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Chomsky: Do We Face a Real Confrontation with Israel?

We should be cautious about the idea that Obama will promote a serious regional peace initiative for the Middle East.

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Turning to the second bone of contention, settlements, there is indeed a confrontation, but it may again be less dramatic than portrayed.  Washington's position was presented most strongly in Hilary Clinton's much-quoted statement rejecting "natural growth exceptions" to the policy opposing new settlements.  Netanyahu, along with President Peres and in fact virtually the whole Israeli political spectrum, insists on permitting "natural growth" within the areas that Israel intends to annex, complaining that the US is backing down on Bush's authorization of such expansion within his "vision" of a Palestinian state.

Senior Netanyahu cabinet members have gone further.  Minister Yisrael Katz announced that "the current Israeli government will not accept in any way the freezing of legal settlement activity in Judea and Samaria." ( Ha'aretz, May 31).  The term "legal" in US-Israeli parlance means "illegal, but authorized by the government of Israel." In this usage, unauthorized outposts are termed "illegal," though apart from the dictates of the powerful, they are no more illegal than the settlements granted to Israel under Bush's "vision."

The harsh Obama-Clinton formulation is not new.  It repeats the wording of the 2003 Road Map, which stipulates that in Phase I, "Israel freezes all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements)." All sides formally accept the Road Map - consistently overlooking the fact that Israel, with US support, at once added 14 "reservations" that render it inoperable.

If Obama were serious about opposing settlement expansion, he could easily proceed with concrete measures, for example, by reducing US aid by the amount devoted to this purpose.  That would hardly be a radical or courageous move. The Bush I administration did so (reducing loan guarantees), but after the Oslo accord in 1993, President Clinton left calculations to the government of Israel.  Unsurprisingly,, there was "no change in the expenditures flowing to the settlements," the Israeli press reported:  "[Prime Minister] Rabin will continue not to dry out the settlements," the report concludes. "And the Americans? They will understand" ( Hadashot, Oct. 8; Yair Fidel, Hadashot Supplement , Oct. 29, 1993).

Obama administration officials informed the press that the Bush I measures are "not under discussion," and that pressures will be "largely symbolic" (Helene Cooper, NYT, June 1).  In short, Obama "understands."

The US press reports that "A partial freeze has been in place for several years, but settlers have found ways around the strictures... construction in the settlements has slowed but never stopped, continuing at an annual rate of about 1,500 to 2,000 units over the past three years. If building continues at the 2008 rate, the 46,500 units already approved will be completed in about 20 years... If Israel built all the housing units already approved in the nation's overall master plan for settlements, it would almost double the number of settler homes in the West Bank" (Isabel Kirshner, NYT, June 2).  The probable source, Peace Now, which monitors settlement activities, estimates further that the two largest settlements would double in size: Ariel and Ma'aleh Adumim, built mainly during the Oslo years in the salients that subdivide the West Bank into cantons.

"Natural population growth" is largely a myth, Israel's leading diplomatic correspondent, Akiva Eldar, points out, citing demographic studies by Col (res.) Shaul Arieli, deputy military secretary to former prime minister and incumbent defense minister Ehud Barak.  Settlement growth consists largely of Israeli immigrants in violation of the Geneva Conventions, assisted with generous subsidies.  Much of it is in direct violation of formal Government decisions, but carried out with the authorization of the Government, specifically Barak, considered a dove in the Israeli spectrum (Eldar, Ha'aretz, June 2).

 
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