain would continue to rule. Now the façade has to be weak, because it has to be dependable. It has to do what you tell it. But then, there’s a problem: If the façade is weak, it may not be able to control its own population, and its own population is ‘uncivilized and ignorant.’ They ‘do not understand.’ They ‘can be easily infected’ by what is called “a virus of radical nationalism.” Which was defined by the State Department back in the 1940s as: “the belief that the first beneficiaries of a country’s resources ought to be the people of that country.” (Laughs)

That, of course, is intolerable because ‘any sane and civilized person’ can understand that the ‘“first beneficiaries of a country’s resources” have to be wealthy investors in the United States,’ and so on. ‘These people just don’t understand that’ and ‘they’re always causing trouble’— ‘They’re uncivilized tribesmen,’ and so on… and ‘sometimes poison gas doesn’t work…’ (Laughs) So you have to have some way of keeping the “Arab façade” in power. And to do that, the US developed the system; there are two kinds of violence required. Actually, this is all over the world. Much of the history of the last half-century is the playing out of this issue; in Southeast Asia and Latin America, and all over the world. It’s not put that way, but that’s the way it is.

In the Middle East, the way it was worked out, is that there are to be what the Nixon administration called “local cops on the beat” that is, local gendarmes who sort of keep order in the neighborhood. And it’s best to have them be non-Arab ’cause they’re better at killing “recalcitrant Arabs”. So there’s a periphery of— in fact, what David Ben Gurion, Israeli Prime Minister, called— the “periphery policy”, of non-Arab states—Iran (under the Shah), Turkey, Israel, Pakistan. There they are to be the ‘local cops on the beat,’ but the understanding of course, is that ‘police headquarters’ remains in Washington. And if things really get out of hand— the ‘local cops on the beat’ can’t handle it— there’s British and US muscle in reserve to be used when needed. That’s essentially the modality of control.


The Central Command, as its now called, which was initiated by Carter as the Rapid Deployment Force— is the major US intervention force in the world, by far. And it’s an enormous force— it’s based from Guam to the Azores. It even has bases in the Indian Ocean, where a “junior partner” was kind enough to drive out the population of an island, so that US bases could be put there— all aimed at the core area. In 1980, when the Carter administration was explaining this to Congress, they pointed out the problem wasn’t the Russians— this was after the invasion of Afghanistan. The problem was “regional unrest,” which is the “virus of radical nationalism.” And that remains the case. So as for the Russians, ‘we don’t have to argue about that anymore.’

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Bush administration— in a very important and therefore unreported, (Laughs) declaration to Congress— explained to Congress that everything had to remain exactly the same— same military budget — everything. Including intervention forces, aimed at the Middle east where, as they put it: “The threat to our interests could not be laid at the Kremlin’s door.” ‘Sorry guys, we’ve been lying to you for 50 years, but, now there’s no Kremlin— so let’s be straight.’ “The threat to our interests is regional unrest,” and ‘we’ve got to control it.’

Current Events

Incidentally, I notice — the threat to our interests could not be laid at Iraq’s door either. At that point, Saddam Hussein was a “great friend and ally.” He had— it’s true— gassed Kurds, and tortured dissidents, and you know— massacred people, and so on. But he hadn’t yet committed any crimes! (Laughs). Thecrime was ‘disobedience’— that’s a crime. That came a couple of months later. But at that point he was “a great friend and ally,” and the U.S. continued to support him right through these things that maybe you and I would call ‘crimes.’

It’s interesting to hear, just to switch to another period. Like right now, when the US and its attack-dog attack-bomb Iraq— the line that you hear from Tony Blair and Madeline Albright— and other distinguished figures is that ‘we have to do this,’ ‘how could we let such a creature survive?’ He even committed the ‘ultimate crime’ of ‘gassing his own population!’ Their willingness to say that— over and over— expresses extraordinary trust in the educated classes in England and the United States— who they trust not to say what everyone knows. That— that can’t possibly be the reason— because we supported Saddam through those atrocities, and continued to increase the support after it. But their trust is warranted— as you can tell by looking at the press and commentary.

Partnership Rights

Going back— if you look at the structure of the system of control, you can determine very quickly how policy works. Participants have rights that are commensurate with their role in the system. So, the United States has rights by definition. The “junior partner” has rights as long as it stays loyal—same with the “Arab facade,” and the same with the local gendarmes. What about the peasants in Iraq, or people in the slums in Cairo? Well, ‘they don’t contribute to the system,’ so ‘they have no rights.’

What about the Palestinians? Well, they actually have negative rights. The reason is, that they are a ‘disruptive element.’ The fact that they were displaced arouses nationalist feelings, and causes problems for the façade, and the gendarmes, and the attack-dog— and therefore their rights are negative. These are just kind of elementary principles of statecraft— you master those, you can predict very easily the way policy develops. And it works quite well.

The end of the Cold War changed nothing, and that was well understood. One of the leading Israeli strategic analysts — formerly head of military intelligence — Schlomo Gazit, about a year after the end of the Cold War said: “Israel’s main task has not changed at all, and it remains of central importance. Israel remains of central importance as the devoted guardian of stability in the region, its role is to protect the existing regimes,” (namely the facade,) “and to prevent radicalization.” That’s accurate, — but you have to do a little translation. So, “stability” means ‘U.S. control,’— and Israel is the “devoted guardian” of the control of the Master, — and it’s amply paid for its service. “Radicalism” means ‘misunderstanding of who the first beneficiaries of a countries resources are.’ (Laughs)

And “fundamentalist religious zealotry” does not entail that we have to bomb Saudi Arabia, or bomb Jerusalem, or bomb most the United States — which is the ‘extreme radical’, ‘fundamentalist-religious state’ in the world, I suppose… (Laughs). Rather, what it means is… this is a codeword, which means ‘the particular forms of radicalization…’ —that is, “failure to understand who the first beneficiaries are” — the ‘particular forms of radicalization that happen to take a religious cast when secular nationalism is destroyed.’ That’s a pretty common pattern. But if you make the translations— what Gazit was saying was certainly accurate.

U.S.-Israeli Relations

Well, U.S.-Israeli relations developed in that context. So in 1948, the US military was quite impressed by Israel’s military actions. They were described, a couple of days ago in Israel’s leading paper Ha’aretz, by a good reporter, as being “Kosovo without TV cameras,”— approximately accurate. In 1949, US Army planners concluded, and I’m quoting: “Israel had demonstrated by the force-of-arms its right to be considered the military power next to Turkey in the near and the Middle East.”

In 1958, U.S. intelligence concluded that: “It is a logical corollary of opposition to radical Arab nationalism, to support Israel as the only reliable U.S. ally in the region.” Actually, 1958 was a very important year in modern history. The U.S. was facing three major crises at that time—they were described in now-declassified records, by Eisenhower and Dulles at the National Security Council. They said the US was facing three major crises— Indonesia, North Africa, and the Middle East. They also— Eisenhower and Dulles— both explain vociferously, according to the notes— that there was no Russian involvement in any of them.

Well these were all, of course, Islamic countries… maybe like an early illustration of the ‘clash of civilizations.’ But that was irrelevant— I mean, they could have come from Mars. The crucial thing about those three regions was that they were all oil producers. The planning… the concern over them was interrelated — having to do with the threat to U.S. domination of oil production in the Middle East, and maybe the use of Indonesia as a temporary substitute. And there were very significant actions that took place — among them, the destruction of Indonesian democracy. The US carried out a huge clandestine operation to try to break up Indonesia, to try to separate off the outlying islands — the ones that were the oil producers. That had all kinds of consequences.

In the Middle East, the U.S. landed troops in Lebanon. Armed — apparently, with authorization to use nuclear weapons, according to high U.S. officials. So, it was a serious matter. The concern at that point was Iraq. Iraq had broken the Anglo-American condominium over oil. And remember — it’s the second largest producer. A military coup, which the US regarded as Nasserite in inspiration, had sort of pulled the country out of the system, and that caused real hysteria — I won’t have time to go into it now, but talk about it if you like. The British Foreign Secretary flew to the United States immediately, and they laid plans which are extremely revealing — they explain just about everything that was going on; and it’s taken almost verbatim. Anyhow, it was taken pretty seriously. That’s 1958.

Peace Process

In the early 1960’s, there was a proxy war going on between Nasser and — (Nasser was considered ‘the heart of the rot’— you know, the source of “radical nationalism.”) There was a proxy war going on that between Nasser and Saudi Arabia, the main oil producer— which was very threatening. In 1967, Israel intervened and it smashed Nasser— and that was a major contribution. The US-Israeli alliance was solidified. After the Israeli military victory, Israel also became the darling of American intellectuals— going from far right to left liberal. Which is an interesting phenomenon about the United States, but its consequences show up mostly in the coverage of these events and the discussion about them. In 1970, Israel again served proof that it’s a “devoted guardian.” The US needed it to intervene to prevent possible Syrian involvement, to try to block Jordan — which was then massacring Palestinians, and Israel did intervene and barred that. And that was considered a very welcome contribution. And US aid to Israel quadrupled at that point. In 1979, when the Shah fell, Israel’s role simply increased. One of the main “guardians” was gone. That’s actually the origins of what’s falsely called the “arms for hostages deal”— which began at that time. There were no “hostages” — it’s completely different. But anyhow, it did solidify the alliance further.

Well, going back to ’67 – that war was dangerous. It came well— quote — Secretary McNamara, who was then Secretary of Defense: “We damn near had war,” he said, “with the Russians.” There was an actual confrontation between the Russian and American navies in the eastern Mediterranean. And it was realized that ‘we better quiet things down.’ So, there was a diplomatic settlement worked out under the diplomatic initiative of the United States and its “junior partner”— that’s the famous UN242. UN242, on November 1967, basically called for “full peace” in return for “full Israeli withdrawal.” Notice, that UN242 was completely rejectionist —that’s very crucial for understanding what’s happening now. It offered nothing to the Palestinians. It was an ‘agreement among states.’

So ‘full peace’ in return for ‘full withdrawal.’ It was deadlock. The Arab states refused full peace, Israel refused full withdrawal. That deadlock was broken in February 1971. At that point, President Sadat of Egypt offered full peace to Israel for only partial withdrawal— namely withdrawal from Egyptian territory. Well, the US kind of had an internal problem at that time— it was a bureaucratic battle that went on. It was won by Henry Kissinger,— who preferred force— what he called “stalemate”— “no negotiations.” So he refused Sadat’s offer, he took over— a very important date. That terminated U.S. support for UN242. Since that time, the US has not supported it— contrary to what you might read— because it has reinterpreted it to mean ‘partial withdrawal— as the United States and Israel determine.’

At that point— this was a period of enormous triumphalism— which Kissinger shared. He thought Egypt was a kind of a basket case. And his ignorance and stupidity— which are really colossal when you look at the documents— led directly to the 1973 war. Which did demonstrate that Egypt wasn’t a basket case— you had to pay some attention to it. That even got through the clouds to Kissinger. He then undertook shuttle diplomacy, and the plans at that point were: ‘Since you can’t forget about Egypt, let’s eliminate it.’ It was the major Arab military force—‘lets remove it from the conflict’ so that Israel can then proceed to integrate the territories and attack Lebanon. That’s policy, which concluded, with Camp David. That’s what’s known in the United States as the “peace process.” And in fact that’s exactly what happened. US support for Israel reached fifty percent of total aid at that point.


Well, meanwhile, there was a shift in the international consensus going on. It was shifting away from pure rejectionism— toward recognition of Palestinian rights. That became a crisis on another crucial date, namely January 1976 when the Security Council debated a resolution, which included UN242, and all of its wording, but also called for a Palestinian state and the territories Israel was to leave, under UN242. Well, that was supported by the whole world, virtually. The Arab states, the PLO, the Russians, Europe, Latin America— everybody. Except the one state that counts— which vetoed it. So the U.S. vetoed that resolution. And it’s also vetoed from history— you might try to search for it. But it was a very crucial date. At that point, the U.S. became doubly rejectionist— in a strong sense. No UN242, and no Palestinian rights— alone in the world, virtually. Except for Israel.

Well then, matters continued. Things shifted over to the General Assembly. There were almost annual votes of a similar nature— usually like 150 to 2 or something like that. There were initiatives from Europe, from Arab states, the PLO— all rejected by the United States. The leading journals – like say, the New York Times – refused even to publish most of them— even letters referring to them. All of this is what called the “peace process,” again. That continued, until 1990. The last General Assembly vote was December, 1990— 144 to 2. Then came the Gulf War.

The Gulf War established, as George Bush put it— ‘The Gulf War established that’ “what we say goes.” And you better understand it. It was understood. So, “what we say goes.” The US returned to its support for its old friend Saddam while he murdered Shiites and Kurds. Since then, he has been returning to a rather rational policy of destroying Iraqi society. That’s highly rational— especially for an oil producing state. If you destroy the society and the population, there’s much less concern that the ‘first beneficiaries’ might be the people of the region— because they’re not going to be able to ask for anything. So, the policy that’s going on now— of basically mass murder— is a very reasonable policy, particularly for an oil producer.

With regard to the Israel-Arab problem, the Israel-Palestinian problem, the US immediately moved onto Madrid. Fall 1991. The Madrid conference met all US conditions. First, it was unilateral — no interference from the Europeans or anyone else. Secondly, it was totally rejectionist. So the U.S. could ram-through its rejectionist program. That was the official program. It actually has yet to be reported in the United States, as far as I’m aware — in the mainstream that is. But it was the Baker Plan. The Baker Plan, which simply endorsed the Shamir-Peres plan, which stated “there cannot be an additional Palestinian state.” “Additional,” because there already is one— namely Jordan. So, there can be “no additional Palestinian state.” And the fate of the territories has to be settled according to the guidelines of the State of Israel. That was the official US program, endorsing the Shamir-Paris consensus, which was instituted at Madrid.

We then move onto Oslo, September 1993. The Declaration of Principles was signed. And it was an enormous victory for the United States. I don’t know if you’ve looked at it, but you should look at what it said. It didn’t say much — but it said something. It described the permanent settlement that is the long-term end goal, which must be achieved. And that must be strictly UN242, not the other UN resolutions, which called for Palestinian rights alongside of Israel. And of course ‘UN242’ means, the US interpretation of it, which rejects 242. So the permanent settlement is doubly rejectionist. No Palestinian rights, no UN242. Israeli withdrawal — just as the US and Israel decide.

The US and Israel had decided. They were pursuing a program was called the Al-Hon program, that the Israeli Labor government instituted in 1968, which essentially – it’s varied a little bit over the years… But the basic idea is, Israel keeps roughly 40 percent of the occupied territories. The resources primarily water, the useable land, the nice suburbs of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, which are mostly in the West Bank. And part of the Gaza Strip they want, and so on. And the rest, sort of leave to the “recalcitrant Arabs,” — the “uncivilized tribesmen.”

That’s changed a little bit over the years – right now it’s a little different. Netanyahu calls for what he calls ‘the Alon Plus’ – so the Alon Plan, plus a little bit more. His opponent, of the Labor Party—Barak—he calls for the ‘Expanded Alon’ plan. So those are the two groupings in Israel — either ‘Alon Plus’ or the ‘Expanded Alon’ plan. One political commentator, in Ha’aretz again, says that: “One listens to the ideas of Barak, and hears the voice of Netanyahu,” paraphrasing a Biblical passage. And the US supports it of course.

After Oslo, Rabin and Perez immediately moved to expand settlement and development – took over about 30 percent of Gaza Strip – most of its meager resources. In the West Bank, the most crucial part of its development is what’s called “Greater Jerusalem.” “Greater Jerusalem” is a huge area extending from Ramallah to Bethlehem and as far east as Jericho. And since Israel is keeping the Jordan Valley, it essentially breaks up the West Bank into two cantons. There are other developments, which break it up into further ones.

Olso II, September 1995, spells all of this out further. There’s the Palestinian Authority, which can sort of run affairs in downtown Nablus. And then, there’s roughly a hundred, actually more than a hundred, scattered Palestinian settlements – separated from one another – and crucially isolated from the economic, cultural, and even the medical centers of Jerusalem —Centers of Palestinian life. The Jewish areas are connected by superhighways – you can drive through and not even notice there are any Palestinians. Then there are things, which are officially called ‘Palestinian roads’. Actually I drove one, not long ago, from Bethlehem to Ramallah. I mean, if you make it alive, you’re lucky —if it’s raining, very lucky. Those are the Palestinian roads, which interconnect the Palestinian settlements.

Well, somebody’s got to manage the Palestinian population. That’s where Yasser Arafat and the PLO come in — that’s a gangster regime, based on robbery and brutality. The managers of it are there to enrich themselves and suppress the locals. The more brutally they do it, the more they are applauded by Al Gore and Bill Clinton. That’s the essential content of the Wye Accords. The CIA is down there to supervise to make sure everything goes just right. This should not surprise anyone. This is absolutely a typical colonial pattern. That’s the way the British ran the Raj, that’s the way the U.S. runs Central America — it’s just standard. Now it’s being carried over to this case.


Well, the goals have been perfectly obvious for years for years, to anybody with eyes open. It takes real dedication to miss them. And remember, these are the plans that Labor does, even if the voice is Netanyahu’s. I was in Israel not too long ago, giving talks about this, and I started by just reading a paragraph from a standard history of South Africa, in the early 1960s — at the time when they were setting up the first homelands — Transkei. It’s kind of late, so I’ll skip the paragraph, unless you want me to read it. But the point is, I didn’t have to comment, you read the paragraph about the establishment of Transkei and everybody could recognize what’s happening right outside the door. That’s exactly it — that’s the position of the doves.

Now, there are differences between Rabin and Perez — the two ‘heroes’ — Netanyahu ‘the villain.’ There are a number of differences, contrary to the comment in the Israeli press. Rabin and Perez were adamantly opposed to calling what the Palestinians got “a state.” On the other hand, Netanyahu’s been more ambiguous. So his minister of — director of communications and policy planning, David Bari-Lan, recently said that well, “If the Palestinians want to call these scattered areas ‘a state’ we won’t mind. In fact – if they want, they can call it ‘fried chicken” he said – elegantly. (laughs) There’s a little difference between the two.

There’s also a difference in style, and the style is important. And the style reflect their constituencies. Labor is the party of the rich – the party of the professionals, the westernized, secular elements. Likud – the other party – is the party of the poor, working people, Oriental Jews — religious and so on. Labor is much more attuned to the norms of western hypocrisy. So they have spokesmen like Abba-Ebban who knows how to put in nice phrases – things like, “beating them up” and so on. Likud tends to be much more brazen – and offensive to the West. ‘Cause we don’t like it – it hurts our humanistic instincts to have to face what were doing.

Shimon Perez, as housing minister, pointed out correctly, he says that, “Labor builds quietly.” That’s what he said as he was announcing the plans for construction in what Israel calls Ha’ar-Homa. Which was later implemented by Netanyahu and blamed on him cause it broke up the peace negotiations. So it was initiated by Labor, except that they “build quietly.” So therefore, in the West, you can pretend that they’re not doing it. That is a difference, and that’s why the US much prefers labor— always has. It doesn’t like Likud.

And it reflects itself in US coverage. So if you go to the sort of dovish pro-Palestinian extreme of mainstream coverage— say Anthony Lewis in the New York Times— here’s a typical article denouncing the ‘bad Netanyahu,’ and contrasting him with the ‘saintly Rabin,’ which, quoting now— “with sheer intellectual honesty, was willing to sign the Oslo agreement, while Netanyahu opposes any solution that would give the Palestinians a viable state. Tiny, disarmed, poor, dominated by Israel, but their own.” And he says: “that’s the heart of the matter”—‘that’s the crucial difference between the ‘saintly Rabin’ and the ‘bad Netanyahu.’

Actually, his facts are wrong. Netanyahu is more forthcoming about a Palestinian state. And the current difference is between the Alon Plus and the Expanded Alon plan— that is, two forms of the South Africans’ Homelands policy at the worst moments— the deepest moments— of South African apartheid. So, what we can say then— looking at our own society— is that at the extreme left wing, dovish, pro-Palestinian end, they are rising to level of the depths of South-African apartheid. That is, maybe, because this is a sympathetic interpretation.

Just recently, Hillary Clinton as you know, expressed an interest in running for the Senate in New York. The New York Times ran a headline called “New York’s Palestinian state” and it condemned what they called a “monumental political gaffe” of Hillary Clinton who had said a couple of years ago that: “The territory that the Palestinians currently inhabit”, what she meant is “the territories they’re allowed to administer,” and “whatever they might get in peace negotiations, should evolve into a functioning modern state.” That is, a state that’s ‘tiny, disarmed, poor, dominated by Israel, but their own.’ And that was a “terrible political gaffe,” —the White House quickly disowned those dangerous thoughts, and she was denounced all over the place.

But she also got some support. So, the Times quoted a political science professor, who supported her and said: “Supporting a Palestinian state used to be a peacenik position — the extreme left-wing position. But now, maybe no more.” Like now, ‘maybe’ we can move forward, up to the stand of the worst South African racists thirty-five years ago, and we can no longer condemn that as the “peacenik extreme left-wing position.” So, our ‘moral and intellectual culture’ “may” be making real progress, and ‘sooner or later,’ may reach the depths of South Africa— though we can’t be sure… (Laughs) These are all comments about us, not about the situation there.


Is there a way out of all of this? Well when you grow up, you’re supposed to become more mature —maybe I’m missing a gene or something. (Laughs) I still believe what I thought when I was teenage Zionist youth activist, more than… almost 60 years ago. At that time, as a Zionist youth activist, I was strongly opposed to a Jewish state. Which was called a Zionist position at the time— now it’s an anti-Zionist position. It’s the same position —the meaning of the word has changed.

And the reasons were pretty straightforward: A ‘democratic Jewish state’ is an absolute contradiction in terms. You can try to pretend “circles are squares” if you like —but it’s more work. It’s a contradiction in terms. Furthermore a Jewish state, it was clear, was going to exacerbate conflicts and tensions. And thirdly, it was going to destroy the attractive elements in the existing societies —which were quite real. They’re not going to survive a state, and ethnic conflict.

And there was an alternative. The alternative, which was then-Zionist position, was some kind of bi-nationalist federation, recognizing there were two national groups involved, moving towards closer integration as circumstances permit, on the basis of cooperation between people across national lines —which are not the only national lines in the world. So, on the basis of common class interests, or cultural interests, or other interests.

Well, 1948 that became academic. In 1967 it became realistic. At that point, Israel controlled the whole region. It could have instituted a regime of that sort, with no opposition. In fact it would have been welcome. I actually suggested it a lot at that time. That led to extreme denunciations, particularly from Israeli doves. Including, I’m sorry to say, old friends. And the reason was, it was a period of enormous triumphalism, in Israel and the United States. Nobody wanted to hear anything. So that was gone. But, after 1973 that opportunity was lost. There was a window of opportunity from ‘67 up to the ‘73 war. It was lost. Now, it’s conceivable that it’s realistic again.

It should be obvious to any sane person that there is no two-state settlement other than the South African Transkei settlement. And it’s kind of interesting that —I don’t know exactly what it means —that this traditional Zionist idea that I just described —you know —on the fringe (I don’t want to say it’s the mainstream), is being revived a little bit in Israel, with some significance, when they debate. The important point for us is that the US —the attitude that the United States takes, is decisive —as always. Whatever happens here is decisive. It doesn’t determine everything, but it overwhelmingly determines what happens there. It’s the one factor that’s under our control, and that may perhaps offer a gleam of light in the general darkness, if we choose to do something about it.