The thought-provoking conversation between Prof. Noam Chomsky and Dr Tony Klug provides an overview of the 73 years of conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis. The political history they revisited addressed many flaws that are often repeated and, in fact, were present in the conversation itself. Taking into consideration that the conversation was conducted through an exchange of emails over a period of 18 months, it is difficult to analyze its structure or present a critique. Furthermore, the detailed historical and political events mentioned will not be addressed here, as going through the flow of discussion and its evolution is sufficiently intriguing. What will be mainly addressed here is how self-refuting structures are doomed to fail.
The conversation itself brought to mind Anton Shammas’s masterpiece novel Arabesque (1986), when in reference to the death of a Jew and a Palestinian, Shammas reports that “under the dark-colored marble lay down the two shed men, every single in the night of his own tomb: a Jew of time plus the Arab of place” (Shammas 2001).
The multilayered conversation focused on two main inter-related layers of concern — political events and conflict resolution narratives — and it is important to draw a differentiation between the two layers. What is argued here is that the defect lies within these two layers and that finding a breakthrough is not an easy task, as most of the time the problems lie within self-refuting structures. It is more important, however, to keep in mind that self-refuting structures are doomed to fail, whether there is a fixed or a vague goal. What Chomsky stressed throughout his conversation is that Israel chose expansion over security, and carried that project as a national security issue, regardless of political parties or political figures. On the other hand, Klug, who was so immersed in the journey of achieving peace, was still attaching hope to finding a political figure who can deliver peace. Despite the extensive literature on conflict resolution, a constructive overall assessment of performance is still missing. The weakness is not in finding alternative plans, as there are countless peace initiatives; it lies in lack of acknowledging and addressing the real issues that will end the Israeli occupation. The following section will address how some static Israeli attitudes dwell within self-refuting structures and how they were deployed towards Israel’s expansionist project.
Static Israeli Attitudes
On a political level, Israeli relations with the international system have always been selective and exploitive. Israel’s attitude towards UN resolutions or EU policies, for example, reveals that while using the system to delegitimize its enemies, it did not always abide by the rules of the system.
Israel gained tremendously from the peace process by acquiring legitimacy and building diplomatic and economic relations with countries all over the world. Its current policy of saying ‘no’ to a Palestinian state and denying the existing Israeli occupation on the one hand and wanting to maintain the gains of the Oslo process on the other is an example of this selective approach.
On the conflict resolution level, a static attitude is often found that comes by emptying every concept of its meaning, as in a form of “structuring” meaning and “restructuring” meaning and its attributes to what is appealing to the Israeli narrative. That’s how the word “peace” lost its real meaning and became more of a label. Most of the time, the majority are entertained by the rhetoric and not the actual facts. The usage of words while ignoring the essence of their meaning was most evident in the Trump deal, as it did
not offer anything close to a real state or peace but a continuation of the Israeli occupation. It is reasonable to assume that contemplating probable outcomes with an attitude of manipulation of figures and rhetoric is not going to resolve the conflict or move its resolution forward, while forcing such contemplations has worse implications. So, I disagree with Klug when he refers to Trump’s “wording,” as if there was a mistake, since there was no mistake in his usage of the word “aqwa” instead of “Al-Aqsa” as it was intended to humiliate Muslims. Similarly, references to the Palestinian nakba (catastrophe) suggested the promise of a new nakba. And most of the time, his statements in regard to the conflict seemed to come from the Israeli Hasbara (Information) office instead of the White House.
Few people can analyze the U.S. foreign policy towards the Middle East like Chomsky; however, one can’t ignore the 180-degree flip between the Obama administration and the Trump administration. The Obama administration invested tremendous efforts to fulfil Israeli conditions for a peace agreement, in spite of the continuous attacks it came under, and failed. The Obama administration’s abstention at the UN vote on December 23, 2016 allowed the passage of Resolution 2334, which states that Israel’s settlements on Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, have “no legal validity” and demands that Israel halt “settlement activities” as this is essential for the two-state solution.2 The abstention was met by behaviors intended to seek revenge. So, this flip is not a coincidence. Trump became president to deliver what Israel wants. There was nothing positive about his plan, which only gave Israel what Israel wants from the conflict: “No” Palestinian state, “no” peace (with the Palestinians), and “no” recognition of the Israeli occupation.
What Chomsky stressed in his conversation is that, regardless of the Israeli governing political party, all act toward the same goal when it comes to anything that is defined as a national security issue. Israeli politicians may disagree on the strategy and tactics, but they all seem to be fixated on the same goal. Intentionally or unintentionally, the Israeli peace camp is unable to challenge that.
The “Transparency Law” or the “NGO Law” passed by the 20th Knesset in 2016 intended to restrict the actions of both Palestinian and Israeli human rights organizations and other peace-building NGOs. Its implications are still evolving, as some Western donor countries complied with it. Therefore, targeting Palestinian NGO’s is not surprising, and many Palestinian NGO’s refuse conditional funding, or Israeli dictation.3
A look at how issues evolved in over 20 years show how these levels were inter-related and enable reflection on the process and its outcome. Those who were involved in peace-building activities know that these discussions violated the boundaries of mutual recognition, mutual understanding, and mutual respect. The Israelis went too far by digging into the Palestinian national identity, national consciousness, national feelings, educational systems, social structures, religion, ideas, etc., questioning them and demanding that these be adjusted to the Zionist narrative. Currently the Israeli Government labels any form of Palestinian national expression or opinion as terrorism or antisemitism after succeeding, in some countries, in labelling BDS as antisemitic.
Another static attitude lies on the political and conflict resolution levels, as rightly expressed by Chomsky “Oslo was understood, correctly, as a way to subordinate Palestinians to Israeli domination,” but yet explained better by Klug on civil society joint initiatives as in: “One is the habit of the Israeli side to ‘take over’ (not necessarily deliberately), that which soon alienates the Palestinians. I could cite many examples of this tendency.” Both sentences explain to a large extent the Israeli unquestionable self-need to subordinate and occupy, the mentality of the undefeatable arrogant occupier that will force itself upon you and bend you to its will. This mentality proved its failure and justified to a large extent the anti-normalization movement and the BDS movement.
For the same above-mentioned attitudes, it is clear that the Trump peace plan, under Israeli attitudes alone, would collapse and most of it would disappear after reaching the aims it came to serve. So, neither the Palestinians who were sidelined from the peace equation as an irrelevant entity in an attempt to eliminate them from the entire region (reminiscent of Golda Meir’s remark that “there is no Palestinian people”) nor the relations Israel managed to build with some Arab Gulf countries on the basis of a shared enemy (Iran), using the same peace base it abolished, are here to last. Overall, it is a self-refuted structure.
The Palestinian ‘Fried Chicken’
After the world swallowed the fried chicken, it is continuously being forced to pay the financial and political resources for building a greater Israel. The same can be said of the Palestinians, as they ended up funding the Israeli occupation. The performance of the international community in peace negotiations didn’t go far beyond subordinating the Palestinians to Israeli dominance and is marked by fear to criticize Israel in any form. It is something that produced hypocritical political approaches and double-standard policies. They fear to confront Israeli violations of signed peace treaties or address ending the occupation, but still approach the Palestinians with lists of Israeli demands and give the Palestinians an ultimatum to fulfill them “or else,” thereby weakening and delegitimizing the Palestinian leadership in front of its people and manipulating the people into their failed leadership. The same international community that boycotted the Palestinian leadership after Hamas won the elections in 2006 accepts to converse with the “Kahana Chai- likes” of the Israeli 20th Knesset.
The right-wing vision of abolishing all previous peace initiatives, presenting “Greater Israel” as the only acceptable plan and accepting it as de facto, is also an idea entertained by some “peaceniks.” So too is the glory that political entities created after signing the Oslo Accords as a way to attract investments and financial aid, while Israel had a different agenda. Likewise, the right-wing vision needed its glory in attracting funds and investments to pursue further Israeli expansionist policies not only in Palestine but in the entire region. There is no guarantee that Israel will behave differently, especially with its persistence in its regional aggression and in pursuing the “war on Iran” which eventually will not only destroy the Arab Gulf countries and their economy but would also have devastating implications for the entire world economy. Accepting the current rhetoric of expanding Israeli settlements in the West Bank and accepting the settlement policy as a de facto reality and helping Israel reap the benefits of the Oslo process without holding it accountable to its duty of ending the occupation will only result in regional instability.
The De Facto ‘Greater Israel’
The de facto “Greater Israel” was established with the 20th Israeli Knesset, its undemocratic legislation,4 and the Nation-State Law, as revoking citizenship rights, residency rights, political and civil rights, eviction, expulsion, and transfer of people are becoming a norm.
The journey: It is only logical to assume that the destination of the journey was clear, but the peace activists who believed in it were still trying to find a breakthrough and hope. Nonetheless, what is certain is that the Trump peace plan was not a natural development of events or a natural outcome. Maybe he got swept away with the Israeli time-travel machine and, too, liked cheating on history, as Tony describes “by flying in, out of order, and giving them an advance taste of peace while simultaneously setting out the conditions to earn its future fruits.” Which brings us back to the point of the urgent need to confront existing illusions and approach realistic solutions.
Historical leaps through time and space are pure mental entertainment, but they are dangerous, since if the question, “where did we fail?” arises, it is important to remember that we are referring to the same people who were unable to foresee where their activism was leading and were unable to predict where they were going with what they were doing. It is dangerous in the sense that the same people are still entertaining the same ideas, using the same methods, which eventually will lead to a catastrophic situation, especially in the context of the recent established fascist laws which have silenced any form of activism or democratic processes.
Under the current circumstances, there are vicious attacks on political activism and the freedom of speech, whether Israeli or Palestinian. There are also continuous attacks on civil society organizations whether they work in the field of human rights or peace-building activities, the attacks on BDS and anti-normalization movement and, in recent years, continuous attacks on online Palestinian content.
From a wider perspective, there is a critical political crisis where political parties failed and common people lost their trust in the system.
Going back to our 194 fried chickens, and 8th ‘Greater Israels’ which seem to be spicing up, in our backyards towards apartheid and total confrontation. When they reach a boiling point that no high temperature can over-cook them and there is no time for low temperatures to cool them down. The environment will be ready to absorb a situation of total violence. I agree with Chomsky that the U.S. is the only state that might be capable of holding Israel accountable or restraining it. Yet, every policy and every statement can make a difference.
An international intervention, too, might cool things a little bit, but any initiative ought to be solid with clear aims, as the people can’t affordyet another peace fashion show. If sincere and concrete ideas are developed with a clear objective, that might provide the people with some hope.
Until then, the two entities will remain with their own concepts, as the three concepts of “Greater Israel,” “apartheid,” or a one-state solution in the form of a confederation are contemplated. And we all can enjoy and celebrate our illusions of “equal rights” to name our “chicken” the way we want it. “Fried Chicken” is not a bad name after all.
1 From Prof. Noam Chomsky- Dr Tony Klug conversation, referring to In an interview (Palestine-Israel Journal, summer ’96), Netanyahu’s Minister of Information, David Bar-Illan, said that if the Palestinians want to call the fragments left to them “a state,” that’s OK – or they can call it “fried chicken”.