Noam Chomsky is an American political theorist and activist, and professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Besides his work in linguistics, Chomsky is internationally recognized as one of the most critically engaged public intellectuals alive today, and is widely regarded as the world’s top public intellectual.
There is an overwhelming international consensus in support of a two-state settlement on the internationally recognized border (the Green Line established in the 1949 ceasefire agreements), perhaps with “minor and mutual adjustments,” in the wording of much earlier US policy. The consensus includes the Arab states and the Organization of Islamic States (including Iran). It has been blocked by the US and Israel since 1976, when the US vetoed a resolution to this effect brought by Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. The closest we can come to a formula — and it is pretty meaningless — is that compromises should be accepted if they are the best possible and can lead the way to something better.
I personally support a one-state [settlement]. If you are serious about a one-state [settlement], it means a binational state. I was a supporter of this in the ‘40s—a one-state [solution, or settlement] based on Arab-Jewish working class cooperation. I’ve remained so without change. From 1967-1975 I wrote about this extensively because it was still feasible at that time, and Israel could have worked towards a federal arrangement which would have given substantial autonomy to the occupied territories as they were asking for. It could have been a significant step towards a binational state. It was bitterly denounced and condemned because it was feasible. It became popular in the late 1990’s when it was totally unfeasible, and then you were able to write about it. It can be quickly interpreted as undermining a two-state settlement which was US/Israeli policy, so it became popular. In 1975, Palestinian nationalism crystallized, became an organized force, and became an international priority. From that point on, two-states was preferred and one-state was no longer an option. By 1976, the US had to veto a security council resolution calling for a two-state settlement. From that point on, an immediate call for a binational state was not implementable. Currently, the only way to implement it would be by starting with a two-state settlement, which, as stated, has overwhelming international consensus. As a first step, this could have the effect of reducing the cycle of violence, creating the institution of a degree of self-government among the Palestinians and lead the way towards erosion of the border (which is extremely artificial and bad for both sides). Under those conditions you could carry out actions that would extend commercial, cultural and other interchanges, which would lead to a very natural erosions of the borders and an impetus towards integration into a binational state. And by no means do I think that should be the end of the road. I don’t think we should honor the imperial boundaries that were set. There is nothing holy about the boundaries that the British and French created. This could lead to some sort of regional arrangement. Europe is moving towards this.
The International Court of Justice ruled that all of it is illegal, and the Security Council had already ruled that all of the settlements are illegal. The US joined the world in accepting that conclusion in the early years of the occupation. But under Ronald Reagan, the position was changed to “harmful to peace,” and Barack Obama has weakened it further to “not helpful to peace.” The recently passed UNSCR 2334 is essentially the same as UNSC 446, March 1979, passed 12-0-3. The main difference is that then, two countries (England and Norway), joined the US in abstaining. Now, the US stands against the world and under Trump, in even more splendid isolation, on much more crucial matters as well.
The IDF should withdraw from occupied territories. Then, probably 90% of the settlers will get into lorries provided by the government and will move from subsidized homes in the West Bank to subsidized homes in Israel. Some will want to stay, and that’s fine. They can stay in a future Palestinian State. If people in Ma’ale Adumim want to stay in a Palestinian State, that is up to them.
In Gaza, Israel staged a totally fraudulent national trauma for the benefit of the goyim. This way, Israel could say “never again,” “holocaust,” and hold onto the West Bank. They left because Sharon realized Gaza has been destroyed essentially, and there was no point in keeping 8,000 settlers there protected by half the IDF, and taking most of the resources in the land. So, he said let’s get them out and put them in the West Bank, which we care about. And he “said” let’s do it in such a way that the outside world thinks we are suffering and giving something up,so let’s have the IDF take kids by force out of settlements so you can have a front page picture for the goyim. Then we can say “never again” and hold onto the West Bank. But they never left Gaza—it remains under occupation, and the siege became much more intense when Hamas won the election. It has nothing to do with the West Bank. My feeling has been that Israel should have the rights of any state in the international system—no more, no less. That includes, specifically, the right to live in peace and security within its recognized international borders, understood to be the pre-June 1967 borders, with minor and mutual adjustments.
Israeli expansion on land beyond the Green Line in what the Israelis call Jerusalem (an area approximately five times greater than historic Jerusalem) is doubly illegal. All the settlements are illegal, as determined by Security Council and the Advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice. But the Jerusalem settlements are also in violation of explicit Security Council orders going back to 1968, with the US actually voting for them at the time, barring any change in the status of Jerusalem.
I’m in favor of the “right” of the refugees to return, but there is nothing in law about their descendants. People who appeal to Resolution 194 haven’t read it. It talks about the refugees, not their descendants. Sooner or later, Israel will say “OK, we accept UN Resolution 194 because no one is left.” UNRWA and others have interpreted 194 to include descendants, which is reasonable. It isn’t in law, but it is reasonable, so let’s accept that interpretation. Should the refugees and descendants have the right to return? Yes. Should the Wampanoag Indians have a right to return? Yes. Is it going to happen? No. If you dangle before the eyes of the Wampanoag Indians the statement that I’m going to support your right to return to Boston and kick out the population, so therefore you stay in rotten conditions and don’t do anything, it is a deeply, deeply immoral act. There are refugees who are not going to return to Israel—that’s a fact. There is absolutely no international support for it. Zero. And if there was any, unimaginably, Israel would use its ultimate weapons to prevent it. Israel would resort to nuclear war. So the “right” can and should be affirmed, as it should for Native Americans and many others, and there should be efforts to ameliorate the very ugly conditions of the refugees. We should think of solutions so that their possibility of returning to the former Palestine is advanced. One is by a two-state solution. This would at least allow them to go to a Palestinian state. If/when borders begin to erode, then there could be opportunities for them to go right back [into Israel proper].
Until December 1942, the Zionist movement had no formal commitment to a Jewish state. Until the state was established in May 1948, opposition to a Jewish state was within the Zionist movement. I, along with a large part of the Zionist movement (The Anglo-American Commission claimed that about 25% of the Jewish population in Palestine was opposed to a state), particularly the workers’ movement, was opposed to the establishment of a state. I wanted a socialist Palestine based on Arab-Jewish, working-class cooperation in a binational community: no state, no Jewish state, just Palestine. Once Israel was established though, it should have the rights of any state in the international system—no more, no less. But, no state demands a ‘right to exist,’ nor is any such right accorded to any state, nor should it be. Mexico recognizes the US, but not its ‘right to exist’ sitting on half of Mexico, acquired by aggression. The same generalizes. To my knowledge, the concept “right to exist” was invented by US-Israeli propaganda in the 1970s, when the Arab states (with the support of the PLO) formally recognized Israel’s right to exist within secure and recognized borders (citing the wording of UN 242). It was therefore necessary to raise the bars to prevent the negotiations that the US and Israel alone (among significant actors) were blocking, as they still are. They understood, of course, that there is no reason why Palestinians should recognize the legitimacy of their dispossession — and the point generalizes, as noted, to just about every state; maybe not Andorra.
The concept of “Zionism” has been very narrowly restricted for propaganda reasons. By the 1970’s, when Israel chose expansion and dependence on the US over security and integration into the region, the concept of “Zionism” was narrowed to refer, in effect, to support for the policies of the government of Israel. Thus, when the distinguished Israeli Labor Party statesman, Abba Eban, said that the task of dialogue with the gentile world is to show that “anti-Zionists” are either anti-Semites or neurotic self-hating Jews (his examples were I.F. Stone and me), he was restricting “Zionism” to support for the state of Israel and excluding any such criticism as logically impossible. The concept “anti-Zionism” then becomes analogous to the disgraceful concept “anti-Americanism,” drawn from the lexicon of totalitarianism and based on strictly totalitarian principles. By now the term has been so debased by propaganda that it is better abandoned, in my opinion.
States are violent systems, and they are usually born in sin. Israel was certainly no exception and was similar to the birth of other states, like the US, in which there were expulsions and great suffering.
A BDS movement (calling for “boycott, divestment and sanctions”) has been formed, often citing South African models; more accurately, the abbreviation should be “BD,” since sanctions, or state actions, are not on the horizon—one of the many significant differences from South Africa.
The opening call of the BDS movement, by a group of Palestinian intellectuals in 2005, demanded that Israel fully comply with international law by “(1) Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantling the Wall; (2) Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and (3) Respecting, protecting, and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.”
This call received considerable attention, and deservedly so. But if we’re concerned about the fate of the victims, BD and other tactics have to be carefully thought through and evaluated in terms of their likely consequences. The pursuit of (1) in the above list makes good sense: it has a clear objective and is readily understood by its target audience in the West, which is why the many initiatives guided by (1) have been quite successful—not only in “punishing” Israel, but also in stimulating other forms of opposition to the occupation and US support for it.
However, this is not the case for (3). While there is near-universal international support for (1), there is virtually no meaningful support for (3) beyond the BDS movement itself. Nor is (3) dictated by international law. The text of UN General Assembly Resolution 194 is conditional, and in any event it is a recommendation, without the legal force of the Security Council resolutions that Israel regularly violates. Insistence on (3) is a virtual guarantee of failure.
The only slim hope for realizing (3) in more than token numbers is if longer-term developments lead to the erosion of the imperial borders imposed by France and Britain after World War I, which, like similar borders, have no legitimacy. This could lead to a “no-state solution”—the optimal one, in my view, and in the real world no less plausible than the “one-state solution” that is commonly, but mistakenly, discussed as an alternative to the international consensus.
The case for (2) is more ambiguous. There are “prohibitions against discrimination” in international law, as HRW observes. But pursuit of (2) at once opens the door to the standard “glass house” reaction: for example, if we boycott Tel Aviv University because Israel violates human rights at home, then why not boycott Harvard because of far greater violations by the United States? Predictably, initiatives focusing on (2) have been a near-uniform failure, and will continue to be unless educational efforts reach the point of laying much more groundwork in the public understanding for them, as was done in the case of South Africa.
Failed initiatives harm the victims doubly—by shifting attention from their plight to irrelevant issues (anti-Semitism at Harvard, academic freedom, etc.), and by wasting current opportunities to do something meaningful.
The hypocrisy with the BDS movement rises to heaven. Yes, all of these are the right things to do. But, it is 100 times worse in the US or in England. Why not call for that in the US? It’s a call from groups who call themselves “The Palestinian people,” but it is not a call from the Palestinian people. In fact, it has been hard enough to try to get the Palestinian people to boycott settlement produce. And the very people calling for this are perfectly happy to study at Tel-Aviv University. But, even if it were, do I blindly follow or do I ask, will it help them or will it hurt them? It is pretty obvious what this call will do. It is a gift to Israeli and U.S. hard liners. They know there isn’t going to be implementation of the right to return. The hypocrisy is so transparent that they use it as a weapon to discredit the entire movement. If you really hate the Palestinians, it’s a good step, because it is going to harm them…predictably. And it has already happened. Long before this movement started, I was involved in BDS activities. Some of them of the right kind, which can be helpful. Some of them of the wrong kind. For example, in 2002, after Jenin, Harvard and MIT made a statement, but the people who put it together insisted on 3 words “divest from Israel.” Why not divest from the U.S.? Israeli crimes can trace back to the U.S. And that’s only a fraction of U.S. crimes. Harvard and MIT didn’t condemn the invasion of Vietnam? No, they were part of it. Did anyone call for a boycott of them? You can say the same about England and France. So those words could be and were attacked as anti-Semitic. Then, the only topic of conversation around campus was anti-Semitism and not Jenin or the Palestinians.
A tactic has to meet two conditions: It has to be helpful to the victims, and it has to be educational. Some proposals, such as those that call to end U.S. arm sales to Israel is one of them that meets both.
Concern for the victims dictates that in assessing tactics, we should be scrupulous in recognizing what has succeeded or failed, and why. This has not always been the case. The same concern dictates that we must be scrupulous about facts. Take the South African analogy, constantly cited in this context. It is a very dubious one. There’s a reason why BDS tactics were used for decades against South Africa while the current campaign against Israel is restricted to BD: in the former case, activism had created such overwhelming international opposition to apartheid that individual states and the UN had imposed sanctions decades before the 1980s, when BD tactics began to be used extensively in the United States. By then, Congress was legislating sanctions and overriding Reagan’s vetoes on the issue.
Years earlier—by 1960—global investors had already abandoned South Africa to such an extent that its financial reserves were halved; although there was some recovery, the handwriting was on the wall. In contrast, US investment is flowing into Israel. When Warren Buffett bought an Israeli tool-making firm for $2 billion last year, he described Israel as the most promising country for investors outside the United States itself.
While there is, finally, a growing domestic opposition in the United States to Israeli crimes, it does not remotely compare with the South African case. The necessary educational work has not been done. Spokespeople for the BDS movement may believe they have attained their “South African moment,” but that is far from accurate. And if tactics are to be effective, they must be based on a realistic assessment of actual circumstances.
Much the same is true of the invocation of apartheid. Within Israel, discrimination against non-Jews is severe; the land laws are just the most extreme example. But it is not South African–style apartheid. In the occupied territories, the situation is far worse than it was in South Africa, where the white nationalists needed the black population: it was the country’s workforce, and as grotesque as the Bantustans were, the nationalist government devoted resources to sustaining and seeking international recognition for them. In sharp contrast, Israel wants to rid itself of the Palestinian burden. The road ahead is not toward South Africa, as commonly alleged, but toward something much worse.
The first step is to stop supporting IDF presence in occupied territory. Stop actions supporting their presence. Put an end to the corporate system that is participating in the occupation, and put an end to any support for the settlements—like buying their products. All support (mainly from U.S.) needs to be withdrawn for anything that has to do with the West Bank (military, settlements and corporations).
One way to punish Israel for its egregious crimes was initiated by the Israeli peace group Gush Shalom in 1997: a boycott of settlement products. Such initiatives have been considerably expanded since then. The Presbyterian Church resolved to divest from three US-based multinationals involved in the occupation. The most far-reaching success is the policy directive of the European Union that forbids funding, cooperation, research awards or any similar relationship with any Israeli entity that has “direct or indirect links” to the occupied territories, where all settlements are illegal, as the EU declaration reiterates. Britain had already directed retailers to “distinguish between goods originating from Palestinian producers and goods originating from illegal Israeli settlements.”
For more, see: https://www.thenation.com/article/israel-palestine-and-bds/
Within Israel, discrimination against non-Jews is severe; the land laws are just the most extreme example. But it is not South African–style apartheid. In the occupied territories, the situation is far worse than it was in South Africa, where the white nationalists needed the black population. It was the country’s workforce, and as grotesque as the Bantustans were, the nationalist government devoted resources to sustaining and seeking international recognition for them. In sharp contrast, Israel wants to rid itself of the Palestinian burden. The road ahead is not toward South Africa, as commonly alleged, but toward something much worse.