Book Reviews

Fateful Triangle

Noam Chomsky, born to immigrant European Jews in 1928 in Philadelphia, is a living legend in the field of linguistics and politics. A profile of him in The Guardian posits that "his impact in linguistics has been likened to that of Einstein or Freud." In politics, he is an inspirational icon to anti-imperialist writers and activists. The New York Times called him "arguably the most important intellectual alive today."

Fateful Triangle was first published in the year 1983. In the Foreword of the book, Edward Said says, "Chomsky's major claim is that Israel and the United States - especially the latter - are rejectionists opposed to peace, whereas the Arabs, including the PLO, for years have been trying to accommodate themselves to the reality of Israel."

Chomsky lays down his writing objectives in the interestingly named first chapter, "Fanning the Flames" thus : "What follows is not intended as a comprehensive review or analysis of the network of relations among the United States, Israel and the Palestinians." He wants "to bring out certain elements that have been insufficiently addressed in the "special relationship between the U.S., Israel and the Palestinians," and he "focuses on what is wrong," and that "the focus on Israeli actions and initiative may obscure the fact that my real concern is the policies that have been pursued by the U.S. government and our responsibility in shaping or tolerating these policies."

The book holds a mirror to current events and in the reflections, one finds ghosts of the past. President Bush recently declared that a viable Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital is a part of the American vision. Israel and Palestine were set to come together for peace talks. On October 17th 2001, Israeli tourism minister "Rehavam Zeevi" was killed in Jerusalem's Hyatt hotel by the Marxist group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon issued a warning to PLO leader Yasser Arafat to immediately hand the killers over, and when this did not happen, the assassination was used a pretext to invade Palestinian towns killing about 40 Palestinians.

Similar events happened in 1981-2. "Yasser Arafat had succeeded in imposing discipline on the many PLO factions, thus maintaining the cease-fire that had been achieved under U.S. auspices." On June 3, 1982 a rival PLO faction led by Abu Nidal attempted to assassinate Israeli Ambassador Shlomo Argov in London. Israel used this as a pretext to launch the Lebanon War '82.

The core of Fateful Triangle is built around this war. Chomsky covers the historical backgrounds, the actual war called as "Peace for Galilee" in which 20,000 (overwhelmingly civilians) were killed, aftermath of the war, finally reaching his main thesis that the continuing conflict in the Middle East could lead to "superpower confrontation." Apart from this, Chomsky also makes a couple of predictions : military defeat of Israel, and the end of Sharon's political career.

On all three counts, Chomsky's evaluation has not been accurate. As of today, there is only one superpower thus nullifying the chance of superpower confrontation, Sharon is back in power, and Israel has not been militarily defeated.

However, this book is a very dedicated exposure, particularly, of the blatant one-sided coverage of the conflict in the mainstream American media wherein attacks on Palestinians, their torture and discrimination, violation of their human rights, demographic control of their territories etc., are all insufficiently represented. The mainstream media has succeeded in dehumanizing and stereotyping the Arabs. Further, Chomsky emphasises on the consistent defiance of international opinion by the U.S in its support to Israel by way of opposing U.N Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 and, General Assembly Resolutions 42 and 194 etc.

The programs of Labor and Likud, the two Israeli parties are not very different. Says Chomsky: "Their difference lies primarily in style. Labor is, basically, the party of the educated Europe-oriented elite - managers, bureaucrats, intellectuals, etc. In contrast, the mass base of the Likud coalition is largely the underclass, the lower middle class, and the workforce, the Sephardic population of Arab origin, along with religious-chauvinist elements, including many recent immigrants from the U.S. and the USSR; it also includes industrialists and many professionals."

Three new chapters have been added to the updated 1999 edition of the book. These chapters cover later developments like the Palestinian Intifada, 1993 Lebanon War, Madrid negotiations, Oslo I and Oslo II peace processes. The rejectionist policies still continue and the cantons given to the PLO to "govern" follow the South African Bantustan model.

A couple of sidelights that catch attention are Greece and Kissinger (former Secretary of State). How do they figure in the shaping of the rejectionist U.S. policy in Palestine?

Greece as a precursor: Anti-imperialist peasants and workers were resisting the royalty imposed by the British; after Britain was weakened post World War I and cited its inability to aid the rulers, the U.S stepped in to preserve the status quo. Greece was regarded as a Middle East outpost and a 1948 CIA study warned that in the event of a rebel victory, the U.S would face "the possible loss of the petroleum resources of the Middle East." A non-existent Russian threat was invented and the ensuing U.S. mission was bloody - 160,000 killed; 800,00 became refugees; thousands were tortured; Shamelessly the U.S manipulated the ensuing election and put its puppets into power. Per Chomsky, "The success of the Greek counterinsurgency campaign, both at the military and ideological level, left its stamp on future U.S. policy-making."

Kissinger's role: 'From 1967 to 1971 the U.S led the international consensus in support of a diplomatic settlement based on UN 242, which it understood as implying in 1967 (with perhaps minor and mutual modifications). When President Sadat of Egypt accepted these terms in February 1971 in what Rabin describes in his memoirs as a "famous...milestone" in the road to peace, the U.S. had to decide whether to keep to the policy it had crafted or join its Israeli ally in rejecting it. Kissinger insisted on "stalemate" - no negotiations, only force -- and won out in the internal conflict, setting the U.S. on a lonely path as leader of the rejectionist camp, not only ignoring Palestinian rights (as did UN 242 and Sadat's offer as well) but also rejecting one of the two paired requirements of UN 242: Israeli withdrawal.'

At another place, quoting an article by Kissinger, Chomsky reiterates: "Kissinger argues that we should oppose 'the creation of another radical state with irredentist aims towards both Jordan and Israel,' a Palestinian state dominated by the PLO, as 'irreconcilable with the stability of the Middle East.'"

Written in pedantic style, the book is replete with quotes, and chapter 5 "Peace for Galilee", has the highest number of citations - an impressive 306. Chomsky extensively uses sarcastic analogy to drive home his propositions. One example: Echoing the wording of the Israeli Embassy, the Washington Post argued that "The PLO made [West Beirut] an involuntary battleground; Israeli guns did most of the damage to it: a deadly 'partnership'." Employing similar logic, one might argue - perhaps some Nazis did - that the British made Calais and Dunkirk an involuntary battleground, in a "deadly partnership" with Hitler's armies.

If you need a primer on the Middle East cauldron to explore recent political history, from perspectives different from what mainstream U.S media gives, this book is an eminent candidate for consideration.


More by :  Kalam Babu

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