Q & A: Norman Finkelstein
DePaul University professor
Posted: 2/16/07by Matthew Chavez
Daily Lobo columnist
In June, 40 years will have passed since Israel began the brutal colonial occupation of the Palestinian territory. Among the longest-running conflicts in the modern era, it has come to define the region itself and U.S. regional policy, which has been a critical factor. To shed some light on the U.S. role in the conflict, I sat down with DePaul University professor Norman Finkelstein, a scholar known for refuting the most pernicious apologetics of U.S.-Israeli war crimes. The Jewish son of Holocaust survivors, Finkelstein is also known for his thesis that elites have industrialized the practice of exploiting the Holocaust for financial and political purposes. We spoke before his sold-out lecture delivered Saturday at Albuquerque's First Unitarian Church.
Daily Lobo: By far the largest recipient of U.S. aid, Israel recieves about $3 billion annually from the U.S., more than $90 billion total since the end of World War II, according to conservative estimates by the Congressional Research Service. More than half of all U.S. vetoes in the U.N. Security Council since its founding were to block resolutions condemning Israeli war crimes. What is the ultimate outcome of this unique support?
Norman Finkelstein: Broadly speaking, there is a common regional interest between the U.S. and Israel: keeping the Arab states in line. For the U.S., it's fundamentally about the oil; for Israel, because it wants to be the dominant power in the region. But they both have a common interest in keeping the Arab states in line, which fundamentally means repressing any tendencies in the Arab world toward independence and real self-determination. So, there's an overlapping of regional interests. I happen to think, on local interests, there's no overlap. The U.S. has no real stake in the (Israeli) occupation. The U.S. has no real reason to oppose the creation of a Palestinian state. So on local issues, I think there is a conflict of interest, and the U.S. supports Israel on those local issues, in my opinion, primarily due to the Israel lobby. When it comes to Iraq or Iran, there's a basic common
DL: One of the Bush administration's primary requirements for Israel-Palestine negotiations to resume is for Hamas to "recognize Israel." Why has Hamas declined to recognize Israel?
NF: The issue is reciprocity. Israel has never recognized the right of Palestinians to a state on the June 1967 borders. And until Israel makes its reciprocal recognition of the Palestinian right to a state in the internationally recognized borders, the Palestinians have no moral obligation to be first. If you want to gain recognition then you have to give recognition. So the condition of Hamas was that it has to be mutual, and I think that's right.
DL: Media outlets refer to the Oslo negotiations that took place between 1993 and 2001 as a "peace process." But during this period, Israeli colonization of the Palestinian territory doubled. According to the Israeli Interior Ministry, the Israeli population occupying Palestinian land grew 6 percent in 2006 - a four-fold increase over 2005. What role has the Bush administration played in this creeping conquest?
NF: The Bush administration has been a disaster. After Sept. 11, 2001, they simply appropriated the Israeli point of view that in order to fight ... Hamas and fight the Palestinians, you have to show them no soft side. It's a very aggressive, belligerent, truculent Israeli mind-set that has seized control of the administration. That's how they think you fight them - the way Israel fights terrorism - by constantly bashing them. So, they've supported all of Israel's expansionist policies in the
DL: It is now a journalistic convention to define President Bush for his rhetorical advocacy for democratization in the Middle East. But when the Palestinian movement Hamas defeated the dominant Fatah party in democratic elections last year, Washington immediately initiated a more than $60 million campaign to crush Hamas by arming and training its opponents, and by leading an effort to sever Palestinian tax revenues and humanitarian aid. It would seem these actions controvert Bush's presumed "freedom agenda," but his administration describes them as ordinary U.S. support for a "moderate" ally threatened by a terrorist organization.
NF: Right. It supports moderate allies, and it supports the repressive regimes in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt. It supports regimes that support its interests, and the regimes can create a fake election - like in Egypt or in Jordan - where they win 99.9 percent of the vote so they'll have a facade. The notion of U.S. interest in democracy is nothing. Let's take the case of Iraq. They've done surveys and asked the Iraqi people, "Do you believe the U.S. entered Iraq in order to bring democracy?" The last survey showed 2 percent of the Iraqi people believe that. That tells you something. Of course, all the media believe it, but nobody in the real world does.
Matthew Chavez is a political science major with a focus on international relations and a minor in Middle Eastern studies.
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