Noam Chomsky is a professor emeritus in the department of linguistics and philosophy at MIT. In 2005, Chomsky topped a list released by Foreign Policy Magazine of the 100 most important public intellectuals of our time.
Brown Political Review: In the long term, how do you see the relationship between Israel and Palestine?
Noam Chomsky: There is an overwhelming international consensus on a political solution and it’s been that way for almost 40 years. It’s blocked by the United States and Israel, and until that is overcome there is not likely to be a peace settlement. The terms are very well-known: There should be a two-state settlement on the internationally recognized border with maybe minor and mutual modifications, a ceasefire alliance and guarantees for the rights of every state, including these two states, to exist in peace and security with secure and recognized borders. There are special issues about how to deal with the refugee problem, but the crucial issue is territory.
BPR: Do you think that there’s a common language by which both sides could reach a mutual understanding?
NC: There’s a common language: international law, which is very straightforward. The only major institutions that determine the character of international law are the United Nations’ Security Council and the International Court of Justice, and they both have taken the same position — that Israeli settlements and infrastructure development in the occupied territory are illegal, that they have no basis and are in violation of the Geneva Conventions and other international laws.
BPR: Do you think that there’s some internal function of the language that’s being used to mediate the conflict that subverts compromise?
NC: In the 1970s, when there were clearly steps towards diplomatic settlement that could have been pursued, Israel upped the ante. They insisted that a condition be recognition of Israel’s right to exist. That’s something that doesn’t exist in international law. No state has a right to exist. Mexico recognizes the United States, but not its right to exist sitting on half of Mexico, which was conquered in an aggressive war.
BPR: Is there some way to equalize the playing field with respect to international law to prevent powerful actors from diminishing their accountability?
NC: There’s no supranational authority that can compel states to observe Security Council resolutions and so on. If states are weak then, yes, there is an international authority, but not for the most powerful states. For example, the US invasion of Iraq couldn’t be stopped by the Security Council. It didn’t matter what anyone believed. The only way that can change is internally. It’s up to the citizens of the United States to decide whether they want to live in a law-abiding state or a rogue state. It’s worth recognizing that the world regards the United States as the greatest threat to world peace. There was an international poll released last December by Gallup in which one of the questions was: Which country is the greatest threat to world peace? The United States was first. Nobody else was even close. It wasn’t reported in the United States; you’re not supposed to know things like that. But that’s the opinion of the world, and there are reasons for it. Again, US citizens have to ask themselves: Is that the kind of country I want to be a citizen of?
BPR: There’s some commonality between the circumstances of Palestinian refugees and prisoners detained at Guantanamo Bay; neither can be served justice because they face substantial barriers to relocation. What do you do with these populations in limbo?
NC: The United States took Guantánamo, one of Cuba’s major ports, at gunpoint and won’t give it back. That’s part of the policy of trying to strangle Cuba economically. The analogy to Crimea is the closest there is, except that the Russians have a much stronger case. With regards to the Palestinian refugees, it’s a much more complicated problem. They have a theoretical right of return, but everyone understands that there won’t be more than a symbolic return to Israel itself. In fact, the Palestinians have pretty much accepted that. If you take a look at the actual negotiations, what they talk about is the right of return, not the actual return. So they want to maintain that. It’s a legitimate right, which I think makes sense.
BPR: You’ve said before that you think the ideal solution to this conflict is not a two-state solution, but rather a binational state. Do you still think this is a realistic solution?
NC: If the United States changes its policy, then there is a realistic solution: the international consensus. I don’t like it, but I’m not God. [A two-state solution] is the realistic solution for the short term. If peace is established, and the cycle of violence is reduced, it’s very likely that there will be interaction between the two states. In fact, every time that violence has been reduced, that’s begun: commercially, culturally and otherwise. If you know the area, it just makes absolutely no sense to draw a line through it. It would be even more meaningless than most national boundaries. The borders are not sacrosanct.
BPR: If you were mediating the peace talks, how would you moderate the language used to negotiate?
NC: Suppose someone were to suggest that Iran should negotiate the Sunni-Shia conflicts in Iraq. We’d laugh. In this case it’s even more extreme, because the United States for 35 years has been blocking the diplomatic settlement that is called for by the entire world, and has been providing massive and critical aid for Israel to continue its policies, which undermines the possibilities for peace. If there were genuine peace negotiations, they’d be managed by some party with some international credibility. They’re not going to get anywhere; that’s clear from the beginning.