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The Charade of Israeli-Palestinian Talks

BY Noam Chomsky

It is hardly a secret that for 35 years the U.S. and Israel have stood virtually alone in opposition to a consensus on a political settlement that is close to universal.

Washington’s pathetic capitulation to Israel while pleading for a meaningless three-month freeze on settlement expansion–excluding Arab East Jerusalem–should go down as one of the most humiliating moments in U.S. diplomatic history.

In September the last settlement freeze ended, leading the Palestinians to cease direct talks with Israel. Now the Obama administration, desperate to lure Israel into a new freeze and thus revive the talks, is grasping at invisible straws–and lavishing gifts on a far-right Israeli government.

The gifts include $3 billion for fighter jets. The largesse also happens to be another taxpayer grant to the U.S. arms industry, which gains doubly from programs to expand the militarization of the Middle East.

U.S. arms manufacturers are subsidized not only to develop and produce advanced equipment for a state that is virtually part of the U.S. military-intelligence establishment but also to provide second-rate military equipment to the Gulf states–currently a precedent-breaking $60 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia, which is a transaction that also recycles petrodollars to an ailing U.S. economy.

Israeli and U.S. high-tech civilian industries are closely integrated. It is small wonder that the most fervent support for Israeli actions comes from the business press and the Republican Party, the more extreme of the two business-oriented political parties. The pretext for the huge arms sales to Saudi Arabia is defense against the “Iranian threat.”

However, the Iranian threat is not military, as the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence have emphasized. Were Iran to develop a nuclear weapons capacity, the purpose would be deterrent–presumably to ward off a U.S.-Israeli attack.

The real threat, in Washington’s view, is that Iran is seeking to expand its influence in neighboring countries “stabilized” by U.S. invasion and occupation.

The official line is that the Arab states are pleading for U.S. military aid to defend themselves against Iran. True or false, the claim provides interesting insight into the reigning concept of democracy. Whatever the ruling dictatorships may prefer, Arabs in a recent Brookings poll rank the major threats to the region as Israel (88 percent), the United States (77 percent) and Iran (10 percent).

It is interesting that U.S. officials, as revealed in the just-released WikiLeaks cables, totally ignored Arab public opinion, keeping to the views of the reigning dictators.

The U.S. gifts to Israel also include diplomatic support, according to current reports. Washington pledges to veto any U.N. Security Council actions that might annoy Israel’s leaders and to drop any call for further extension of a settlement freeze.

Hence, by agreeing to the three-month pause, Israel will no longer be disturbed by the paymaster as it expands its criminal actions in the occupied territories.

That these actions are criminal has not been in doubt since late 1967, when Israel’s leading legal authority, international jurist Theodor Meron, advised the government that its plans to initiate settlements in the occupied territories violated the Fourth Geneva Convention, a core principle of international humanitarian law, established in 1949 to criminalize the horrors of the Nazi regime.

Meron’s conclusion was endorsed by Justice Minister Ya’akov Shimson Shapira, and shortly after by Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, writes historian Gershom Gorenberg in The Accidental Empire.

Dayan informed his fellow ministers, “We must consolidate our hold so that over time we will succeed in `digesting’ Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) and merging them with `little’ Israel,” meanwhile “dismember(ing) the territorial contiguity” of the West Bank, all under the usual pretense “that the step is necessary for military purposes.”

Dayan had no doubts, or qualms, about what he was recommending: “Settling Israelis in occupied territory contravenes, as is known, international conventions,” he observed. “But there is nothing essentially new in that.”

Dayan’s correct assumption was that the boss in Washington might object formally, but with a wink, and would continue to provide the decisive military, economic and diplomatic support for the criminal endeavors.

The criminality has been underscored by repeated Security Council resolutions, more recently by the International Court of Justice, with the basic agreement of U.S. Justice Thomas Buergenthal in a separate declaration. Israel’s actions also violate U.N. Security Council resolutions concerning Jerusalem. But everything is fine as long as Washington winks.

Back in Washington, the Republican super-hawks are even more fervent in their support for Israeli crimes. Eric Cantor, the new majority leader in the House of Representatives, “has floated a novel solution to protect aid for Israel from the current foreign aid backlash,” Glenn Kessler reports in The Washington Post: “giving the Jewish state its own funding account, thus removing it from funds for the rest of the world.”

The issue of settlement expansion is simply a diversion. The real issue is the existence of the settlements and related infrastructure developments. These have been carefully designed so that Israel has already taken over more than 40 percent of the occupied West Bank, including suburbs of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv; the arable land; and the primary water sources of the region, all on the Israeli side of the Separation Wall–in reality an annexation wall.

Since 1967, Israel has vastly expanded the borders of Jerusalem in violation of Security Council orders and despite universal international objection (including the U.S., at least formally).

The focus on settlement expansion, and Washington’s groveling, are not the only farcical elements of the current negotiations. The very structure is a charade. The U.S. is portrayed as an “honest broker” seeking to mediate between two recalcitrant adversaries. But serious negotiations would be conducted by some neutral party, with the U.S. and Israel on one side, and the world on the other.

It is hardly a secret that for 35 years the U.S. and Israel have stood virtually alone in opposition to a consensus on a political settlement that is close to universal, including the Arab states, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (including Iran), and all other relevant parties.

With brief and rare departures, the two rejectionist states have preferred illegal expansion to security. Unless Washington’s stand changes, political settlement is effectively barred. And expansion, with its reverberations throughout the region and the world, continues.

© The New York Times Syndicate

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor & Professor of Linguistics (Emeritus) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the author of dozens of books on U.S. foreign policy. He writes a monthly column for The New York Times News Service/Syndicate.

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