Slavoj Zizek, who has previously written some rather dodgy stuff on the Middle East, plays it straight in this piece on Israeli expansionism, and gets it right.
The conclusion is obvious: while paying lip-service to the two-state solution, Israel is busy creating a situation on the ground that will render such a solution impossible. The dream underlying Israel’s plans is encapsulated by a wall that separates a settler’s town from the Palestinian town on a nearby West Bank hill. The Israeli side of the wall is painted with the image of the countryside beyond the wall – but without the Palestinian town, depicting just nature, grass and trees. Is this not ethnic cleansing at its purest, imagining the outside beyond the wall as empty, virginal and waiting to be settled?
When peace-loving Israeli liberals present their conflict with Palestinians in neutral, symmetrical terms – admitting that there are extremists on both sides who reject peace – one should ask a simple question: what goes on in the Middle East when nothing is happening there at the direct politico-military level (ie, when there are no tensions, attacks or negotiations)? What goes on is the slow work of taking the land from the Palestinians on the West Bank: the gradual strangling of the Palestinian economy, the parcelling up of their land, the building of new settlements, the pressure on Palestinian farmers to make them abandon their land (which goes from crop-burning and religious desecration to targeted killings) – all this supported by a Kafkaesque network of legal regulations.
The idea of extremists on both sides is revealed as a position to consolidate existing power relations. A corollary to this is the image of the US as an honest broker, out to chivvy both sides along to a just settlement. An Irish Times leader comment, praising the award to Mary Robinson of a Medal of Freedom, wrote that Obama had taken an ‘even-handed approach’ to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that both shared a ‘commitment to political engagement based on human rights and the rule of law’.
There is truly something for everyone in the long list of Medal of Freedom recipients, from Georgia O’Keefe to Charlton Heston, Nelson Mandela to Dick Cheney (who voted against a 1986 resolution calling for the release of Nelson Mandela), Muhammad Ali to Margaret Thatcher. The award is therefore devoid of any significance other than as a reflection of the priorities and concerns of the incumbent administration. But given the facts on the ground as outlined by Zizek above, it appears likely that issuing the award to Mary Robinson is a calculated insult to AIPAC and a conciliatory gesture to the UN in the absence of any substantial change of administration policy toward Israel, since the US will continue to provide Israel with massive military and financial support as it colonises even more Palestinian land. As Tony Judt wrote recently in the NYT:
If Israel is drunk on settlements, the United States has long been its enabler. Were Israel not the leading beneficiary of American foreign aid — averaging $2.8 billion a year from 2003 to 2007, and scheduled to reach $3.1 billion by 2013 — houses in West Bank settlements would not be so cheap: often less than half the price of equivalent homes in Israel proper.
Many of the people who move to these houses don’t even think of themselves as settlers. Newly arrived from Russia and elsewhere, they simply take up the offer of subsidized accommodation, move into the occupied areas and become — like peasants in southern Italy freshly supplied with roads and electricity — the grateful clients of their political patrons. Like American settlers heading west, Israeli colonists in the West Bank are the beneficiaries of their very own Homestead Act, and they will be equally difficult to uproot.
Despite all the diplomatic talk of disbanding the settlements as a condition for peace, no one seriously believes that these communities — with their half a million residents, their urban installations, their privileged access to fertile land and water — will ever be removed. The Israeli authorities, whether left, right or center, have no intention of removing them, and neither Palestinians nor informed Americans harbor illusions on this score.
Obama’s ‘even-handed’ approach entails huge subsidy of settlement construction along with massive military aid to the expansionary power. This is what the Irish Times sees as a ‘commitment to political engagement based on human rights and the rule of law’.