In Part 1 of this special interview with controversial political scientist and writer Norman Finkelstein, best known for his 2000 book “The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering” (published yesterday, July 28, 2010) Finkelstein commented on how the current “aid offensive” to Gaza has become confusing and how “there needs to be clarity on exactly what goals people are trying to accomplish.”
He also noted that the main challenge to dealing with consistent violations of the Israeli state was “to simply enforce the law.”
In Part 2, Finkelstein weighs in on Hezbollah, Egypt and the US policy vis-à-vis the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Daily News Egypt: So Israel is lunatic and aggressive but it is also slowly becoming a pariah state. Could this dangerous mixture drive Israel to make another wrong move? Perhaps a strike against Iran?
Norman Finkelstein: I don’t think the Israelis will launch a strike against Iran, but they will do something to restore what they call their "deterrence capacity." With each bungled operation, Israel becomes more and more worried that the Arab world will not fear it. And as one Israeli General commented a few weeks ago, "it is ok if the Arabs think we are crazy, but it is not ok if they think we are crazy and incompetent." And so Israel is concerned that their succession of bungled operations is conveying the impression that it is no longer a formidable fighting force. And so it will do something in order to restore its deterrence capacity. Exactly what is that I could not say, but I suspect they may do something like trying to assassinate the second person in Hezbollah, someone like Naim Kassem [Deputy Secretary General of Hezbollah]. They wouldn’t touch Nasrallah because they recognize that would unleash a chain reaction, which could have devastating consequences for them, but they would consider assassinating Kassem, or some operation like that.
The Rafah crossing issue has become very controversial in Egypt. On one hand, the Egyptian government claims that Israel should shoulder its responsibilities towards the Gaza Strip, as long as the Strip remains occupied. But on the other hand, keeping the only gate to Gaza that is not under Israeli control closed raises questions about Egypt’s participation in the inhumane siege. What are your views on this issue?
I think both statements are correct. Under international law, Israel is the occupying power, and it has the responsibility for restoring normal order and peace in Gaza. On the other hand, it is true that Egypt is a collaborationist regime. The role of Egypt in support of Israel’s brutal occupation of Gaza has become so shameful, so appalling. It is simply a disgrace.
I have noticed lately when I meet Egyptians, as I often do in the United States, that when I ask them where they are from, they say: I’m ashamed to say I am from Egypt. This 30-year dictatorship is really quite terrible, and it’s quite shameful that it required an action by Turkey to force Egypt to open up the Rafah border, because Egypt understood the message that was being transmitted, namely a non-Arab Muslim state cared more about the Palestinians than an Arab state.
Does this mean that Egypt has recently moved closer to the Israeli position?
Egypt did not move closer to the Israeli position, because there is no space between the Egyptian and the Israeli positions to begin with. There is no way it can move closer. There has been only one disagreement between Egypt and Israel, and that’s over the weapons of mass destruction free zone in the Middle East. Otherwise, Egypt is just a client state of the United States, and collaborators with Israel.
Doesn’t this delegitimize what Egypt claims to be the "honest broker" role it has been playing between the Israelis and the Palestinians?
Egypt is a client state of the United States. It does not have any independent role whatsoever. I think there is a consensus among everybody here.
US President Barack Obama is increasingly seen in the Arab world as a "man of words, not actions." Since his speech at Cairo University last year, nothing has been achieved on the peace process track. Are you anticipating any change in US foreign policy towards the Palestinian/Israeli conflict in the coming months?
There is no change that’s going to come from President Obama. That’s quite clear, and anybody who invested hope in it — and I was not one of them — should now be free of any illusions. There are two developments which are true: First, there has been a significant shift in American public opinion, both among Americans generally and among American Jews, regarding Israel. And I think it is correct to say that a rift has opened up between large segments of Americans — including American Jews — and Israel.
Secondly, Israel’s erratic actions have caused members of ruling elites in the United States to consider whether or not Israel is the strategic asset it once was for the US. And you see a certain amount of questioning that has been occurring among ruling elites about the usefulness of the alliance with Israel. And of course that is going to reflect itself in some gestures by Obama, but those are strictly reactive, that is, he is reacting to developments on the ground, but there are no initiatives coming from him.
And when, in your opinion, could these developments in US society and public opinion be translated into real change in US foreign policy?
It is going to take a long time. It is important for that shift in public opinion to occur, but nothing will come of that shift unless it is harnessed into a political force. And that kind of organizing hasn’t yet begun. A serious lobby needs to be created, which will take that public opinion and turn it into a political actor in the American political system. And that has not happened yet. If public opinion changes, but people don’t act on that change in opinion, it makes no difference whether it has changed or not. All you have to do is get people to take the next step, and to act on it.
Nael M. Shama, PhD, is a political researcher and freelance writer based in Cairo. He is a regular columnist in Daily News Egypt and can be reached at: nael_shama@ yahoo.com.