This is an episode of Reality Asserts Itself, produced on May 21, 2015. On Reality Asserts Itself, Mr. Finkelstein says Netanyahu’s slight of Obama was racist, but the U.S. will likely help sell a UN resolution that tries to corner the Palestinians into accepting a terrible deal.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. And we’re joined again by Norman Finkelstein. Thanks for joining us again.
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN, POLITICAL SCIENTIST, ACTIVIST, AND AUTHOR: Thank you for having me.
JAY: So, quickly, one more time, Norman is one of the foremost scholars of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And his latest book is Method and Madness: The Hidden Story of Israel’s Assaults on Gaza. So Netanyahu came to Congress, as we all know the story now, came without President Obama knowing he’d been invited to begin with. And relations have gone from chilled to freezing, at least at a personal level, between Netanyahu and Obama. We know there was always a contradiction there. Likud was closer to the Republican Party. And so there was always this underlying even partisan political difference between them. But it seems to have broken out in a new way now. And I wonder if Obama is now speaking more for the professional policymakers in the American foreign-policy section, which is they need to have a somewhat more balanced approach to the situation. And there’s even talk of the U.S. might not veto a UN resolution. So where are we at?
FINKELSTEIN: Well, there’s no question that there has been a personal falling out between Obama and Netanyahu. It hasn’t translated into any policy or institutional changes. I think we should take the U.S. government at its word when it says that it regards Israel is a major strategic asset in the Middle East and that the military coordination, as well as economic support, will continue. So it’s a personal falling out. Part of the personal falling out is because–and I’m not faulting him; I’m just saying it as a fact–Obama is very thin-skinned and he doesn’t take personal slights kindly. It wasn’t just that Netanyahu was carrying on like a Jewish supremacist, as he is and as he always does carry on; it was also plainly racist. It was racist because it’s inconceivable, it’s inconceivable that if a George Bush had been in power or a Bill Clinton, that Netanyahu would have come barging into Congress despite the president saying no.
JAY: I mean, I’m no big defender of Obama, as people who watch The Real News know, but I wouldn’t even call it thin skin. He has a responsibility to defend the defense capacity of the presidency.
FINKELSTEIN: Right. But here I think he takes it not just as an issue of the office of the presidency; it’s a personal issue having to do with race. You know, some people say I’m speculative on that point, but in fact I don’t think I am. The first person to announce–or one of the first persons to announce that he’s not going to that congressional speech was John Lewis, who is a genuine hero of the civil rights movement, but he’s also a flack for the Israel lobby. He is the congressman from Atlanta, Georgia, and Atlanta has a very rich Jewish community. And, well, you can figure out the–you can connect the dots. But he said no this time. And then there was a very interesting article just last weekend by Jonathan Broder in The Washington Post, and he said–and it was very interesting–he said, when Netanyahu came to Congress, he lost the Black Caucus. The Black Caucus was inflamed, incensed. And they quoted one member of the Black Caucus as saying, this is racist, we took it as a racial slight. So it’s not really speculative when you look at it from the black point of view. No, they saw it as something he would never have done with a white person. And I think that’s true. In any case, it has had some personal falling out. There has been a significant personal falling out. And now the question is whether it will translate into a policy change. And here I have to say I think there is an opportunity. As the famous cliché goes, you know, the Chinese character for crisis is also the character for opportunity. And here there is a opportunity and a crisis. The opportunity is that you now have Netanyahu, because of the statements he made at the end of his campaign, saying that he’s opposed to the–there won’t be a Palestinian state on his watch. There is an opportunity to mobilize public opinion in support of two states and to mobilize public opinion against Israel for being the obstruction to a two-state settlement. So there is now a real chance to mobilize public opinion, because the United States came down very hard on Netanyahu’s statement in the last two days of the campaign, that there won’t be a Palestinian state on his watch. Actually, they were quite good. I mean, when an official is good, he’s good. So when the presidential spokesman, he was asked, well, Netanyahu has backpedaled, and now he says after the election he’s not really against two states. And so one of the reporters said, so why don’t you take Netanyahu at his word? And the presidential spokesman shot back, which word? You know, when they’re good, they’re good. It was a very good response. So there is an opportunity now, I think, for–.
JAY: But do you think this–.
FINKELSTEIN: But the crisis is–there is a crisis. There’s also a danger. The danger is the United States is never going to put enough pressure on Israel to effect a real withdrawal from the occupied territories unless there’s a mass movement there. The most they’re going to do is demand that maybe Israel withdraw to the wall that Israel has built and allow Israel to incorporate what’s called the major settlement blocks into Israel. That’s basically the position of people like Herzog from the Labour Party, Tzipi Livni, the former foreign minister and then the justice minister. Their position is: we annex the major settlement blocks, and maybe something–Jordan Valley. The point is the major settlement blocks, if you annex them, it’s going to leave nothing for the Palestinians. Israel will annex the major water resources, it’ll annex a lot of the most arable land, it will bisect the West Bank in the northern sector, bisect the West Bank at the waist between Jerusalem and Jericho, what’s called the settlement Ma’ale Adumim. Nothing will be left. The danger is that this new UN resolution, which is supposed to supplant the famous UN Resolution 242 and to become the framework for resolving the conflict, the new UN resolution will in effect allow Israel to annex those settlement blocks, because that’s the maximum U.S. is willing to push Israel. The U.S. wants some part of the Israeli constituency behind them. And the Israeli constituency–you can read the polls–75 percent of Israelis–I’m not talking about parties or governments–75 percent of the Israeli Jewish public wants retention of the major settlement blocks. Seventy five percent want all of Jerusalem for Israel, including Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem. Seventy-five percent want an Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley. So if you want to keep part of the Israeli public, you have to give in to at least half the demands, namely, Jerusalem goes to Israel, major settlement blocks go to Israel, which leaves nothing for the Palestinians. In effect, they’re just going to get a garbage dump.
JAY: That’s the resolution that the United States might support.
FINKELSTEIN: Yes. And that’s the problem, because everybody’s going to interpret that as Obama coming down hard on Israel, because Netanyahu wants to keep everything.
JAY: But it’s actually a framework Netanyahu should love, because the Palestinians can never agree with it.
FINKELSTEIN: Well, that’s a very interesting point. Well, first of all, the Palestinians, I think, will agree to it.
JAY: Give up Jerusalem?
FINKELSTEIN: Yeah. They’re going to be cornered. They’re going to be cornered. They’re going to say–Abbas is going to say, what can we do?
JAY: Well, I don’t think Abbas could sell it to his own people.
FINKELSTEIN: Right. That I can’t predict. I think it’s possible, but yours is equally possible. The problem is the selling, the marketing. The major settlement blocks, they take up roughly around 9.5 percent of the West Bank. So the way it’s going to be marketed is Israel will be forced to withdraw from 90 percent of the West Bank. How could the Palestinians say no to that? They’re being spoilers, they’re being stubborn. So there are ways of marketing it such that Palestinians will be isolated. And that’s the real danger. In fact, if Israel gets that 10 percent, there’s really nothing left for the Palestinians, ’cause it’s the water, it’s the arable land, and it’s fragmenting the West Bank, these major settlements. But there are ways to market it which will corner the Palestinians. So that’s the danger of a new resolution. It’s also, in my opinion, if I can use the expression again, it’s morally wrong, for the following reason. After the 1967 War, when UN Resolution 242 was crafted, it was really the product of the collective will of the international community. There was a huge debate beginning in July 1967 in the General Assembly involving all the states. It was a very engaging debate, and a really impressive one in terms of the sophistication and seriousness. The UN General Assembly couldn’t reach a resolution, and then it moved to the Security Council in November 1967. And the person who crafted, effectively, 242 was Lord Caradon from the U.K. And Caradon acknowledged it was the basis of input from everybody. It was a collective endeavor. Now what’s happening is a resolution is just going to be rammed through by the United States, or France in league with the United States and the U.K. The other powers don’t give a darn. You know, what does Putin care about Palestine? What do the Chinese care about? You know, all they care about is whether they can sell something to Palestine. That’s the Chinese in the UN. And so it’s just going to be a completely undemocratic ramming through of a resolution to which the Palestinians will have to concede because they’re politically so weak right now. Every day there’s a new crisis in the Arab world. Now we’re focused on Yemen. The day before we were focused on Syria. The day before that, we were focused on Libya. Palestine has disappeared in many ways from the international agenda. They are as important as those Indians in the forest, you know, in the forests of central India. The only place it remains alive is in the solidarity movement. And so we have some leverage, but we have to recognize they’re very weak right now, the Palestinians. And if it’s marketed the way I suspect it will be, namely, an Israeli withdrawal from 90 percent of the West Bank, it’ll be very hard.
JAY: Okay. Thanks for joining us Norman.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network.
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“Norman Gary Finkelstein is an American political scientist, activist, former professor, and author. His primary fields of research are the Israeli–Palestinian conflict and the politics of the Holocaust. He is a graduate of Binghamton University and received his Ph.D. in political science at Princeton University.”