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Questions On Israel


As a premium to those who support Z through the Z Sustainer Program there are a number of forums where people can ask questions of activists and writers such as Noam Chomsky. Here are Chomsky’s responses to questions about Israel And Palestine during the last week. If you find these helpful consider joining.

Bush, Arafat And Reform

President Bush has called, in an open display of blackmail, for the Palestinians to replace Yasser Arafat as their leader and to institute “reform” of the Palestinian Authority. Given that when Arafat was signing on the dotted line the “international community” cared little for the corrupt nature of Arafat’s rule it can be surmised that Washington wants to replace Arafat with a Marshal Petain and to bring into existence a vichy Palestine. However, to speculate, could it be possible that Israel and Washington are trying to provoke a civil war in Palestine liked they tried to do when they supported Islamic fundamentalism as a force against secular Arab nationalism? Could this be a pretext for permanent occupation?

I’m assuming that by the phrase “international community” (in quotes) you mean to refer with appropriate irony to the US and any clients who will go along — the standard way in which the term is used in contemporary Newspeak.

If so, you’re entirely right about the international community and Arafat’s Palestinian Authority. As long as they controlled the Palestinian population, with whatever violence and repression it took, no one cared whether they lived in luxury in Gaza high rises and cooperated with Israeli counterparts in crushing the miserable population. Arafat became “part of the problem” only when he lost control, and the people who matter lost their monopoly of violence and terror, how holding just a substantial preponderance. It’s much the same as the elite reaction to 9-11 in the West.

So he has to be replaced by another figure who can perform the assigned task.

I doubt that Israel wants permanent occupation. Too costly, and inefficient. Bantustans are a better model. Barak’s chief negotiator, the respected dove Shlomo Ben-Ami, explained some years ago that the goal of the Oslo process is to establish a “neocolonial dependency” for the Palestinians, which will be “permanent.” If Arafat and his clique can’t manage that, others will have to be found to serve the masters properly.

Also the newly set up world court in the Hague the ICC, one would think, should have oversight over this conflict. Could it be possible that one way of getting rid of Arafat would be to indict him for war crimes, ie to accuse him as a terrorist? Imagine if the ICC were to indict both Sharon and Arafat. Anybody can arrest Arafat but who would arrest Sharon? Does this point out a flaw in the ICC concept in that only those criminals who the “international community” wants to arrest will be arrested because only they have the power of arrest…they will not arrest themselves?

As for the ICC, it has the same flaw as all international institutions. In a world ruled by force, the rich and powerful do pretty much what they like. It’s next to inconceivable that the ICC could try, even investigate, Western criminals. Simply look what happened to the World Court and the Security Council when they tried to get the US to call off its terrorist war against Nicaragua. The same was true of Nuremberg. The people sentenced there were some of the worst gangsters in human history, no doubt, but the operational definition of “war crime” was “war crime that they committed and we did not.” And despite Justice Robert Jackson’s fine words about how the Nuremberg principles must apply universally, the US and its allies remained immune when they duplicated many of the crimes in subsequent years, because they are far too powerful to touch, and because the educated classes are sufficiently obedient to cover their tracks.

Peace Proposal

The NYT says that Arafat just accepted the no longer relevant Camp David peace offer–the NYT went on to say this was the most generous offer ever made by Israel and that Arafat rejected it nearly two years ago. That would mean the summer 2000 offer, rather than the more generous January 2001 offer. Clearly the NYT is wrong to describe the summer 2000 offer as the most generous, when Israel went further in January 2001. I pointed this out to them. My question is this–which offer did Arafat claim he was willing to accept? Did he actually express a willingness to accept a less generous offer than the one made in Taba, or is the NYT simply lying? And also, did Arafat reject the Taba offer or did Israel quit negotiating because of the upcoming elections?

Just to clarify, there was no Israeli offer in Jan. 2001. These (Taba) meetings were informal. Proposals were made, but nothing official. There is a very good record of what happened by the EU observer, validated by both sides, published in the Israeli press. There had been considerable progress since Camp David towards a reasonable settlement, though there were still substantial differences. Israel broke off the meetings, presumably because of the upcoming elections. My own view, for what it is worth, was (then, and even more so in retrospect), that the Palestinian leadership would have been well advised to put substantial energy into publicizing the tentative results at Taba, internationally and to their own people, and to try to use that as a basis for further negotiation, avoiding provocation and violence.

It’s not even clear what the Camp David 2000 offer was, or even whether there was one, officially. The US produced no formal position. Israel made several proposals, but it’s not clear how official they were, or even exactly what they were. Maps were published in Israel, and here, but unofficially. It’s rather striking that the media and journals here apparently published no maps — at least, none I’ve been able to locate — though it’s perfectly obvious that to evaluate the offer and its much-hailed “magnanimity” and “generosity,” one has to look at a map and see what is actually being proposed. I presume that that lapse was not accidental. A mere look at the maps that do exist (which are consistent) reveals that the offer hardly merited such terms.

The Times report was unclear, and it is likely that Arafat didn’t say anything very definite or meaningful. Under his current circumstances, it’s hard to see how he could.

Gunnar Jarring Proposal, Egypt and Sadat

I took an interest into researching the facts of the largely unknown (at least in the US) peace initiative by Gunnar Jarring and the responses of both Egypt and Israel. I was able to get a copy of the three major documents, as well as a relevant discussion from Rabin’s memoirs (191-195). I know that you are one of the few analysts to actually make note of such an event in history (interestingly my college textbook for world history noted the event briefly as well), so I was wondering if you could help me clear up a couple of questions with regard to the issue of the pre-June 1967 borders. As you probably know, Jarring’s Aide Memoire asks Israel among other things to withdraw from conquered Egypt territory to the “international boundary,” and asks Egypt to end hostilities and recognize Israel’s existence. Egypt agreed to each point, although adding at the end of its reply that “just and lasting peace cannot be realized without … the withdrawal [from all occupied territories].” Does this mean that Egypt was only agreeing to peace on the condition that Israel adhere to the international consensus? I don’t see that Jarring’s proposal says anything about full withdrawal as a commitment, although he mentions a “settlement in accordance” with UN 242, interpreted differently by Israel over the rest of the world. Which leads me to the question with regard to Israel’s response. You have stated in _Fateful Triangle_ among other places, that Israel’s response was a flat rejection of the proposal with no counteroffer, but on the surface it seems like Israel agreed to all the points of the Jarring initiative. In point 4–probably the most significant in the response–Israel agreed to “give undertakings” covering the withdrawal “from the Israel-UAR cease-fire line to the secure, recognized and agreed boundaries to be established in the peace agreement. Israel will not withdraw to the pre-June 5, 1967 lines.” Rabin’s memoirs note that he, as well as Washington officials were disappointed with Israel’s response, which Rabin described as “rambling [with] long-windedness [and] exceeded only by its vagueness.” I am probably missing something, but wasn’t point 4 accepting the terms of the initiative, while rejecting an element Rabin called the “conditional link”? If so, why did the Jarring initiative “[fade] away into history?

In Feb. 1971, Gunnar Jarring drew up a specific plan, which he submitted to Egypt and Israel. It called for full peace between Egypt and Israel in return for Israeli withdrawal to the internationally-recognized border (the pre-June 1967 border). President Sadat of Egypt accepted it without qualification. Israel considered it, recognized it to be a genuine peace offer (as Rabin’s memoirs and much other evidence makes clear; note that Rabin’s objections, as illustrated in the comments you quote, were tactical, not substantive). In internal discussion, it was recognized that if Israel accepted the offer there could be peace, but at the cost of territorial expansion into the Sinai, which was a high priority for the then-governing Israeli labor Party. Israel therefore decided to reject Jarring’s offer, stating that it would not withdraw to the pre-June 1967 border. That effectively concluded Jarring’s mission.

Israel then proceeded with its plans to settle northeastern Sinai (the “Galili Protocols”), brutally expelling 10,000 farmers and Bedouins, driving them into the desert, destroying their villages, mosques, cemeteries,…, and proceeding to build the all-Jewish city of Yamit. This was one of Sharon’s major atrocities (carried out, like many of his other crimes, under the leadership of the Labor government). Sadat warned that “Yamit means war,” and when the US and Israel dismissed him with contempt, did finally go to war in 1973 — not an attack on Israel, as claimed in much propaganda, but on his own territory conquered by Israel and held with US backing after he had offered a full peace treaty, with no conditions.

The fact that Egypt said that a “just and lasting peace” would require withdrawal from all territories (in accord with UN 242, as accepted by virtually the entire world, including the US at that time) is not relevant. It was not a condition on Egypt’s acceptance of Jarring’s memorandum, nor was it the reason for Israel’s rejection of them, as the facts just mentioned (discussed in “Fateful Triangle” and elsewhere) make evident. Your statement that “on the surface it seems like Israel agreed to all the points of the Jarring initiative” is also incorrect, as shown by the words of Israel’s official response that you quote: Israel will withdraw “to the secure, recognized and agreed boundaries to be established in the peace agreement” but not — repeat NOT — to “the pre-June 5, 1967 lines.”

I hope that clears up the confusion. The documentary evidence is explicit and unambiguous: Sadat made no condition, and Israel explicitly rejected Sadat’s offer (namely, his unconditional acceptance of the Jarring proposal).

As to why the incident faded from history, that’s straightforward. The US backed Israel’s rejection of peace. Therefore the incident cannot remain within history. There was a good illustration a few weeks ago when Jarring died. There were, of course, many obituaries. David Peterson did a media search. With one exception (the Los Angeles Times, reprinted in the Boston Globe), the press simply avoided the most important political event in his career, namely the one we are discussing. The LAT and BG did mention it, but falsified it, claiming that both Israel and the Arab states rejected his proposal. That is quite normal when the US undermines the prospects for peace. In this case, the scholarly record is often disgraceful as well; I’ve given a number of examples in print.

The facts are as stated in “Fateful Triangle” and elsewhere, based on these documents. I don’t see any ambiguity.

We should also bear in mind that Jarring’s proposal, and Egypt’s response, were 100% rejectionist: there is no recognition of any Palestinian right of self-determination (as in UN 242), a position that we would call “racist,” maybe a reversion to Nazism, if the shoe were on the other foot. Without further comment, that tells us a lot about the intellectual and moral culture, highly pertinent today, in the light of the shameful speech that Bush’s speech-writers just had him read, and the reaction to it.

I have one more technical question regarding semantics, and would be obliged if you could answer it. You said Jarring’s phrase, “the international boundary between Egypt and the British mandate for Palestine,” was the pre-June 1967 border. It seems to include the Gaza strip as Egypt’s reply makes clear, but wasn’t Gaza not a part of Egypt in the British mandate for Palestine (Balfour if I’m not mistaken)?

It’s a good question, and I don’t think it has a clear answer. Gaza was part of Palestine under the League of Nations Mandate. It was taken over by Egypt in the 1948 war, but as far as I recall, not officially annexed. Its status remained somewhat ambiguous, though the international border (Green Line) leaves Gaza within Palestine, not Egypt. Egypt’s reactions to Israel’s actions in Gaza and Northeast Sinai were quite different. It may have complained about atrocities and development in Gaza, but not very seriously as I recall. However, when the Golda Meir Labor government began to settle northeast Sinai, and Sharon carried out major atrocities there under government orders, the Egyptian reaction was very different: a warning that Egypt would go to war, as it did (to everyone’s surprise and shock, given the prevailing racist assumptions).

I meant to ask you a question about the 1977 proposal as well. Sorry for the extra message. Anyway, since you say that the reason Sadat was accepted as a man of peace in 1977 because he could “conform to US intentions” at the time, do you think that Sadat could have been made to conform in 1971 if the US knew of Egypt’s military power? Do you know where I can find more information on US intentions with regard to the 1971 initiative? I plan to look at the Foreign Relations of the United States and Kissinger’s memoirs among other places. Thanks again.

I don’t quite understand your point. There is no issue of “making Egypt conform.”

In 1977 Sadat repeated his 1971 offer, but this time adding further conditions: that a Palestinian state be established in the Israeli-occupied territories; that was a reflection of an important shift in the international consensus, abandoning earlier rejectionism (the US and Israel aside). For his 1977 offer, Sadat is hailed in the official story as a great “man of peace.” His 1971 offer, much closer to US-Israel demands, has been expunged from the record. The reason is that the US-Israel position had changed. The 1967-73 period was one of extreme triumphalism, tinged with more than a little racism. The facts are well described in a book by the important Israeli correspondent Amnon Kapeliouk on the period, which I have quoted in this connection; I might add that I and some others attempted to find an American publisher for the book (in Hebrew, translated into French), but in vain; it was the wrong story. Under the assumption that Egypt was a basket case, Israel and Kissinger felt that they could simply disregard Egypt. The 1973 war turned out to be a close thing, and almost led to nuclear war. That lifted the clouds even for Kissinger. The US and Israel then turned to the natural back-up strategy: to remove Egypt from the conflict, so that Israel could then proceed, with US support, to integrate the occupied territories and attack Lebanon.

There was no question of “making Egypt conform” in 1971. The problem was “making the US conform.” In 1971, the US-Israel rejected Sadat’s offer of peace in return for withdrawal from Egyptian territory. In 1977, they accepted it (while rejecting his new condition concerning a Palestinian state). The reason is their recognition that Egypt could not simply be disregarded, and therefore had to be neutralized if essentially the same plans were to proceed. Incidentally, it is not clear that Carter understood much of this; probably not, in fact, though it was pretty obvious, and is explicit in mainstream Israeli commentary (and dissident commentary here).

Internal documents on the 1971 period have not yet been released. Kissinger did state his reasons. They are quoted in “Fateful Triangle” (p. 65), and in more detail, in my review of his memoirs, reprinted in “Towards a New Cold War.” They reveal such embarrassing stupidity and ignorance of elementary facts of international affairs that they are ignored in the scholarly record on Kissinger, with very rare exceptions. From the evidence currently available, it appears that the US government was divided on Sadat’s initiative. Secretary of State Rogers apparently favored support for it (it conformed closely to the official US Rogers plan). Kissinger, then National Security Adviser, preferred what he called “stalemate.” He seems to have won the internal bureaucratic battle. As for his reasons, one can only conjecture. It seems likely that they had to do mostly with his attempt to undermine Rogers and take over complete control over foreign policy. That’s intimated by David Korn, in an insider’s account, and is suggested by the utter foolishness of Kissinger’s memoirs, in this connection (which is not unique; see the review mentioned).

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