Los Angeles Times
August 13, 2001
Commentary; Neocolonial Invitation to a Tribal War
BYLINE: NOAM CHOMSKY, Philosopher and social critic Noam Chomsky is
author of "A New, Generation Draws the Line: Kosovo, East Timor, and
the Variable Standards, of the West" (Verso, 2000)
BODY: "What we feared has come true," Israeli sociologist Baruch
Kimmerling writes in Israel's leading newspaper. Jews and Palestinians
are "regressing to superstitious tribalism.... War appears an
unavoidable fate," an "evil colonial" war. This prospect is likely if
the U.S. grants tacit authorization, with grim consequences that may
reverberate far beyond.
There is, of course, no symmetry between the "ethno-national groups"
regressing to tribalism. The conflict is centered in territories that
have been under harsh military occupation since 1967. The conqueror is
a major armed power, acting with massive military, economic and
diplomatic support from the global superpower. Its subjects are alone
and defenseless, many barely surviving in miserable camps.
The cruelty of the occupation has been sharply condemned by
international and Israeli human rights groups for many years. The
purpose of the terror, economic strangulation and daily humiliation is
not obscure. It was articulated in the early years of the occupation
by Moshe Dayan, one of the Israeli leaders most sympathetic to the
Palestinian plight, who advised his Labor Party associates to tell the
Palestinians that "you shall continue to live like dogs, and whoever
wishes may leave."
The Oslo "peace process" changed the modalities, but not the basic
concept. Shortly before joining the Ehud Barak government, historian
Shlomo Ben-Ami, a dove in the U.S.-Israeli spectrum, wrote that "the
Oslo agreements were founded on a neocolonialist basis." The intent
was to impose on the Palestinians "almost total dependence on Israel"
in a "colonial situation" that was to be "permanent." He soon became
the architect of the latest Barak government proposals, virtually
identical to Bill Clinton's final plan.
These proposals were highly praised in U.S. commentary; the
Palestinians and Yasser Arafat were blamed for their failure and the
That presentation "was a fraud perpetrated on Israeli ... and
international ... public opinion," Kimmerling writes accurately. He
continues that, a look at a map suffices to show that the
Clinton-Barak plans "presented to the Palestinians impossible terms."
Crucially, Israel retained "two settlement blocs that in effect cut
the West Bank into pieces." The Palestinian enclaves also are
effectively separated from the center of Palestinian life in
Jerusalem; the Gaza Strip remains isolated, its population virtually
Israeli settlement in the territories doubled during the years of the
"peace process," increasing under Barak, who bequeathed the new
government of Ariel Sharon "a surprising legacy," the Israeli press
reported as the transition took place early this year: "The highest
number of housing starts in the territories" since the time when
Sharon supervised settlements in 1992, before Oslo. The facts on the
ground are the living reality for the desperate population.
The nature of permanent neo-colonial dependency was underscored by
Israel's High Court of Justice in November 1999 when it rejected yet
another Palestinian petition opposing further expansion of the
[Jewish] city of Maale Adumim established to the east of Jerusalem,
virtually partitioning the West Bank.
The court suggested that "some good for the residents of neighboring
[Palestinian villages] might spring from the economic and cultural
development" of the all-Jewish city. While they try to survive without
water to drink or fields to cultivate, the people whose lands have
been taken can enjoy the sight of the ample housing, green lawns,
swimming pools and other amenities of the heavily subsidized Israeli
Immediately after World War II, the Geneva Conventions were adopted to
bar repetition of Nazi crimes, including transfer of population to
occupied territories or actions that harm civilians. As a so-called
high contracting party, the U.S. is obligated "to ensure respect" for
With Israel alone opposed, the United Nations has repeatedly declared
the conventions applicable to the occupied territories; the U.S.
abstains from these votes, unwilling to take a public stand in
violation of fundamental principles of international law, which
require it to act to prevent settlement and expropriation, attacks on
civilians with U.S.-supplied helicopters, collective punishment and
all other repressive measures used by the occupying forces. Washington
has continued to provide the means to implement these practices,
refusing even to allow observers who might reduce violence and protect
For 25 years, there has been a near-unanimous international consensus
on the terms of political settlement: a full peace treaty with
establishment of a Palestinian state after Israeli withdrawal, an
outcome that enjoys wide support even within Israel. It has been
blocked by Washington ever since its veto of a Security Council
resolution to that effect in 1976.
It is far from an ideal solution. But the likely current alternatives
are far more ugly.