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Specter of an "ugly future"

January 5, 2001

MER WeekEnd Reading:


Lofty, humanitarian goals like 'peace and democracy'? No, America's primary interest in the Middle East is effective control of the world's most important energy reserves, Noam Chomsky tells Ha'aretz

By Yitzhak Laor

[Ha'aretz - Friday, January 5, 2000]:
The latest Noam Chomsky book to be published in Hebrew, "Powers and Prospects," is a well thought-out collection of lectures given by the renowned American linguist and political expert while he was in Australia, in 1995. The series opens with an interesting survey by the father of generative grammar of the current research in the field, and continues with a survey of world politics - from American hegemony throughout the world, to the situation in the Middle East, to the condition of human rights in East Timor, which Chomsky himself played a major role in bringing to the attention of the Western world.

The intellectual focal point of the political writings by Chomsky (who regularly reads Israeli newspapers) is the knowledge that history is written by the intellectual elites. Since most of them serve the authorities and the centers of power, the writing of history is not only inaccurate, but one must carefully study the events of recent years to try to save them from the oblivion imposed on them.

In the long interview I conducted with him (only part of which appears here), Chomsky referred again and again to examples from the American political arena which emphasize the commemoration of certain events while erasing others from memory. In this respect, Chomsky will probably be noted in the intellectual history of the 20th century as the man who taught us how "to read a newspaper," how "to read documents,"in a way that will prevent us from surrendering to the self-evident.

As we speak, the Cable News Network is nattering on in the background for the 36th consecutive day about your presidential elections. It is quite funny, isn't it?

"You are right to find it comical, though there are a few serious issues. The most striking fact about the election is that it was a statistical tie. It is highly unlikely that 100 million voters would divide 50-50 if some serious issues were at stake, though that would be the anticipated outcome if, say, people were asked to choose X or Y as president of Mars.

"About three-quarters of the population regarded the elections as largely a game played by powerful moneyed interests, party bosses and the public relations industry, which molded the candidates to act and speak in ways that would garner votes, so that it was impossible to believe the candidates even when they were intelligible. And that was rare. Most people were unable to determine the stand of the candidates on leading issues, and not for lack of interest or intelligence.

"More than half the population feels that it has little or no influence on government, surpassing previous peaks by far. This has been increasingly the case since the early Reagan years, and is a natural concomitant of the 'neo-liberal policies' that are designed to undermine functioning democracy by shifting decision-making to an unaccountable private power, and to marginalize a good part of the population.

"A second important fact is the disenfranchisement of a large part of the Democratic voting bloc by incarceration. This program, too, was initiated 20 years ago along with the 'neo-liberal reforms.' President Clinton and Vice President Gore have carried it further, adding about 600,000 new prisoners to the 1.4 million when they took office.

"Twenty years ago, the United States was similar to other industrial countries in locking up its population. By now, it is completely off the spectrum, and holds a world record (per capita) among countries that have meaningful statistics. The prisoners are disproportionately poor blacks and Hispanics, groups that vote heavily for Democrats. Under the harsh U.S. sentencing laws, not only are prisoners disenfranchised, but in many states (including Florida) so are released prisoners, permanently. The numbers are large.

"As Human Rights Watch and academic studies have pointed out, Florida and other swing states would have been won easily by Gore, and Congress would have been Democratic for years, if it were not for the disenfranchisement programs. These were pursued vigorously by Clinton and Gore, relying heavily on draconian laws of the Reagan-Bush era and the 'war against drugs.'

"In these respects, too, the U.S. has departed sharply from the pattern of most other industrial societies in the past 20 years. The discrepancies reflect the more extreme commitment of Washington (and London) to a curious form of 'neo-liberal fundamentalism.' One should, incidentally, bear in mind that these policies are neither 'new' nor 'liberal.' The advocacy of free markets follows the traditional dual pattern: market discipline for the poor and defenseless, while the rich and privilege rely for protection on the nanny state. These are important aspects of the election. The questions that have received such passionate attention - odd-shaped ballots, dimpled chads, and so on - are trivia of no significance.

"Given a statistical tie with numerical differences that fall well within the expected 1-2 percent margin of error, the rational procedure would be to select a candidate at random; say, by flipping a coin. That would not do, however. The process must be conducted with appropriate solemnity, and a pretense that issues of grand significance are at stake. Educated elites have devoted great efforts to achieving this result, but with limited success among the general population, it appears."

Your book describes the background leading up to the Oslo accord, but several years have passed since you gave these lectures. The accord initially raised high hopes here. Then, when the current Intifada broke out, many prefered to become 'the distressed left' or even 'the offended left,' anything so as not to have to re-think what they had already 'agreed upon' in the past. Could you explain the American-Israeli context of the Oslo accord?

"The Oslo agreements did represent a shift in U.S.-Israeli policy. Both states had by then come to recognize that it is a mistake to use the Israel Defense Forces to run the territories.

"It is much wiser to resort to the traditional colonial pattern of relying on local clients to control the subject population, in the manner of the British in India, South Africa under apartheid, the U.S. in Central America, and other classic cases. That is the assigned role of the Palestinian Authority, which like its predecessors, has to follow a delicate path: It must maintain some credibility among the population, while serving as a second oppressor, both militarily and economically, in coordination with the primary power centers that retain ultimate control.

"The long-term goal of the Oslo process was described accurately by [Foreign Minister] Shlomo Ben-Ami shortly before he joined the Barak government: It is to establish a condition of permanent neo-colonialist dependency. The mechanisms have been spelled out explicitly in the successive interim agreements; and more important, implemented on the ground."

What happened in Camp David this summer?

"Well, Israel's final status maps conformed closely to the projects it was implementing in the territories, with U.S. support. The final settlement is to divide the West Bank into four Palestinian enclaves, separated from one another and from the (greatly expanded) Jerusalem region, and also separated from Jordan. The enclaves are enclosed - essentially imprisoned - by Israeli settlements and the supporting infrastructure that integrates them within Israel. The maps indicated that Israel might later on permit some connection between the northern and central enclaves and Jericho, though well to the East. Something similar is apparently planned for Gaza."

Does the United States support the Barak plan?

"This is the U.S. conception of 'peace,' and Washington would be pleased to have it realized. The background assumption, presumably, is that force will ultimately prevail, that there is a limit to what flesh and blood can endure.

"On this assumption, which is perhaps realistic, there is every reason to keep to the policies recommended in internal cabinet discussions by Moshe Dayan 30 years ago: Israel should make it clear to the Palestinians that 'We have no solution, you shall continue to live like dogs, whoever wishes may leave, and we will see where this process leads.' That is entirely in accord with U.S. policies throughout the world and, of course, the U.S. is breaking no new ground in this respect."

How, then, would you describe the American interests in this area, if we shake off the usual nonsense about 'peace and democracy,' like the peace and democracy the U.S. is bringing to Columbia?

"The primary interest, uncontroversially, is effective control of the world's most important energy reserves. These may be administered by what the British, in their day in the sun, called an 'Arab facade' behind which Britain would continue to rule. The facade must be weak and pliant; if the ruling dictatorships challenge the dominant power, they can expect a violent reaction."

Okay, that was true during the Cold War, but that has ended already.

"For a long time, it was claimed publicly that the U.S. was defending the region from the Russians, though internal documents told a different story. But we no longer need debate the issue, since it has been conceded that the conventional propaganda was false. Immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Bush administration informed Congress that the U.S. still required a huge Pentagon budget with intervention forces aimed primarily at the Middle East, where the threat to our interests could not be laid at the Kremlin's door.Or at Iraq's door; Saddam Hussein was then still an honored friend, having committed only such minor transgressions as murdering hundreds of thousands of Kurds, using chemical weapons, torturing dissidents, and so on. The real threat, the White House explained, was the 'technological sophistication' of Third World powers."

In other words, if the United States is not really interested in peace here, because the conflict serves its interests, then the peace camp has no chance, even if it wins an election some day.

"It would, I think, be hard to do anything in the Middle East that is not at least consistent with perceived U.S. interests. For the past half-century, the U.S. has regarded the Middle East as the most 'strategically important area of the world' and the world's 'richest economic prize,' 'a stupendous source of strategic power,' and on, and on, in the same vein. The dominant concern has been to maintain effective control over the world's primary energy reserves, which for the foreseeable future will be in the Gulf region.

"Israel and the Palestinians might pursue a separate path if it did not interfere with U.S. interests - and that is, I think, not impossible. My own feeling 30 years ago was that Israel was in a very strong position to move toward some form of federal bi-nationalism in Cis-Jordan, sparing itself and others enormous tragedies. And, though those opportunities have been lost, it is not impossible that they could be recovered. The U.S. might not like it, but would not interfere, I would expect. At the time, Israel preferred a settlement based on force; that was, after all, explicit. That path happened to conform very closely to U.S. policies. If Israelis continue to insist on this framework, they will face, I fear, an ugly future, as will others in the region.

"Israelis should have no illusions on this score. If the U.S. decides to abandon support for Israel, as it might, it will not be hampered by the humanistic considerations that are professed or the moral posturing that is adopted when convenient. The famous 'Israeli lobby' will be ineffective, and will probably disappear, as it has in the past when Israel confronts U.S. power rather than serving it. That has been the case even under Clinton, the most pro-Israel of U.S. presidents (though George W. Bush may yet surpass him): The recent Phalcon-China affair is a minor illustration."

January 2001


Leila Khalid - refugee from Haifa, fighter for Palestine
(January 31, 2001)
When Palestinian liberation fighter Leila Khaled hijacked her first plane in 1969, she became the international pin-up of armed struggle. Then she underwent cosmetic surgery so she could do it again. Thirty years on, she talks to Katharine Viner about being a woman at war.

The end of Israel?
(January 30, 2001)
At a time with rampant current events breaking daily, often hourly, there is much need to remember the importance of sometimes taking time for reflection, of sometimes stepping back to contemplate both the past and the future.

Sharon - the REAL legacy of Clinton and Barak
(January 30, 2001)
As the Barak era fades from view -- more short-lived than anyone predicted just a long year and a half ago -- his epitaph is already being written and Ariel Sharon's government and policies are already being debated.

Looming civil war in Palestine
(January 29, 2001)
Fears are growing in the international community that Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority (PA) is heading for collapse.

Arafat blasts, Peres maneuvers, Barak sinks
(January 29, 2001)
For all practical purposes Ehud Barak is gone and Yasser Arafat is now desperately trying to save his own skin.

Barak's 3 no's, and Bush's 7 minute call
(January 28, 2001)
The Americans leaked it, a 7-minute Saturday call from the new U.S. Pres to the sinking Israeli PM -- leaked its brevity that is.

The Bomb and Iraq
(January 28, 2001)
As war clouds gather in the Middle East public opinion is being prepared for a possible regional war that could likely include a combined Western/Israeli effort to take out the weapons of mass destruction in Syria, Iraq and Iran.

The "nuts" in the next room
(January 27, 2001)
In recent years Israel's most important and serious newspaper, Ha'aretz, has taken to not only reporting Palestinian affairs much more deeply but to interviewing major Palestinian personalities abroad.

Get ready for Prime Minister Sharon
(January 27, 2001)
The new Ma'ariv-Gallop poll questioned a particularly large sample of 1,100 people, putting special emphasis on the Arab population and new immigrants.

Panic in the Barak camp
(January 27, 2001)
All the tricks and lies of the Israeli Labor Party have now come back to haunt it. Barak, never a politician, bears the brunt of popular blame for all the political deceptions and tricks that have for so long accumulated.

War alert in Europe and Middle East
(January 27, 2001)
We've noted the "war fever" growing in the region for some months now. There's considerable anxiety about who may now strike first.

Israeli and Jewish soul-searching
(January 26, 2001)
The Intifada, coupled with Israeli brutality and recognition that the term "Apartheid Peace" is in fact applicable after all, are having an effect on at least some Israelis and some Jews; even while Ariel Sharon marches to the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem (and maybe because of this).

"Disastrous" American intervention
(January 26, 2001)
ou've got to wonder about these Palestinian "negotiators". What others saw decades ago those who have been most involved are apparently beginning to see only now.

Sharon marches on, Barak stumbles on
(January 25, 2001)
The 554,000 Arabs eligible to vote represent 12.3 percent of the electorate. The Arab turnout in 1999 was 76%, and 95% voted for Barak.

An alliance of the outcasts? Iran, Iraq and Syria
(January 24, 2001)
So the Israelis are going to elect war-criminal tough-guy General Ariel Sharon to be Prime Minister. This after the most top-heavy military-intelligence government in peacetime history for Israel -- that of General Ehud Barak.

General Powell says no to sanctions on behalf of Corporate America
(January 23, 2001)
Hamas has struck again and the "negotiations" are "suspended" again. Two Israelis were assassinated by masked men while eating at a restaurant in Tulkarm. Though this time it was Israelis who were killed it was another warning to Yasser Arafat. Last week similarly masked men in Gaza killed a close Arafat friend, the head of Palestinian TV in Gaza, just as it was rumored Arafat was about to sign some kind of new deal with the Israelis.

EyeWitness Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa
(January 23, 2001)
The depressing element of this entire struggle is that the Arafat regime survives and...will be the one to ultimately determine the fate of the Palestinian people.

War Fever - Israel and Syria
(January 23, 2001)
Tensions continue to grow in the Middle East region, armies continue to prepare, public opinion continues to be manipulated. Though Ehud Barak too is a militarist -- a former commando, General, and Chief of Staff of the Army -- Ariel Sharon brings with him historical baggage and war-criminal image which could easily contribute to a clash of armies sooner rather than later, even if not fully intended by either side.

EyeWitness Gaza
(January 22, 2001)
A year or so ago, I visited the Mouwasi area in Gaza. It was a green paradise, on top, and in the midst, of white sand dunes. I particularly remember this Guava grove, where the guavas hanging from the trees were the size of large oranges; I hadn't seen anything like that ever before.

Reaping what they have sown
(January 22, 2001)
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak abruptly cut short a radio interview on Sunday after being asked about his poor showing in opinion polls, prompting speculation he was buckling under pressure of a February 6 election.

Israel's president departs
(January 21, 2001)
There has never been, and there probably never will be, a president who had such fantastic relations with the State of Israel. It's unbelievable.

Ross officially join Israeli lobby
(January 19, 2001)
During the Lebanon War of 1982 -- some think of it as Sharon's war -- the Israelis and their American Jewish friends felt they had a difficult time when it came to public relations. And when the American Marines pulled out, symbolizing the failure of the Israelis to force Lebanon into the American-Israeli orbit and out of the Syrian-Arab one, the Israelis realized that they had much power in Washington on Capitol Hill, but not enough power with the media, intellectuals, and think-tanks.

War preparations in Israel
(January 19, 2001)
It's always called "The Peace Process" but more behind-the-scenes the whole Middle East region continues to be an arms bazaar with more weapons being sold to the countries in the area than ever before, most by American arms merchants and allies.

Palestinian TV Head killed
(January 17, 2001)
It may have been a warning to Arafat not to dare sign any new agreements, as has been rumored in the past few days he was planning to do tomorrow in fact. It may have been another Israeli assassination - though usually they don't take such risks and use such methods, strongly preferring instead to use high-technology and long-distance means.

Iraq, Saddam and the Gulf War
(January 17, 2001)
It was 10 years ago yesterday that the U.S. unleashed the power of the Empire against the country of Iraq after created the regional conditions that lead to the Iraq-Iran and then the Iraq-Kuwait-Saudi wars. In that period of time somewhere in the number of 1.5 million Iraqis have been killed, the history of the Middle East altered, the future of the region more uncertain and dangerous than ever.

Last night in Gaza ghetto
(January 16, 2001)
It's quite a game of international political brinkmanship. At the same time that Yasser Arafat is being tremendously pressured, and quite possibly further tricked, to sign some kind of "framework agreement" with Clinton and Barak before it is too late -- his regime is also being threatened with extinction both from within and without.

Generals Sharon and Barak as politicians
(January 16, 2001)
With Jan 20 (Clinton leaves office) and Feb 6 (Barak likely to be defeated by Sharon) fast approaching, desperation and near panic are evident in the traditional power centers, including various Arab capitals.

"Unilateral separation" one way or another
(January 15, 2001)
The separation plan would go into the event of one of the following three scenarios: as a response to a unilateral declaration of statehood on the part of the Palestinians; under a severe security threat; or as part of an agreement with the Palestinian Authority

Up in arms against Apartheid
(January 13, 2001)
At the end of the second millennium, three million Palestinians are imprisoned in ghettoes by the very man whom the Palestinian leadership hailed as the saviour of peace. Netanyahu had driven the peace ship off course. Barak scuttled it.

Locking in Oslo
(January 12, 2001)
The Americans and the Israelis continue to try to twist the screws. Their minimum goal now is to "lock in" the "Oslo Peace Process" approach to the conflict. It may be an "Apartheid Peace", and it may have resulted in considerable bloodshed, but even so it is leading to a form of "Palestinian Statehood" and "separation" that the Israelis strongly desire as the best alternative for themselves.

Sharon charges on
(January 12, 2001)
he long-serving (now recalled to Cairo) Egyptian Ambassador to Israel was quoted saying last week that if an Israeli-Palestinian agreement isn't reached in the next two weeks there won't be an agreement for the next two decades.

"Sharon leads to peace"
(January 11, 2001)
The last time the Israeli "Arab vote" was pushed toward Shimon Peres for Prime Minister -- back in 1996 -- there was much resistance. Then Peres was acting Prime Minister after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Army had just committed the Qana massacre in Southern Lebanon, and Peres was busy trying to cover it up.

Grandfather Sharon
(January 10, 2001)
If the polls remain as disastrous as they now are for Ehud Barak, expect him to be pushed out and Shimon Peres substituted. Barak has no chance; Peres has some, especially with the "Arab vote".

The Dangerous weeks, months ahead
(January 10, 2001)
Guys like Commando-General-Prime Minster Ehud Barak don't go easily from the scene. Barak's daring-do was lavishly praised just a few years ago; now it has even the military types fretting. No telling just what Barak and friends might try in the next few weeks.

Assissination, siege and war crimes
(January 9, 2001)
The Israeli government, both as a group and as individuals, bears full responsibility for the crimes that were committed. We will do everything possible, including declaring members of this government war criminals who are eligible for trial by the world tribunal." Palestinian Authority "Minister"

Soul-searching Israelis
(January 9, 2001)
The "liberals" among them, the most cosmopolitan and internationally-oriented of the Israelis, are now getting extra nervous. Not only is Ariel Sharon coming to power, not only is regional war possible, not only are the cold treaties with Egypt and Jordan in jeopardy, but even Israel's future has come into question

Israel acts while Arafat talks
(January 8, 2001)
srael continues to take major steps designed to shrink, isolate and control the Palestinian areas forever. The policy is termed "unilateral separation" and it is linked to bringing about a so-called "Palestinian State" that serves Israeli interests, making everything worse than ever for the Palestinian "natives".

Clinton's Israel speech
(January 8, 2001)
On his way out the Presidential door Bill Clinton went to New York City to speak to his American Jewish supporters and further grease his way toward his future. This is the Bill Clinton that turned the U.S. government over to the Israeli/Jewish lobby in his years in office; of course pretending otherwise.

Specter of an "ugly future"
(January 5, 2001)
Lofty, humanitarian goals like 'peace and democracy'? No, America's primary interest in the Middle East is effective control of the world's most important energy reserves, Noam Chomsky tells Ha'aretz

Prime Minister Sharon
(January 5, 2001)
Did President Hindenburg and the German intelligentsia feel this way in 1930s when they saw that Adolf Hitler, and his brownshirt thugs, were about to be elected to power?

Barak and Sharon
(January 5, 2001)
While the Labor "Doves" are busy running ads in Arab papers showing dismembered corpses in Palestinian Refugee Camps -- with the caption "Sharon" -- the reality is that Generals Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon are more two of a kind than anything else.

Arab nations add their voices to the chorus of despair
(January 4, 2001)
All chance of a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians in the near future is vanishing, destroyed by hardening opinions on both sides, continuing violence, the precarious position of the political leaders involved and disagreements over key issues.

Darling of American Jewry
(January 4, 2001)
Over the years, most of the strongest advocates of Israel have usually been people who are not Jewish....[I] look forward to working with him...

Barak publicly warns of regional war
(January 4, 2001)
Amid veiled threats from the Israelis to start targeting even more senior Arafat Regime persons, and even to bring the Arafat "Palestinian Authority" to an end, Ehud Barak has also started publicly talking about the possibility of regional war.

No deal for Arafat
(January 3, 2001)
In particular, the Palestinians are concerned that the proposed settlement would create Palestinian territorial islands separated from each other by Israeli territory and therefore not viable as a nation. They object to a proposed land swap that would allow some Israeli settlers to remain on the West Bank in exchange for land that the Palestinians claim is desert and a toxic waste dump.

Arafat rushes to Washington
(January 2, 2001)
Clinton and the Israelis have set the stage for the last act of their multi-year drama attempting to trap the Palestinians on controlled reservations and calling it "an end to the conflict". But like a modern-day computer game the users can interact and change the outcome to various scenarios.

Top Palestinian Leader in the Arafat Regime
(January 2, 2001)
The whole house of political quicksand built by Bill Clinton at the behest of the Israelis (and popularly known as the "Peace Process") is bubbling, steaming, and swallowing many of its key participants.

Arafat hangs up on threatening Clinton
(January 1, 2001)
The coming issue of TIME magazine reports that Arafat hung up the phone receiver on Clinton a few days ago, turning to an aide and saying: "He's threatening me!

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