Page 1 of 2 Peace that could happen (but won't)
By Noam Chomsky
The fact that the Israel-Palestine conflict grinds on without resolution might
appear to be rather strange. For many of the world's conflicts, it is difficult
even to conjure up a feasible settlement. In this case, it is not only
possible, but there is near universal agreement on its basic contours: a
two-state settlement along the internationally recognized (pre-June 1967)
borders - with "minor and mutual modifications," to adopt official United
States terminology before Washington departed from the international community
in the mid-1970s.
The basic principles have been accepted by virtually the entire world,
including the Arab states (who go on to call for full normalization of
relations), the Organization of Islamic States (including Iran), and relevant
non-state actors (including Hamas). A settlement along these lines was first
proposed at the United
Nations Security Council in January 1976 by the major Arab states. Israel
refused to attend the session. The US vetoed the resolution, and did so again
in 1980. The record at the General Assembly since is similar.
There was one important and revealing break in US-Israeli rejectionism. After
the failed Camp David agreements in 2000, President Bill Clinton recognized
that the terms he and Israel had proposed were unacceptable to any
Palestinians. That December, he proposed his "parameters": imprecise, but more
forthcoming. He then stated that both sides had accepted the parameters, while
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met in Taba, Egypt, in January 2001 to
resolve the differences and were making considerable progress. In their final
press conference, they reported that, with a little more time, they could
probably have reached full agreement. Israel called off the negotiations
prematurely, however, and official progress then terminated, though informal
discussions at a high level continued leading to the Geneva Accord, rejected by
Israel and ignored by the US.
A good deal has happened since, but a settlement along those lines is still not
out of reach - if, of course, Washington is once again willing to accept it.
Unfortunately, there is little sign of that.
Substantial mythology has been created about the entire record, but the basic
facts are clear enough and quite well documented.
The US and Israel have been acting in tandem to extend and deepen the
occupation. In 2005, recognizing that it was pointless to subsidize a few
thousand Israeli settlers in Gaza, who were appropriating substantial resources
and protected by a large part of the Israeli army, the government of Ariel
Sharon decided to move them to the much more valuable West Bank and Golan
Instead of carrying out the operation straightforwardly, which would have been
easy enough, the government decided to stage a "national trauma", which
virtually duplicated the farce accompanying the withdrawal from the Sinai
desert after the Camp David agreements of 1978-79. In each case, the withdrawal
permitted the cry of "Never Again", which meant in practice: we cannot abandon
an inch of the Palestinian territories that we want to take in violation of
international law. This farce played very well in the West, though it was
ridiculed by more astute Israeli commentators, among them that country's
prominent sociologist, the late Baruch Kimmerling.
After its formal withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, Israel never actually
relinquished its total control over the territory, often described
realistically as "the world's largest prison". In January 2006, a few months
after the withdrawal, Palestine had an election that was recognized as free and
fair by international observers. Palestinians, however, voted "the wrong way",
electing Hamas. Instantly, the US and Israel intensified their assault against
Gazans as punishment for this misdeed. The facts and the reasoning were not
concealed; rather, they were openly published alongside reverential commentary
on Washington's sincere dedication to democracy. The US-backed Israeli assault
against the Gazans has only been intensified since, thanks to violence and
economic strangulation which is increasingly savage.
Meanwhile in the West Bank, always with firm US backing, Israel has been
carrying forward longstanding programs to take the valuable land and resources
of the Palestinians and leave them in unviable cantons, mostly out of sight.
Israeli commentators frankly refer to these goals as "neo-colonial". Ariel
Sharon, the main architect of the settlement programs, called these cantons
"Bantustans", though the term is misleading: South Africa needed the majority
black work force, while Israel would be happy if the Palestinians disappeared,
and its policies are directed to that end.
Blockading Gaza by land and sea
One step towards cantonization and the undermining of hopes for Palestinian
national survival is the separation of Gaza from the West Bank. These hopes
have been almost entirely consigned to oblivion, an atrocity to which we should
not contribute by tacit consent. Israeli journalist Amira Hass, one of the
leading specialists on Gaza, writes that
The restrictions on
Palestinian movement that Israel introduced in January 1991 reversed a process
that had been initiated in June 1967. Back then, and for the first time since
1948, a large portion of the Palestinian people again lived in the open
territory of a single country - to be sure, one that was occupied, but was
nevertheless whole ... The total separation of the Gaza Strip from the West
Bank is one of the greatest achievements of Israeli politics, whose overarching
objective is to prevent a solution based on international decisions and
understandings and instead dictate an arrangement based on Israel's military
Since January 1991, Israel has bureaucratically and logistically merely
perfected the split and the separation: not only between Palestinians in the
occupied territories and their brothers in Israel, but also between the
Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and those in the rest of the territories and
between Gazans and West Bankers/Jerusalemites. Jews live in this same piece of
land within a superior and separate system of privileges, laws, services,
physical infrastructure and freedom of movement.
academic specialist on Gaza, Harvard scholar Sara Roy, adds:
Gaza is an
example of a society that has been deliberately reduced to a state of abject
destitution, its once productive population transformed into one of
aid-dependent paupers ... Gaza's subjection began long before Israel's recent
war against it [December 2008]. The Israeli occupation - now largely forgotten
or denied by the international community - has devastated Gaza's economy and
people, especially since 2006 ... After Israel's December  assault,
Gaza's already compromised conditions have become virtually unlivable.
Livelihoods, homes, and public infrastructure have been damaged or destroyed on
a scale that even the Israel Defense Forces admitted was indefensible.
In Gaza today, there is no private sector to speak of and no industry. Eighty
percent of Gaza's agricultural crops were destroyed and Israel continues to
snipe at farmers attempting to plant and tend fields near the well-fenced and
patrolled border. Most productive activity has been extinguished ... Today, 96%
of Gaza's population of 1.4 million is dependent on humanitarian aid for basic
needs. According to the World Food Programme, the Gaza Strip requires a minimum
of 400 trucks of food every day just to meet the basic nutritional needs of the
population. Yet, despite a March [22, 2009] decision by the Israeli cabinet to
lift all restrictions on foodstuffs entering Gaza, only 653 trucks of food and
other supplies were allowed entry during the week of May 10 [that year], at
best meeting 23% of required needs. Israel now allows only 30 to 40 commercial
items to enter Gaza compared to 4,000 approved products prior to June 2006.
It cannot be stressed too often that Israel had no credible pretext for its
2008-9 attack on Gaza, with full US support and illegally using US weapons.
Near-universal opinion asserts the contrary, claiming that Israel was acting in
self-defense. That is utterly unsustainable, in light of Israel's flat
rejection of peaceful means that were readily available, as Israel and its US
partner in crime knew very well. That aside, Israel's siege of Gaza is itself
an act of war, as Israel of all countries certainly recognizes, having
repeatedly justified launching major wars on grounds of partial restrictions on
its access to the outside world, though nothing remotely like what it has long
imposed on Gaza.
One crucial element of Israel's criminal siege, little reported, is the naval
blockade. Peter Beaumont reports from Gaza that, "on its coastal littoral,
Gaza's limitations are marked by a different fence where the bars are Israeli
gunboats with their huge wakes, scurrying beyond the Palestinian fishing boats
and preventing them from going outside a zone imposed by the warships".
According to reports from the scene, the naval siege has been tightened
steadily since 2000. Fishing boats have been driven steadily out of Gaza's
territorial waters and toward the shore by Israeli gunboats, often violently
without warning and with many casualties. As a result of these naval actions,
Gaza's fishing industry has virtually collapsed; fishing is impossible near
shore because of the contamination caused by Israel's regular attacks,
including the destruction of power plants and sewage facilities.
These Israeli naval attacks began shortly after the discovery by the BG
(British Gas) Group of what appear to be quite sizeable natural gas fields in
Gaza's territorial waters. Industry journals report that Israel is already
appropriating these Gazan resources for its own use, part of its commitment to
shift its economy to natural gas. The standard industry source reports:
finance ministry has given the Israel Electric Corp (IEC) approval to purchase
larger quantities of natural gas from BG than originally agreed upon, according
to Israeli government sources [which] said the state-owned utility would be
able to negotiate for as much as 1.5 billion cubic meters of natural gas from
the Marine field located off the Mediterranean coast of the Palestinian
controlled Gaza Strip.
Last year the Israeli government approved the purchase of 800 million cubic
meters of gas from the field by the IEC ... Recently the Israeli government
changed its policy and decided the state-owned utility could buy the entire
quantity of gas from the Gaza Marine field. Previously the government had said
the IEC could buy half the total amount and the remainder would be bought by
private power producers.
The pillage of what could become a
major source of income for Gaza is surely known to US authorities. It is only
reasonable to suppose that the intention to appropriate these limited
resources, either by Israel alone or together with the collaborationist
Palestinian Authority, is the motive for preventing Gazan fishing boats from
entering Gaza's territorial waters.
There are some instructive precedents. In 1989, Australian foreign minister
Gareth Evans signed a treaty with his Indonesian counterpart Ali Alatas
granting Australia rights to the substantial oil reserves in "the Indonesian
Province of East Timor". The Indonesia-Australia Timor Gap Treaty, which
offered not a crumb to the people whose oil was being stolen, "is the only
legal agreement anywhere in the world that effectively recognizes Indonesia's
right to rule East Timor", the Australian press reported.
Asked about his willingness to recognize the Indonesian conquest and to rob the
sole resource of the conquered territory, which had been subjected to
near-genocidal slaughter by the Indonesian invader with the strong support of
Australia (along with the US, the UK, and some others), Evans explained that
"there is no binding legal obligation not to recognize the acquisition of
territory that was acquired by force," adding that "the world is a pretty
unfair place, littered with examples of acquisition by force".
It should, then, be unproblematic for Israel to follow suit in Gaza.
A few years later, Evans became the leading figure in the campaign to introduce
the concept "responsibility to protect" - known as R2P - into international
law. R2P is intended to establish an international obligation to protect
populations from grave crimes. Evans is the author of a major book on the
subject and was co-chair of the International Commission on Intervention and
State Sovereignty, which issued what is considered the basic document on R2P.
In an article devoted to this "idealistic effort to establish a new
humanitarian principle", the London Economist featured Evans and his "bold but
passionate claim on behalf of a three-word expression which (in quite large
part thanks to his efforts) now belongs to the language of diplomacy: the
'responsibility to protect.'"
The article is accompanied by a picture of Evans with the caption "Evans: a
lifelong passion to protect". His hand is pressed to his forehead in despair
over the difficulties faced by his idealistic effort. The journal chose not to
run a different photo that circulated in Australia, depicting Evans and Alatas
exuberantly clasping their hands together as they toast the Timor Gap Treaty
that they had just signed.