On the US-Israeli Invasion of Lebanon
By Noam Chomsky
August 23, 2006
Though there are many interacting factors, the immediate issue
that lies behind the latest US-Israeli invasion of Lebanon remains,
I believe, what it was in the four preceding invasions: the Israel-Palestine
conflict. In the most important case, the devastating US-backed
1982 Israeli invasion was openly described in Israel as a war for
the West Bank, undertaken to put an end to annoying PLO calls for
a diplomatic settlement (with the secondary goal of imposing a client
regime in Lebanon). There are numerous other illustrations. Despite
the many differences in circumstances, the July 2006 invasion falls
generally into the same pattern.
Among mainstream American critics of Bush administration policies,
the favored version is that We had always approached [conflict
between Israel and its neighbors] in a balanced way, assuming that
we could be the catalyst for an agreement, but Bush II regrettably
abandoned that neutral stance, causing great problems for the United
States (Middle East specialist and former diplomat Edward Walker,
a leading moderate). The actual record is quite different: For over
30 years, Washington has unilaterally barred a peaceful political
settlement, with only slight and brief deviations.
The consistent rejectionism can be traced back to the February
1971 Egyptian offer of a full peace treaty with Israel, in the terms
of official US policy, offering nothing for the Palestinians. Israel
understood that this peace offer would put an end to any security
threat, but the government decided to reject security in favor of
expansion, then mostly into northeastern Sinai. Washington supported
Israels stand, adhering to Kissingers principle of stalemate:
force, not diplomacy. It was only 8 years later, after a terrible
war and great suffering, that Washington agreed to Egypts
demand for withdrawal from its territory.
Meanwhile the Palestinian issue had entered the international agenda,
and a broad international consensus had crystallized in favor of
a two-state settlement on the pre-June 1967 border, perhaps with
minor and mutual adjustments.
In December 1975, the UN Security Council agreed to consider a
resolution proposed by the Arab confrontation states
with these provisions, also incorporating the basic wording of UN
242. The US vetoed the resolution. Israels reaction was to
bomb Lebanon, killing over 50 people in Nabatiye, calling the attack
preventive presumably to prevent
the UN session, which Israel boycotted.
The only significant exception to consistent US-Israeli rejectionism
was in January 2001, when Israeli and Palestinian negotiators came
close to agreement in Taba. But the negotiations were called off
by Israeli Prime Minister Barak four days early, ending that promising
effort. Unofficial but high-level negotiations continued, leading
to the Geneva Accord of December 2002, with similar proposals. It
was welcomed by most of the world, but rejected by Israel and dismissed
by Washington (and, reflexively, the US media and intellectual classes).
Meanwhile US-backed Israeli settlement and infrastructure programs
have been creating facts on the ground in order to undermine
potential realization of Palestinian national rights. Throughout
the Oslo years, these programs continued steadily, with a sharp
peak in 2000: Clintons final year, and Baraks. The current
euphemism for these programs is disengagement from Gaza
and convergence in the West Bank in Western rhetoric,
Ehud Olmerts courageous program of withdrawal from the occupied
territories. The reality, as usual, is quite different.
The Gaza disengagement was openly announced as a West
Bank expansion plan. Having turned Gaza into a disaster area, sane
Israeli hawks realized that there was no point leaving a few thousand
settlers taking the best land and scarce resources, protected by
a large part of the IDF. It made more sense to send them to the
West Bank and Golan Heights, where new settlement programs were
announced, while turning Gaza into the worlds largest
prison, as Israeli human rights groups accurately call it.
West Bank Convergence formalizes these programs of annexation,
cantonization, and imprisonment. With decisive US support, Israel
is annexing valuable lands and the most important resources of the
West Bank (primarily water), while carrying out settlement and infrastructure
projects that divide the shrinking Palestinian territories into
unviable cantons, virtually separated from one another and from
whatever pitiful corner of Jerusalem will be left to Palestinians.
All are to be imprisoned as Israel takes over the Jordan Valley,
and of course any other access to the outside world.
All of these programs are recognized to be illegal, in violation
of numerous Security Council resolutions and the unanimous decision
of the World Court any part of the separation wall that
is built to defend the settlements is ipso facto
illegal (U.S. Justice Buergenthal, in a separate declaration). Hence
about 80-85% of the wall is illegal, as is the entire convergence
program. But for a self-designated outlaw state and its clients,
such facts are minor irrelevancies.
Currently, the US and Israel demand that Hamas accept the 2002
Arab League Beirut proposal for full normalization of relations
with Israel after withdrawal in accord with the international consensus.
The proposal has long been accepted by the PLO, and it has also
been formally accepted by the supreme leader of Iran,
Ayatollah Khamenei. Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has made it clear that
Hezbollah would not disrupt such an agreement if it is accepted
by Palestinians. Hamas has repeatedly indicated its willingness
to negotiate in these terms.
The facts are doctrinally unacceptable, hence mostly suppressed.
What we see, instead, is the stern warning to Hamas by the editors
of the New York Times that their formal agreement to the
Beirut peace plan is an admission ticket to the real world,
a necessary rite of passage in the progression from a lawless opposition
to a lawful government. Like others, the NYT editors
fail to mention that the US and Israel forcefully reject this proposal,
and are alone in doing so among relevant actors. Furthermore, they
reject it not merely in rhetoric, but far more importantly, in deeds.
We see at once who constitutes the lawless opposition
and who speaks for them. But that conclusion cannot be expressed,
even entertained, in respectable circles.
The only meaningful support for Palestinians facing national destruction
is from Hezbollah. For this reason alone it follows that Hezbollah
must be severely weakened or destroyed, just as the PLO had to be
evicted from Lebanon in 1982. But Hezbollah is too deeply embedded
within Lebanese society to be eradicated, so Lebanon too must be
largely destroyed. An expected benefit for the US and Israel was
to enhance the credibility of threats against Iran by eliminating
a Lebanese-based deterrent to a possible attack. But none of this
turned out as planned. Much as in Iraq, and elsewhere, Bush administration
planners have created catastrophes, even for the interests they
represent. That is the primary reason for the unprecedented criticism
of the administration among the foreign policy elite, even before
the invasion of Iraq.
In the background lie more far-reaching and lasting concerns: to
ensure what is called stability in the reigning ideology.
Stability, in simple words, means obedience. Stability
is undermined by states that do not strictly follow orders, secular
nationalists, Islamists who are not under control (in contrast,
the Saudi monarchy, the oldest and most valuable US ally, is fine),
etc. Such destabilizing forces are particularly dangerous
when their programs are attractive to others, in which case they
are called viruses that must be destroyed. Stability
is enhanced by loyal client states. Since 1967, it has been assumed
that Israel can play this role, along with other peripheral
states. Israel has become virtually an off-shore US military base
and high-tech center, the natural consequence of its rejection of
security in favor of expansion in 1971, and repeatedly since. These
policies are subject to little internal debate, whoever holds state
power. The policies extend world-wide, and in the Middle East, their
significance is enhanced by one of the leading principles of foreign
policy since World War II (and for Britain before that): to ensure
control over Middle East energy resources, recognized for 60 years
to be a stupendous source of strategic power and one
of the greatest material prizes in world history.
The standard Western version is that the July 2006 invasion was
justified by legitimate outrage over capture of two Israeli soldiers
at the border. The posture is cynical fraud. The US and Israel,
and the West generally, have little objection to capture of soldiers,
or even to the far more severe crime of kidnapping civilians (or
of course to killing civilians). That had been Israeli practice
in Lebanon for many years, and no one ever suggested that Israel
should therefore be invaded and largely destroyed. Western cynicism
was revealed with even more dramatic clarity as the current upsurge
of violence erupted after Palestinian militants captured an Israeli
soldier, Gilad Shalit, on June 25. That too elicited huge outrage,
and support for Israels sharp escalation of its murderous
assault on Gaza. The scale is reflected in casualties: in June,
36 Palestinian civilians were killed in Gaza; in July, the numbers
more than quadrupled to over 170, dozens of them children.
The posture of outrage was, again, cynical fraud, as demonstrated
dramatically, and conclusively, by the reaction to Israels
kidnapping of two Gaza civilians, the Muamar brothers, one day before,
on June 24. They disappeared into Israels prison system, joining
the hundreds of others imprisoned without charge hence kidnapped,
as are many of those sentenced on dubious charges. There was some
brief and dismissive mention of the kidnapping of the Muamar brothers,
but no reaction, because such crimes are considered legitimate when
carried out by our side. The idea that this crime would
justify a murderous assault on Israel would have been regarded as
a reversion to Nazism.
The distinction is clear, and familiar throughout history: to paraphrase
Thucydides, the powerful are entitled to do as they wish, while
the weak suffer as they must.
We should not overlook the progress that has been made in undermining
the imperial mentality that is so deeply rooted in Western moral
and intellectual culture as to be beyond awareness. Nor should we
forget the scale of what remains to be achieved, tasks that must
be undertaken in solidarity and cooperation by people in North and
South who hope to see a more decent and civilized world.
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