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[Prefatory Note: The following interview devoted to Pompeo’s three day visit to Israel and Occupied Palestine conducted by Eshrat Mardi, was published in the Tehran Times. Interview Nov. 28, 2020.]
1: On November 19, Mike Pompeo toured the West Bank and the Golan Heights. How do you analyze the visits to these two occupied lands in terms of international law?
Given the timing of Pompeo visit, so shortly followed by the shocking assassination of the leading nuclear scientific figure, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, makes one wonder whether the real strategic purpose of the visit was either to be told about the planned attack or to encourage it. We have no way of knowing beyond the circumstantial evidence suggesting some level of linkage between Pompeo’s visit and this high-profile assassination.
As far as the secondary goals of the Pompeo visit are concerned, I would suggest an effort on his part to solidify the pro-Israeli legacy of the Trump presidency with the added goal of inhibiting any attempts on Biden’s presidency to disavow U.S. support for this series of unlawful territorial expansionist moves made by Israel since 2016. It also seems that Pompeo seeks to be the Republican nominee for president in 2024, and apparently supposes that acquiring credentials as the most ardent champion of Israel will attract Zionist money and backing in the U.S, in the years ahead.
2: Pompeo said the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, which is only aimed at pressuring Israel to stop settlements of Palestinian lands, as “anti-Semitic” and as “cancer”. How do you interpret these remarks?
Such unacceptable efforts to brand BDS as anti-Semitic is a further effort by Pompeo to appease the most militant Zionist elements in the United States, and should be understood in the context of my response to the prior question. During the BDS Campaign directed at South African apartheid 30 years ago there was some controversy about whether this form of global solidarity was helpful to the anti-apartheid struggle, but there was never any suggestion that the advocacy of BDS was other than a constitutionally protected form of nonviolent protest. To make BDS in the context of Israel a type of hate speech or even a crime is a means to discourage a rising tide of solidarity, including in the United. States and by Jews, with the Palestinian struggle for basic rights, including the right of self-determination.
3: Pompeo also called settlements “part of Israel” and “a recognition of the reality”. While in the Golan Heights, Pompeo also said, “This is a part of Israel and a central part of Israel.” What is the ulterior motives behind such remarks?
Such language, which overlooks and defies the contrary UN consensus concerning the settlements and Syrian territory, is a further expression of the unconditional support of the Trump presidency for these most controversial encroachments on Palestinian aand Syrian territorial rights. Prior American leaders have more cautiously adopted similar kinds of positions by speaking approvingly of recognizing ‘the facts on the ground’ but refrained from distorting international law by claiming that these settlements were established in a manner consistent with international law, which is the salient feature of the Pompeo declarations.
4: Don’t you think that Pompeo’s remarks about the occupied Palestinian and Syrian lands are an example of a Machiavellian approach toward issues?
Such affirmations of territorial aggression by Israel are a reversion to the worst readings of cynical realism attributed to Machiavelli’s The Prince, and in a context where intervening legal and moral developments since his time have made respect for the sovereign rights of both a foreign country (Syria) and of an Occupied Nation and its people (Palestine) foundational principles of peace and security in our world of the 21st Century. Such remarks should be viewed as indictable expressions by Pompeo of complicity with the commission of Israeli international crimes.
5: What is your opinion of his statement that “settlements can be done in a way that are lawful and appropriate and proper?”
This kind of opinion on Israeli settlements presupposes and necessitates Palestinian consent by a political body legitimately and authentically representing the Palestinian people. Whether the Palestinian Authority is such a body is not a fully settled issue. Overall, it is difficult to imagine such consent being validly given unless there is established one democratic state for both peoples on the basis of complete equality between Jews and Palestinians (including Christians, Druse, Bedouin minorities), a reality that would require the abandonment of the core feature of the 19th century Zionist project to establish ‘a Jewish state.’
6: Some view Pompeo as the ideologist who manipulates Trump and shapes his approach toward international issues such as the occupied lands, the Paris climate accord or the 2015 Iran nuclear accord. What do you think?
It may be that Pompeo is entrusted with the implementation of the Trump approach to the Middle East, but I am not aware of any evidence that he exerts the kind of influence that his son in law, Jared Kushner, exerted on Trump during recent years. Pompeo is a bureaucrat with his own ambitions, and an outlook, especially on Israel, that resembles that of Trump, and quite likely is more deeply rooted in his real beliefs. In this sense he may be somewhat less opportunistic than Trump. In this connection we should keep in mind that Pompeo is a devout member of the Christian evangelist movement that has been fanatically pro-Israeli and pro-Trump.
7: Are not Pompeo’s visits to the occupied lands viewed as a revitalization of colonialism?
To the extent that Israel is itself properly perceived as a product of late settler colonialism, which has been long delegitimized, Pompeo’s visit and show of support are an anachronistic endorsement of colonialism. I would regard Israel as a remnant of colonialism rather than part of any wider political process of ‘revitalization.’ The remarkable achievement of the Zionist movement was to establish and legitimize, with crucial geopolitical help from the West, a colonial state at a historical time when colonialism was in its death throes elsewhere, that is, an achievement contrary to the flow of history and to contemporary standards of law and morality. Zionist success partly reflected the weight of historical circumstances, above all, the Holocaust, but such an explanation provides no justification for the denial of Palestinian basic rights. I believe that we are living in a post-colonial world order, and this struggle around the future of Israel and Palestine is the last major battlefield, which is not meant to imply that the associated challenges of imperialist geopolitics has been met.
8: Some believe that an inaction by the international community emboldened the Trump administration to go ahead with manipulation of facts and replace international law with violation of international law. What is your view?
There is no doubt in my mind that the weak responses to such prior unlawful Trump pro-Israeli initiatives as moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem, validating Israeli sovereign rights to the Golan Heights, and greenlighting the annexation of portions of the West Bank gave Netanyahu the backing he wanted to go further and further in enacting in internationally unacceptable conduct, including in this connection the recent assassination of Mr. Fakhrizadeh, which is an outrageous act of state terrorism. This act should be viewed given the context of Trump’s last days as president, as a provocation of sufficient magnitude, to push tensions with Iran toward a regional war. There may well be the belief in Israel that Netanyahu should take advantage of these last days of the Trump presidency as he may not enjoy the same level of geopolitical support from Washington during the Biden presidency.
9: Don’t you think that Trump’s and Pompeo’s records have been a great blow to the Republicans?
I wish that I could answer in the affirmative. Unfortunately, not if the reference of your question is to the Middle East where Trump and to a lesser extent Pompeo are appreciated by both political parties in the U.S. for achieving normalization agreements with several Arab states, thereby weakening the long prior effort to isolate Israel diplomatically and economically in the region until a genuine peace with the Palestinians is reached. Many Republicans, mostly privately, are critical of Trump for his mismanagement of domestic issues, especially the COVID pandemic, and for his unwillingness to concede defeat in the recent election, which has posed a serious constitutional crisis and created a dangerous precedent for the future. There is also some muted concerns about stumbling into an unwanted war with Iran, but for most Republicans the bipartisan consensus favorable to Israel remains unquestioned and non-controversial national policy.
10: Such things are being done in 2020. The way the Trump administration treats the occupied lands reminds us of colonialist era. How do the current and next generations will look into such illegal acts?
I believe more and more people in the West are viewing Israeli behavior as a toxic combination of settler colonialism and apartheid racism, and within that frame of reference are becoming more aware that Israel is setting a dangerous example of the persistence of colonial excesses, which have produced decades of suffering for the Palestinian people dispossessed from or victimized in their own society. Europe, too, has been complicit, less actively engaged than the U.S., but still complacent in not accepting their responsibility for leaving this legacy of colonialism insufficiently attended.