Whither The Peace Process?

Q. Professor Finkelstein, on Friday [Nov. 15] a senior Israeli military official declared that the army’s recent siege of Hebron had “succeeded to clean these streets of terrorists” – only hours later Islamic Jihad attacked settlers and soldiers in Hebron, killing 12 people including the commander of Israeli forces in Hebron Judging by this definition of success, can there be a military solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict?

A. Well, there can only be one kind of military solution to the conflict: that is to wipe out all the Palestinians. It is quite clear at this point that short of either expelling or exterminating the Palestinians the problem will persist.

Q. Benjamin Netanyahu – who recently said, “just say no to a Palestinian state” – will challenge Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for the Likud party leadership from the ‘right’ later this month [Nov. 28] What are the implications of a Netanyahu victory for the Palestinian intifada?

A. I think there is a lot of misapprehension in the West about exactly how the Israeli political system, or Israeli elites, operates. The record of Netanyahu when he was in office was actually rather better than his successor, Ehud Barak. For example, if you look at the recent report by B’Tselem [Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories] “Land Grab” [May 2002]: on the crucial question of settlers and settlement activity there was greater settlement growth and more housing starts under Labour regimes than under Likud regimes. So there were more housing starts and settlement growth under [Yitzhak] Rabin [1992-1995], than under Yitzhak Shamir [1986-1992]; and more under Barak [1999-2001] as compared to Netanyahu [1996-1999]. So I don’t think the issue is whether you have a “right-wing” or “left-wing” government in power – we are talking about long-term Israeli policies that persist regardless of which political alignment happens to be in power. If you look at the statements of Ehud Barak after Operation Defensive Shield during March and April [2002] – an operation that was initiated by Ariel Sharon and condemned by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch as having resorted to various war crimes – Barak said Sharon’s main error was that he exercised too much restraint. The danger that lurks is not due to which government is in power, but the adamant refusal of the Israeli government to acquiesce in a reasonable settlement of the conflict.

Q. On the topic of settlements, Peace Now reports that 68 per cent of settlers say they would respect an Israeli government decision for them to leave the settlements, while 75 per cent say they stay for the ‘quality of life’. How do you interpret these figures?

A. The numbers are entirely consistent, the bulk of the settlers apparently would be willing to respect a government order to leave, and that the overwhelming number of settlers are there not for ideological reasons but because there were various sorts of government incentives and subsidies for them to move to the settlements in order to get cheap housing and so-forth.

Q. After Sept. 11, as President Bush was rallying support for an attack on Afghanistan, he had a “vision” of a Palestinian state what will a war on Iraq mean for Palestinians?

A. I think there is a reasonable prospect – though one can’t say with certainty – that Israel will use the cover of an American attack on Iraq, while all the world’s attention is focused on the war in Iraq and all the reporters and journalists are pulled from the Occupied Territories and sent to cover the war from neighbouring states, that Israelis will exploit the occasion of war, as they did in 1948, to expel the Palestinians.

Q. What would the implications of such a move be upon the entire region?

A. I have very little faith in this concept called the “Arab Street” – I think pretty much the Arab world is a rotting corpse. What it may evoke is quite a significant increase in terrorist attacks; but I think basically the United States can absorb those attacks and, frankly, as long as they stay low level, the United States rather likes them.

Q. Israeli journalist Uri Avnery wrote recently in Ha’aretz: “The Sharon government is a giant laboratory for the growing of the anti-Semitism virus.” Can you comment on this?

A. Unless you live in that fool’s paradise whereby Jews can’t cause anti- Semitism: as the Zionist organizations like to say: Jews don’t cause anti- Semitism, anti-Semites do – unless you live in that fool’s paradise the fact of the matter is, the actions of Jews, or actions which are taken in the name of Jews or by a government that claims to be acting in the name of Jews, evoke a negative response among the world’s population which is not blinded by ideology and sees a crime for what it is. It is altogether unsurprising. During the war in Vietnam, there was an escalation in anti-American sentiment around the world, so why would it surprise anyone that a state which calls itself a Jewish state and claims to be acting in the name of Jews – and which in fact does enjoy the overwhelming support of at least American, and probably world Jewry – commits crimes it should evoke an anti-Jewish reaction. That is as predictable as the U.S. crimes in Vietnam evoking anti-American reaction.

Q. So would Netanyahu be living in the same ‘fool’s paradise’ when he claims that “the root cause of terrorism is terrorists?”

A. Those are convenient and mindless formulas what could that possibly mean? It’s like the slogan of the national gun lobby in the U.S.: guns don’t kill people, people kill people. They are just meaningless and mindless slogans, which nobody upon a moment’s reflection could possibly take seriously.

Q. Late last month, Canadian media mogul Izzy Asper delivered a speech – much the same as the ones he delivered in September when he toured here in Canada with Netanyahu – which accused the western media of “lazy, or sloppy, or stupid, or plain and simple, biased or anti-Semitic” and dishonest reporting [including: New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, AP, Reuters, CBS, ABC, NBC, CNN, BBC, CBC, the Guardian, Independent, Sky News, ITV - among others]. The speech was prominently reprinted in Asper’s city newspapers, as well as the National Post. What is your take on these accusations that the media is biased against Israel?

A. Unless you believe that there is a worldwide anti-Semitic conspiracy – and there are paranoid and lunatic Jews who believe that – unless you believe that, you have several problems with the theory. Let’s start with the most obvious: there is no press in the world that reports more critically on Israel than the Israeli press. So, if in fact all of the western media is considered anti-Semitic and sloppy and so-forth then that must apply to the Israeli press, which contains the most revealing and damaging coverage of what Israel is doing in the Occupied Territories. The other problem with the theory, as I said earlier, is you would have to believe in a fairly comprehensive and coherent conspiracy around the world – not only including the press incidentally, but including all human rights organizations Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and first and foremost, B’Tselem – which has been the most forthright in its condemnation of Israel’s human rights practice. I wouldn’t call it a paranoid view of the world. It is a deliberately cultivated paranoid view of the world, in which Jews free themselves of any responsibility for the crimes they commit by claiming either a) they didn’t commit them or b) whatever they did they had to do in the name of self-defense because all the Goyim, all the Gentiles, all the non-Jews in the world, want to kill us. It is a deliberately calculated and cultivated paranoia in order to justify the crimes of the state of Israel.

Q. One of those critical journalists in Israel is Amira Hass. She once wrote that the responsibility of a journalist is to “monitor the centers of power”. On a more personal note, is it any different for a scholar?

A. I think it is the responsibility of anybody who has both the benefit of [first] a decent education – which is obviously a privilege for most of the world – and, [second] the leisure to investigate these questions and problems – which is also plainly a privilege – that he or she accurately report what is happening so that people can make choices and act in ways which are consistent with their moral values, but which they may not have all the knowledge to act intelligently on. It is the responsibility of those who are in a position to provide that knowledge.

Q. Professor Finkelstein, wither the peace process?

A. I think we are headed now towards a catastrophe, unless by some miracle the United States is held back from inflicting yet another devastation on Iraq. I think there is a real danger that the Palestinians will suffer; they will be dealt a devastating blow equivalent to, if not worse than what happened in 1948.

Norman Finkelstein is a professor of political science at DePaul University in Chicago. He is the author of numerous books and articles, including Image and Reality of the Israel Palestine Conflict (Verso, 1995), The Rise and Fall of Palestine (University of Minnesota, 1996), and The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering (Verso, 2002).

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