Noam Chomsky speaks with Nermeen Al-Mufti about Gaza, capitalism and the responsibilities of the intellectual
What do you think about Israel's assault on the Gaza Strip? What might be done in order to achieve a peaceful solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine?
The US-Israeli attack on Gaza was a savage and brutal war crime. The term US- Israeli is accurate. Israel relied on US weapons, in violation of US, as well as international, law, and the US provided crucial diplomatic and ideological support. The diplomatic support included blocking UN efforts to bring the conflict to an end. The ideological support included overwhelming votes in Congress supporting the aggression, and almost universal agreement that it was justified, even if, perhaps, disproportionate.
In fact, the attack was completely without justification. The way this issue is framed -- by President Obama and virtually everyone else -- is that Israel had a right to defend itself against Hamas rockets. But that is not the issue at all.
The issue is whether Israel had a right to defend itself by force against rockets. It is universally agreed that force can be used only when peaceful means are exhausted. No one believes that the Nazis had the right to use force in defence against the terror of the partisans.
In this case peaceful means had not even been tried. A narrow choice would have been for Israel to accept a ceasefire, which in fact it has never done. To take only the most recent case, a ceasefire was declared in June 2008. Israel did not adhere to it: it maintained the harsh siege, which is an act of war, even preventing the UN humanitarian mission UNRWA from replenishing its stores, "so when the ceasefire broke down, we ran out of food for the 750,000 who depend on us," UNRWA Director John Ging reported. Nevertheless, Hamas scrupulously observed the ceasefire. Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev conceded that Hamas had not fired a single rocket until after Israel invaded the Gaza Strip on 4 November, under the cover of the US elections, and killed six Palestinians. Israel rejected additional ceasefire proposals from Hamas virtually until the day of the attack.
More broadly, Israel could have ceased its criminal activities in the other part of Palestine, the West Bank. Until they do that they cannot object to resistance. Within the West Bank resistance is impossible. In fact, the US-run Palestinian military forces were able to suppress even expression of support for Palestinians being slaughtered in Gaza, and they are greatly praised for that achievement by leading Democratic liberals close to the Obama administration, like Senator John Kerry, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Virtually everything Israel does in the occupied territories is criminal, and the Israeli government knows it. Immediately after the 1967 war Israel was informed by its highest legal authorities that the Geneva Conventions apply to the occupied territories, so that any transfer of population there is illegal. Defence Minister Moshe Dayan conceded that settlement violated international law, but added that "there is nothing new in that, so we will continue." The Security Council has repeatedly condemned these actions, including those now taking place in Jerusalem. In 2004 the World Court reaffirmed that the Geneva Conventions apply. The US Justice Department agreed, in a separate declaration. The criminality extends to most of what Israel does in the occupied territories, always with firm US military, diplomatic, economic and ideological support.
In brief, Israel had ample opportunity to employ peaceful means, so that there was no justification whatsoever for the US- Israeli attack.
As for what should be done, that is very clear. For 35 years there has been a very broad international consensus on a political settlement: a two-state settlement on the internationally recognised borders, perhaps with "minor and mutual modifications", in the words of official US policy pre-1971, before the US broke with world opinion on this matter. Since that time the US has blocked the consensus, and still does, including Barack Obama. There has been one break in this rejectionist stand. After the Camp David negotiations broke down in 2000, President Clinton recognised that no Palestinians could accept the US-Israeli terms, and proposed his "parameters": somewhat vague, but more forthcoming. He then stated that both sides had accepted the parameters, and both had expressed reservations. The two sides met in Taba, Egypt in January 2001, and came very close to an agreement. In their final press conference, they said that with a little more time they might have resolved all of the issues. The negotiations were called off prematurely by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and never officially resumed. Much has changed since 2001 but the essentials remain: if a US president were willing to accept a diplomatic settlement, it could be achieved. The international consensus is by no means perfect, but it would be a great improvement over the current situation, and could be a stage towards something better for both Jews and Palestinians