Sunday, August 29, 2004

Banging Your Head Up Against Some Mad Bugger's Wall

While trawling through the sludge at Chomsky's personal blog (although, I must confess, its still unclear to me if he actually writes the thing), I came across this fascinatingly inane post on Israel's security wall.
If the goal were security, Israel would have built the fence a few km inside its borders. It could then be a mile high, patrolled on both sides by the IDF, mined with nuclear weapons, utterly impenetrable. Perfect security.
Chomsky's incompetence when it comes to military matters never ceases to amaze me. Mined with nuclear weapons? No serious observer would make such a transparently foolish statement. Any thinking person knows that Israel is so small that a nuclear weapon going off in its vicinity (including the territory of its Arab neighbors) would wreak major destruction on Israel itself. As for being built a few kilometers within its borders, Chomsky naturally fails to mention that, for most of the distance of the wall, Israel is only a handful of kilometers wide; a few kilometers inside its borders is the Mediterranean sea, or rather close to it; which is exactly why the Arab nations have always tried to frustrate any expansion of Israel's eastern border whatsoever: it is, for all intents and purposes, indefensible, by wall or otherwise, in its current form. The wall is being built where it is for reasons which are clear to anyone looking at a map, although not, apparently, to professors of linguistics dabbling in areas outside their purview.
The problem would be that it would not take valuable Palestinian land and resources (including control of water), drive out the population, and lay the basis for still further expansion as Palestinians flee from the dungeons that are left, like the town of Qalqilya. So to interpret as a land grab seems appropriate.
Well, if so, its the most incompetent land grab in history, since even if Sharon did annex all the land behind the wall to Israel (which seems to me, barring totally unforeseen circumstances, politically impossible) it would leave the vast majority of the West Bank, including some valuable strategic terrain and such holy sites as Hebron, in Arab hands.
Doubtless a side benefit is to increase a narrow form of "security," while probably in the long run seriously increasing insecurity not only because of the regional impact but because sooner or later it is likely to inspire terrorist acts against Israelis abroad in revenge. But terror and security are not driving concerns, any more than they have a high priority in the planning of "the boss-man called 'partner'," as more astute Israeli commentators describe
Once again, we see Chomsky's fetishistic faith in the absolute power of the United States and its omnipotent machinations. Needless to say, the idea that terror and security are not major, in fact the major, considerations in Israel (and the US, for that matter) is one of those epic lies which Chomsky often tells in order to avoid dealing with the complexities of situations he prefers to see in terms of absolute Manicheanism. Anything which might arouse sympathy or understanding for Israel, or attribute to her motives other than malicious greed, must be suppressed and denied at all costs, lest Chomsky's tightly held moral absolutisms come crashing to the ground. Notice that nowhere in this post does Chomsky mention terrorism against Israeli civilians in any detail, they simply don't exist for him. Furthermore, the idea that the fence will increase insecurity is ludicrous, so far it (in combination with the IDF operations Chomsky decries as war crimes) has been an unqualified success in interdicting terrorism, which is precisely why the Palestinians, the Arab states, and their fellow travelers are fighting it tooth and nail. As for revenge attacks abroad, they are already happening and were happening long before the wall existed; they are the product of ideology and will not be affected one way or the other by the security wall. There is, moreover, a very simple way to stop such attacks: the PLO, the Arab governments, and apologists like Chomsky can stop supporting them, though I am not waiting up nights for such an eventuality.
Sharon's strategic thinking seems straightforward enough. There are excellent descriptions in recent books by Tanya Reinhart and Baruch Kimmerling. It is also not radically different from that of Rabin and Peres. The goal is to take over the valuable parts of the West Bank (Gaza is mostly a burden), and to leave the population that remains under local administration, to rot and decline.
I don't know Reinhart, but I have read several of Kimmerling's articles and one of his books. He is a violently leftwing sociologist who is simply out of his depth on these issues and routinely distorts history in order to buttress his political agenda (reminiscent of someone we know, isn't it?). One of his most recent books, a political history of the Palestinians, was deconstructed by Israeli revisionist historian Benny Morris (who has, in all fairness taken a recent swing to the right, though not nearly as wide a swing as some of his critics suggest) in a lengthy article in the New Republic, where he described the book as riddled with errors and shot through with a bias which rendered the entire work practically unreadable, and certainly impossible to take seriously. (This article, by the way, also includes a long explication of Morris's own political metamorphosis which is well worth reading.) Kimmerling's book on Sharon, tendenciously titled "Politicide" (the term Kimmerling invents to describe Sharon's supposed strategy towards the Palestinians) of which I have only read excerpts, struck me as a fundamentally dishonest hatchet job, though no more so than most of what I have read on Sharon by leftwing academics. At any rate, Sharon has, thus far, not spelled out his scenario for a final settlement, so Chomsky is merely engaging in sophistry here. Neither Rabin or Peres did so either, although it seems clear to me that their intention was to withdraw from all of Gaza and most of the West Bank (not retaining "the valuable parts", but those on which the major settlements are built, 10-15% or so of the total area) in a manner which would not seriously impair Israel's security or existence. The persistent use of terror by the Palestinians and the continued attacks on Israel's legitimacy undertaken by the Palestinian government, schools, and media have greatly complicated he possibility of such a solution and will likely continue to do so for a long while. It seems to me, and I am only guessing here, that Sharon is trying to engineer as complete a withdrawal as possible while keeping in mind that the Palestinians have, thus far, not accepted Israel's right to exist and likely will not in the near future. That is, at any rate, a far more plausible scenario, to my mind, than Chomsky's ignorant rantings.
The basic principle was explained to the Cabinet of the Labor Government 30 years ago by Moshe Dayan, perhaps the most sympathetic to the Palestinians among the Israeli leadership: we should tell the Palestinians in the territories that "You shall continue to live like dogs, and whoever wishes, may leave, and we shall see where this process will lead."

The occupation should be "permanent," he believed, in one or another form, and to the objection that Israel must consider its moral stand, he responded that "Ben-Gurion said that whoever approaches the Zionist problem from a moral aspect is not a Zionist."
I have read several books on Dayan and have never come across that quote. He very well may have said it, though I would have to see the whole statement in order to judge the accuracy of Chomsky's use of it, which, knowing Chomsky, I think we are entitled to be suspicious. Thirty years ago, Dayan was out of government and in disgrace, so I doubt this is the type of statement he was making at the time, if indeed he was making any at all. It could have come from right after the Six Day War, when Dayan was Minister of Defense and a national hero, in which case it sounds to me less like a threat of annexation and more like one of Dayan's "they can go fuck themselves until they make peace with us" comments he used to make during that period of intense euphoria which Israeli writer Amos Oz called "The Age of Arrogance". At any rate, with so tendentious an accusation, a source should have been cited. For what its worth, Dayan later resigned from the Begin government over its hardline stance on the territories. As for the quote by Ben-Gurion, I have never encountered it before either, although I know from reading his diaries (as Chomsky would know as well, had he bothered to do any actual research) that Ben-Gurion favored total withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza, excepting only Jerusalem, in exchange for a peace treaty with the Arab states.
There have been differences as to how these principles should apply, but a fair consensus among leading political echelons that if they can be applied, that's fine. Sharon's basic conceptions were outlined years ago, and he is pursuing them systematically, relying on the material and diplomatic support of the boss-man.

Across the spectrum, the "ideal" solution might well be something like Ben-Gurion's expansive vision that goes far beyond anything currently considered even within the realm of dreams.
Well, considering that Sharon has done a 180 degree shift from most of his former positions (and in the process alienated almost all of his former allies), it would seem that Chomsky's assertion here is less objective scholarship and more slanderous conspiracy-mongering. As for a consensus in the leading political echelons, Chomsky simply doesn't know what he's talking about; most of the Israeli political establishment, particularly in the foreign and defense ministries, supported the Oslo Accords, the Camp David offer, and the plan outlined in the Taba negotiations and do so to this day. I doubt strongly that Yossi Beilin's Geneva Accords are all that far from the Israeli elite's conception of a final settlement. In the United States, as well, the two-state solution had clearly reached a point of critical mass. Thinking otherwise may salve the egos of Chomsky and his anarchist adolescent minions by stroking their self-image as noble rebels against the evil Establishment, but it simply isn't true.

As for Ben-Gurion's "expansive vision", I have already described Ben-Gurion's actual views regarding territorial accommodation. This trope is a mere retread of the old Arab propaganda line that Ben-Gurion's dream was a Jewish empire from the Nile to the Euphrates (represented by the two blue lines on the Israeli flag, no less) and thus that the Zionists were insatiably greedy imperialists rather than another people with legitimate national claims and rights. It wasn't true then and it isn't true now, much like everything else Noam Chomsky has to say.

Amritas has noted that Chomsky was probably joking about mining the wall with nuclear weapons, which I have to admit is likely true, although Chomsky does proceed from there into the rest of his argument in all apparent seriousness; your guess is as good as mine. Maybe he was trying to be smart and only succeeded in being confusing; wouldn't be the first time.

I am now convinced that Chomsky was not joking about mining the wall with nukes. This weekend's Jerusalem Post contained a review of a new book by Martin Van Creveld, an Israeli leftist military historian, who recommends this solution for the Golan Heights.