Chomsky: Do We Face a Real Confrontation with Israel?
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
The Obama-Netanyahu-Abbas meetings in May, followed by Obama's speech in Cairo, have been widely interpreted as a turning point in US Middle East policy, leading to consternation in some quarters, exuberance in others. Fairly typical is Middle East analyst Dan Fromkin of the Washington Post , who sees "signs Obama will promote a new regional peace initiative for the Middle East, much like the one championed by Jordan's King Abdullah... [and also] the first distinct signs that Obama is willing to play hardball with Israel." ( WP, May 29). A closer look, however, suggests considerable caution.
King Abdullah insists that "There is no change to the Arab Peace Initiative, and there is no need to amend it. Any talk about amending it, is baseless" (AFP, May 16). Abbas, regularly described as the president of the Palestinian Authority (his term expired in January), firmly agrees. The Arab Peace Initiative reiterates the long-standing international consensus that Israel must withdraw to the international border, perhaps with "minor and mutual adjustments," to adopt official US terminology before it departed sharply from world opinion in 1971, endorsing Israel's rejection of peace with Egypt in favor of settlement expansion (in the northeast Sinai). Furthermore, the consensus calls for a Palestinian state to be established in Gaza and the West Bank after Israel's withdrawal. The Arab Initiative adds that the Arab states should then normalize relations with Israel.
The Initiative was later adopted by the Organization of Islamic States, including Iran (Akiva Eldar, Ha'aretz, June 1).
Obama has praised the Initiative and called on the Arab states to proceed to normalize relations with Israel. But he has so far scrupulously evaded the core of the proposal, thus implicitly maintaining the US rejectionist stand that has blocked a diplomatic settlement since the 1970s along with its Israeli client, in virtual isolation. There are no signs that Obama is willing even to consider the Arab Initiative, let alone "promote" it. That was underscored in Obama's much heralded address to the Muslim world in Cairo on June 4, to which I will return.
The US-Israel confrontation -- with Abbas on the sidelines -- turns on two phrases: "Palestinian state" and "natural growth of settlements." Let's consider these in turn.
Obama has indeed pronounced the words "Palestinian state," echoing Bush. In contrast, the (unrevised) 1999 platform of Israel's governing party, Netanyahu's Likud, "flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river." Nevertheless, it was Netanyahu's 1996 government that was the first to use the phrase. It agreed that Palestinians can call whatever fragments of Palestine are left to them "a state" if they like -- or they can call them "fried chicken" (David Bar- Illan, director of Communications and Policy Planning in the office of the Prime Minister; Interview, Palestine-Israel Journal , Summer/Autumn 1996).
The 1996 Netanyahu government's contemptuous reference to Palestinian aspirations was a shift towards accommodation in US-Israeli policy. As he left office shortly before, Shimon Peres forcefully declared that there will never be a Palestinian state (Amnon Barzilai, Ha'aretz, Oct 24, 1995). Peres was reaffirming the official 1989 position of the US (Bush-Baker) and the Israeli coalition government (Shamir-Peres) that there can be no "additional Palestinian state" between Israel and Jordan - the latter declared to be a Palestinian state by US-Israeli fiat. In the Peres-Shamir-Baker plan, barely reported (if at all) in the US, the fate of the occupied territories was to be settled in terms of the guidelines established by the government of Israel, and Palestinians were permitted to take part in negotiations only if they accepted these guidelines, which rule out Palestinian national rights.