Friday, January 23, 2009

Noam Chomsky: Obama’s Stance on Gaza Crisis

“Approximately the Bush Position”

In a visit to the State Department Thursday, President Obama made his first substantive comments on the Middle East conflict since Israel’s attack on Gaza. Obama first mentioned his commitment to Israel’s security, without affirming his commitment to Palestinian security. He condemned Palestinian rocket attacks on southern Israeli towns, but didn’t criticize the US-backed Israeli bombings of densely populated Gaza. But in a departure from the Bush administration, Obama acknowledged Palestinian suffering and said Gaza’s borders should be opened to aid. We speak with MIT professor, Noam Chomsky.

JUAN GONZALEZ: President Obama has made his first substantive remarks on the crisis in Gaza since being elected. Obama was speaking at the State Department, flanked by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as he named two key envoys. Retired Senate majority leader George Mitchell, who negotiated a lasting agreement in Northern Ireland, will be Middle East envoy. And Richard Holbrooke, who brokered a deal in the Balkans in the mid-1990s, will be envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In his remarks, Obama backed Israel’s three-week attack on Gaza as a defensive move against Hamas rocket fire but also said he was deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation for Palestinians in Gaza. The twenty-two-day assault killed more than 1,400 Palestinians, most of them civilians, at least a third children. More than 5,500 were injured. Thirteen Israelis were killed over the same period, ten of them soldiers, and four by friendly fire.

This is some of what President Obama had to say.

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama, speaking at the State Department yesterday. A Hamas spokesperson told Al Jazeera television Obama’s position toward the Palestinians doesn’t represent a change. Osama Hamdan said, “I think this is an unfortunate start for President Obama in the region and the Middle East issue. And it looks like the next four years, if it continues with the same tone, will be a total failure.”

Well, for more on this, we are joined by Noam Chomsky, professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for over half-a-century. He has written over a hundred books, including Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Noam.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Glad to be with you again.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Well, let’s start off by your response to President Obama’s statement and whether you think it represents a change.

NOAM CHOMSKY: It’s approximately the Bush position. He began by saying that Israel, like any democracy, has a right to defend itself. That’s true, but there’s a gap in the reasoning. It has a right to defend itself. It doesn’t follow that it has a right to defend itself by force. So we might agree, say, that, you know, the British army in the United States in the colonies in 1776 had a right to defend itself from the terror of George Washington’s armies, which was quite real, but it didn’t follow they had a right to defend themselves by force, because they had no right to be here. So, yes, they had a right to defend themselves, and they had a way to do it—namely, leave. Same with the Nazis defending themselves against the terror of the partisans. They have no right to do it by force. In the case of Israel, it’s exactly the same. They have a right to defend themselves, and they can easily do it. One, in a narrow sense, they could have done it by accepting the ceasefire that Hamas proposed right before the invasion—I won’t go through the details—a ceasefire that had been in place and that Israel violated and broke.

But in a broader sense—and this is a crucial omission in everything Obama said, and if you know who his advisers are, you understand why—Israel can defend itself by stopping its crimes. Gaza and the West Bank are a unit. Israel, with US backing, is carrying out constant crimes, not only in Gaza, but also in the West Bank, where it is moving systematically with US support to take over the parts of the West Bank that it wants and to leave Palestinians isolated in unviable cantons, Bantustans, as Sharon called them. Well, stop those crimes, and resistance to them will stop.

Now, Israel has been able pretty much to stop resistance in the Occupied Territories, thanks in large part to the training that Obama praised by Jordan, of course with US funding and monitoring control. So, yes, they’ve managed to. They, in fact, have been suppressing demonstrations, even demonstrations, peaceful demonstrations, that called for support for the people of Gaza. They have carried out lots of arrests. In fact, they’re a collaborationist force, which supports the US and Israel in their effort to take over the West Bank.

Now, that’s what Obama—if Israel—there’s no question that all of these acts are in total violation of the foundations of international humanitarian law. Israel knows it. Their own advisers have told each other—legal advisers have explained that to them back in ’67. The World Court ruled on it. So it’s all total criminality. But they want to be able to persist without any objection. And that’s the thrust of Obama’s remarks. Not a single word about US-backed Israeli crimes, settlement development, cantonization, a takeover in the West Bank. Rather, everyone should be quiet and let the United States and Israel continue with it.

He spoke about the constructive steps of the peace—of the Arab peace agreement very selectively. He said they should move forward towards normalization of relations with Israel. But that wasn’t the main theme of the Arab League peace proposal. It was that there should be a two-state settlement, which the US blocks. I mean, he said some words about a two-state settlement, but not where or when or how or anything else. He said nothing about the core of the problem: the US-backed criminal activities both in Gaza, which they attacked at will, and crucially in the West Bank. That’s the core of the problem.

And you can understand it when you look at his advisers. So, say, Dennis Ross wrote an 800-page book about—in which he blamed Arafat for everything that’s happening—barely mentions the word “settlement” over—which was increasing steadily during the period when he was Clinton’s adviser, in fact peaked, a sharp increase in Clinton’s last year, not a word about it.

So the thrust of his remarks, Obama’s remarks, is that Israel has a right to defend itself by force, even though it has peaceful means to defend itself, that the Arabs must—states must move constructively to normalize relations with Israel, but very carefully omitting the main part of their proposal was that Israel, which is Israel and the United States, should join the overwhelming international consensus for a two-state settlement. That’s missing.

AMY GOODMAN: Noam, we have to break, but we’re going to come back to this discussion. Noam Chomsky, joining us from Massachusetts, a professor of linguistics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has written many books on the Middle East. We’ll be back with him in a moment.


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