Ramzy Baroud Interviewed about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

By Munish Nagar

Q. What is the importance of Hezbollah’s last year victory and how will it influence future events in the region?

Hezbollah’s victory is important for more than one reason; one aspect is pertinent to the timing of that victory, which comes at a time that the US had just discovered the limitation of its military capabilities in Iraq. Israel was trying to achieve a military victory for itself and others: US, those who were set to benefit from the elimination of Hezbollah in Lebanon and for the region’s traditional US allies (corrupt regime, traditional elites and business elites, etc). Following its Lebanon adventure, which was weighed in at least one year in advance, Israel has also learned that its military power as well had its own limits and was taught a hard lesson, and the results of that lesson continue to reverberate throughout Israel’s political scene.

Another factor is that Hezbollah emerged as a formidable foe in Lebanon, and is now trying to translate its popularity and military strength into political strength, stirring a battle (mostly a political one that had recently spilled into violent confrontations following the debilitating strike) whose outcome is yet to be determined. 

Moreover, the US hoped that a quick Hezbollah defeat would both intimidate Iran before the sheer might of the Israeli military, which also served an American purpose. The opposite transpired, as Iran emerged more powerful and confident, further exasperating American’s woes in the region, but also compounding fears of a regional Shiite-Sunni clash.  

Q. Is it in the hands of Israel to end the violence against the Palestinian people or is Israel being played like a puppet in American Hands?

Israel is by no means a puppet in American hands. The relationship between the two is rather unique. Israel is not exactly a ‘client regime’ per se, yet it doesn’t necessarily ‘control’ American foreign policy in the region. What is taking place is rather an exchange, equitable or otherwise, where both parties are hoping to advance their own interests in the region, while mutually benefiting from each other’s unique advantages. Traditionally, Israel served as an American proxy and ally, whereby the US uses Israel’s strategic positioning to further its own designs in the region, warranted or otherwise. Israel, on the other hand, has benefited tremendously from American financial and military aid, in addition to political backing that has shielded it rather successfully from any accountability to international law. 

To guarantee its interests in America, Israel had relied heavily on several lobbying bodies, notwithstanding The American Israeli Public Relations Committee (AIPAC), whose degree of success in fortifying Israel’s position is hardly debatable. However, during the George W. Bush years, that relationship began tilting more in Israel’s favor than in favor of the traditional American foreign policy view; this was due to the ability of the neoconservatives – a group of influential pro Israeli ideologues, purporting as patriotic Americans – to sway US policy in the Middle East to fit Israel’s regional agenda, thus getting the US to achieve what Israel couldn’t do alone, hence the regime change in Iraq, containing Iran and Syria, etc. The neoconservatives shrewdly convinced the US administration that what is good for Israel is good for America. 3068 dead and 40,000 wounded American soldiers later, the US is beginning to realize this fatal mistake, despite the stubbornness of the President. 

Q. Is this assertion, made by many Middle East analysts, accurate: the US and Israel’s ultimate objective is dominating the Arabs? Was the US invasion of Iraq’s and the execution of Saddam a step towards that goal?

In many ways America had often determined its relationship to Arab states based on these states’ perception and/or relationship with Israel and the so-called peace process. Most Arab states are more or less dominated by the US and even ‘rogue’ states had at times good relations with Washington and were very willing to become client regimes at a whim. But while some either agreed to normalize with Israel openly (Jordan, Egypt, Mauritania), others did so in more subtle ways (some Gulf countries, Morocco, etc). Those who rejected Israel’s terms of peace or exhibited hostility toward the Zionist state were branded as ‘rogue’, and there sins were augmented beyond reason. (The submissive camp was dubbed moderate and friendly, despite the fact that some were brutal and utterly despotic).   

So what has happened following the murder of Saddam and the intimidation of Syria is not exactly an overhauling of the relationship between Washington and Arabs, but rather a redefining of that relationship. America is realizing that it has to change the rules of the game to guarantee that ‘rogue’ states become a thing of the past. It wants to deny even its allies in the region the most basic bargaining power so that the relationship shifts from that of superpower-client state to a super-power and mere proxies. This is what Washington is currently concocting. There are many obstacles standing in the way of course, including the resurgence of Islamic forces, Hamas and Hezbollah and the resistance in Iraq.  

Q. Has the United Nations, specially the UNHRC played a significant role in quelling or lessening the suffering of the Palestinian people at the hands of Israel?

The United Nations Human Rights Commission is to a large degree free of US influence in the UN. The US uses various control mechanisms to influence the proceedings of various UN bodies, including the use of veto at the Security Council, political pressure in the General Assembly and withholding of funds from various UN arms. UNHRC however, despite occasional failures has held its ground and on many occasions called Israel on its brutality. The commission however has little or no executive power. It can embarrass Israel at times, and has repeatedly called on the international community to interfere on behalf of Palestinians. The commission’s position however, was hardly ever translated to an actual work plan at the UN for the US’ control mechanisms were much greater than the commission’s limited powers and ability to withstand pressure.  

Q. Article 3 of UN Declaration clearly states: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of persons”. Have there been any serious attempts to apply such an article on the Palestinians who are murdered with impunity by the Israeli army?

The UN founding principles and original declaration are very noble as they clearly spoke out against the cruelty of WWII where human dignity and the sanctity of life sunk to their lowest levels in recent memory. However, aside from the theoretical aspect of this, since its founding nearly six decades ago, the UN is yet to become an equally representative organization that is capable of translating its principles into action, guiding and guarding its Human Rights Declaration in a serious enough manner that is capable of challenging the arrogance of both super powers like the US or smaller entities that violate international law such as Israel and Ethiopia. To answer your question more directly, while the spirit of the UN declaration shall endure, it is yet to be substantiated with concerted and meaningful action; at least as far as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is concerned.  

Q. What is your view on Israel’s definition of “Ceasefire”?

Israel doesn’t believe in ceasefire as a step toward calm, thus peace. Israel is a state that still believes that military supremacy must be maintained and exercised at all times to ensure the submission of its enemies, and it does so disproportionately and frequently. Israel would resort or use the term “ceasefire” in the three following occasions: as a farce, meaning using the term but not implementing its conditions to evade criticism; two, when its forced to do so, as was the case in Lebanon following the July-August war with Hezbollah. Even in this occasion, this was a tactical ceasefire. Third, as a political strategy, such as strengthening Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ position against his rivals in Hamas. As a concept in itself that aims at establishing meaningful peace, ceasefire is yet to exist in Israel’s lexicon. 

Q. Considering all that has been discussed thus far, where you think Palestine will stand 10 years from now?

It’s unlikely that there will be any truly sovereign Palestine in the next 10 years. Indeed, all signs are pointing to the contrary. Even if one wishes to circumvent the question, for now, regarding the viability of a Palestinian state over parts of the West Bank and Gaza, one cannot expect that the current balance of power, the dishonesty of the US, the absence of a strong third party, the fragmentation of the Arabs politically and the regional upheaval that was engendered by the US chaotic Middle East policy, and notwithstanding the Palestinian eternal strife,  could possibly create a situation that would convince or force Israel to heed to the calls for peace and respect international law, thus withdrawing from the Occupied Territories.

-Ramzy Baroud is a veteran Palestinian-American Journalist and is Editor-in-Chief of the Palestine Chronicle. His latest book: The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle is available everywhere; his last volume: Searching Jenin: Eyewitness Accounts of the Israeli Invasion sold thousands of copies and is also available. Baroud worked at Aljazeera Satellite Television for two years and taught media at Australia’s Curtin University of Technology, Malaysia Campus. He is a syndicated columnist for many years and his articles have been published or reviewed in the world’s largest newspapers; he has also been a guest on numerous television and radio programs. He can be contacted at editor@palestinechronicle.com.

-Munish Nagar is an Indian Journalist. He has a Master’s degree in Journalism and currently is pursuing PG diploma in Human Rights. 

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