On behalf of Safundi, Christopher J. Lee interviewed Professor Noam Chomsky on March 9, 2004, in his office at the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They spoke on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the end of apartheid, the building of the so-called “separation wall” in Israel-Palestine and its comparison to apartheid measures, and his general resurgence as a critical voice against U.S. foreign policy since September 11, 2001.
I. SOUTH AFRICA, ISRAEL, AND PALESTINE:
CONTEMPORARY CONNECTIONS AND COMPARATIVE DIFFERENCES
Christopher J. Lee (Safundi): Given the audience of this journal and its interest in issues of apartheid and race relations, I want to start with a specific event: the hearings that were held before the International Court of Justice at the Hague at the end of February, from the 23rd to the 25th, on Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
There was a delegation of South African officials participating, and in particular, Aziz Pahad, the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs and leader of the South African delegation, argued before the Court that “the separation wall is not a security wall, it is a wall to enforce occupation, a wall that has separated hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their families, homes, lands, and religious sites.” He also spoke of the contemporary South African situation. He said that “South Africa is in the midst of celebrating 10 years of democracy. After centuries of division and conflict, South Africans found the political will to build a new democratic society based on reconciliation and peaceful coexistence.” So, he’s drawing a comparison between both places.
At the same time, Minister Pahad said that “South Africa is committed to a two state solution: the state of Israel within secure borders, and a viable Palestinian state within equally secure borders. The ‘separation wall’ is anathema to the peace process as envisioned in the road map, as it eliminates the prospect of a two state-solution.”
Since the early 1990s, with the coincidence of the Oslo meetings and the end of apartheid, you’ve drawn comparisons between both placesâ€¦
Noam Chomsky (Chomsky): As many people have.
Safundi: As many people have, and you’ve suggested that the two-state political solution as proposed is akin to the apartheid system that existed in South Africa.
Chomsky: It depends on which two-state solution.
Safundi: What is your perspective on this kind of comparison? How do the two situations generally compare? How do you respond to the support of a two-state solution by South Africa? Do you see it as perhaps counter-intuitive on their part?
Chomsky: No. First of all, on the separation wall, the first statement that you made is quite correct. It is obviously not a security wall. That is inarguable. If Israel wanted a security wall, no one would object, there would be no international objection, and we would know exactly where they would build it: a couple of kilometers inside the Green Line. That’s the way you can build a perfect security wall: you make it a mile high, you can have the IDF patrolling on both sides, totally impenetrable. So if you want security, that’s the way to do it.
Except that’s not even considered. And the reason is that security is simply not the issue. The issue is expanding the move into the Occupied Territories, which has been going on for thirty-five years. And this is another step in that. The only security this is giving is to those [Israeli settlers] who are illegally there, on the other side of the Green Line. They shouldn’t be there anyway. If you trace the course of the wall, it’s taking, it’s moving in such a way as to integrate within Israel sectors of the Occupied Territories, which is what they’ve always wanted.
Safundi: So it’s moving east of the pre-1967 border.
Chomsky: Yes. There isn’t one inch of the wall that’s [to the west]. Some of it’s on the Green Line, but nothing is on the Israeli sideâ€¦it’s all on the Palestinian side, and in crucial areas.
A large part of it is taking control of the water supplies. The main aquifer is mostly under the West Bankâ€¦A lot of the settlement programs since 1967 have been designed with long-term hydrological concerns in mind, to make sure that Israel controls the aquifer. Actually, Israel uses almost eighty percent of it or so anyway. Even the settlers have green lawns and swimming pools, while the Palestinian villages next door may not have water at all. They may have to go miles to get a bucket of water. The separation wall will help cement control over the water sources and take some of the most arable Palestinian land, and it will ultimately dispossess a couple hundred thousand Palestinians, who are probably not going to be able to survive there.
In fact, even the legal conditions would be very familiar in apartheid South Africa: the section between the separation wall and international border-the Green Line-is called “the Seam,” and there are new laws for the Seam. If you live in the Seam you are allowed to apply for the right to live there. So if you are Palestinian whose family has lived there for generations, you are allowed to apply for the right to your home. There are two categories of people who don’t have to apply for that right: one category is Israelis, [they] don’t have to apply for that right. And the other is a formula that is constantly used in Israel. The other category is: people who are not Israelis, but who would be allowed to immigrate into Israel if they chose to. Jews, in other words. You can’t come straight out and say “Jews are allowed” in there, but what you say is “people who would be allowed to immigrate to Israel,” mainly Jews if you look at the legal system. And that’s a formula that’s used all the time, to avoid saying straight out it’s racist. But the fact of the matter is, what it is saying is that Israelis and other Jews can live there, or maybe others if they grant them permission.
So it’s essentially extending the state to the east and in not insignificant ways. There are questions. The long-term plan that’s proposed literally cages the remaining Palestinian sectors in. There is an eastern wall also planned.
Safundi: Between Jordan andâ€¦
Chomsky: Yes. They haven’t made a big thing about it yet, but it’s in the plan. And it’s essentially implementing a plan which Sharon had pretty well announced at least ten, fifteen years ago, which is a plan to grant a Palestinian state in probably less than half the territory of the West Bank, and it will probably include Gaza. I think he’s serious about leaving Gaza, which is a hell-hole. They don’t want it.
So you’ll get two cages-a Gaza cage and a West Bank cage-and probably some small sector of East Jerusalem, which will be connected in some fashion. But Sharon’s plans are not that different from the Labor Party’s plans. In fact, the Labor Party-Rabin, Peres, and so on-had never even gone as far as conceding a Palestinian state.
Safundi: So this is part of a long-term process.
Chomsky: So this is part of a long-term program. Now, as far as South Africa supporting a two-state settlement, it’s almost meaningless. The whole world has been supporting a two-state solution since the mid-1970s.
Since the mid-1970s there has been an extremely broad international consensus, which includes just about everyone, including the major Arab states, the PLO, Europe, Eastern Europe, the Soviet Bloc, Latin America, in fact virtually everyone. There was kind of a fringe, so-called “rejection front” in the Arab world that didn’t accept it. But among anyone that mattered, they’d accepted it. It’s been blocked by the United States since the mid-1970s. The U.S. vetoed a [U.N.] Security Council resolution to that effect in January 1976, and since then it’s been year after year blocking one move after another. The Oslo agreements actually undermined this. The modalities are not too well understood generally. But the facts are there.
After the Gulf War, the Bush I administration realized that it was now in a position to implement unilaterally its own solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because the rest of the world had backed off. And they did. They opened negotiations in Madrid, right after the Gulf War under U.S. auspices. They brought in the Russians as a token because the Russians barely existed at the time, but that was to make it look international. But it was in fact run by the United States. There was a Palestinian negotiation team, led by probably the most respected person in the Palestinian community: Haidar Abdel Shafi, a conservative nationalist, a person of high integrity. He’s not corruptâ€¦serious, highly respected. He in fact got the highest vote in the parliamentary elections [in 1996]. He was the head of the Palestinian negotiating team, meeting in Washington, mainly to negotiate a settlement, and it came to an impasse.
The impasse was that the Palestinian team insisted that the agreement terminate settlement in the Occupied Territories. Israel and the United States rejected this, and that was the impasse. At that point, Yasser Arafat came along. The Palestinians were divided into two groups: the insiders and the outsiders, the people in the territories and then the “Tunis” group of big shots, the outsiders. Arafat was losing his support in the Occupied Territories and in the refugee camps. In fact there were several calls for his removal. And he apparently realized that the only way he could get back in the game was by undercutting the Palestinian negotiation. So they set up a side channel in Oslo-I don’t know if the Norwegians understood what they were doing, but it was pretty clear-they set up a side channel in which negotiations could proceed between the Tunis Palestinians-Arafat and the PLO-and the Israeli leadership, and under Clinton’s watchful eye. And they reached a settlement which is the Oslo agreement, and the famous handshake on the lawn, to which Abdel Shafi refused to attend because they did not insist on termination of the settlements. That’s the end.
Safundi: Arafat has since taken that position.
Chomsky: No, he hasn’t. Arafat’s position is like that of the black leadership of the Transkei [during the apartheid period]. His responsibility under Oslo was to control the Palestinian population and make sure that they did not oppose in any meaningful way the Oslo agreement. And he was quite violent. One of the first acts after the Oslo agreements was to start arresting people for criticizing the agreements, and the U.S. thought that was fine, Israel thought that was fine.
He was corrupt, you know. His friends were buying villas in Gaza. He has money stashed away. Nobody cared. It’s just like South Africa.
Safundi: He compares then to Mangosuthu Buthelezi, head of Inkatha Freedom Party, walking a tight rope between the apartheid government and his local base of support.
Chomsky: Maybe. The heads of the Bantustans are a closer parallel. Their job was to keep the population quietâ€¦They can be as corrupt as they want, as violent as they want, as rich as they want, and in fact the whole history of imperialism works like that. Who ran India under the British? Indians. Who ran Europe under the Nazis? The French, the Norwegians, and so on. Who ran Eastern Europe under the Kremlin? The Poles, the Czechs. That’s the way it works.
Meanwhile the settlement continued, continued to encroach into the Occupied Territories, and it was very clearâ€¦I have to say that right after Oslo, I immediately wrote an article that came out a month after Oslo, saying this is the end of the two-state settlement, because it’s going to undermine any possibility of ever realizing it, and that’s precisely what happened. Settlement programs continued steadily. In fact the peak year of settlement was the last Clinton year: 2000, the Clinton-Barak year; 2000, the year of Camp David, settlement reached its highest peak since before Oslo. And it was going to continue.
Safundi: So you had a two-state solution that was being discussed?
Chomsky: The notion of a two-state solution did not arise. That is a myth. In the international community it had been virtually uniform since the mid-1970s. So South Africa’s being part of it didn’t mean very much: everybody was a part of it.
The U.S. was against it, Israel was against it, and they remained against it through the Oslo period. In fact the first Israeli official to mention a Palestinian state was Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, the extreme right-wing government. And they mentioned it, but just to ridicule it. They said, “Well, they want to call it a state? Fine, they can call it fried chicken if they want to.” That was the comment. And around the year 1999-2000, the U.S. and Israel started talking about a Palestinian state, then comes the Camp David proposals, which were a Bantustan system.
Safundi: So it’s basically been a cover then.
Chomsky: A cover. And it was clear from 1993. Now actually, if you really look at the intricate details, it changes around after the Intifada.
Safundi: The second Intifada.
Chomsky: The second Intifada. The first Intifada set the whole thing off. Before that, nobody was going to pay any attention at all. But the first Intifada made it clear that you got to do something, so they went into Oslo. Then, after the second Intifada broke out and it became seriousâ€¦
For the first time [the Israelis were] really meeting organized resistance in the Territories. They went on for thirty-five years of harsh military occupation with very little happening. I mean, the Palestinians were “enduring.” Resistance meant enduring. Don’t raise your head, but stay there. Don’t let them kick you out. That was resistance. There were some exceptions, but that’s basically what it was.
After the second Intifada broke out, it gave a shock of recognition. And in December 2000, at the end of his term, after the election, Clinton proposed what he called “informal parameters” which were never formally published, but it was clear what they were. Right after that, negotiations went on, in Taba, Egypt, in January 2001, between high level Israeli and Palestinian negotiators-it was not formal, but it was high level-and they actually came along with a proposal which was a big improvement over Camp David. It still wasn’t acceptable-it still left Israeli settlements dividing up the West Bank-but it was a big improvement. Then, Israel called them off, the negotiations, before the elections, then Sharon came along and they never went back formally. But meanwhile it turns out, it was not known, informal negotiations continued, and they led to what is now called the Geneva Accords.
The Geneva Accords of last December were made formal, between relatively high level officials of the former Israeli government and high levels of the Palestinian Authority. Neither has formally accepted them. The Palestinian Authority has more or less ambiguously accepted them, the way they usually do. Israel rejects them flat out. The U.S. disregards them. But that’s the basis for a two-state settlement, of a kind not too different from the one that’s been the international consensus for almost 30 years.
The crucial question is: Will the U.S. accept it? The separation wall is just another step towards making it impossible to accept. And that’s where it stands. And the U.S. government, including Colin Powell and the rest of them, simply refuse to move from the rejection of political settlement. They will allow something, but it will be Bantustans.
Safundi: Do you think, then, that the term “apartheid” is an accurate term for this situation?
Chomsky: Apartheid in South Africa meant something different. Apartheid wasn’t [only] Bantustans, apartheid was the arrangement inside South Africa. Bantustans were bad enough, but that was something else, that was caging the population into unviable territories. Like putting Indians in reservations. We don’t call that apartheid. We call it something else.
Safundi: But the term has been invoked by people within Israel, as well as among scholars.
Chomsky: It has been invoked, but for different reasons.
Safundi: What are those reasons?
Chomsky: Those reasons have to do with Israel itself. Uri Davis-[who] has been involved in civil disobedience since the 1960s, he was the first serious activist in civil disobedience in Israel-in the 1960s, he protested real apartheid, inside Israel. This had been going on for the whole history of the state, but it was particularly dramatic around 1967 or 1968.
Israel has a technique for dispossessing Israeli citizens-non-Jewish citizens-that’s apartheid. One of the ways of doing it is to declare an area a military zone, so therefore for security reasons people have to get out, and it always turns out that it’s never a Jewish area, it’s Palestinian, and then after it’s declared a security zone, you build settlements afterwards. And that’s what’s been going on. Palestinian villages had their lands taken away.
Safundi: So it’s similar to the forced removals that were happening in South Africa.
Chomsky: Kind of, yes. And then, after people have forgotten about it, you go in and you build an all-Jewish city. And that’s what was happening. Palestinian villages were restricted and they started building an all-Jewish city, Karmiel. This was a closed area, and Uri Davis went in, breaking the law, to protest what was happening. And that was the first serious act of civil disobedience.
Safundi: This was when?
Chomsky: Some time in the Sixties, I forget exactly when. We’ve been friends for years. Then later, he started doing scholarly work on what he calls “Apartheid Israel.” And that’s the internal structure of the society-in fact, I’ve written about it, too-and Ian Lustick, whom you may know, a professor at Penn, has written about it. But internally within Israel itself, forgetting the Occupied Territories, there is an extremely discriminatory system. It’s subtle, you know. They don’t have a law saying “Only Jews,” but it’s there.
Safundi: So it’s similar then to Jim Crow South.
Chomsky: Even more than that. Jim Crow South was kind of informal apartheid, but here it’s formalized. So, for example, if you look at the land laws, and decode it all, what it amounts to is that about ninety percent of the land inside Israel is reserved to what’s called “people of Jewish race, religion and origin.”
Safundi: They use the term “race.”
Chomsky: “Race, religion, and origin.” That’s in the contract between the state of Israel and the Jewish National Fund, which is a non-Israeli organization, which, however, by various bureaucratic arrangements, administers the land. So it turns out to have a major role in the land administration authority.
All of this is covered up enough so that nobody can say, “Look, here’s an apartheid law.” You have to pull it out of the various regulations and practices, but it’s there. Effectively, it means that about ninety percent of the land, in one fashion or another, is reserved for the Jewish citizens of Israel. There is the occasional case of a short-term contract given to a Bedouin, but it’s close toâ€¦In fact it’s presented as a very progressive, socialist legislation. Because the land is nationalized, it’s not under private ownership, and this is regarded as very progressive, Western, leftist, you know, “this is terrific,” but it’s just a technique for ensuring that the land would be reserved for Jewish citizens, not Arab citizens.
And then that shows up in every other way you can imagine, whether you have village development or schools, sewage-the usual things that just sharply discriminate. So, in that sense, there is kind of an apartheid structure, and it’s built into the system. It’s also built into the immigration laws and all sorts of other things.
Safundi: Do you think this term, the invocation of this term, as having meaning at the ground level?
Chomsky: I don’t use it myself, to tell you the truth. Just like I don’t [often] use the term “empire,” because these are just inflammatory termsâ€¦I think it’s sufficient to just describe the situation, without comparing it to other situations. Every country is going to have its own way: Jim Crow is different from South African apartheid.
I grew up here in the U.S. during a period of extreme anti-Semitism. When I was a child in the 1930s, when my father managed to put enough money together to buy a second-hand car and we would drive together on the weekend into the nearby hills near the city where we lived, you had to check the motels. If a motel said “restricted” on it, that meant we couldn’t go there, because that meant Jews weren’t allowed-this is not blacks, this is Jews. And by the time I got to Harvard in the early 1950s, there were virtually no Jewish faculty because it was so anti-Semitic. One of the reasons that MIT became a great university is that other Jewish faculty couldn’t get jobs at Harvard, so they went to the engineering school down the street. That’s not the same as South African apartheid, I don’t know what name you can give it, but it’s something. You have to describe it for what it is.
Anti-Arab racism in the U.S. is endemic. It is extreme. In fact, in a sense it is the only legitimate kind of racism. Harvard professors can write articles with openly racist condemnations of Arabs which are not noticed. I’ve sometimes given talks there in which I take those statements and put in “Jew” instead of “Arab,” and people say, “My God, this is horrible. How can anyone say this?” You tell them it’s just Arab, not Jew, and they relax.
Racism is endemic. I don’t know what you call it exactly. There’s no legal basis for it, but it’s certainly there. Israel has its own form. Many other countries do, too.
Safundi: Clearly, we don’t want to hinge things on universals, but what you are suggesting is that many places experience these forms of racial or cultural difference which are linked to certain situations of power.
Chomsky: You find it all over the place.
Safundi: So “apartheid” is just one word for it.
Chomsky: Apartheid was one particular system and a particularly ugly situation. Davis is a good friend, and I don’t mind if he uses it, but personally I wouldn’t have used it. It’s just to wave a red flag, when it’s perfectly well to simply describe the situation. But I should say is that this is all entirely different from the Occupied Territories
Safundi: You are making a distinction then between apartheid as it is understood internal to Israel, as opposed to the broader situation between Israel and the Occupied Territories.
Safundi: So you would apply “apartheid” to that broader situation?
Chomsky: I would call it a Bantustan settlement. It’s very close to that. The actions are taken with U.S. funding, crucially. U.S. diplomatic, military, and economic support are crucial. It cannot be done without that.
Safundi: And that is similar to U.S. support for South Africa during the apartheid period through the 1980s.
Chomsky: Yes. As I’m sure you know, the Reagan Administration-which is basically the current people in power, including people like Colin Powell-found ways to evade Congressional restrictions so that they continued to support the apartheid administration, almost until the end.
Safundi: Connected to thatâ€¦
Chomsky: In the case of Israel, they don’t have to hide it because there are no sanctions.
Safundi: That’s my question. One of the important tactics against the apartheid government was the eventual use of sanctions. Do you see that as a possibility?
Chomsky: No. In fact I’ve been strongly against it in the case of Israel. For a number of reasons. For one thing, even in the case of South Africa, I think sanctions are a very questionable tactic. In the case of South Africa, I think they were [ultimately] legitimate because it was clear that the large majority of the population of South Africa was in favor of it.
Sanctions hurt the population. You don’t impose them unless the population is asking for them. That’s the moral issue. So, the first point in the case of Israel is that: Is the population asking for it? Well, obviously not.
But there is another point. The sanctions against South Africa were finally imposed after years, decades of organization and activism until it got to the point where people could understand why you would want to do it. So by the time sanctions were imposed, you had international corporations supporting them. You had mayors of cities getting arrested in support of them.
So calling for sanctions here, when the majority of the population doesn’t understand what you are doing, is tactically absurd-even if it were morally correct, which I don’t think it is.
The country against which the sanctions are being imposed is not calling for it.
Safundi: Palestinians aren’t calling for sanctions?
Chomsky: Well, the sanctions wouldn’t be imposed against the Palestinians, they would be imposed against Israel.
Safundi: Rightâ€¦[And] Israelis aren’t calling for sanctions.
Chomsky: Furthermore, there is no need for it. We ought to call for sanctions against the United States! If the U.S. were to stop its massive support for this, it’s over. So, you don’t have to have sanctions on Israel. It’s like putting sanctions on Poland under the Russians because of what the Poles are doing. It doesn’t make sense. Here, we’re the Russians.
Israel will of course do whatever it can as long as the U.S. authorizes it. As soon as the U.S. tells it no, that’s the end. The power relations are very straight forward. It’s not pretty, but that’s the way the world works.
II. ISRAEL-PALESTINE, SOUTH AFRICA, AND THE ORIGINS OF POLITICAL CONFLICT: ON THE QUESTION OF SETTLER COLONIALISM
Safundi: I want to shift this discussion to thinking about another category instead of “apartheid,” to think about “settler colonialism” as a category. Clearly settler colonialism is a phenomenon experienced in a number of places throughout the world: North America, South Africa, Algeria, Australia, a number of places.
Chomsky: Almost all over the world. It depends on how far back you go.
Safundi: Right! [laughter] Some scholars are applying it to the post-1967 period. How do you feel about applying this category to this period?
Chomsky: The post-1967 period is different. The concept of settler-colonialism would apply to the pre-1948 period. It is plainly an outside population coming in and basically dispossessing an indigenous population.
Safundi: There was a Jewish community, thoughâ€¦
Chomsky: Well, there was a small Jewish community that was mostly anti-Zionist. There was a traditional Orthodox Jewish community in Jerusalem and a few other places, but before the European settlers started coming in it was strongly anti-Zionist, and their descendants are still anti-Zionist. This is by now a marginal, small group. They were Orthodox Jews who wanted to pray in Jerusalem, and they even called on Jordan to take over Jerusalem again so they could have religious freedom, which they feel they don’t have under Israel. But they are a separate story, you know. That’s also not one-hundred percent of them. There was a pro-Zionist element among them, too, but the majority of them-before what’s called the Aliyah, meaning “rising to the land,” the arrival of Europeans-were anti-Zionist. Without going into it, by 1948, that argument is over. There was a state there, right or wrong. And that state should have the rights of any state in the international system, no more, no less. After 1967, there is a quite different situation. That’s military conquest.
Safundi: Settlers have occupied some of the territory.
Chomsky: Not before ’67. They couldn’t. They would have been killed.
Safundi: But since 1967â€¦
Chomsky: Since 1967, after the Territories were conquered-and that includes the Sinai-after that, slowly settlement programs began in the Territories that were under military occupation.
Actually, the major one was in the Sinai. In 1971 Israel was offered a full peace treaty by Egypt. They said they’d accept U.N. Resolution 242, a retreat to the international borders, a full peace treaty, navigation rights, anything, but they wanted Israel to stop settling in the Sinai, in the northeast. This was a Labor government then. It was not Sharon. Israel was driving out thousands of farmers, Bedouins, they were called, but they were settled farmers, in northeast Sinai, driving them into the desert to build an all-Jewish city. Egypt was infuriated. Sadat called for a full political settlement, which would have ended settlement in the Sinai. His main concern was Egyptian territory. Israel and the United States rejected it. That’s why there was still a military conflict going on. Finally, in 1978 at Camp David, Israel and the U.S. accepted the proposal that Sadat had made in 1971, and that they had then rejected, and the reason for that was the 1973 War.
Meanwhile, Israel had started settling in the West Bank and Gaza, and that increased. It’s a very systematic program.
Safundi: So it’s part of a long-standing trend.
Chomsky: It’s a long-standing trend, but it’s illegal settlement in territories under military occupation. That’s quite different from whatever you describe happening before 1948. It’s quite different.
Now, if you want my own opinion, I’ve been involved in this since childhood in the 1930s. I was part of the Zionist movement, in fact, a Zionist youth leader, but I was opposed to a Jewish state, and that was part of the Zionist movement at the time. It was not the main part, but it was considered within the umbrella, so I could be an activist Zionist youth leader-the main thing in my life as a teenager-but opposed to a Jewish state, up until 1948.
Safundi: Because you thought a Jewish state would conflict with certain secular, socialist principles.
Chomsky: Look, I’m against a Muslim state, I’m against a white state, a Christian state, why should I be in favor of a Jewish state? Almost by definition it’s a discriminatory state. If it’s just symbolism like “You don’t go to school on Sunday,” it doesn’t matter much, but it was clearly going to be a lot more than symbolism, like the land laws for instance.
So yes, I thought it was a terrible idea. But once it was established in 1948, it was thereâ€¦actually, I lived there on a kibbutz for a while. If you continued to regard yourself as part of this general movement, what you are in favor of was eliminating the highly discriminatory elements internal to Israel, and of course opposing foreign conquest.
Safundi: So it becomes in a sense a civil rights movement.
Chomsky: Yes, internal to Israel. However, in 1967 my feeling was that after the ’67 war that Israel had a fantastic opportunity: it could have moved towards peace with the major Arab states like Egypt and Jordan, which basically agreed to peace within a couple years. And internally to Cis-Jordan-the area from the Jordan to the Mediterranean-what it should have done in my opinion was move towards a kind of federalist bi-nationalism, so two federalist units, kind of like Belgium in a way. One of them basically Jewish, the other basically Arab. Each would internally be discriminatory, there is no way of avoiding that, but that would be compensated by the fact that there is a paired society, and then they could become integratedâ€¦the more associations that develop along non-national lines, the greater the integration can move until ultimately at some point, by some agreement, the people themselves, they can form some sort of secular state.
Now, that’s not something you can legislate. That’s something that has to grow. And I think the possibility of growing it would have come out of a federal arrangement.
Safundi: But thatâ€¦
Chomsky: The Palestinians would certainly have accepted it, the Arab states would have accepted it, the world would not have objected. Israel would not accept it.
Safundi: Do you see that kind of option re-emerging?
Chomsky: Well, I think they lost their chance. It’s interesting what happened: from 1967 to 1973, this was a very live option. There were very few people talking about it. I was one of the few, and we were just hated on all sides. Nobody would talk to us. In 1973, it was over. In 1973 came the war, it was a very serious war. For Israel, it was extremely dangerous. After the war, they recognized that they can’t just dismiss Egypt. And the U.S. and Israel then began to move towards an accommodation with Egypt. But by then the Palestinian issue had come into the international agenda, and even the Palestinian community, and from ’73 on, the only real option was two states.
Now, can you go back to the chances that were lost? I doubt it. In fact, it’s kind of interesting to watch in the United States and Israel: it’s kind of becoming legitimate to talk about bi-nationalism, whereas in the period from ’67-’73 it was considered anathema. What has changed? I think what’s changed is that it’s now recognized to be impossible. So therefore if somebody wants to write an article about it in the New York Review of Books, it’s not a problem anymore. At the time when it was feasible, it couldn’t be allowed. In fact, it was despised. One of the reasons for my interesting position relative to American intellectuals is that I was talking about it then. Now you can talk about it, because it’s unfeasible. There is no possible way for Israel to agree to any form of bi-nationalism now. So fine, if intellectuals want to talk about it, not a problem.
Safundi: Edward Said spoke about it.
Chomsky: Edward Said is an old friend, but it was thirty years too late, in the late 1990s, and he was even allowed to write about it in the New York Times. If he had tried to hint at it at the time when it was feasible, he would have been practically hanged. But by the late 1990s it was okay, because it was out of the range of possibility. Edward was a supporter of the two-state solution.
Safundi: But he ended up being a single-state supporter.
Chomsky: In the late 1990s. After Oslo. But right through the period of-in fact, he was one of the people who initiated it, the PLO formal acceptance of the two-state settlement, we’re old friends-but he had no [other position]. Maybe in the back of his mind, but he was part of the general international consensus and the leading Palestinian figure in favor of a two-state settlement. In the late 1990s, by then it was [perhaps possible], after you could see where Oslo was heading.
He was opposed to Oslo right away. He saw exactly what was going to happen. He was one of the very few people who saw right away that Oslo was just a sell-out. And he was opposed to it from the beginning. And then moved towards calling for abandoning the two-state settlement as the Oslo process proceeded.
But the feasible period was from 1967-73. And that’s when you simply could not talk about it. And if you look at the current discussion, it never refers to that. They had a chance to do it, and that chance is gone. Maybe it will come back someday, but not now. The only feasible settlement now is through the international consensus: a two-state settlement or something like that, on or near the international border.
Safundi: Do you think it’s moved-if we’re to talk about settler colonialism-from an Algerian paradigm to a South African paradigm?
Chomsky: Again, I think you have to distinguish between inside Israel and the Occupied Territories. In the Occupied Territories, it’s just straight, illegal, territorial conquest.
Safundi: Like South Africa.
Chomsky: No, because South Africa was working within the international legal system. South Africa was regarded as a state that had control of its own territory. Israel does not have any claim on the Occupied Territories, anymore than Saddam Hussein had a claim on Kuwait. That’s a very different matter. What happens inside Saddam Hussein’s Iraq is one thing, but what he did inside Kuwait is something different. Not that either of them is acceptable, but they are very different. And the Occupied Territories are like the conquest of Kuwait.
When Israel conquered half of Lebanon, now that was aggression, and if it had started to carry out settlements inside Lebanon, that would have been quite different from anything it’s doing inside Israel. That distinction is very crucial.
III. SOUTH AFRICA: ITS EXAMPLE, ITS CHALLENGES
Safundi: I want to shift to South Africa itself. I know you’ve been there and given talks at UCT and other places. I’m curious what your current perspective is on South Africa as a state that has undergone a dramatic transition. I’ve read parts of the new edition of Fateful Triangle where you describe it as a success, and it is a success story on a certain level.
Chomsky: At a certain level.
Safundi: I’m curious what your impressions on the ANC are as this longstanding opposition party-somewhat similar to the PLO as being an organization that was seen as very fringe for a long time, particularly by the U.S.-and then coming to power and being embraced by the U.S. What are your thoughts?
Chomsky: Well, the ANC is a different story. I’ve obviously read a lot about it, and I was there, but when I was there, it just gave me a sort of personal richness of experience to what I assumed anyway from reading.
So take, say, Cape Town, where I was: if you are inside the walls, inside Cape Town, it looks like a progressive city. Blacks and whites mix together, blacks are riding around in limousines, just as the whites are riding around in limousines, and it has its poor areas, but it looks like there are plenty of black faces, so it looks like an integrated city.
On the other hand, if you walk one inch outside the walls, it’s a horror story. There are some of the most hideous slums I’ve ever seen in my life. I could barely get into them because the activists who took me there [in 1997] were afraid to go in. And it’s just teeming masses of deeply impoverished people, all black of course. When I was there, no electricity, I don’t know if there is now. That’s the other part of South Africa.
So what has basically happened-I don’t think it’s a big secret-is that the racial system technically has been eliminated, but the class system has remained. It’s just that now you have some black faces among the wealthy. And the class system is very close to a race system. It’s not exact and it’s not formally racist. In fact, it may be worse than it was under apartheid for much of the population. And the ANC has taken up a standard, neo-liberal program which is devastating for the mass of the population. As in everywhere it has been imposed. And you know exactly why: it’s built into the system. Even in the United States. Nevertheless, if you look at what has happened since the more-or-less neo-liberal policies have been imposed, they aren’t as stringent in the U.S. as they are in a third-world country because the population would never permit it-these measures are primarily for the weak; the rich would never accept them-but even in a rich country like the U.S. there’s been some move towards-like the Reagan administration, like the Clinton administration which was not that different, this current version more extreme-[some] are trying very hard to dismantle the legislation and programs of the past century which have somewhat protected the general population from the ravages of an unconstrained corporate-capitalist system. And it’s very harsh.
Safundi: So you see South Africa following this same path.
Chomsky: Well it’s much more extreme because it’s the third worldâ€¦South Africa is a much more extreme case. These neo-liberal programs can be applied with far greater harshness in countries where the population has not won a lot of freedom for itself. In the United States, there’s two-hundred years of struggle in which people won a lot of freedom. Just to impose on them the measures that you impose on the third world is extremely difficult.
There is nothing novel about this. The modern distinction between the first and the third world has developed primarily since the eighteenth century. There wasn’t that much difference in the eighteenth century between what is now called the third world and what is now called the first world. Britain, for example was essentially a backwater as compared to India and China, which were the main commercial and manufacturing centers of the world. Britain had to impose high protectionist barriers to begin to develop its own industry in competition with superior Indian textile manufacturers. In fact, England even had to destroy the Irish woolen manufacturing industry by force. Since then, there have been some very regular developments. The countries that had market discipline forced on them have become the third world. The countries that protected themselves from market discipline became the first world. There is not one significant exception.
The conclusion to this interview will be published in the next issue of Safundi.
Reprinted with permission from Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Comparative Studies 13/14 (April 2004). Available at http://www.safundi.com/issues/13-14/chomsky.asp. If you wish to reprint or distribute this article, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.