Upon the death of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, we look at how his legacy of separating Gaza from the West Bank and building a “separation wall” to seal off Israeli settlements has impacted the peace process in the Middle East today. We speak with Noam Chomsky, world-renowned political dissident, linguist, author and Institute Professor Emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University; and Avi Shlaim, Emeritus Professor of International Relations at Oxford University, widely regarded as one of the world’s leading scholars on the Israeli-Arab conflict. “What [Secretary of State] John Kerry should do is insist on implementing a very broad international consensus, virtually universal, calling for a two-state settlement on the internationally recognized border,” Chomsky says. “This is supported by the entire world; it’s been blocked by the United States for 35 years. We should shift that policy, join the world, and carry out measures which might conceivably bring a semi-decent peace.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Why does—Professor Avi Shlaim, why does Ariel Sharon hold the special place he does in the annals of Israeli history?
AVI SHLAIM: Noam Chomsky reminded us that one shouldn’t speak ill of the recently dead, so I would like to say something positive about Ariel Sharon, which explains both his popularity with one segment of the Israeli population and the reviling of Sharon by another segment of the Israeli population. And the point is that towards the end of his active life, Sharon finally understood the limits of military power. He had always been a proponent of greater Israel, but he understood that the facts of democracy worked against Israel, so he didn’t—he did not jettison the dream of greater Israel, but he scaled it down to what he thought was realistic for Israel to maintain in the long run.
So he had a strategy of redrawing the borders of greater Israel unilaterally. Stage one was building the wall on the West Bank, and stage two was the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in August 2005. Now, the withdrawal from Gaza was not part of any negotiations or overall peace deal with the Palestinian Authority. It was a unilateral move undertaken in Israel’s interests. So, Sharon withdrew from Gaza, but he wanted to consolidate Israel’s presence on the West Bank. And this got him into trouble with the right wing of his own party, the Likud Party, and with the settler community, so he quit the Likud, and he set up a new center party, Kadima. But Kadima did not survive Sharon’s political demise. Today, Kadima has two seats in the 120-member Knesset. So Sharon’s last-minute effort to realign Israeli politics ended in total failure.
His enduring legacy in Israel’s history is that he empowered and emboldened some of the most xenophobic, aggressive, racist, expansionist and intransigent elements in Israel’s dysfunctional political system.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Khalidi?
RASHID KHALIDI: Another thing that might be mentioned about Gaza is that there’s a huge debate in Israel about whether the withdrawal was a good thing or a bad thing. The withdrawal did not change the situation of Gaza as being completely under Israeli control, which it is to this day. So Israel withdrew its settlers and withdrew its troops from within the Gaza Strip, but it completely controls the Strip from without. It is the largest open-air prison in the world. Sharon also had a notorious period as commander of the Southern Command in which he participated in the savage repression of resistance inside Gaza, killing thousands of—hundreds—well, many hundreds of Palestinian militants, destroying thousands of homes, as part of a huge repression of the resistance.
AMY GOODMAN: Noam Chomsky, Dov Weissglass, a top aide to Ariel Sharon, described the withdrawal from Gaza by saying, quote, “The significance of our disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process. It supplies the formaldehyde necessary so there is no political process with Palestinians.” Explain what he meant and how that translates today to the so-called peace process that’s going on.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, Dov Weissglass understood the situation very well. The Oslo Accords in 1993 determined that the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are a single territorial entity which cannot be divided. Immediately, the United States and Israel set about separating the two and making sure that they would not be united. And this is extremely significant, not only for the people of Gaza, but for the prospect of any viable Palestinian entity. The West Bank is essentially imprisoned. Its one access to the outside world would be through Gaza—access through the sea, through the air, if there was an airport, and so on. By breaking Gaza from—separating Gaza from the West Bank, that undercuts whatever limited possibility there might be for a meaningful Palestinian self-determination.