US Foreign Policy in the Middle East

Noam Chomsky

Text of lecture delivered at the UNESCO Palace, Beirut, Lebanon, May 25, 2010

It’s very commonly agreed in foreign policy circles that there are two major issues in American foreign policy today. One of them is the threat of Iran and the second one is the unresolved Israel/Palestine conflict. Questions arise about each of these issues. With regard to Iran, the first question that arises is, “What, exactly is the Iranian threat?” With regard to Israel/Palestine, the obvious question is, “Why isn’t it resolved?” Actually, there are many problems in the world where it’s difficult even to imagine a solution but this one happens to be particularly easy. There is almost universal agreement on what the solution should be, backed by the Arab League, by the Organization of Islamic States, including Iran, by Europe, by the United Nations, by international law, in fact, essentially by everyone, so how come it isn’t solved? That’s the second question.

Well, there are some straightforward answers to these questions but they do not enter discussion within Western ideology and doctrine and the answers that are so simple are quite remote from general conventions. So let me say a few words about them.

With regard to the threat of Iran, there is a very authoritative answer, provided by military and intelligence reports to Congress in April 2010. They say that the threat of Iran is not a military threat. Iran has virtually no offensive military capacity. Its military spending is very slight, of course a minuscule fraction of US military spending, but also pretty low by regional standards. They point out that the goal of Iranian military strategy is to try to defend the borders of the country and, in case they’re attacked, to try to delay invading forces sufficiently so as to permit a negotiated settlement.

They discuss the question of whether Iran is developing nuclear weapons and say that, if they are developing nuclear weapons, which they don’t know, the goal would be deterrence to prevent an attack on Iran. That’s basically the story.

What then is the threat? Well, the threat is also explained. The primary threat is that Iran is engaged in destabilizing its neighbors. It’s trying to increase its influence in surrounding countries, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US is, of course, involved in Iraq and Afghanistan but that is not destabilizing. That’s stabilizing. The US is there to improve stability and, if Iran tries to have influence in its neighboring countries, that’s destabilizing. Now that’s very standard terminology in foreign policy literature and discussion. I mean it reaches to the point that the former editor of Foreign Affairs, the main establishment journal, was able to say with a straight face and with no reaction from anyone that the United States had to destabilize Chile under Allende … had to destabilize the government of Chile and overthrow it and establish a dictatorship in order to bring about stability. It sounds like a contradiction but it isn’t when you understand that “stability” has a meaning. It means US control. So we had to destabilize the country that was out of US control in order to bring about stability, and it’s the same problem with regard to Iran. It doesn’t follow orders and, therefore, it is destabilizing the regional situation.

There is another problem with Iran, namely, it supports terrorism. So for example, you may believe today that you’re celebrating National Liberation Day but, in terms of Western doctrine, what you’re celebrating is the success of terrorism and, in fact, the success of aggression against Israel in Southern Lebanon … Iranian aggression … so you’re celebrating Iranian aggression against Israel in Southern Lebanon and its success and celebrating terrorists and terrorism (quoting Israeli Labor Party high official Ephraim Sneh). It’s not Liberation Day. You have to understand how to interpret these matters properly if you want to enter into the framework of imperial discourse. This is not just the US and Israel. It’s Western Europe as well. There are a few exceptions. So that’s the threat of Iran.

The description is not incorrect. Iran does not follow orders. It’s trying to maintain its sovereignty. This is all quite independent of what anyone thinks about its government. You may have the worst government in the world but that’s not the issue here. The US doesn’t care one way or the other what the government is like. It wants it to follow orders to improve stability. That’s the Iranian threat.

What about Israel and Palestine? Well, there is an official version of that conflict too. You see it every day in the newspapers. The United States is an honest broker and neutral arbiter trying to bring together two sides which are irrational and violent. They won’t agree and the United States is trying to settle the conflict between them. That’s why there are proximity talks where the US mediates between the two irrational opponents, the Palestinians and the Israelis. That’s the official version. You can read it every day. There’s also a reality. I won’t run through the whole story but the basic facts are clear.

In 1967, Israel conquered the Occupied Territories and there was a Security Council resolution calling for settlement of the conflict, UN 242. It called for Israel to withdraw to its borders and, in return, there should be guarantees for the security of every state in the region and recognition of every state in the region within recognized borders. There’s nothing in it for the Palestinians. They are mentioned only as refugees. So that’s in essence UN 242, which everyone agrees is the general framework for political settlement.

Well in 1971, four years later, President Sadat of Egypt offered Israel a full peace treaty, with nothing for the Palestinians. In return, total withdrawal from the occupied territories and he really only cared about the Sinai. Jordan made a similar offer a year later. Israel had to make a decision. Are they going to choose security or expansion? A peace treaty with Egypt means security. Egypt was of course the major Arab military force. But they were, at that time, working hard to expand into Egyptian territory … into the Sinai, northeast Sinai, in order to establish a city and settlements and so on. They made what I think was the most fateful decision in the history of the country. They decided to prefer expansion to security so they rejected the peace offer. Now the crucial question always is, “What is the Master going to do?” So, “What will Washington decide?” And there was a bureaucratic battle in Washington about this. Henry Kissinger won the internal battle and he was opposed to negotiations. He was in favor of what he called “stalemate,” no negotiations. So he backed Israel’s decision to choose expansion over security and that led very quickly to the 1973 war, the October war. It was a very close thing for Israel, and Israel and the United States recognized that they could not simply disregard Egypt. Then begins a long period of diplomatic interaction ending up at Camp David a couple of years later, when the United States and Israel essentially accepted Sadat’s 1971 proposal. This is called, in Western doctrine, a great diplomatic victory for President Carter and Henry Kissinger. In fact, it was a diplomatic catastrophe. They could have accepted it in 1971, and the cost of refusal was a very dangerous war and close to nuclear war, a lot of suffering and misery. Actually what the United States and Israel had to accept at Camp David was partially, from their point of view, harsher than Sadat’s 1971 offer because, by this time, the issue of Palestinian national rights had entered the international agenda so they had to accept, at least in words, some form of Palestinian national rights in the territories from which Israel was supposed to withdraw.

Meanwhile, in the intervening period, in 1976 there was another crucial event. In 1976, the major Arab states, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and others, brought to the Security Council a resolution calling for a settlement of the conflict in terms of UN 242 — all the relevant wording of 242 with its guarantees for rights and so on, but with an addition: a Palestinian state in the occupied territories. Israel refused to attend the session. The United States vetoed the resolution. It vetoed a similar one in 1980. Now when the United States vetoes a resolution, it’s a double veto. First of all, it doesn’t happen, and secondly, it’s vetoed from history. So if you look at even the scholarly record it’s rarely mentioned, and there certainly isn’t anything in the media or general discussion. The events that I’ve just described didn’t happen. They’re not there. You have to search very hard to find a reference to them. That’s one of the prerogatives of an imperial power. You can control history as long as you have a submissive intellectual class, which the West does have. I won’t go through the rest of the history but it continues pretty much like that.

Up to the present, the United States and Israel are out of the world. With rare and temporary exceptions, they have continued to block the political settlement that has almost universal agreement, which means that, if there were serious proximity talks today, conducted maybe from Mars, then the two antagonists that would be brought together would be the United States and the world. You could have proximity talks between them and, if they could reach an agreement, there would be a settlement of this problem. Well, that’s the factual record. Of course, historical events are always more complex than a simple description but these are the basic facts. They’re not controversial. There’s no serious question about them but they aren’t part of general discourse about these topics because they lead to the wrong conclusions and, therefore, they’re excluded. If I talk about this in the West in most places, the words are almost unintelligible. It’s not unique to this case. It reveals the extraordinary power of imperial ideology. Even the simplest, the most obvious, the most crucial facts are invisible if they do not accord with the needs of power.

I’m by no means the first person to talk about this. George Orwell wrote about it, for example. He was discussing how in England, a free society, unpopular ideas can be suppressed without the use of force, just voluntarily, and he gave a few reasons. The most important one was a good education. He said, if you have a good education, you have instilled into you the understanding that there are certain things it wouldn’t do to say — or even to think, for that matter. This essay of his is not very well known because it wasn’t published, maybe proving his thesis. This was to be the introduction to his book Animal Farm. Everyone has read Animal Farm. It’s about the totalitarian state, the totalitarian enemy and its evil ways. But, just to prevent too much self-satisfaction, Orwell wrote an introduction commenting on free England. It was not published. It was found many years later in his unpublished papers. It is not his greatest essay, but his point is basically correct. Unpopular ideas can be suppressed without the use of force and a good education is an effective means to reach this result. Well, unless we can become capable of thinking the thoughts that are banned by imperial ideology, understanding of what’s happening in the world is going to be very difficult to attain.

I’ll come back to these two crucial issues of foreign policy but first let me add a little background and what I think is appropriate context. The United States is, of course, the dominant force in world affairs and has been since the Second World War. It’s very important to understand that there are a number of aspects of US history which affect policy right to the present and I think are not sufficiently appreciated. One fact is that the United States is a settler-colonial society. Settler-colonialism is by far the worst kind of imperialism because it destroys or eliminates the native population. Part of the reason, I think, for the more or less reflexive sympathy for Israel in the United States is the recognition that Israel is pretty much reliving our history, as a settler-colonial society. We got rid of an indigenous population and Israel has been doing something similar.

There are lots of ironies involved in this. The original settlers regarded themselves as the children of Israel. They were returned to the Promised Land. They were united by a principle that runs through American history right up to the present. It’s called Providentialism. We’re fulfilling God’s will. Whatever we do, we’re fulfilling God’s will. If we exterminate the natives; that must be God’s will. We’re trying to do good, of course, we’re trying to be benevolent but sometimes God’s purposes are mysterious. You can read discussions by Supreme Court justices who were very surprised that the Indians were being exterminated — as they put it, were like withered leaves of autumn blowing away — and God’s inscrutable will is leading to this unfortunate consequence. We are benevolent and work to improve their situation and to be nice to them but they are somehow kind of withering away. That’s Providentialism.

The State of Massachusetts was one of the first places settled by the English colonists. It got its charter in 1629 from the King of England. The charter was given to it with the purpose of benevolence to the indigenous population, helping the indigenous population, rescuing them from paganism. That was the goal of the commonwealth. In fact, the colony had a great seal with an image that depicts its goal. The image shows an Indian with a scroll coming out of his mouth and on the scroll it says, “Come over and help us.” So, “Please come here and help us,” and the colonists were trying to help them. Today that’s called humanitarian intervention. They’re coming to help them but, for some reason, they withered away like the leaves of autumn by God’s inscrutable will which is beyond our understanding.

Well, another crucial fact about the United States is that it was founded as an empire, explicitly. The father of the country, George Washington, defined the United States as an infant empire, in his words, and his colleagues agreed. The most libertarian of the founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, predicted that the newly liberated colonies would extend over the entire hemisphere. They would create a free hemisphere in which there would be no red, no black, and no Latin. The red, the Indians, would be driven away, or would wither away or disappear. The blacks were sort of needed for a while for slavery but, when slavery ends, they’ll go back to where they belong to Africa and later Haiti. As for the Latins of the south, they’re an inferior race so they will gradually be swept away by a superior race of Anglo-Saxons. To quote a major academic historian on this topic, Jefferson pictured the United States as the homeland for teeming millions who would immigrate and reproduce their kind in all parts of North and South America displacing, not only the indigenous red men, but also the Latin population, creating a continent that would be American in blood, in language, in habits, and in political ideology. Well, that was the goal. It wasn’t quite achieved but it was substantially achieved in one or another way. Through the 19th Century, the United States established what is now called its national territory. That meant exterminating the indigenous population as was recognized by the more honest leaders, by conquering half of Mexico, and various other, not too pleasant actions.

Historians of imperialism sometimes talk about what they call the salt water fallacy. The salt water fallacy means it’s called imperialism only if you cross salt water. So if the Mississippi river had been as wide as the Irish Sea, then it would have been imperialism but, since it’s narrower, it’s not called imperialism. But the people who carried out the conquest had no such illusions. They understood it to be imperialism whether it crossed salt water or not and they were very proud of the imperial achievement in establishing the national territory. By the end of the century, they were facing salt water and they expanded to conquer Cuba, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and so on, and went on to conquer the Philippines killing hundreds of thousands of people, but always with the most benevolent of intentions. It was just pure altruism. Tears come to your eyes in reading the odes to the benevolence of these conquests — features that are, again, almost universal in imperial practice. It’s hard to find an imperial power that didn’t put forth the same kind of posture.

By the First World War, it was beginning to be recognized that oil was going to be a fundamental commodity in the coming world picture so Woodrow Wilson kicked the British out of Venezuela, a major oil producer, and took it over and supported a vicious dictator. That continued for a long period after Wilson. Within a few years, Venezuela was the biggest oil exporter in the world. The US was the major producer but Venezuela was the major exporter with US corporations running it. and so it continued.

In the Middle East, it was recognized by the 1920s that it was a huge source of energy so the US did intervene there and managed to take part of the concession that was mostly British and French, but the US was powerful enough to take control of part of the concession. During the Second World War, there was actually a small war going on between the United States and Britain to determine who would control Saudi Arabia. This was recognized as a future prize and the US of course won that conflict and took it over. Up until World War II, the United States was not a major player in world affairs. It controlled the Western hemisphere and had some forays in the Pacific but the major actors in world affairs were, primarily, Britain and, secondarily, France. But the Second World War changed all that. The United States had by far the largest economy in the world. In fact that was true a century ago, but it was not the major actor in world affairs. World War II changed that and it was clear that it was going to emerge from the war as the major world power. The planners in President Roosevelt’s State Department and the Council on Foreign Affairs understood that. They had extensive meetings running right through the war, from 1939 to 1945, to plan the post war world, a world in which the US would be the dominant power. Their plans were quite important and, in fact, were implemented almost as they described them. The major concept that they developed was the concept of what they called the Grand Area. The Grand Area would be totally controlled by the United States. It would include the Western hemisphere, of course, the entire Far East, and the former British empire, including the Middle East energy resources. At least that much would have to be part of the Grand Area.

Now, in the early stages of the war, they assumed that Germany would emerge from the war as a major European power so there would be two worlds, the US world controlling the Grand Area and the Germans controlling parts of Europe and Asia. By the time that the Russians started driving the Germans troops back after Stalingrad, it became clear that Germany was not going to survive the war and the concept of the Grand Area was expanded to include as much of Eurasia as possible, at least the core, the economic, political, social, and economic core of Eurasia, mainly Western Europe, at least that. Actually, there were plans to go beyond. The British were by 1943 beginning to plan for a post war period in which the allies would immediately attack Russia and destroy it. Winston Churchill was particularly committed to this. In fact, in May 1945, when the war formally came to an end, and he ordered war plans for what was called Operation Unthinkable: the Wehrmacht, the German army, backed by the Royal Air Force and the American air force would attack Russia and destroy it. It was never implemented but that was the goal. The openly stated goal of the atom bomb was “to subdue the Russians.” Those were the words of General Leslie Groves, who was in charge of the Manhattan project that developed the bomb. In brief, we’re going to subdue you and you can’t do anything about it.

There were hopes of expanding the Grand Area to a global area. Well, that didn’t quite happen either but it came pretty close.

What about the Middle East? It was understood that Middle East oil resources are critical for world control. One leading planner pointed out that control over Middle East oil would yield substantial control over the world. France was expelled from the region, the British were gradually reduced to a junior partner, and the US emerged as the dominant force in controlling Middle East oil and, therefore, it was hoped, the world.

Now, Western Europe was part of the Grand Area, but it was always understood that, sooner or later, Europe might pursue an independent path perhaps following the Gaullist vision of Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals and something had to be done to prevent that. Well, a number of things were done. One of them was called NATO. One of its main purposes is to ensure that Europe will be contained within a US-run military alliance. That leads to consequences right up to the moment. This concern that Europe might become independent is sometimes tinged with a certain degree of contempt. Just a few days ago, in fact, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, the main government foreign relations group, Richard Haass, wrote an article called, “Good-bye Europe.” Europe, he says, is no longer a high-ranking power in international affairs and the reason is it’s not violent enough. It’s refusing to provide troops to control the world at an adequate level so, “Good-bye Europe”. It can sink into oblivion. No one really believes that but that’s in the background. Well, throughout the sort of official version of this whole period is called the Cold War. So what was the Cold War?

You can look at ideology or you can look at facts, at events. The events of the Cold War are very clear. The primary events of the Cold War were regular intervention and subversion within the Grand Area, always with the justification that we were defending ourselves from what John F. Kennedy called the Ômonolithic and ruthless conspiracy” to control the world, so that’s why we have to intervene. The Russians did the same thing in their smaller domains. In fact, the Cold War was pretty much a tacit compact between the big super power and the little super power in which each one was pretty much free to do what it wanted in its own domains, Russia in Eastern Europe, the US everywhere else, appealing to the threat of the enemy. Sometimes it got out of control and came very close to terminal nuclear war but, basically, that was the Cold War structure.

There’s another principle which ought to be borne in mind which is one of the major operative principles in world affairs right up to the present and that is what we might call the Mafia principle. International affairs are run very much like the Mafia. The Godfather does not permit disobedience. That’s actually fairly explicit in the Grand Area planning although not in exactly those words.

In the Grand Area, the US was to have “unquestioned power” with “military and economic supremacy” while ensuring “limitation of any exercise of sovereignty” by states that might interfere with its global designs. That’s the Mafia principle. Actually, that’s the Iranian threat. They’re trying to exercise sovereignty and that’s not permitted under the Mafia principle. You can’t permit independence. You must have obedience, and it’s understandable. If somebody is disobedient, maybe some small country or, in the Mafia, some small storekeeper, if they get away with it, others may get the idea that they can do it too and pretty soon you have what Henry Kissinger called a virus that spreads contagion. If a virus might spread contagion, you have to kill the virus and inoculate everyone else by imposing brutal dictatorships and so on. That’s a core part of Cold War history. If you look at it closely, you see that that’s what it amounted to.

Well meanwhile, the Grand Area was becoming more diversified. In 1950, at the end of the Second World War, the United States literally had half the world’s wealth and unimaginable security and power. By 1970, that had reduced to about 25% of the world’s wealth, which is still colossal but far less than 50%. The industrial countries had reconstructed and decolonization had taken place. The world was becoming what was called tri-polar. The US-centered North American system, Europe based primarily on Germany and France, and the Japan-centered developing Northeast Asian economy. Today it’s gotten more diversified. The structure is becoming more complex and much harder to control. Latin America, for the first time in its history, is moving towards a degree of independence. There are south/south contacts developing. Thus China now is Brazil’s leading trading partner. Also, China is intruding into the crucial Middle East region and contracting and taking the oil.

There’s a lot of discussion these days in foreign policy circles about a shift in power in the global system with China and India becoming the new great powers. That’s not accurate. They are growing and developing but they’re very poor countries. They have enormous internal problems. There is, however, a global shift of power: it’s from the global workforce to private capital. There’s an Asian production center with China at the heart of it, largely an assembly plant for the surrounding more advanced Asian countries — Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea — which produce sophisticated technology, and parts and components, and send them to China where they’re assembled and sent out to the United States and Europe. US corporations are doing the same thing. They produce high technology exports to China where they are assembled and you buy them at home as an iPod or a computer, something like that. They’re called Chinese exports but that’s quite misleading. You can see it very clearly if you look at the actual statistics. So there’s a lot of concern about the US debt. Well actually, most of the US debt is held by Japan not by China. There’s concern about the trade deficit. We purchase so much more from China than we export to them. Meanwhile the trade deficit with Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan is going down. The reason is that Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan and so forth are providing materials to China for them to assemble. These are counted in the United States as imports from China, but that’s completely misleading. It’s the Asian production center which is developing and US corporations and regional advanced economies are deeply involved in it. Meanwhile the share of wealth of the workforce globally is declining. In fact, it is declining even faster in China, relative to the economy, than it is elsewhere. So when we look at the world realistically, there is a global shift of power but it’s not a shift to the Chinese/Indian power displacing the United States. It’s a shift from working people all over the world to transnational capital. They are enriching themselves. It’s essentially an old story but it’s taking new forms with the availability of the global workforce. Capital is mobile and labor is not. It has obvious consequences.

Now all of this is fine for financial institutions, and corporate managers, and CEOs. and retail chains, but it is very harmful to populations. That’s part of the reason for many significant social problems inside the United States. I don’t have time to go into them.

To get some real insight into global policy one place to look is at Grand Area planning during the Second World War and its implementation. Another place to look is at the end of the Cold War.

So what happened at the end of the Cold War? In 1989 when the wall fell and the Soviet Union collapsed, there was no more Cold War. What happened? The president of the United States at the time was George Bush, the first George Bush. and the Bush Administration immediately produced new plans to deal with the post-Cold War system. The plans, in brief, were that everything would remain as it was before but with new pretexts. So there still has to be a huge military force but not to defend ourselves against the Russians, because they are gone. Rather now, it was to defend ourselves — I’m quoting — against the “technological sophistication” of third world powers. You’re not supposed to laugh. That’s what we need a huge military force for and, if you’re a well educated person, following Orwell’s principle, do not laugh. Say, “Yes, we need to defend ourselves from the technological sophistication of third world powers,” It was necessary to maintain what’s called the “defense industrial base.” That’s a euphemism for high tech industry. High tech industry does not develop simply by free market principles. The corporate system can provide for more consumer choice but high tech develops substantially in the state sector: computers, the Internet, and so on. It’s commonly been done under the pretext of defense. But with the Cold War over, we still have to maintain the “defense industrial base.” That is the state goal: is supporting high tech industry.

What about intervention forces? Well, the major intervention forces are in the Middle East where the energy resources are. The post-Cold War plans said that we must maintain these intervention forces directed at the Middle East, and then came an interesting phrase: where the serious problems “could not be laid at the Kremlin’s door.” The problems, in other words, were not caused by the Russians. So in other words, quietly, we have been lying to you for 50 years but now the clouds have lifted and we have to tell the truth, in part at least. The problem was not the Russians all along. It was what is called radical nationalism, independent nationalism, which is seeking to exercise sovereignty and control their own resources. Now, that’s intolerable all over the world because of the Mafia principle. You can’t allow that. That’s still there so we still need the intervention forces. Same in Latin America, same everywhere even though there are no Russians.

Well, what about NATO? That’s an interesting case. If you believed anything you read during the Cold War years, you would have concluded that NATO should have disappeared. NATO was supposed to be there to protect Europe from the Russian hordes. OK? No more Russian hordes. What happens to NATO? Well, what happened to NATO was that it expanded. It’s expanding more right now. The details are fairly well known. They’re well studied by good scholarship. Gorbachev, the Russian Premier, made a remarkable concession. He agreed to let a unified Germany join NATO, a hostile military alliance. It’s quite remarkable. Germany alone had virtually destroyed Russia twice in a century. Now, he was allowing it to rearm in a military alliance with the United States. Of course there was a quid pro quo. He thought that there was an agreement that NATO would become a more political organization. In fact, he was promised that by the Bush administration. NATO would be more of a political organization and it would not expand “one inch to the East.” That was the phrase that was used. It would not expand into East Germany or certainly not beyond. Well, Gorbachev was na•ve. He accepted that agreement. He didn’t realize that the Bush administration had not put it into writing. It was just a verbal agreement, a gentleman’s agreement, and, if you have any sense, you don’t make gentlemen’s agreements with violent super powers. Gorbachev was quite upset when he discovered that the agreement was worthless. When NATO began immediately to expand into the East, he brought up the agreement and Washington pointed out that there’s nothing on paper, which is true. There was nothing on paper. It was a gentleman’s agreement. NATO expanded to the East. It expanded into East Germany very quickly and, in the Clinton years, it expanded even further into Eastern Europe … later much more. By now, the secretary general of NATO explains that NATO must expand further still. NATO must take responsibility for controlling the entire global energy system, that means pipelines, sea lanes, and sources. Just a few weeks ago, there was an international meeting headed by Madeleine Albright, Secretary of State under Clinton. They issued plans called NATO 2020 and they said NATO must be prepared to operate far beyond its borders without limit, meaning it must become a worldwide US military intervention force. So that’s NATO, no longer there to defend ourselves from the Russians but their real purpose is to control the whole world.

Well, let me say a few words about the Israeli/Palestine conflict which developed within this context. I’ve said a few words about the history. The basic record is one of almost total US rejectionism, its refusal to join the overall accepting of a political settlement which makes sense. There’s been one important exception, a very interesting exception. At the end of his term, in the year 2000, Clinton recognized that the proposals that he and Israel had put forth at Camp David had failed. He recognized that those would never be acceptable to any Palestinians so he, therefore, changed the proposals. In December of 2000 he produced what he called his parameters, a general framework for agreement. It was vague but it was more forthcoming. He then gave a speech in which he said that both sides had accepted the parameters, and both sides had expressed reservations. They then met, Israel and Palestine, in Taba, Egypt, in January to try to work out their disagreements and they came very close to a total settlement. In their last press conference jointly they said that with a little more time, they could have reached complete settlement. Well, Israel terminated the negotiations and that was the end of that. That tells you something. It tells you that with the US pressing both sides to join the world to permit a political settlement, pretty much along the lines of the international consensus, it can happen. A lot has taken place since 2001 but I think those principles remain. I think it’s quite striking to see how people who write the history deal with this. So one of the main books about the negotiations is by Dennis Ross, Clinton’s chief negotiator. He gives a detailed account of all the efforts of the United States, the neutral arbiter, the honest broker, to bring the two sides together and he concludes, in the end, it failed and it was all the fault of the Palestinians. They rejected everything. Ross is very careful to end this book in December of 2000 just before his primary thesis was completely refuted. It was completely refuted a few weeks later. He ended the book there and commentators don’t say anything about it. That’s discipline. If you want to be a respected intellectual, you have to understand these things. You do not expose power, especially if you hope to join the academic world or diplomacy. So Ross terminates the book before the thesis is refuted, and that’s accepted and is now our history, excluding the crucial reality, just as in the case of the earlier events that I’ve described thus far. But in reality it’s there and that still goes on until today. So what does that leave for options for today for the Palestinians and those concerned with Palestinian rights?

One option is that the United States will join the world as it did for a couple of weeks in January 2001 and we’ll agree to some version of the international consensus, something like the Taba agreements. Now there’s a very common view expressed by many Palestinian groups and by many others that are sympathetic with them holding that that’s not a possibility and that there’s a better alternative. The better alternative that they’re proposing would be for Palestinian leaders to say that we’ll give the key to Israel and they’ll take it. We’ll give them all the occupied territories and then there will be a civil rights struggle, an internal anti-apartheid struggle, and a struggle like that can be won and we’ll get somewhere. There are a lot of quite good people proposing this but they are failing to notice that there is a third alternative. A third alternative is that the US and Israel will continue doing exactly what they’re doing, meaning a version of what Ehud Olmert, when he was prime minister, called convergence. Israel takes over everything within what they call the separation wall, well, actually an annexation wall. They take over the water resources, the valuable land, the suburbs of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and so on. Israel also takes over what is called Jerusalem which is actually the huge area of Greater Jerusalem. It takes over the Jordan Valley, more arable land. And then it sends corridors through the remaining regions to break them up into separated cantons. So there’s one east of Jerusalem, almost to Jericho, virtually bisecting and the West Bank, there’s are separate ones further north. Now, what about the Palestinians? They are just left out of this. Very few will be incorporated in the valuable areas that Israel will take over, so there won’t be any civil rights struggle. There won’t be what’s called a “demographic problem”: too many Arabs in a Jewish state. The rest of the Palestinians will leave, or will be left to rot in the hills, apart from a privileged elite. They’re not part of what Israel is taking over. What’s left to the Palestinians they can do whatever they want with. If they want to call it a state, then fine call it a state. In fact, the first prime minister to make this proposal was Netanyahu. He’s the first Israeli prime minister to say, Yes, there can be a Palestinian state, that was in 1996. He came into office in 1996. He replaced Shimon Peres. As Peres left office, he said that there will never be a Palestinian state. Netanyahu came in and his administration said: Well, Palestinians can call whatever fragments are left to them a state if they want or they can call them “fried chicken.” That comes right up to the present. Just a few weeks ago, Silvan Shalom, who is the vice premier and the regional development minister, responded to Palestinian initiatives about creating the basis for a state and when asked what he thought about it, he said, That’s fine if they want to call what we leave them a state that’s fine. It will be a state without borders just like Israel, also a state without borders. Of course, we will have everything of value and they will have fried chicken but that’s OK and that should stop the pressure against us for a diplomatic settlement and everything will be wonderful.

Well, that’s an improvement over the past. If you go back to say 1990, the position of the Israeli government and the US government, James Baker and George Bush, was the Palestinians do have a state, namely Jordan, and they cannot have an additional Palestinian state. That was the official position since 1990. Now, it’s slightly improved. The US and Israel agree that Jordan isn’t a Palestinian state and the Palestinians can have fried chicken, fragments of territory which the US and Israel will assign. Now that’s the alternative.

What about the civil rights struggle, the anti-apartheid struggle? That’s not an alternative. The operative choices are a two-state settlement in accord with the international consensus and international law, perhaps along the lines almost reached at Taba, or “fried chicken” while Israel takes what it wants, as it can, as long as it has unfailing US support.

Well, I will finish by saying just one word about the likely prospects. There are many analogies made between Israel and South Africa. Most of them are pretty dubious, I think. For example, Ariel Sharon, the architect of the settlement policy, called the fragments to be left to the Palestinians “Bantustans,” as in the South African apartheid state. But these are not Bantustans. That’s misleading. It’s much worse than South Africa. White South Africa needed the Black population. That was their workforce. 85% of the population were Blacks so they had to take care of them just the way slave owners had to take care of slaves, and so the extreme South African racists provided some support for the Bantustans. In contrast, Israel does not need the Palestinians, doesn’t want them. So if they wither away like the leaves of autumn, the way the Native Americans did, then that’s fine. If they go somewhere else, that’s fine. They’re not going to take any responsibility for them. They don’t need them. So it’s worse than apartheid. They’re not Bantustans. That analogy doesn’t work and many others don’t either, but there is one analogy that I think is correct, and it never seems to be discussed.

Fifty years ago, White South Africa was beginning to recognize that it was becoming a pariah state. It was being isolated from the world. It was getting less support. It was increasingly hated by everyone. At that point, the South African foreign minister spoke to the American ambassador in South Africa and he pointed out to him that in the United Nations everyone’s voting against us but it doesn’t matter because you and I both know that there’s only one vote in the United Nations. That’s yours, and as long as you back us up, it doesn’t matter what the world thinks. That’s a recognition of the Mafia principle, realism in world affairs, and he proved to be correct. If you look at what happened in the following decades, opposition to South Africa continued to grow and develop. By about 1980, there was a sanctions and divestment campaign. Western corporations began pulling out. Sanctions were imposed by the US congress. But nothing changed. The reason was that Washington kept supporting South Africa. Ronald Reagan, who was president, violated the congressional sanctions, for a reason: the war on terror that he declared on coming into office in 1981. He was conducting his war on terror, and South African Whites were under threat of terror from the African National Congress, Nelson Mandela’s ANC. In 1988, Washington declared the ANC to be one of the “more notorious terrorist groups” in the world. It really didn’t matter what the rest of the world thought, in fact, even what the American people thought, or what Congress thought. If you don’t like it, that’s fine but we’re going to keep on and, by that time, the late 1980s, White South Africa looked absolutely impregnable. They had won military victories and were becoming richer. Everything looked fine and they were very satisfied. Two or three years later, the United States changed its policy, and apartheid collapsed. When the godfather changes his policy, things change. The outcome is not very beautiful but it was undoubtedly a major victory to eliminate apartheid, though there is still a long way to go. Nelson Mandela also won a personal victory, a bit more slowly. He was removed from Washington’s list of people supporting terror only a year ago, so for the past year he’s been unable to travel to the United States without a special dispensation.

Essentially, that’s what happened and I think this could happen with Israel. If the United States changes policy and decides to join the world, Israel will have no option but to go along. That shouldn’t be the end of the line, any more than ending apartheid is the end of the line for South Africa. I have always believed and still think there are better solutions than the international consensus on a two-state settlement, but in the real world, that is probably an indispensable first step to any future progress towards a more just outcome.

Now, there is, as I mentioned, a good deal of complexity in the international system. There are organizations developing that are independent of the United States. There are countries that are maintaining their own sovereignty like China, for example, and there is a good deal of diversification. There are even steps towards a degree of independence within the US-dominated domains. Take Egypt, the second largest recipient of US military aid, after Israel. There were meetings a couple of weeks ago about nuclear proliferation, international meetings. Egypt, speaking for the 118 states of the non-aligned movement, took a very strong and principled stand on a crucial issue: establishing a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East. Well, that is very hard for anyone to object to in principle. It would mitigate or end whatever potential nuclear threat is posed by Iran, supposedly the main US foreign policy concern. Of course, it would have to involve Israel and US forces in the region so the US was kind of stuck. They can’t come out against it but they couldn’t come out in favor of it, so they formulated a way to evade the dilemma, counting on the intellectual classes to conceal what was happening, following Orwell’s principle. The Obama administration stated its support for a nuclear weapons-free zone but said that this isn’t the right time for it. We have to wait until there is a comprehensive peace settlement. But that can be delayed indefinitely by US-Israeli rejectionism, as in the past, so the threat of a nuclear weapons-free zone can be delayed indefinitely too. So far, Washington has gotten away with this, but the issue can be pressed by popular movements that take an independent stance.

Now, there are many other points where the prevailing system of domination, though powerful, is nevertheless vulnerable. There are many possibilities open to people to influence and determine the fate of the future.