Palestine and the region in the Obama era: the emerging framework
Thursday 29th October, Institute of Education, London
The MIT professor of Linguists and self assessed socialist libertarian appeared for a talk on the progression of Middle East politics. Whilst the titled issue was that of the conflict between Israel and Palestine, focus also inevitably centred on other regional questions such as Iran. Although much hope was vocalized with the end of the Bush era, Chomsky was keen to question optimism of change under the new administration. Although Obama campaigned under this one word agenda, in regard to Middle East relations, Washington’s stance has changed very little from that of the predecessor. In fact Chomsky went so far as to argue that the handling of the Palestinian question has changed very little in the last half a century, with succeeding administrations continuing to block any efforts at peace negotiations and reconciliation.
Although many critics of Israel’s foreign policy towards the Palestinians have likened it to apartheid South Africa, Professor Chomsky sought to qualify this comparison. Although the black population in South Africa were subjected to significant repression and segregation, this was largely possible because they lived within the state. Because their labour was required by the white minority their presence within the state was necessary and their contribution to the economy was sought. This differs vastly from the Palestinian situation where the Israeli government has been able to separate, cordon off and to effectively lay siege to the territories. That the Palestinian’s are unable to operate as a mobilized force within Israeli society means that the solution to the conflict cannot come in the same way as it did in South Africa.
In speaking on the BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions) campaign against Israel advocated by his introducer Chomsky argued that there are more effective means. As Israel’s political position is maintained solely through the international support which it receives from the U.S. and Europe, the best way to bring about change is to alter the political stance in these regions. Through education and campaigning, the issue can be raised in the public consciousness to the extent that politics is forced to react to it. Although it took almost 30 years for the sanctions against South Africa to reach their final goal, South Africa’s economy was far more independent in its own right than Israel’s. As Israel and the U.S.’s foreign polices are tightly interdependent, a change from the U.S. could more quickly bring about change than it was able to do in South Africa. What was made clear throughout Professor Chomsky’s speech was that this ‘change’ was unlikely to come from Obama himself.