Interview with Norman G. Finkelstein: The First Goal of Israel Is to Restore the Fear of Israel in the Arab World

The whole world — including Hamas and Iran — support a two-state solution, but Israel rejects it.

Press TV: In a week of violence in the Gaza Strip we’re witnessing, what do you make of the situation?

Norman G. Finkelstein: It’s hard to make any definite judgments about the military situation.  The goals of the Israeli government, it seems to me, are pretty clear.  Number one, Israel wants to reestablish what it calls its “deterrence capacity.”  That’s a technical term that the Israelis use.  It basically means to restore the fear of Israel among the Arabs in the region.  After the defeat inflicted by Hezbollah, and the inability of Israel to launch an attack on Iran, it was almost inevitable that they would then target Hamas, because Hamas is also defying the Israeli will.  According to the Israeli papers, Barak was planning the attack already before the last ceasefire, and they were just waiting for a provocation from the Palestinians.  On November 4th, the Israelis broke the ceasefire with Hamas, knowing full well — and if you read the Israeli papers, they say so — that if they killed six militants in Gaza, the Palestinians would retaliate, and then Israel would have the pretext to invade.  So the first goal was to restore the fear of Israel in the Arab world by inflicting a bloodbath.

Press TV: Israel’s Foreign Minister [Tzipi Livni] said that Israel has affected almost all of what she called the “infrastructure of terrorism,” presumably meaning Hamas.  What we’re seeing is huge civilian casualties.  How would you describe such an imbalance in the loss of lives?  How successful do you think Israel has been in wiping out Hamas or the resistance if you will?

Finkelstein: Well, the purpose was to inflict massive casualties immediately.  The Israelis, after the attack on Lebanon in 2006, they concluded that their main error was they didn’t unleash the full fury of their air force on the first few days.  So, in the first two days of the Lebanon war, they killed about 55 Lebanese, and then they targeted the Dahiya suburb of Beirut, and after the war they began talking about the Dahiya strategy, which meant to completely obliterate any resistance to their rule.  And what you saw in the first couple of days of the Gaza assault was the first practical application of the Dahiya strategy to commit a bloodbath and slaughter of such huge dimensions that they thought it would deter the Arabs in the future from defying Israeli rule.

Press TV: Speaking of deterrence, sir, Hamas says it will retaliate.  How great a response do you think Hamas can give Israel?  Can we expect one like what Israel received from Hezbollah in 2006?

Finkelstein:I think it’s impossible to predict those things.  It’s clear that Israel is faced with a dilemma.  In the case of the Lebanon war, during the first few days, they apparently destroyed the long-range and medium-range missiles, but they couldn’t destroy the short-range rockets against Israel unless they invaded.  They tried to invade, but they couldn’t, and the rocket attacks continued.  And now they have the same problem in Gaza.  In order to end the rocket attacks, they have to invade and clear out the area of all these rockets, one by one, but if they invade, then there’s the possibility of them getting caught in a guerrilla war, which they plainly cannot win in Gaza.  So, they’re really not sure at this moment how to proceed.

Press TV: Israeli Foreign Minister also says that Israel wants to negotiate peace with those whom she calls “moderate” Palestinians.  On the other hand, we see Mahmoud Abbas saying that talks are meaningless under the current situation and that Israel is targeting all Palestinians, so where does that leave Israel?

Finkelstein: Well, we have to be clear about what Israel means by “moderate” Palestinians.  The Hamas leadership has in recent years signaled its willingness to negotiate a two-state settlement on the June 1967 border and the resolution of the refugee question.  That means Hamas has signaled its willingness to do what the entire world community has called for the past 30 years.

Israel, however, rejects such a two-state settlement because it wants to continue its control of the West Bank.  So, for Israel, a moderate Palestinian means the Palestinian who rejects all the terms proposed by the international community, a Palestinian who rejects the moderation of Hamas.  For Israel, a moderate Palestinian is a Palestinian willing to do whatever Israel wants; it’s a Palestinian who is willing follow Israeli orders.  That’s what the Israelis mean by “moderate” Palestinians.

Press TV: Mr. Finkelstein, observers say that a ceasefire is the best that Israel can achieve from this.  Just how is the war affecting Israel?

Finkelstein: It’s hard to say whether Israel is in a position now for a ceasefire.  Because I don’t think Hamas will accept a ceasefire if the blockade of Gaza continues.  It was because Israel refused to lift the blockade that Hamas refused to renew the ceasefire.  If the blockade is not lifted, it’s just a slow death for the Palestinians.  If Israel agrees to lift this blockade along with a ceasefire, then it will in effect have given in to the conditions that it refused last week.  So it’s very unclear whether Israel can propose a ceasefire that Hamas will accept and, vice versa, whether Hamas will accept the ceasefire that Israel is willing to give.

Press TV: Israel says its war is with Hamas, but at the same time it’s been blocking international humanitarian aid and of course medical supplies to Gaza and even preventing recently journalists from covering the event there.  I mean, there’s an Iranian saying that goes, if there’s no wish to help, then, at least, don’t prevent help from coming.  How moral do you think Israel’s attitude has been?

Finkelstein: We have to be clear that Israel’s war is not with Hamas.  Israel’s war is with the international community, including Iran.  In the last United Nations General Assembly vote on resolving the conflict, the vote was 164 to 7: the whole world on one side saying the two-state settlement and the resolution of the refugee question — the whole world including Iran — and the other side is the United States, Israel, and a few islands in the South Pacific.  Israel is defying the entire international community and trying to force its will on the Palestinians by denying them their elementary right to self-determination and statehood.

Norman G. Finkelstein received his doctorate in 1988 from the Department of Politics, Princeton University, for a thesis on the theory of Zionism.  Finkelstein is the author of five books: Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History (University of California Press, August 2005); The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering (Verso, 2000; expanded second edition, 2003); Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict (Verso, 1995; expanded second edition, 2003); (with Ruth Bettina Birn) A Nation on Trial: The Goldhagen Thesis and Historical Truth (Henry Holt, 1998); and The Rise and Fall of Palestine: A Personal Account of the Intifada Years (University of Minnesota: 1996).  This interview was broadcast by Press TV on 2 January 2009.  The text above is a transcript of the interview.