Kourosh Ziabari, 14 April 2011
Naseer Aruri is Chancellor Professor (emeritus) of Political Science, University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. He is president of Trans-Arab Research Institute in Boston. Prof. Aruri is the a contributor to the book “Iraq Under Siege: The Deadly Impact of Sanctions and War” by the South End Press and the author of the book “Palestinian Refugees: The Right of Return” published by the University of British Columbia Press in 2001. Prof. Aruri is on the Advisory Board of the Council for Palestinian Restitution and Repatriation.
Aruri has also written the book “The Obstruction of Peace: The U.S., Israel and the Palestinians.” Amazon.com has described this book “a Palestinian perspective on the peace process in his Middle Eastern region which provides a different view for the reasons behind Palestinian-Israeli impasses.”
According to Wikipedia, Aruri contributed to the foundation of the Arab Organization for Human Rights (AOHR) in 1983. From 1984-1990, Aruri was elected to three consecutive terms on the Board of Directors of Amnesty International, USA, and served on the Board of Directors of Human Rights Watch/Middle East from 1990 to 1992.
What follows is the complete text of my exclusive interview with Prof. Naseer Aruri in which we discussed a variety of topics including the prospect of Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the role of the United States in the solving the crisis in Palestine and the performance of PLO as the defacto representative of the Palestinian nation in the international level.
Kourosh Ziabari: Dear Prof. Aruri; there are various interpretations regarding the truth behind the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both sides of the conflict cite claims over the land which is known as the Land of Israel. So, from an impartial and objective point of view, which side is the righteous? Which of them tells the truth?
Naseer Aruri: This is not a conflict between two equal claims. The Palestinian population is the indigenous party living on the land since the days of the Cananites. Their presence as the dominant party was interrupted by the Crusades but it was restored by the Islamic conquest of the 7th century A.D. When the Zionists received the Balfour Declaration from Britain in 1917 the Jewish population constituted less than 7% of the population. It was an unauthorized promise made by an imperial power to a colonial settler movement at the expense of the Majority (the indigenous Palestinians). By World War II the Jewish population had increased to one-third mainly as a result of colonial settlement. This minority was in possession of less than 6% of the land. Today it controls all of historic Palestine through the force of arms, an illegal phenomenon under international law.
Kourosh Ziabari: You’re said to be an outspoken critic of the Oslo Accords and described it a cover for territorial conquest. Would you please explain for us the reasons you oppose Oslo Peace Process? Given that the Declaration called for the withdrawal of Israel Defense Forces from parts of Gaza Strip and West Bank and facilitated the creation of a Palestinian National Authority, what are your reasons for contesting the Oslo Accords?
Naseer Aruri: The Oslo Accords constituted an act of surrender by Yaser Arafat, whose movement was facing economic, diplomatic and leadership crises, and having recognized Israel in 1988, it took the easy way out by concluding an unauthorized deal with Israel in 1993 in which Israel did not cede any bit of sovereignty whatsoever not only in historic Palestine but even in the West Bank, which constitutes 22% of historic Palestine. The phrase “external security” was the corner stone of the document and it served as a euphemism for sovereignty, which remained in the hands of Israel. Oslo has also negated the culture of the Intifada, which was based on voluntary maxims and associational values In brief, Oslo created a facade of equality when Israel was an occupant within the meaning of International law, while the Palestinians were occupied rather than co-equal. Under such a cover, Israel was given license to expand its territorial conquest even farther and this added territory was acquired under presumed “peaceful conditions.” Colonial settlements in the occupied territories have more than doubled since 1993 and they continue to constitute the single most intractable obstacle to a diplomatic settlement until this day. Technically, Oslo was an agreement to reach agreement, but better yet, an agreement to obfuscate an equal settlement and an honorable and principled compromise.
Kourosh Ziabari: Although the Palestine Liberation Organization has recognized Israel’s right to exist, accepted UNSC resolutions 242 and 338 and made several concessions during its interactions with the State of Israel, the United States still considers it a terrorist organization. What’s your viewpoint regarding the performance of PLO? Has it succeeded in representing the Palestinian people and defending their demands? Recently leaked documents show that the PLO under Mahmoud Abbas had agreed to Israel’s sovereignty over nearly all Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem. What’s your take on that?
Naseer Aruri:: I think that the answer to your question is embedded in the question itself. Moreover, the PLO should have never accepted the stipulation that it is a terrorist organization which must “renounce” and not “denounce” as Arafat had attempted unsuccessfully and reminded about the crucial difference between the two concepts. The assumption that the US was a judge and jury while at the same time a chief armed supplier, bank roller, and diplomatic backer was unfortunately accepted by the PLO leadership since the 1980s and should not have been a surprise when the so-called Palestine papers were released and leaked out quite recently. Under both Arafat and Abbas, the PLO concessions were bottomless and these concessions had only encouraged Israel to throw more obstacles to peace and to encourage Washington to act as a “Dishonest Broker.”
Kourosh Ziabari: Some commentators refer to Israel as an artificial state and believe that it was created through the efforts of politicians and leaders who wanted to sympathize with and satisfy the expansionistic demands of the Zionists in Europe; however, there are a group of thinkers who believe that to the extent that Israel is an artificial state, countries such as United Arab Emirates or Kosovo should be considered artificial as well, because they lack a historical background as independent nations. What’s your estimation of these viewpoints?
Naseer Aruri: It serves no useful purpose to debate the moot issue of whether Israel, UAE, and Kosovo are artificial states. The important thing is that they are defacto states which through admission to the UN become de jure states. Irrespective of who wins the argument, Israel is a state, but the important thing is what kind of a state? A state of its own citizens? a state of all Jews in the world? A state of the Jewish people in historic Palestine? What are the boundaries of this state? Is it not an apartheid state as it exists at the present? These questions are far more important than whether Israel is artificial or natural?
Kourosh Ziabari: The Stance of President Bush Sr. on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had convinced many international observers that the pro-Israeli era of Ronald Reagan was over. On May 22, 1989, Secretary of State James Baker had told an AIPAC audience that Israel should abandon its expansionist policies. On his part, George H. Bush had indicated that he was under the pressure of Zionist lobby by saying to reporters on the sidelines of an AIPAC summit that “I’m one lonely little guy” up against “some powerful political forces” made up of “a thousand lobbyists on the Hill.” He was forced to apologize consequently; however, he was opposed to grant a $10 billion loan guarantee to Israel as long as Israel continued building homes on the Palestinian lands. What’s your viewpoint regarding Bush’s Israel policy? Why did his son adopt a totally opposing stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict compared with that of his father?
Naseer Aruri: True, there is a vast difference between the policies of the two Bushes. Bush senior had a major conflict with Israel and its Zionist lobby in Washington. He and his Secretary of State James Baker challenged Israel’s settlement building in occupied territory, particularly Jerusalem and its environs. Israel and its minions in the U.S. such as former Senator George Mitchell objected to the assumption that Jerusalem is “occupied” territory. Perhaps Bush, Sr’s Iraq policy illustrates the major differences between the father and son. If one looks at the Israeli press during the summer of 1990 when U.S. forces were in Saudi Arabia while Saddam Hussein’s army was occupying Kuwait, one finds an important reality: Bush was in effect telling Israel that, we the U.S., as the sole super power, are in charge of security in the [Persian] Gulf region and in the whole Middle East.. Consequently, Israel has nothing to worry about and it must come to terms on the Palestine question knowing that Washington is in charge of security. That was probably the closest that the U.S. had ever come to the concept of an imposed settlement in which Israel must abide by Washington’s will based on its national interest as a super power.
But the plan did not come into fruition particularly when Bush was defeated in the presidential elections by Bill Clinton, who derailed Bush’s diplomatic train and diverted it to Oslo instead, hence the end of Bush, Sr’s designs.
When Bush the son came to the White House, the neo-conservatives had managed to secure a position of power and station themselves strategically around the New President who had to shoulder the whole issue of “terrorism” after September 11. These developments hastened the penetration of Bush’s policies by neo-conservatives, hence the difference between the two Bushes.
Kourosh Ziabari: Upon taking office, the Presidents of the United States conventionally make trips to Israel and pay homage to the Israelis by saying that they are committed to the security of Israel and that they will try their best to serve the interests of the Jewish regime. Is the Zionist lobby so influential to prevent from coming to power a President who has an anti-Zionist mindset? Is it ever possible for an anti-Zionist politician to rise to power in the United States?
Naseer Aruri: The answers to both questions are yes and yes. No politician with an “anti-Zionist mindset” could ever dream of living in the White House. The American political system has institutional and constitutional barriers against anti-Zionists winning the U.S. presidency. Take for example the Electoral College by which Americans elect their presidents. The EC stipulates that a candidate to the presidency must gain plurality and the winner takes all. These two factors (plurality and winner takes all) tend to polarize the system and promote the two party system. In that setting, there is no place for a minority, which is likely to be the anti-Zionist mindset. Rather, the system would promote two polarities and avoids the diffusion of power. In the US minorities which are cohesive and disciplined can easily develop factions such as Afro-Americans or Zionists who would give their votes to their co-nationals and insure the victory of disciplined, single-minded, and organized constituencies. In such a political system, anti-Zionists could never aspire to win a senatorial or even a lower House position, let alone win the Presidency. That is an impossible task.
Kourosh Ziabari: What’s in your view, the source of Zionist lobby’s enormous power and wealth? You may admit that the majority of mainstream media in the United States are being run by the well-off Jews and that the Zionist lobby plays a central role in the decision which the U.S. congress makes. What is the source of this power and influence?
Naseer Aruri: The sources of Zionist power in the US stem from superior organization, good finance, a ready-made “defense” of their cause such as “anti-Semitism,” which serves as a sort of black-mail and a barrier against valid criticism of policies. While the public can criticize Obama and his policy and expect no retribution, that same public cannot criticize Israel in the same way. Look at what happened to Helen Thomas, the dean of the White House journalists since the 1950s when she dared to express her opinion on the Israeli theft of Palestinian land, ongoing since the 1940s. Senators and Congress people have been dumped by the Lobby upon the first sign of dissent and deviation from the delivered wisdom and accepted orthodoxy on Israel. In short, the Zionist lobby is fortified by a shield which enables it to suppress dissent in a democratic nation.
Kourosh Ziabari: As my final question, I would like to ask you to propose your solution for drawing an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Do you champion a two-state solution? Do you believe that the Jews should be returned to their original homelands in Europe? What’s your viewpoint in this regard?
Naseer Aruri: As for the ideal solution, I am afraid no just and lasting solution seems to be on the horizon at the present time. Israel and its supporters have stood firmly during the past four decades against the global consensus which demanded withdrawal from occupied territories and a just resolution of the refugees problem in accordance with UN resolutions and the general principles of international law– a resolution based on the principles of equal justice, equal protection of the law, and an end to apartheid, which now prevails throughout historic Palestine pre and post 1948. As for the two-state solution, there is no such a thing. It is already too late for that, as the entire spectrum of Israeli politics allows no sovereignty on any piece of land lying between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. That leaves one just solution: a single state in which Muslims, Christians and Jews can live together on the basis of equal justice and equal protection of the law.
He has interviewed political commentator and linguist Noam Chomsky, member of New Zealand parliament Keith Locke, Australian politician Ian Cohen, member of German Parliament Ruprecht Polenz, former Mexican President Vicente Fox, former U.S. National Security Council advisor Peter D. Feaver, Nobel Prize laureate in Physics Wolfgang Ketterle, Nobel Prize laureate in Chemistry Kurt Wüthrich, Nobel Prize laureate in biology Robin Warren, famous German political prisoner Ernst Zündel, Brazilian cartoonist Carlos Latuff, American author Stephen Kinzer, syndicated journalist Eric Margolis, former assistant of the U.S. Department of the Treasury Paul Craig Roberts, American-Palestinian journalist Ramzy Baroud, former President of the American Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Sid Ganis, American international relations scholar Stephen Zunes, American singer and songwriter David Rovics, American political scientist and anthropologist William Beeman, British journalist Andy Worthington, Australian author and blogger Antony Loewenstein, Iranian geopolitics expert Pirouz Mojtahedzadeh, American historian and author Michael A. Hoffman II and Israeli musician Gilad Atzmon.