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Scholars criticize Middle East and infitada policies

By Prabhat Mehta

American and Israeli policy toward the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the territorial uprisings known as the intifada came under harsh criticism at a forum yesterday entitled "The Chances for Change in the Middle East." Institute Professor of Linguistics Noam Chomsky and Gordon Fellman, a sociology professor at Brandeis, presented opening arguments and then fielded questions from the audience at 10-250.

Fellman, who just returned from a fifteen-month sabbatical in Israel, described the developmental dynamics of the intifada. "A highly democratic" structure is developing in the occupied territories as communities and small groups begin to take on more political power, Fellman said. Palestinians are transforming into a "fearless people... laying the groundwork for a Palestinian state," he added.

Fellman went on to discuss the significant change that has occurred within Israel as a result of the uprisings. The boundaries of the occupied territories indicating them as separate from Israel have been redrawn on maps and the "myth of benign occupation" has finally been rejected, according to Fellman. "The Palestinians are now seen as victims instead of terrorists," he said.

Four responses toward

the intifada

Israeli public attitude toward the uprisings may be divided into four groups, Fellman asserted. The pro-occupationists, for either religious or secular reasons, hope to maintain control of the occupied territories; on the other hand, anti-occupationists, concerned for Israel's future (and sometimes even the Palestinians), hope that a peaceful end to occupation can be achieved, according to Fellman. Another significant portion of the Israeli public is simply indifferent to the events occurring in the West Bank.

But the "pivotal group," Fellman noted, is composed of a growing number of people who are just beginning to learn about the Palestinian problem through the media and relatives in the army or other individuals directly involved.

This final group is the aim of politicians from both the right and left, Fellman said. The right-wing politicians, most notably those of the conservative Likud, play on fears that Palestinians have a "two-stage" plan of first obtaining their own state and then going after Israel, according to Fellman. On the other hand, the left, led by the Labor Party, attempts a more rational, intellectual discussion of compromise, he added. Fellman noted that currently Israel maintains an about even split between right and left, with the right having a slight advantage.

American Middle East

policy also criticized

Chomsky painted an even worse picture of the Middle East, bringing in American influence and the problems with American foreign policy in the region. The United States is opposed to a diplomatic solution, Chomsky asserted, and is instead insistent upon maintaining "status quo of repression" of Palestinians in the occupied territories in order to satisfy other policy objectives. These policy objectives, Chomsky explained, are carried out by maintaining Israel as a powerful servant to American interests in the region.

The American press covering the Arab-Israeli conflicts including the intifada also came under criticism by Chomsky. The press often selectively eliminates stories which expose flaws in American policy reasoning and stories which contradict current policy positions, Chomsky asserted. As an example, Chomsky claimed that the press has covered up the actual intentions of Americans in negotiating with the Palestine Liberation Organization. Chomsky believed that Americans are providing extra time for Israel to put down the demonstrations in the occupied territories.

Chomsky also believed that the recent decision of the United States to negotiate with the PLO was based on a false claim, which was left unscrutinized by the media, that the PLO had changed its policy and accepted American conditions for negotiation of a peaceful settlement. In actuality, he claimed, the United States merely reinterpreted an unchanged PLO policy.

The possibility of a two-state solution to the Palestinian problem is unlikely, according to Chomsky. If the West Bank and Gaza Strip were removed from Israeli control, then the new Palestinian regions would eventually degenerate into dependent colonies overshadowed by Israel and Jordan, the two regional powers.

Another reason why a two-state solution is unlikely is that Israel obtains a third of its water from the West Bank, Chomsky said. According to Chomsky, Israel would be unwilling to give up the West Bank unless provisions were made for the West Bank to supply Israel with water. The situation would become even more complicated because the Gaza Strip has no water, and Israel would be able to control its water supply. Thus, Chomsky explained, the West Bank might be forced into supplying Israel with water so that the Gaza Strip could also receive water. Under such a situation, the West Bank and Gaza Strip would again become dependent upon Israel.

Chomsky also criticized the leadership of the PLO, which, he claims, has been both responsible for "immoral" acts of terrorism and hurting the image of Palestinians and their cause. Ultimately, a solution to the Middle East problem will come only after both sides accept and respect each other because two states cannot exist in the region independently, Chomsky said.