14 October 2014
365th Meeting (PM)

United States Youth Could Alter United States Policy on Israel-Palestine Conflict, Noam Chomsky Tells Palestinian Rights Committee, Saying Crisis Not Intractable

The youth of the United States were driving a change across the country that could, in the long term, alter its foreign policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, said Noam Chomsky, international public intellectual and Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, today during a lecture to the United Nations Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.

He recalled that 45 years ago Israeli diplomat Abba Eban had suggested that Jews who criticized Israel should be treated for psychiatric disorders.  Today, criticizing Israel was not a form of anti-Semitism, said Mr. Chomsky, but rather being “critical of a country engaged in a criminal act”.

He said that while many of the world’s problems were intractable, the Israeli and Palestinian issue was not.  The general outlines of a diplomatic solution had been presented clearly in a January 1976 Security Council resolution calling for a two-State settlement along internationally recognized borders.  The United States had vetoed that text, setting the pattern that had continued ever since, with the most recent United States veto in February 2011.

Hamas had won free and fair elections, he said, and in response, the United States had decided to punish Palestinians for voting the wrong way.  Turning to the situation in Gaza, he noted that in August 2013 a ceasefire was reached between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.  There was a pattern of ceasefires reached which Israel had disregarded while continuing its assault on Gaza and building more settlements in the West Bank.  Hamas would observe the ceasefire until an Israeli escalation elicited a Hamas response, which led to another exercise in “mowing the lawn” in Israeli parlance.

The removal of Israeli settlers from Gaza was depicted as a noble effort, but reality was different, he said.  He quoted an Israeli official who had told the Israeli press that the goal of disengagement was freezing of the peace process to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian State and ensure that diplomacy was removed from the agenda.  The reality on the ground, however, was that the “ruined territory” was not released for a single day from Israel’s military grip.  While the Oslo accords reached 20 years ago had established that Gaza and the West Bank were indivisible territory whose unity and integrity could not be broken up, the United States and Israel were dedicated to separating them.

Unity between Gaza and the West Bank threatened the policy of separating the two, and also undermined the pretext for Israel to refuse to negotiate, he said.  Israel had launched assaults on Palestinians in the West Bank, targeting Hamas, with the pretext that three Israeli teenagers had been brutally murdered.  Going over details of who was actually responsible for the deed, he noted that the pattern was very clear:  the latest ceasefire had been reached on 26 August and had been followed by Israel’s land grab.

Little had changed in the last 47 years, he said, apart from the scale of crimes, which continued without a break with constant United States support.  There was a conventional picture repeated on all sides, which was that there were two alternatives, either a two-State settlement which represented international consensus, or a one-State solution, with Israel taking over the West Bank and the Palestinians “handing over keys”.

His own opinion was that those were not the two alternatives.  The real alternatives were either an international consensus on a January 1976 agreement, and the other more realistic option was Israel continuing exactly what it was doing, with United States support.  What was happening was not a secret:  Israel was taking over what it called Jerusalem, which was actually five times greater than historic Jerusalem and included many Arab villages.  Looking at the map, those corridors broke up the West Bank into cantons.  What was left was uninhabitable desert.

Analogies were often made to the situation in apartheid-era South Africa, but that was misleading, as South Africa had relied on its black workforce, he said.  Israel had no such attitude towards the Palestinians.  “If they leave, or die, that’s fine,” he said.  That was the realistic alternative to a two-State settlement, and it would continue as long as the United States supported it.

Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine, said that he agreed with Mr. Chomsky’s thoughts on United States policy, but noted that it was not just the Israelis and Americans dictating policy.  The Palestinian people were determined to continue the struggle.  “Our people are dead determined that we do not want to stay in Bantustans in apartheid-style,” he said.  The Palestinians were key players despite the odds being against them.

Putting Palestine on the geopolitical map was an accomplishment, he said.  In 1988, the struggle of the Palestinian people had succeeded in unifying different parts of their homeland.  The tragic split between Gaza and the West Bank was “a huge setback”.  The April 2014 agreement that put an end to the split and established a national consensus Government was a historic step.  Giving further details on the issue of unity between Gaza and the West Bank, he noted that there were “no boy scouts in this business in this chamber”.  Gaza had to be rebuilt, and freedom and dignity had to be attained.  Addressing Mr. Chomsky, he called him a “superstar”, and termed today’s meeting “the pulse of justice”.

Fode Seck, (Senegal) Chair of the Committee for the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, opened today’s special meeting held as part of the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.  He encouraged the audience to visit the International Year of Solidarity Twitter page, to tweet during the talk with #2014forPalestine, and to visit the Committee’s Facebook page.

Amy Goodman, Host and Executive Producer of Democracy Now, moderated the ensuing question-and-answer period with representatives of Member States, non-governmental organizations and media outlets.  She started out by asking Mr. Chomsky what he thought was the single most important action the United Nations could take to solve the crisis.  He answered that the United Nations would act insofar as the great Powers permitted it to act, primarily the United States, the United Kingdom and France.

But there were things the Organization could do, such as recognizing the State of Palestine, he said, noting that 138 members took that step in the General Assembly in November 2012 and parties of the Swedish and British parliaments had recently voted in favour of doing the same.  The Swedish vote had “broken the logjam for the West”.  While the British vote had not been a Government decision, it reflected a shift in understanding and attitudes and could lead to a viable two-State settlement.

Moreover, the European Union had produced a directive forbidding its members from funding or participating in any projects located within illegal Israeli settlements, he said.  Major church groups in the United States had taken similar positions against multinational companies in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and there were efforts against securities firms operating there.

Regarding the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement, he said that although the Movement had been a positive impetus, it had been unwilling to face crucial questions, such as what would help the victims and what would harm them.   The Movement’s actions directed against the Israeli occupation had been largely successful, but its insistence that they be continued until Israel had allowed Palestinian refugees to return had only led to a backlash.

On what the United States should do, he said that country should have been called upon by its own citizens to conform to its own laws, such as the Leahy Law, which barred sending weapons to any military units involved in consistent rights violations.  There wasn’t any doubt that the Israeli army was involved in such violations.  He also criticized the United States Government for allowing tax-exempt United States organizations to carry out activities on the West Bank.

Asked what he would do to solve the conflict if he were President of the Palestinian Authority, Mr. Chomsky cited the need to overcome the split between Gaza and the West Bank and to maintain the Unity Government amid the attacks from many sides.  It was a theme familiar to many of the countries at the United Nations who had undergone national struggles.  Palestine had been one of the remaining two colonies, along with Western Sahara, that had not been decolonized.  Also there was a need to reach out to international opinion.

Asked about the prospect of a peaceful two-State solution occurring in the coming decades and what progressive forces should do, Mr. Chomsky said the effort to achieve the two-State solution was by no means finished and the United States could settle it.  But the solution would not necessarily be a good settlement.  Natural cultural and commercial connections should develop across the artificial boundary, leading to the kind of integration that would come from both sides.

Asked why the United States had always unconditionally supported Israel, Mr. Chomsky said that long ago when the United States, Australia and Canada, all settler-colonial societies, were the greatest supporters of Israel, they were driven by religious principles.  Significant geostrategic factors also figured into the mix.  In the latest escalation, Israel began to run out of munitions, and the United States provided munitions that had been pre-positioned in Israel for United States use.

For information media. Not an official record.