By Moshé Machover, The Project – 2 May 2015


Moshé Machover

The kind invitation I received to write an article for The Project suggested the topic: “Can there be peace after the elections in Israel?” Obviously what was meant by “peace” was peace between the state of Israel and the phantom-state of Palestine; or perhaps between the Israeli Hebrews and the Palestinian Arabs. But the moment you spell it out, you begin to sense that there is something not quite right with this way of putting it. Talk of “peace” has a connotation of symmetry: two sides – states or nations – are at war with each other, and to end the war they must make peace. But the Israeli–Palestinian conflict is not really like this: it is highly asymmetric. At bottom it is about colonization: a conflict between the Zionist colonizing project, of which the Israeli settler state is both product and instrument, and the indigenous people of the country undergoing century-long and still ongoing colonization.

It is evidently in the interest of Israeli hasbarah (propaganda) to present the issue in the symmetric language of “war” (in which there is wrong on both sides, especially the other side) and “peace process” (in which both sides, especially the other side, must make “concessions”). But it is a deception, which is parroted by the world’s mass media, and innocently accepted even by many well-intentioned people.

It is all too easy to slip unthinkingly into this “peace” talk, because it is not only Israeli propaganda and its compliant accomplices that mislead public opinion; reality itself has a misleading appearance. This is because both sides – the settlers and the indigenous people – have crystallized as new single nations. The formation of a new Hebrew nation is by no means exceptional: in all colonized countries where the settlers’ political economy did not depend on exploiting the labour power of the indigenous people (who were instead excluded and ethnically cleansed), a new settler nation came into being. What is remarkable about the colonization of Palestine is that the colonized people also emerged as a single national group. So in this exceptional case the asymmetric conflict between colonizers and colonized assumes a superficial semblance of a quasi-symmetric binary conflict between nations.

Once you see through surface appearances and perceive the conflict’s real nature, it becomes evident that ending it involves much more than mere peace making. Peace between warring sides does not necessarily involve structural changes within them or in their ante bellum mutual relationship. But a conflict between colonizers and colonized can be ended either by the total defeat of the indigenous people and the permanent loss of their independent existence, as happened in North America and Australia; or by de-colonization. In the Israeli–Palestinian case, de-colonization means de-Zionization; it would involve a profound structural transformation of Israel. There is little prospect of this in the near or middle term.

Let me now examine the immediate prospects of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict following the 17 March Israeli elections.

Worst-case scenario

As I pointed out in articles written shortly before and immediately after the elections, the true reason Netanyahu engineered a cabinet crisis and forced an early general election was to give him a free hand for a turn in Israel’s dealings with the US: openly antagonizing the White House and making provocative common cause with the Republican hawks in the US Congress.

The first issue on which he wished to come out was the two-state “solution” officially favoured by the US administration. The long-standing Israeli strategy pretended to accept the prospect of a Palestinian state “alongside Israel”, but drew out interminably the “peace process” supposedly leading to it, which in fact led nowhere. Instead, Netanyahu put an end to the pretence and declared bluntly that there would be no Palestinian state so long as he is in charge. A direct result of this was to undermine the collaborationist so-called Palestinian Authority, whose last remaining ounce of authority depended on the mirage of a Palestinian state. This raises the real prospect of a third Palestinian intifada (uprising).

The second issue was the nuclear accord between the P5+1 and Iran, which Netanyahu has done his worst to torpedo, in league with the US Republican right. As we shall see, these two issues are not unconnected. On both he was opposed by Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid, the centrist ministers in his old, mostly right-wing, cabinet. They made their opposition known in veiled terms, and preferred to shelter behind a group of former generals and chiefs of Mossad (Israel’s equivalent of MI6), who attacked Netanyahu’s new policy turn publicly, in street rallies, using unprecedented strong language.

The nuclear accord with Iran is not yet a done deal; it may still be derailed by the hardliners on both sides. Netanyahu will no doubt try to make more mischief. If the accord collapses, the “bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” option, favoured by him and urged by the likes of senator John McCain and former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton, will be back on the agenda. A regional conflagration that would follow, combined with a Palestinian uprising, may provide Israel with an opportunity to perpetrate massive ethnic cleansing in the West Bank. Contingency plans for such an operation – which would avert the “demographic peril” of Zionist nightmares – are known to exist, and Netanyahu himself is on record advocating something along these lines.

Admittedly, this worst-case scenario, while still possible, does not seem very probable right now. Let us hope it will never happen – and do our best to mobilize world public opinion to ensure that it doesn’t.

Israel – a strategic US asset

Let us assume the nuclear accord is finalized, and relations between the US-led “international community” and Iran begin to improve. Suppose also that the right-wing Republican ascendency in the US is stemmed or reversed, and the Democrats win the 2016 presidential elections and even gain control of Congress. In that case Netanyahu’s gamble will have failed, and in making it he had insulted a Democratic president and his party, impudently intervened in American domestic politics, and tried to undermine the position of the US in a delicate negotiation of a major international deal. Surely – you may be excused for thinking – Israel will be made to pay a high political price. Perhaps it will be subjected to irresistible pressure to ease its stranglehold on the lives of the Palestinians in the occupied territories, or at least halt the theft and colonization of their land.

Don’t hold your breath. When Netanyahu made his gamble, he calculated that the price of failure would not be too high. It may possibly mean a temporary cooling of US–Israel relations, and some diplomatic expressions of displeasure by the American administration. But the long-term relationship between the US and Israel is likely to remain fundamentally unchanged. Israel will continue to be treated not as a lowly vassal but as a pampered junior partner.

The reason for the special treatment of Israel by the US has been hotly debated. A simplistic view is that it is all due to the pro-Israel lobby, which manages to induce the American hyperpower – arguably the most powerful state in human history – to act against its own interests, as Israel’s tool. This Israeli-tail-wags-American-dog (briefly, ITWAD) thesis has been popularized by two American academic political scientists of the so-called realist school, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. On the political left, a similar thesis was put forward at about the same time by Jean Bricmont, and in a very crude form by James Petras. According to the latter, the US is, in effect, an Israeli colony.

The ITWAD thesis has been robustly criticized and, in my opinion, soundly refuted. I particularly recommend articles by Stephen Zunes contra Mearsheimer and Walt, and by Allen Ruff contra Petras. The real question is not whether the pro-Israel lobby wields much influence; it clearly does, and is extremely successful in stifling debate and silencing dissent in Congress and the media. Nor is there any doubt about the widespread ideological commitment of US citizens to Israel – which is, if anything, stronger among American Christians than among their Jewish compatriots. Rather, the real questions are why the lobby is allowed to get away with it, and what is the underlying material base of US attitude towards Israel. Those who believe that US policy in the Middle East is actually dictated – against the real interests of the American empire – by the pro-Israel lobby (or, in a cruder version, by a cabal of Jewish-Zionist Elders) or determined by fundamentalist Judeo-Christian ideology, should be reminded where the real power lies. Recall President Eisenhower’s farewell address (17.1.1961) in which he warned against the “unwarranted influence” of the military-industrial complex. He knew what he was talking about. Watching this part of his address is recommended as antidote against ITWAD.

The truth is that Israel is a prime US strategic asset. If this were not the case, the powerful military-industrial and oil corporations – which are no less powerful now than in 1961 – would have deployed their far greater financial, economic and political resources to counteract and curb the influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and allied organizations. Besides, positive evidence of the strategic value of Israel to the US is plentiful. I provided several pages of it in the Appendix to my 2006 essay, Israelis and Palestinians: Conflict and Resolution. Additional and more extensive material is contained in the Blackwill–Slocombe report.

“A technological marriage”

Former US Secretary of State and NATO commander, Gen. Alexander Haig, is reported as saying that “Israel is the largest American aircraft carrier in the world that cannot be sunk, does not carry even one American soldier, and is located in a critical region for American national security.” Israel is certainly the most secure and reliable US ally in the Middle East. In other regional allies, the masses are less than happy with their ruling elite’s pro-American stance. The overthrow of the Shah in the 1979 Iranian revolution is a constant reminder of the inconstancy of such allies. No such turn is remotely likely in Israel.

But Israel’s role in the American world disorder is not merely regional; it is truly global. An important aspect of this, which goes to the heart of US world hegemony, is the close synergy between the US military-industrial complex and Israel’s highly developed hi-tech military and surveillance sector. This has recently been highlighted in a blog by William Greider. The blog comments on a report, “Critical Technological Assessment in Israel and NATO Nations”, released a few weeks earlier, by the Pentagon-funded Institute for Defense Analysis (IDA). The report dates from 1987 and confirms, albeit implicitly, Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons. This is not exactly news, but a long-known open secret. Then Greider comes to the main point, which is worth quoting at length:

However, the IDA’s most powerful message may not be what it says about Israel’s nukes but what it conveys about the US-Israel relationship. It resembles a technological marriage that over decades transformed the nature of modern warfare in numerous ways. The bulk of the report is really a detailed survey of Israel’s collaborative role in developing critical technologies—the research and industrial base that helped generate advanced armaments of all sorts. Most Americans, myself included, are used to assuming the US military-industrial complex invents and perfects the dazzling innovations, then shares some with favored allies like Israel.

That’s not altogether wrong but the IDA report suggests a more meaningful understanding. The US and Israel are more like a very sophisticated high-tech partnership that collaborates on the frontiers of physics and other sciences in order to yield the gee-whiz weaponry that now define modern warfare. Back in the 1980s, the two nations were sharing and cross-pollinating their defense research at a very advanced level.
Today we have as a result the “electronic battlefield” and many other awesome innovations. Tank commanders with small-screen maps that show where their adversaries are moving. Jet pilots who fire computer-guided bombs. Ships at sea that launch missiles over the horizon and hit targets 1,000 miles away. …

… These experts were talking in the 1980s about technological challenges that were forerunners to the dazzling innovations that are now standard. …

The Middle East wars became the live-fire testing ground where new systems were perfected. The consequences of peace were brushed aside by the terror of 9-11. War became America’s continuous preoccupation.

Israel participated importantly in developing groundwork for some of the wonder weapons and, as the IDA survey makes clear, Israeli physicists or engineers were sometimes a few steps ahead of their American counterparts.

To be sure, the Israelis were junior partners who brought “technology based on extrapolations of US equipment and ideas.” But the report also observed: “Much Israeli fielded electronic warfare and communications [is] ahead of US fielded equipment.”

On several occasions, the research team spoke of “ingenious” or “Ingeniously clever” solutions that Israeli technologists have found for mind-bending problems of advanced physics. The IDA team also suggested opportunities for American researchers to piggy-back on what Israel had discovered or to team up with one of their R&D centers. Yale’s Office of Naval Research, IDA suggested, should collaborate with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

“Scientists at RAFAEL [another Israeli center] have come up with an ingenious way of using the properties of a glow discharge plasma to detect microwave and millimeter waves,” the report said. “The attractiveness of the project lies in the ability of the discharge to withstand nuclear weapons effects.”
This observation gave me a chill because the earnest defense scientists have yet to find a way for human beings “to withstand nuclear weapons effects.”…

The highly successful partnership of American and Israeli military science is one more reason it will be most difficult to disentangle from the past and turn the two countries in new directions, either together or separately. But many people are beginning to grasp that lopsided wars — contests between high-tech and primitive forms of destruction — do not necessarily lead to victory or peace. They have led the United States into more wars.

So the relationship between the US and its Israeli junior partner has a much firmer material foundation than the machinations of this or that lobby, or the ideological commitments of American Zionist Jews and their more numerous Christian fundamentalist friends.

This is why it seems to the superficial observer that the US occasionally goes against its own “real interests” in deferring to Israel’s. The truth of the matter is that the US, like any power, has contradictory interests. Israel is a crucial ally, and indulging it is one among these interests. Occasionally it clashes with other US interests, but this is not a case of ITWAD, but one of political life’s dialectic contradictions.

Don’t expect a real rupture in US–Israel relations. Even if Netanyahu’s warmongering will fail, after a while things will get back to “normal”. The US and its “international community” camp followers will turn a blind eye to Israel’s war crimes, its oppression of the Palestinian Arabs and the ongoing colonization of their land.

Moshé Machover is an Israeli socialist anti-Zionist activist and co-founder of the Socialist Organization in Israel (Matzpen). He is currently living in London, England. He is emeritus professor of philosophy, King’s College, London University. His most recent book is Israelis and Palestinians: Conflict and Resolution.

All IOA commentaries by Moshé Machover