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 adversariees 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`verya 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 commonly used by US manufacturers, who develop excess capacity abroad that can be used to break strikes here: the Caterpillar strike a few years ago is an illustration. For example, there was an effort to privatize the ports and the Israel union went on strike. Industrialists had a problem. They could use an Egyptian port or a port in Cyprus to break the strike, but they’re too far away. On the other hand, if they had a port in Gaza, that would be ideal. With the collaboration of the authorities in the neocolonial dependency, port operations could be transferred there. The strike of Israeli workers could be broken, and the ports transferred to unaccountable private hands. That’s a good reason to be in favor of a Palestinian state in a condition of permanent neocolonial dependency. The story should be familiar in Toledo.
Israel itself is – not surprisingly – becoming very much like the United States. It now has tremendous inequality, very high levels of poverty, stagnating or declining wages and deteriorating working conditions-rather like the United States, more so than most other industrial societies. As in the United States, the economy is based crucially on the dynamic state sector, sometimes concealed under the rubric of military industry. It’s not really surprising that the US should favor arrangements in its outpost that look pretty much like the United States itself.
It’s also not surprising that the US has been pursing the policy called “dual containment” – isolating Iran and Iraq – the two countries of the region that have not subordinated themselves to the US-dominated system of global order. However, that policy is collapsing. And it’s unsustainable. The regional countries are not accepting it any longer. Outside the US and to a limited extent England, there is very little support and strong opposition. Within the United States, opposition is also developing in the crucial area, the business world, which is unhappy about being forced to cede major opportunities to rivals. Remember that Iraq has the second-largest oil reserves in the world and Iran has plenty of resources too. So it is reasonable to expect that somehow or other, these two regions will be re-incorporated under US control. Not easily – because there’s plenty of problems in doing that. In fact the whole region is extremely volatile and very dangerous. There is no doubt that the US role remains critical, probably decisive, which is good for us because that’s the one factor that we can influence-a fact that confers upon us responsibilities which are very grave.
Question: I’d like you to go one step further in response to an argument that says, “With our support, Saddam Hussein did these things.” What would you say if someone were to say, “well gee you’re right, that was a mistake of ours and we’re trying to correct it.”
Answer: How are we correcting it? First of all, that’s a good answer, in fact, and it should be given honestly. So if Bill Clinton, George Bush and so on, would say, “Yeah, this guy’s a monster. Gotta get rid of him because he committed the ultimate crime with our support,” that would be aa breakthrough. Then, at least, we could face the question honestly. And then what would be logical answer be? Well, if he committed the crime with our support, who gets punished? Let’s suppose he said, “Well, I’m sorry. It was a mistake.” Is that enough? No, it’s not enough. If somebody commits a major crime then they’re responsible. Clinton didn’t oppose it and George Bush isn’t going to blame his father. These are US policies. These are policies that run through year after year. So, in fact, Saddam could say, “Yeah, I committed the crime then, but now I’m a better guy. I’m not going to do it again.” We don’t accept that. If we committed the crime, we should be asking ourselves why we did. And are we responsible for it? And furthermore, we’re back to the other question: is the way to deal with it to increase Saddam’s power and to devastate the population? Since no one believes that, we conclude that the policies are being carried out for different reasons, which we should seek to discover. But I do agree with you that it would be a major step forward if somebody would say, “Yes, he committed the crime with our support.” That would be a nice step forward.
Question: What about, the hardest question, Jerusalem?
Answer: I don’t think Jerusalem is the hardest question. I think it’s one of the easier questions. A very fine Israeli sociologist, Baruch Kimmerling, right in the middle of the Camp David negotiations wrote an article in Ha’Aretz, which is kind of like the New York Times. He said that off all the problems around, this is one of the easiest and can be solved in a few minutes. Maybe a little longer. But I think the point he was making is right. That’s the one case you can finesse. And they’re a lot of ways of finessing it. You can think a lot of technical ways of dealing with the Jerusalem issue.
The thing you cannot finesse is what I was describing: the breakup of the occupied territories into separated enclaves with major regions integrated into Israel. That, you can’t finesse. And that’s why nobody wants to talk about it. Clinton and Israel don’t want to talk about it for obvious reasons. Why doesn’t Arafat want to talk about it? Well I suspect the reason is that on the issue of Jerusalem, he can get support from the Arab states. On the issue of destroying the Palestinians, the Arab states don’t care one way or another. If they got rid of the Palestinians, they’d be happy-they’re just a nuisance, just as their own populations are a nuisance. So I presume that the reason that Arafat focuses on Jerusalem is tactical-that’s the one issue on which he can get support from the Arab facade. The reason is that they’re afraid of their own populations. If they abandon Jerusalem, people get angry.
Question: tPerhaps the Arab states don’t care if the Palestinians go away, but it’s clear the Palestinians are not going away. Not yet anyway. I was just a part of a National Lawyers Guild group who saw that there is Apartheid, that they’re bringing in Asian populations to do the work, that Oslo’s now dead, that there’s no Left anymore in Israel. It’s not working. So if Oslo’s dead, and it’s not working, what do you see as the next part of history?
Answer: I wish I agreed with you. But I don’t. I think we tend to underestimate the effectiveness of violence. If you look over history, violence usually succeeds. And there’s no evidence that Oslo isn’t working. Oslo is what Shlomo Ben-Ami described-an effort to create a permanent neocolonialist dependency in the occupied territories. And I think that may well work. It’s true that there’s a level of resistance that the US and Israel aren’t happy about, but they’ve got plenty of means of violence that they can use to suppress it and there’s a limit to what flesh and blood can endure. There really is a limit. That’s what rulers have understood all through history. And it usually works. If we allow it – we, you and I, the people in the United Sates – if we allow it to proceed it may well work again. One can think of all kinds of tactics, like what was just done for Jericho: that could be done for every Arab city. Every Arab city in the West Bank can be surrounded by a huge moat, which will prevent people from getting in and out. The US can send more helicopters to carry out more assassinations and attack more civilian concentrations, relying on the US press not to mention any of this, just as they haven’t mentioned it in the last six months. The long-term goal could be pretty much what Israel has assumed all along – even more dovish Israelis like Moshe Dayan, who of all the Israeli leaders, was maybe the one most sympathetic to the Palestinians. His view thirty years ago-in internal cabinet discussions-was: don’t give them anything; we should treat them like dogs and those who are able to will leave and after that we’ll see what happens.
That’s been known for fifteen years. It ought to be well understood-it’s in released documents, and has been cited in dissident publications here. And it is the policy. Incidentally it’s a policy that fits very well with Jewish history, which shouldn’t be ignored. Jews know their own history. Like others here, I studied it when I was a kid, taught it to children later, and in Israel particularly it’s very well known. Think about the Roman exile-what did it actually do two thousand years ago? Did they take the whole population out of Palestine? No. They took out the elites. They left the peasants. The peasants just stay. They stay, they suffer, they endure. Conquerors come, other conquerors replace them, and they adapt. They survive somehow. The elites are gone – that’s called an exile. Why can’t that happen again? The unpleasant fact is that violence usually works unless it’s constrained from within. There’s no force from outside the United States that can constrain it. There is a force inside the United States that can constrain it. If we don’t, I suspect that Oslo will work. It’s not going to be pretty, but I don’t see any reason to doubt that it will work.
Questioner reply: But what about South Africa and the end of Apartheid?
Answer: What happened in South Africa is a great thing. Eighty percent of the population was able to get formal freedom in a deal with the white rulers which left them largely in economic control, now joined by a new Black elite. That happened and that’s an achievement. In most of history, it doesn’t work like that and even in this case it is an extremely partial victory. For most of the people of South Africa, it’s not much of a victory, if any. Take a look at the townships outside of Cape Town and the slums of Johannesburg. The people there didn’t have any victory, and they know it. There’s a probably a blow-up coming there. Mandela, just a couple days ago, issued a strong condemnation ofthe what the ANC is doing, for these reasons.
Question: What would you say is a realistic and just solution to the Israeli and Palestinian problem?
Answer: Well there is an international consensus which is extremely broad, and it is a possible temporary solution. That is what virtually everybody in the world outside the United States has supported: UN 242 complemented by the other UN resolutions which call for a Palestinian state. That would require some technical settlement for Jerusalem, leaving it an open city, maybe the joint capital of two states roughly on the pre-June 67 borders. Personally I’ve always thought that’s a rotten solution. It’s better than what there is now, but I don’t really think it’s a viable solution in the longer term. It doesn’t make any sense. It would be like putting an arbitrary boundary through the middle of Ohio and saying we’re going to establish two independent countries, like the US and Mexico. They just belong together. In fact they really ought be together with Jordan and probably others. I think the longer-term solution is-I’ll qualify this-something not unlike the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Empire was an ugly affair, but they had the right idea. The rulers in Turkey were fortunately so corrupt that they left people alone pretty much-were mostly interested in robbing them-and they left them alone to run their own affairs, and their own regions and their own communities with a lot of local self determination.
Well, we’re not going to back to the Ottoman Empire, fortunately, but that general picture is not unrealistic. In fact that may be what Europe is moving towards as it breaks down the nation-state system, which was vicious and murderous. Just look at the last five hundred years of European history as this system was established. It’s a horror story. And it’s gradually moving towards some kind of integration along with regionalism, which makes sense. Perhaps the same is true in the Levant. From a two state settlement which is maybe viable but ugly, we can imagine moves towards a federal arrangement in which there’s a degree of interaction and shared responsibility and then on towards further forms of integration. I think that could happen. It will require a major change in US policy. As long as the US doesn’t support it, it will never happen. But it could. And as a first step there could be something like the international consensus.
There are never solutions to problems in one shot. An instantaneous solution is unlikely. That never happens for a serious problem. But what can happen is steps that will ease the way towards further steps. And it seems to me we can think of a course of development that could be constructive here. Question: Do you think it’s is a good idea to push the idea of divestment from Israel the same way that we used to push it for white South Africa? Answer: I regard the United States as the primary guilty party here, for the past 30 years. And for us to push for divestment from the United States doesn’t really mean anything. What we ought to do is push for changes in US policy. Now it makes good sense to press for not sending attack helicopters to Israel, for example. In fact it makes very good sense to try get some newspaper in the United States to report the fact that it’s happening. That would be a start. And then to stop sending military weapons that are being used for repression. And you can take steps like that. But I don’t think divestment from Israel would make much sense, even if such a policy were imaginable (and it’s not).
Our primary concern, I think, should be change in fundamental US policy, which has been driving this thing for decades. And that should be within our range. That’s what we’re supposed to be able to do: change US policy.
Question: What about the Palestinian right of return?
The answer: I think there is a right of return. There are lots of rights of return. For example, I think there’s a right of return for the people who were driven out of this place, those who survived. They have a right of return. There are all kinds of rights in the world and the fact is that a lot of rights are simply not going to be satisfied. When rights conflict as they commonly do, you have to try to find some humane solution. In the foreseeable future-and no one should mislead miserable Palestinian refugees about this-in the foreseeable future, there is going to be no force in the world that will compel Israel, even urge Israel, let alone compel them, to accept a large number of refugees. Maybe some but not a large number. If, unimaginably, they were compelled, they’d probably blow up the world-and don’t forget that they can do it. General Butler was correct. And then there won’t be any problems to worry about.
So within the foreseeable future, this is a right which should be recognized and should be dealt with in some humane fashion but without misleading suffering people into believing that that their rights are going be dealt with fully, because they’re not. How do you go on from there? Well you try to work out ways of accommodating the problems of the refugees. A lot of them could be brought here. Remember, it’s return or compensation that was called for in UN 194. Compensation is a possibility. Given our responsibilities and our wealth, we could easily take care of the compensation and should. And that might involve settlement here, which I suspect most of them might prefer anyway. At least they should be given the choice. As for going back to Israel, that should be an option, but it is going to be limited.
Question: In the Fateful Triangle, the 1983 part of it, you suggested that the United States in Israel had some risks involved in treating the Palestinians that way. Now at the Soviet Union is gone, do we have any risks at all from our bad behavior. Is there something, sometime, that might backlash?
Answer: Well, I never thought that the Soviet Union posed much of a deterrent. In fact, the Soviet Union was always well in the background there. And remember that during the period up until its collapse in 1990, the Soviet Union was in the mainstream of international opinion on this. They were scarcely different from Europe in the positions they were taking on a diplomatic settlement. In fact a measure of the Soviet risk was given by the Bush administration in an extremely important document, which I’d urge you to read, and which everyone should have known was important. Every year around the spring, the White House presents Congress with a plan for the military budget. This is what we want it to be. It’s usually boilerplate, the same story every year. But the interesting one was March 1990. How are they going to handle it in March 1990 when the pretext for the last fifty years was gone? The Berlin wall had just fallen.
So anyone who’s interested in US foreign policy or in our own country should have immediately looked at that. And it’s very interesting. It’s pretty much the same as before. We need a huge military establishment. We have to maintain what’s called the “defense industrial base” -which is a name for high-tech industry. We have to have huge intervention forces aimed at the Middle East, just as before. Everything the same as before. All that’s changed is the pretext. So we have to have this huge military budget, not because of the Russians, but because of, I’m quoting “the technical sophistication” of Third World countries. That’s why we need it all. As far as our intervention forces, what it says is that these have to be maintained, aimed primarily at the Middle East, as before. Then comes the following phrase: “where the threat to our interests could not be laid at the Kremlin’s door.” In other words, “sorry folks, we’ve been lying to you for fifty years, but we’ve gotta tell the truth now because the Kremlin’s not around.” So the threat to our interest could not be laid at the Kremlin’s door, or incidentally at Iraq’s door because remember Iraq was an ally at the time. The threat is what it had always been – finally the cloud has lifted: independent nationalism. Pretty clear from the internal record before, but now public. Yes that was the threat. And the threat of the Palestinians is that they would stir up independent nationalism.
Now it’s perfectly true that as long as there’s another superpower around, things could get out of hand. For example in 1967, at the very end of the war, when Israel conquered the Golan Heights after the cease-fire (and against the wishes of the United States), there was a threat of nuclear war. The Russians were furious, there were Hot Line communications. There was a confrontation between fleets in the Eastern Mediterranean. McNamara later said “we damn near had war.”
When you’ve got nuclear weapons all over the place, there’s always a threat of terrible war. That remains. In fact, maybe it’s higher now than it was before. The Russians today probably are more of a threat than they were 15 years ago – more of a nuclear threat, that is. And we’re helping them become a bigger threat. For example the Clinton administration urged the Russians to put their missiles on launch-on-warning status. Meaning the missiles blast off on the basis of electronic information, not personal judgment, that there’s an attack coming. The reason the Clinton administration did that is to try get them to accept the US undermining of the ABM treaty with the National Missile Defense. The idea was, “Don’t worry about it- you can raise the status of the firing of your missiles.” But they have deteriorating command and control systems. What happened to the Kursk submarine is happening all over. And what we’re asking them to do is to take these deteriorating systems and use them to determine when to fire nuclear-armed missiles. That’s extremely dangerous for everybody. And that danger not only persists, but is probably increasing. The Nuclear Missile Defense is going to make it increase further because it is almost a demand that they increase their deterrent capacity. So these problems have always existed. There’s always a threat that something can blow up, and that’s the end. It was true then and it’s true now. But the immediate threat faced by policy-makers is what it always was: that the populations of the regions may not accept the arrangements imposed on them, may overthrow their own governments, may move in the direction of independent nationalism. And then the US is going to have to go in with force, if it can; not so easy.
Question: Two questions: Why the passivity of the American population given the high literacy rate and what can ordinary US citizens do to keep both sides moving towards peace?
Answer: Well, let’s be concrete about it. It’s true that there’s a fairly high literacy rate – I wish it were higher, but it’s reasonably high. On the other hand, does a high literacy rate do you any good in discovering for example that you’re sending attack helicopters to Israel to attack civilian concentrations? No, it doesn’t do you any good because you can’t read it anywhere, except in dissident literature that is effectively marginalized. Not much point in having a high literacy rate if there’s nothing to read. And that generalizes. Take the document that I just mentioned, the March 1990 Bush administration document. Clearly that’s going to be important. And it’s there, it’s public. But a high literacy rate is not enough to find it. You can’t find it in the mainstream; as far as I know, it wasn’t even mentioned apart from dissident literature. And to look elsewhere, you have to know what you’re looking for.
If you want to be a physicist for example, it’s not enough that there’s a ton of data. You have to know what to look for. That requires some understanding of how things work. And to get some understanding requires an education that gears you to picking out the things that are important. Our educational system doesn’t. In fact quite the opposite. It tries to keep you safe from such dangerous thoughts. And it often succeeds. That’s why we don’t pay attention to things like the easy ways to end human rights abuses. The easiest way, surely, is to stop carrying them out. That should be trivial. So a primary concern of those who are concerned with human rights should be to ask, “what we doing to harm human rights?” Let’s stop doing it. That’s not the way it works, however. Not for the schools and colleges, the media, the general intellectual culture. One might even say without much exaggeration that their task is to prevent it from becoming a concern. That’s exactly why you have a huge focus on humanitarian intervention and the dilemmas when somebody else does something bad, but virtually nothing about terminating participation in crimes when we’re doing it. Well, this generalizes. So it means is what has to be done is to move from literacy, which is a prerequisite, to understanding, which requires organization and education and all the things that every activist knows about. It’s true on every issue. What can we do about peace in the Middle East? A lot of things. For example one thing we can do is to stop impeding it. That would be a good start. After we stopped preventing it and gone that far, then we can ask about constructive steps. I think there are some, for example, the ones that were discussed a moment ago.
Question: Seems like your talk might better be “the prospects of fascism in the Middle East”. Very dark picture. Do you see any independent forces in Israeli society – the women’s movement, intellectuals, workers, Palestinian society from the people-that can mount any resistance what’s going down with this global policy? Or in United States, what you see as a way for the movements that all over the place yet seem fairly unfocused, including some focus on how US policy is operating and how an opposition might be mobilized?
Answer: Well I think the last part of the question is the important one. Sure, there all sorts of good things going on everywhere you look. Israel, Palestine, all sorts of places. But we can’t do much about them. What we can do a lot about is what’s happening here. And yes we can do plenty. The majority of the American population has always supported something like a two-state settlement. Most of the population is against sending military aid to Israel and would be overwhelmingly opposed to it if they knew what was being done. Those are things that are within our reach.
And about the “unfocused movements.” Well I don’t know about that. I think there is a lot of energy and activism in United States and other countries focused on all sorts of things. Is it focused on this? No. But that’s something we can try to do something about. In the early 60s, we could have asked the same questions about the Vietnam War. How come no one is focused on this situation where we’re bombing another country, driving huge numbers of people into concentration camps, destroying their food supplies to control them, and a long series of other atrocities? Well okay, do something about it. But there are no secrets. We know what has to be done. It’s not going to happen by just looking at it.
Question: Can you highlight some US publications that do report reasonably accurately about what’s going on in the Middle East.
Answer: Middle East Report for example, a MERIP publication. Actually the journal I was just quoting this quite interesting article from about the Israel industrialists and Shlomo Ben-Ami, that’s in English. It’s called the Palestine-Israel Bulletin. It’s published in Israel, but it’s in English. And it has a lot of interesting material. Z Magazine has had a lot of things. Z Net has a lot of things. There’s material around. [Follow up: Was that the Washington Report on the Middle East?] No. The Middle East report is the MERIP journal-I think that’s what they call themselves now. They changed their name recently.
Question: Considering that United Nations reflects the power structure of post World War II, do you have hope that it will be a true peacemaking body or are you cynical?
Answer: There are plenty of reasons for being cynical about the United Nations. There are all kinds of corruption. I could give you a long story from just my own experience, which is pretty bizarre. But the main problem with the United Nations is that it can do only what the great powers will allow it to do. And the “great powers” means primarily us. So if the United States puts a limit and says “you guys can’t do that,” then it’s finished-the United Nations can’t do it.
So we’re back to where we always are. We cannot overlook the fact that we’re living in by far the most powerful country in the world. The one thing we can really hope to do is change the policies inside that country, which happens to be the most powerful in the world, so it’s terribly important. And with regard to the United Nations and everything else, it’s imposing the main limits. It’s easy to blame the United Nations for doing this, that, and the other thing when the US gives them no other option. There’s plenty that you can say in criticism of the United Nations, but it’s small as compared with the criticism that they cannot act because of great power constraints. And that’s again in our hands. In the case we’re discussing, the United Nations can’t do anything because the US won’t let it. The UN for example wanted to put an observer force in the occupied territories, which would be a concrete way to cut down violence. Israel opposed it and the US vetoed it.
Question: What impact are the Israeli peace groups having on Israel’s policies? Are the academic and religious communities central components of this process?
Answer: “Peace groups” is a pretty wide-ranging phrase. Again, let me direct it back. There are elements in Israel which would not only agree with everything I’ve said but would insist on saying it much more strongly. On the other hand, there are “peace groups” that are very impressed with Barak’s forthcoming offer, which divided the West Bank into isolated enclaves. So which are the peace groups?
But-I hate to be boring -but let me say the same thing again. No group in Israel-no group-peace, war, anything else, can gain any credibility within that society unless it has very strong support inside the United States. And that just follows from the relations of dependency. So if there is an element that is, from your point of view and mine, a “genuine peace group,” it can gain some credibility to the extent that it detects significant support inside United States. Otherwise it will gain no credibility.
We can debate the merits of the various groups, but if you want to influence what they can do, you have to do it here. We’re back to the same point, as we always are. It is a very strong temptation to externalize problems. Let’s look at the problems out there, the things those people out there are or aren’t doing. And there are plenty of problems out there. But the highest priority is always to internalize them. What can we do about them? For us particularly that is extremely crucial because we can do a lot. We happen to be in an unusually free country and by far the most powerful one of the world. That gives us a range of options which is extremely important. And the big question is: are we doing anything about it? Are we using the tremendous opportunities and privilege that we enjoy? Well if we look at ourselves, we can see we’re not doing much about it, and that’s the problem.