Interview | Noam Chomsky: While Syria descends into suicide, Israel and the US are enjoying the spectacle

In an exclusive interview for Ceasefire, renowned scholar Noam Chomsky talks to Frank Barat about the current situation in the Middle East, notably the crisis in Syria, the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, and the role of US power in the region.

Editor's Desk, New in Ceasefire - Posted on Saturday, September 7, 2013 16:41 - 49 Comments

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Ceasefire - Chomsky - Frank barat - Interview 6 Sep 2013

Ceasefire (Frank Barat): What is the definition of negotiations in Israel-US language and why is the Palestinian Authority playing along?

Noam Chomsky: From the U.S. point of view, negotiations are, in effect, a way for Israel to continue its policies of systematically taking over whatever it wants in the West Bank, maintaining the brutal siege on Gaza, separating Gaza from the West Bank and, of course, occupying the Syrian Golan heights, all with full US support. And the framework of negotiations, as in the past twenty years of the Oslo experience, has simply provided a cover for this.

CF: In your opinion, why is the PA playing along with this and going to negotiations time after time?

NC: It’s probably partly out of desperation. You can ask whether it’s the right choice or not but they don’t have many alternatives.

CF: So it’s pretty much to survive that they indeed accept the framework?

NC: If they were refuse to join the US-run negotiations, their basis for support would collapse. They survive on donations essentially. Israel has made sure that it’s not a productive economy. They’re a kind of what would be called in Yiddish a “Schnorrer Society”: you just borrow and live on what you can get.

Whether they have an alternative to that is not so clear, but if they were to refuse the US demand for negotiations on completely unacceptable terms, their basis for support would erode. And they do have support – external support – enough so that the Palestinian elite can live in a fairly decent – often lavish – lifestyle, while the society around them collapses

CF: So would the crumbling and disappearance of the PA be a bad thing after all?

NC: It depends on what would replace it. If, say, Marwan Barghouti were permitted to join the society the way, say, Nelson Mandela was finally, that could have a revitalising effect in organising a Palestinian society that might press for more substantial demands. But remember: they don’t have a lot of choices.

In fact, go back to the beginning of the Oslo Agreements, now twenty years old. There were negotiations under way, the Madrid negotiations, at which the Palestinian delegation was led by Haider Abdel-Shafi, a highly respected, Left-Nationalist figure in Palestine. He was refusing to agree to the US-Israel terms, which required crucially that settlement expansion was allowed to continue. He refused, and therefore the negotiations stalled and got nowhere.

Meanwhile Arafat and the external Palestinians went on the side-track through Oslo, gained control and Haider Abdel-Shafi was so opposed to this he didn’t even show up to the dramatic and meaningless ceremony where Clinton beamed while Arafat and Rabin shook hands. He didn’t show up because he realised it was a total sell-out. But he was principled and therefore could get nowhere, and we’ll get nowhere unless there’s substantial support from the European Union, the Gulf States and ultimately, from the United States.

CF: In your opinion what is really at stake in what’s unravelling in Syria at the moment, and what does it mean for the broader region?

NC: Well, Syria is descending into suicide. It’s a horror story and getting worse and worse. There’s no bright spot on the horizon. What will probably happen, if this continues, is that Syria will be partitioned into probably three regions; a Kurdish region – which is already forming – that could pull out and join in some fashion the semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan, maybe with some kind of deal with Turkey.

The rest of the country will be divided between a region dominated by the Assad regime – a brutal horrifying regime – and another section dominated by the various militias, which range from the extremely malicious and violent to the secular and democratic. Meanwhile, Israel is looking by and enjoying the spectacle. If you look at the New York Times this morning there’s a quote by an Israeli official essentially expressing their joy at watching Arabs slaughter each other.

CF: Yes, I read that

NC: For the United States, that’s fine, they don’t want an outcome either. If the US and Israel wanted to assist the rebels – which they do not – they can do it, even without military intervention. For example, if Israel were to mobilise forces on the Golan Heights (of course, it’s the Syrian Golan heights, but by now the world more or less tolerates or accepts Israel’s illegal occupation,) If they would just do that, It would compel Assad to move forces to the South which would relieve pressure against the rebels. But there’s no hint even of that. They’re also not giving humanitarian aid to the huge number of suffering refugees, not doing all kinds of simple things that they could do.

All of which suggests that both Israel and the United States prefer exactly what is happening today, just as reported in that NYT story this morning. Meanwhile, Israel can celebrate, and its status as what they call a “Villa in the Jungle”. There was an interesting article by the editor of Haaretz, Aluf Benn, who wrote about how Israelis are going to the beach and enjoying themselves, and congratulating themselves as being a “Villa in the jungle” while the wild beasts out there tear each other to shreds. And, of course, Israel under this picture is doing nothing except defending itself. They like that picture and the US doesn’t seem too dissatisfied with it either. The rest is shadowboxing.

IMG_1671

Frank Barat interviewing Noam Chomsky in 2010

CF: What about talk of a US strike then, do you think it’s going to happen?

NC: A bombing?

CF: Yes

NC: Well, it’s kind of an interesting debate in the United States. The Ultra-Right, the Right wing extremists who are kind of off the international spectrum, they’re opposing it, though not for reasons I like. They’re opposing it because “Why should we dedicate ourselves to solving other people’s problems and waste our own resources?” They’re literally asking “Who’s going to defend us when we’re attacked, because we’re devoting ourselves to helping people overseas?” That’s the Ultra-Right. If you look at the ‘moderate’ Right, people like, say, David brooks of the New York Times, considered an intellectual commentator on the right. His view is that the US effort to withdraw its forces from the region is not having a “moderating effect”. According to Brooks, when US forces are in the region, that has a moderating effect; it improves the situation, as you can see in Iraq, for example. But if we’re withdrawing our forces then we’re no longer able to moderate the situation and make it better.

That’s the Standard view from the intellectual right over to the mainstream, the liberal democrats and so on. So there’s a lot of talk about “Should we exercise our ‘Responsibility to Protect’?” Well, just take a look at the US record on ‘Responsibility to Protect’. The fact that these words can even be spoken reveals something quite extraordinary about the US – and, in fact, Western – moral and intellectual culture.

This is quite apart from the fact that it’s a gross violation of international law. Obama’s latest line is that he didn’t establish a “red line” but the world did through its conventions on chemical warfare. Well, actually, the world does have a treaty, which Israel didn’t sign and which the US has totally neglected, for example when it supported Saddam Hussein’s really horrifying use of chemical weapons. Today, this is used to denounce Saddam Hussein, overlooking the fact that it was not only tolerated but basically supported by the Reagan administration. And, of course, the convention has no enforcement mechanisms.

There’s also no such thing as “Responsibility to Protect”, that’s a fraud perpetrated in Western intellectual culture. There is a notion, in fact two notions: there’s one passed by the UN General Assembly, which does talk about “Responsibility to Protect,” but it offers no authorisation for any kind of intervention except under conditions of the United Nations charter. There is another version, which is adopted only by the West, the US and its allies, which is unilateral and says R2P permits “military intervention by regional organisations in the region of their authority without Security Council authorisation”.

Well, translating that into English, this means that it provides authorisation for the US and NATO to use violence wherever they choose without Security Council authorisation. That’s what’s called “Responsibility to Protect” in Western discourse. If it weren’t so tragic it would be farcical.

CF: Thank you, Professor Chomsky.

This interview took place on the evening of Friday 6th September 2013. This Ceasefire transcript was slightly edited for readability purposes based on the audio version. This interview was conducted in conjunction with Le Mur a Des Oreilles, check out their monthly audio shows at lemuradesoreilles.org.

Frank Barat

Frank Barat is coordinator of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine. “Gaza in Crisis: Reflections on Israel’s War Against the Palestinians” his book with Noam Chomsky and Ilan Pappe, is out now. The French edition of the book, published in 2013, features an extended interview with Stephane Hessel.

Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky is emeritus professor of linguistics and philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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Noam Chomsky: While Syria descends into suicide...
Sep 7, 2013 19:04

[...] Noam Chomsky: From the U.S. point of view, negotiations are, in effect, a way for Israel to continue its policies of systematically taking over whatever it wants in the West Bank, maintaining the brutal siege on Gaza, separating Gaza from the West Bank and, of course, occupying the Syrian Golan heights, all with full US support. And the framework of negotiations, as in the past twenty years of the Oslo experience, has simply provided a cover for this.  [...]

Noam Chomsky: While Syria descends into suicide...
Sep 8, 2013 3:47

[...] In an exclusive interview for Ceasefire, renowned scholar and thinker Noam Chomsky talks to Frank Barat about the current situation in the Middle East, notably the crisis in Syria, the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, and the…  [...]

isam al-tal
Sep 8, 2013 14:36

Prof. Chomsky’s unusually calm temper in dealing with an imminent aggression by the USA et al reflects some rare indifference from a truth-seeker. Noteworthy is Prof. Chomsky’s talk of “Syria descending into suicide”. Don’t you think it’s Bush’s “creative chaos’ with all these Wahabbis and Bandars and freedom-fighters fighting for America’s democracy and human rights, Prof.? I, personally, was expecting a little bit more passion on your side towards such a historical moment that’s taking place now. This could be the threshold of America, if not capitalism, demise, Prof. Chomsky? Don’t you care? Nonetheless, excuse my wishful thinking.

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Sep 8, 2013 15:41

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[...] In an exclusive interview for Ceasefire, renowned scholar Noam Chomsky talks to Frank Barat about the current situation in the Middle East, notably the crisis in Syria, the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, and the role of US…  [...]

doctorant abraham Weizfeld
Sep 9, 2013 0:27

Not one word about the Syrian revolution! Why should one care more about the internal machinations of the US political scene than about the Syrians themselves. Why should we even care about the integrity of the Syrian State itself, considering that it is merely a construct of the Sykes-Picot Treaty that ignored the Arab nations in total. And furthermore what about a solution for the Syrians, what about furthering the revolution there, with arms, with political support, with humanitarian support, with political pressure for the Ba’athist regime to actually make the elections promised, to engage in negotiations? Nothing at all? Well then the ‘Left’ is as worthwhile as the Zionists who take pleasure in sitting back and watching Arabs killing other Arabs!

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Lec
Sep 11, 2013 14:48

@ Abraham Weizfeld –
He’s not being asked directly about the revolution. Don’t be so quick to slam the man and instead read this –
http://normanfinkelstein.com/2013/chomsky-on-syria-very-good/

j_888
Sep 11, 2013 17:58

Well, actually, the world does have a treaty, which Israel didn’t sign and which the US has totally neglected, for example when it supported Saddam Hussein’s really horrifying use of chemical weapons. Today, this is used to denounce Saddam Hussein, overlooking the fact that it was not only tolerated but basically supported by the Reagan administration.

Not just “supported” in a passive sense – aided and abetted might be the better term. The U.S, supplied Iraq with satellite data to aid in the targeting of Iranian troops knowing full well that Saddam would deploy chemical weapons. Chemical precursors were supplied by American companies. Right after the chemical slaughter of the Kurds at Halabja, the State Dept put out a report blaming the Iranians rather than point the finger at their friend and ally of convenience in the region.

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[...] Fuente: http://ceasefiremagazine.co.uk/noam-chomsky-syria-descends-suicide-israel-enjoying-spectacle/ [...]

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Noam Chomsky: “Mientras Siria se suicida, Israel y EE.UU. disfrutan del espectáculo”
Sep 16, 2013 21:18

[...] de paz entre Israel y los palestinos y el papel del poder de EE.UU. en la región. Entrevista: ceasefiremagazine.co.uk/noam-chomsky-syria-descends-suicide-israel-enj etiquetas: chomsky, siria, israel, eeuu negativos: 0   usuarios: 1   [...]

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Maria
Sep 22, 2013 16:27

Where is this article Noam and Frank refer to in the New York times. I have looked for it without any luck. What exactly did the Israeli official say? I thought you would have included that in as a hyperlink given that your title refers to it.

Hicham Yezza
Sep 22, 2013 21:46

Thanks Maria, the hyperlink to the NYT piece has now been added.
Best. H

NOTICIAS DE MEDIO ORIENTE
Sep 23, 2013 5:30

[...] "Siria está cayendo en el suicidio. Es una historia de terror y va cada vez peor. No hay punto brillante en el horizonte", dijo el académico en una entrevista con la revista 'Ceasefire'. [...]

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Sep 23, 2013 15:12

[...] “Siria está cayendo en el suicidio. Es una historia de terror y va cada vez peor. No hay punto brillante en el horizonte”, dijo el académico en una entrevista con la revista ‘Ceasefire‘. [...]

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Sep 24, 2013 13:13

[...] var mydate=new Date() var year=mydate.getYear() if (year < 1000) year+=1900 var day=mydate.getDay() var month=mydate.getMonth() var daym=mydate.getDate() if (daym Mientras que la situación en Siria sigue empeorando, parece que EE.UU. e Israel “prefieren exactamente lo que está sucediendo hoy en día”. Esa es la opinión del destacado académico, filósofo y lingüista estadounidense Noam Chomsky. Siria está cayendo en el suicidio. Es una historia de terror y va cada vez peor. No hay punto brillante en el horizonte”, dijo el académico en una entrevista con la revista Ceasefire. [...]

Samuel
Sep 24, 2013 14:43

Why everytime a Arab country have a problem, and they have serious problems, you mix Israel with that ? It makes no sense at all.

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Sep 24, 2013 15:52

[...] Siria está cayendo en el suicidio. Es una historia de terror y va cada vez peor. No hay punto brillante en el horizonte”, dijo el académico en una entrevista con la revista Ceasefire. [...]

Jose F Alvarado
Oct 11, 2013 6:57

El problema sirio es serio y grave..Pero Si EE.UU e Israel estan de parte de los rebeldes, es facil saber de que parte debe estar el ciudadano Comun, y de a pie…la justicia, la verdad, la moral, el futuro de Esos NINOS se de be respetar y proteger..y eso Nunca sucedio Cuando Irak, Afganistan o Vietnam..Amigos, sequent Uds. Mismos las conclusiones..

Rehmat
Nov 6, 2013 4:25

The US and Israel are enjoying the Syrian spectacle – because it was created by Israel in the first place and later the US joined it as an “Israeli proxy”.

Gabriel M. Scheinmann, a visiting Fellow at the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), admitted that the Zionist entity is in fact the winner of the so-called “Arab Spring”.

“The so-called “Arab Spring” has, paradoxically, made Israel stronger as Israel’s enemies have turned on each other. While Arab capitals burn, Jerusalem has calmly and carefully steeled itself against the possible immediate deleterious effects, building fences along its Egyptian and Jordanian borders and accelerating the deployment of its Iron Dome anti-missile system,” wrote Scheinmann. He then added: “Even as it rightly plans for the changes wrought by the “Arab Spring”, Israel should also recognize that as the Middle East convulses, it is more likely to be left alone. As Alawites battle Arab Sunnis and Kurds in Syria, as Kurds target Turks in Turkey, as the Imazighen fight Arabs in Libya, as the Army contends with Islamists in Egypt, and as Sunnis and Christians confront Shiites in Lebanon, people don’t have the time, energy, or resources to fight the Jews in Israel. The more the region tears itself apart, the more Israel floats to the top, unscathed economically, militarily, or diplomatically. While an Islamist ascent is undesirable, the intervening disorder only makes Israel stronger.“

http://rehmat1.com/2012/07/17/jinsa-israel-is-winner-of-arab-spring/

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[...] Interview | Noam Chomsky: While Syria descends into suicide, Israel and the US are enjoying the spectacle http://ceasefiremagazine.co.uk/noam-chomsky-syria-descends-suicide-israel-enjoying-spectacle/ [...]

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