NOAM CHOMSKY

An old man in Gaza held a placard that reads: “You take my water, burn my olive trees, destroy my house, take my job, steal my land, imprison my father, kill my mother, bombard my country, starve us all, humiliate us all but I am to blame: I shot a rocket back.”

The old man’s message provides the proper context for the timelines on the latest episode in the savage punishment of Gaza. They are useful, but any effort to establish a “beginning” cannot help but be misleading.

The crimes trace back to 1948, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled in terror or were expelled to Gaza by conquering Israeli forces, who continued to truck them over the border for years after the official cease-fire. The persecution of Gazans took new forms when Israel conquered the Strip in 1967. From recent Israeli scholarship we learn that the goal of the government was to drive the refugees into the Sinai, and if feasible the rest of the population too. Expulsions from Gaza were carried out under the direct orders of General Yeshayahu Gavish, commander of the Southern Command. Expulsions from the West Bank were far more extreme, and Israel resorted to devious means to prevent the return of those expelled, in direct violation of Security Council orders.

The reasons were made clear in internal discussion immediately after the war. Golda Meir, later Prime Minister, informed her Labor colleagues that Israel should keep the Gaza Strip while “getting rid of its Arabs.” Defence Minister Dayan and others agreed. Prime Minister Eshkol explained that those expelled cannot be allowed to return because “We cannot increase the Arab population in Israel” - referring to the newly occupied territories, already tacitly considered part of Israel. In accord with this conception, all of Israel’s maps were changed, expunging the Green Line (the internationally recognized borders), though publication was delayed to permit UN Ambassador Abba Eban to attain what he called “favorable impasse” at the General Assembly, by concealing Israel’s intentions.

The goals may remain alive, and might be a factor contributing to Egypt’s reluctance to open the border to free passage of people and goods barred by the US-backed Israeli siege.

The current upsurge of US-Israeli violence dates to January 2006, when Palestinians voted “the wrong way” in the first free election in the Arab world. Israel and the US reacted at once with harsh punishment of the miscreants, and preparation of a military coup to overthrow the elected government, routine procedure. The punishment was radically intensified in 2007, when the coup attempt was beaten back, and the elected Hamas government established full control over Gaza.

The standard version of these events is more anodyne, for example, in the New York Times, November 29: “Hamas entered politics by running in, and winning, elections in the Palestinian territories in 2006. But it was unable to govern in the face of Western opposition and in 2007 took power in the Gaza Strip by force, deepening the political split [with Fatah and the Palestinian Authority].”

Ignoring immediate Hamas offers of a truce after the 2006 election, Israel launched attacks that killed 660 Palestinians in 2006, mostly civilians, one-third minors. The escalation of attacks in 2007 killed 816 Palestinians, 360 civilians and 152 minors. The UN reports that 2879 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire from April 2006 through July 2012, along with several dozen Israelis killed by fire from Gaza.

A truce in 2008 was honored by Hamas until Israel broke it in November. Ignoring further truce offers, Israel launched the murderous Cast Lead operation in December. So matters have continued, while the US and Israel also continue to reject Hamas calls for a long-term truce and a political settlement in accord with the international consensus on a two-state settlement that the US has blocked since 1976, when the US vetoed a Security Council resolution to this effect, brought by the major Arab states.

In late 2012 the US devoted extensive efforts to block a General Assembly resolution upgrading Palestine’s status to that of a “non-member observer state.” The effort failed, leaving the US in its usual international isolation on November 29, when the resolution passed overwhelmingly on the anniversary of the 1947 General Assembly vote on partition. The reasons Washington frankly offered for its opposition to the resolution were revealing: Palestine might approach the International Criminal Court on Israel’s US-backed crimes, which cannot be permitted judicial review for reasons that are all too obvious. A second concern, the New York Times reported, was that “the Palestinians might use the vote to seek membership in specialized agencies of the United Nations,” which could lead Washington to defund these international organisations, as it cut off financing to Unesco in 2011 when it dared to admit Palestine as a member. The Master does not tolerate disobedience.

Israel had warned that it would “go crazy” (yishtagea) if the resolution passed, reviving warnings from the 1950s that it would “go crazy” if crossed - not very meaningful then, much more so now. And indeed, hours after the UN vote Israel announced its decision to carry forward settlement in Area E1 that connects the vastly expanded Greater Jerusalem that it annexed illegally to the town of Ma’aleh Adumim, greatly expanded under Clinton after the Oslo Accords, with lands extending virtually to Jericho, effectively bisecting the West Bank if the Area E1 corridor is closed by settlement. Before Obama, US presidents had barred Israel’s efforts to expand its illegal settlements into the E1 region, so it was compelled to resort to stealth measures, like establishing a police station in the zone. Obama has been more supportive of Israeli criminal actions than his predecessors, and it remains to be seen whether he will keep to a tap on the wrist with a wink, as before.

Israel and the US insist on “direct negotiations” as the only “path to peace.” They also insist on crucial preconditions. First, the negotiations must be under US leadership, which makes as much sense as asking Iran to mediate Sunni-Shiite conflicts in Iraq. Genuine negotiations would take place under the auspices of some neutral party with a claim to international respect, perhaps Brazil, and would have the US and Israel on one side of the table, and most of the rest of the world on the other.

A second precondition, left tacit, is that expansion of Israel’s settlements must be allowed to continue in one or another form (as happened, for example, during the formal 10-month “suspension”), with Washington signaling its disapproval while continuing to provide the required support.

The call for “direct negotiations” without substance is an old Israeli tactic to prevent steps towards diplomatic settlement that would impede its expansionist projects. After the 1967 war, the respected diplomat Abba Eban, who was in charge of the effort, was highly praised by Golda Meir and other colleagues in the governing Labor Party for his success at the United Nations in carrying forward “Israel’s peacemaking strategy” of confusion and delay, which came to “take the shape of a consistent foreign policy of deception,” as it is described by Israeli scholar Avi Raz in a detailed review of internal records. At that time the tactics angered US officials, who protested vigorously though to no effect. But much has changed since, particularly since Kissinger took control of policy and the US largely departed from the world on Israel-Palestine.

The practice of delay goes back to the earliest Zionist settlement, which sought to “create facts” on the ground while keeping goals obscure. Even the call for a “Jewish commonwealth” was not made officially by the Zionist organization until a May 1942 meeting at the Biltmore hotel in New York. (continued)                              –Antiwar