Monday, April 27, 2009

Ahmadinejad's "free and fair choice" for "Palestinians"

Jeffrey Goldberg points out that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was repeating something he's said many times when he responded as follows to George Stephanopoulos' question whether Iran would accept a two-state solution:
Whatever decision they take is fine with us. We are not going to determine anything. Whatever decision they take, we will support that. We think that is the right of the Palestinian people, however we fully expect other states to so as well.
True enough -- Ahmadinejad has said this many times. Goldberg puts no credence whatever in Ahmadinejad's disavowal of violent intent, so he either didn't notice or doesn't think it worthwhile to point out that this is a trick response -- it doesn't mean what westerners take it to mean.

The trick is apparent in this earlier instance cited by Goldberg:
In 2007, Ahmadinejad told Scott Pelley of 60 Minutes, "The decision rests with the Palestinian people. This is exactly what I'm saying." Pelley asked him, "And if that decision is a two-state solution, you're good with that? You could support a two-state solution?" His response: "Well, why are you prejudging what will happen? Let's pave the ground first for a free and fair choice. And once they make their choice, we must respect that. All the people, all the Palestinian people must be given this opportunity, allow them to make their own decisions" (my emphasis).
Ahmadinejad spelled out more openly what he means by "a free and fair choice" at a "Holocaust Conference" in Teheran in December 2006. The Iranian artist Arash Nourouzi, in an article carefully parsing Western mistranslations of Ahmadinejad's various remarks about Israel, pieces this translation together from various sources:
"As the Soviet Union disappeared, the Zionist regime will also vanish and humanity will be liberated."

He said elections should be held among "Jews, Christians and Muslims so the population of Palestine can select their government and destiny for themselves in a democratic manner.
So: a "free and fair choice" is a referendum including everyone living within the boundaries of Israel and the occupied territories. A referendum, in other words, that would vote Israel out of existence.

Perfectly logical if you accept Ahmadinejad's premise that the "Zionist regime" is fundamentally illegitimate. It is part and parcel with the stance that Iran has taken against Israel from Khomeini's time (see Nourouzi again): the "Zionist regime" is evil, it will "vanish from the page of time" as did the Soviet Union, the Shah of Iran's regime, and Saddam's, but Iran has no intention of precipitating this inevitable end by direct attack.

Given the vitriolic hatred of Ahmadinejad's statements about Israel, Goldberg and other friends of Israel have good cause to doubt Iran's disavowals of intent to themselves make Israel "vanish from the page of time." But the position is not variable, or even particularly ambiguous. In fact it arguably bears some resemblance to the U.S. Cold War stance vis-a-vis the Soviet Union as laid out in George Kennan's famous telegram: be patient, oppose the adversary's aims by means short of all-out war, and confidently anticipate its collapse from internal (in this case, demographic) pressures.

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