Necessary Illusions Copyright © 1989 by Noam Chomsky
Chapter 4: Adjuncts of Government Segment 4/10
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The reaction of the U.S. government and the media to world opinion as expressed through international institutions deserves closer attention. The same U.N. session provides a number of interesting examples. While all eyes were focused on the Washington summit, the INF treaty, and Reagan's achievements as a peacemaker,24 the U.N. voted on a series of disarmament resolutions. The General Assembly voted 154 to 1, with no abstentions, opposing the buildup of weapons in outer space, a resolution clearly aimed at Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars). It voted 135 to 1 against developing new weapons of mass destruction. In both cases, the United States was alone in opposition. The United States was joined by France in opposing a resolution, passed 143 to 2, calling for a comprehensive test ban treaty. Another vote calling for a halt to all nuclear test explosions passed by a vote of 137 to 3, with the United States joined by France and Britain in opposition. A week later, the New York Times Magazine published a review of the Star Wars program by its correspondent William Broad, observing that "since the dawn of the space age, many people have felt that man's final frontier, the edge of the universe, should be a preserve used exclusively for peaceful purposes" and raising the question of whether space "should be armed." But the expression of opinion on the matter by the world community merited no comment. All of these votes were unreported, and unmentioned in the review of "Setbacks to U.S. and Soviet" at the United Nations.25

Other New York Times reports on the same U.N. session provide further insight into the style of coverage of world opinion. Two days after the overwhelming U.N. votes in favor of the unreported disarmament resolutions that the United States opposed virtually alone, a Times story reported a vote on a resolution that "reaffirms the United Nations' previous strong condemnation of international terrorism in all its forms," calls "on all countries to cooperate in eradicating terrorism," and "invites the Secretary General to seek the views of member states on terrorism and on `the ways and means' of combating it." The resolution passed 128 to 1, Israel alone in opposition, with the United States abstaining and "the other 128 members present vot[ing] in favor." The headline reads: "Syria, Isolated at U.N., Drops Terrorism Plan."26

Five days later, the General Assembly passed a resolution condemning "Terrorism Wherever and by Whomever Committed." The vote was 153 to 2, with Israel and the United States opposed and Honduras alone abstaining. In particular, all NATO countries voted for it. This vote was unreported, and unmentioned in the December 26 review of the session. The U.S.-Israeli objection was presumably based on the statement that "nothing in the resolution would prejudice the right of peoples, particularly those under colonial or racist regimes, or under foreign occupation or other forms of domination, to struggle for self-determination, freedom and independence, or to seek and receive support for that end."27

Media refusal to report the isolation of the United States and Israel on these matters is of no small importance, as was illustrated a year later, when the Palestine National Council met in Algiers in November 1988 and passed an important political resolution which centered upon a declaration of Palestinian independence, issued on November 15. The resolution opened by stating that "This session [of the PNC] was crowned by the declaration of a Palestinian state on our Palestinian territory." This, however, was not to the taste of U.S. policymakers so that the matter quickly moved to the margins of media discussion. The PNC resolution went on to suggest modalities for implementing a political settlement that would include an independent national state for the Palestinians and "arrangements of security and peace for all the states of the region." Here we enter into areas that the U.S. government is willing to consider, so these issues quickly became the focus of media attention.28

The PNC resolution called for an international conference "on the basis of United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 and the assurance of the legitimate national rights of the Palestinian people and, first and foremost, their right to self-determination." In its statement the PNC "again declares its rejection of terror in all its forms, including state terror," and "renews its commitment to the United Nations resolutions that affirm the right of peoples to resist foreign occupation, colonialism and racial discrimination and their right to struggle for their independence." The latter phrases reiterate the content and wording of the unreported General Assembly resolution on terrorism. The rejection and denunciation of terrorism was nothing new. Thus, the PLO journal Shu'un Filastiniyya, May-June 1986, presents the text of a PLO proposal which calls for an international conference including "the Israeli government" and aimed at reaching "a peaceful settlement of the Palestinian problem on the basis of the pertinent United Nations resolutions including Security Council resolutions 242 and 338." The text continues: "The PLO declares its rejection and denunciation of terrorism, which had been assured in the Cairo Declaration of November, 1985."29

The U.S. government declared the PNC declaration unacceptable. The "crowning" achievement was of course dismissed. Turning to matters that Washington was willing to take seriously, first, the PNC acceptance of U.N. 242 was too "ambiguous," because it was accompanied by a call for recognition of the rights of the Palestinians alongside of those of Israel, and therefore failed to meet the demands of U.S.-Israeli rejectionism, in which the two countries are largely isolated.30 Second, the PNC did not meet U.S. conditions on renunciation of terror; that is, the PNC adopted the position of the international community, which the United States and Israel alone reject.

One can imagine two ways in which these events might be presented in the media. One would be to report that the highest Palestinian authority has issued a declaration of independence, officially accepting the principle of partition. Furthermore, the PNC has, even more clearly than before, expressed PLO support for the broad international consensus in favor of a political settlement that recognizes the rights of Israel and the Palestinians to self-determination and security, and has officially reaffirmed its support for the stand of the international community, including the NATO powers, on the matter of terrorism. Meanwhile, the United States and Israel remain largely isolated on the first issue, keeping to their rejectionist position and again barring the peace process, and are entirely isolated in their opposition to the right of people to struggle for freedom and self-determination against racist and colonial regimes and foreign occupation. And Israel alone refuses to accept U.N. 242; see below.

A second alternative would be to dismiss the declaration of independence as an irrelevance, to ignore completely the isolation of the United States and Israel on the other issues, and to accept the U.S. position as by definition correct, as the "moderate stance" and the basis for any further discussion. Then we conduct a debate over whether the Palestinians should be encouraged to progress further towards moderation now that, under our tutelage, they have taken these halting steps, or whether their stern mentor should simply dismiss these moves and demand that the PLO begin to be serious, or disappear.

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24 On coverage of the December 1987 and June 1988 summit meetings, see appendix IV, section 3.

25 U.N. Press Release GA/7591, 30 November; AP, Nov. 30; William Broad, "Star Wars is Coming, but Where is it Going?," NYT Magazine, Dec. 6, 1987.

26 Paul Lewis, NYT, Dec. 2, 1987.

27 U.N. Press release GA/7603, Dec. 7, 1987.

28 Excerpts from the U.S. Government translation appear in the New York Times, Nov. 17, 1988.

29 Yehoshafat Harkabi, Israel's Fateful Hour (Harper and Row, 1988, 31).

30 See appendix V, section 4.