Necessary Illusions Copyright © 1989 by Noam Chomsky
Appendix V Segment 10/33
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The task of "historical engineering" has been accomplished with singular efficiency in the case of the Arab-Israeli conflict, arguably the most hazardous issue in world affairs, with a constant threat of devastating regional war and superpower conflict. The task has been to present the United States and Israel as "yearning for peace" and pursuing a "peace process," while in reality they have led the rejectionist camp and have been blocking peace initiatives that have broad international and regional support. This remained the case as 1988 came to an end with the diplomatic flurry discussed in chapter 4, to which we return.
From the late 1960s there has been a substantial consensus in favor of a political settlement on the internationally recognized (pre-June 1967) borders, with perhaps minor modifications. In the early stages, the terms of this broad consensus were restricted to the rights of existing states, and were, in fact, very much along the general lines of official U.S. policy as expressed in the Rogers plan of December 1969. By the mid-1970s the terms of the consensus shifted to include the concept of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with recognized borders, security guarantees, and other arrangements to safeguard the rights of all states in the region. At this point, the PLO and most Arab states approached or joined the international consensus. Prior to this, the consensus was strictly rejectionist, denying the right of self-determination to one of the two contending parties, the indigenous population of the former Palestine.
To avoid misunderstanding, I should stress that I am departing from standard convention and am using the term "rejectionist" with its actual meaning, referring to the position that rejects the right of self-determination of one of the contending parties. Thus, I am not adopting the conventional usage, which applies the term "rejectionist" only to those who deny the right of self-determination to Jews. The strictly racist conventional usage is designed to fortify, by tacit assumption, the doctrinal requirement that Palestinians lack such rights. Note also that evaluation of the status of such rights, in one or the other case, is a separate matter, which I do not address here.
The United States has been opposed to all of the arrangements of the international consensus, both the earlier plan that conformed to official U.S. policy and offered nothing to the Palestinians, and the later nonrejectionist alternative that recognized the parallel rights of both Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs. The United States preferred to block a political settlement that might have been feasible, and (rhetoric aside) to fund and support Israeli expansion into the territories. Both major political groupings in Israel have always adamantly opposed any political settlement that does not grant Israel effective control over the resources and much of the land in the occupied territories; they differ only in the modalities of this rejectionist stance, which denies the right of self-determination to the indigenous population.57 The U.S. administrations have generally supported the position of the Israeli Labor Alignment, which calls for a form of "territorial compromise" that would satisfy these basic demands. U.S.-Israeli rejectionism has been so extreme that Palestinians have even been denied the right to select their own representatives for eventual negotiations. Thus, the United States and Israel have adopted a position comparable to the refusal in 1947 to allow Jews to be represented by the Zionist organizations in the negotiations of that time, a position that would have been regarded as a reversion to Nazism had it been put forth.58 One would be hard put to find any questioning in the media of the U.S.-Israeli position in this regard, a fact of no small interest for those intrigued by the primitive nature of contemporary Western culture.
The media have had the task of presenting extreme rejectionism as accommodation and the soul of moderation, and suppressing the efforts of the Arab states and the PLO to advance a nonrejectionist settlement, depicting the PLO in particular as violent extremists. These responsibilities have been fulfilled with dedication, skill, and great success.59
U.S. efforts to derail a political settlement can be traced to 1971, when the administration opted for Kissinger's policy of "stalemate" and backed Israel's rejection of a full-scale peace proposal by President Sadat of Egypt that was framed in terms of the international consensus and official U.S. policy. These events therefore had to be excised from history. Consequently, standard doctrine holds that that it was only six years later, in 1977, that "Egyptian President Anwar Sadat broke through the wall of Arab rejectionism to fly to Jerusalem and offer peace to Israel in the Israeli Knesset"60 -- on terms less acceptable to Israel than those of his rejected proposal six years earlier, which offered nothing to the Palestinians. It would be difficult to discover anyone who is willing to break ranks on this crucial doctrine of the propaganda system.
In the years between, the October 1973 war had taught Kissinger and the Israeli leadership that Egypt could not simply be dismissed with contempt, as had been assumed in the mood of post-1967 triumphalism. They therefore moved to the next best policy of excluding the major Arab deterrent from the conflict so that Israel would be free, with U.S. support reaching phenomenal levels, to integrate the bulk of the occupied territories and attack its northern neighbor while serving the United States as a "strategic asset." This policy was consummated -- whatever the intentions of the participants might have been -- at Camp David in 1978-79. In this context, Sadat's 1977 peace initiative was admissible.
An associated doctrine is that Sadat's "break with Arab rejectionism" in 1977 remains unique. It is therefore necessary to expunge from the record such events as the session of the U.N. Security Council in January 1976, when the United States vetoed a resolution advanced by Jordan, Syria, and Egypt, supported by the PLO and even "prepared" by it according to Israel, which called for a two-state diplomatic settlement in the terms of the international consensus, with territorial and security guarantees. On the rights of Israel, the proposal of the Arab "confrontation states" and the PLO reiterated the wording of U.N. Resolution 242, calling for "appropriate arrangements...to guarantee...the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of all states in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries." This is the first of many endorsements of U.N. 242 by the PLO, with the backing of the major Arab states.
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56 Addendum to p. 122.
57 There has been a most remarkable campaign in the United States to justify this stance by denying that the Palestinians are more than recent immigrants, occasioned by a book by Joan Peters that received almost unanimous applause in a euphoric reception among American intellectuals. For discussion of this most illuminating episode of recent intellectual history, which actually merits much closer study, see essays by Norman Finkelstein and Edward Said in Said and Hitchens, Blaming the Victims. Finkelstein's important study exposing the fraud, which was well known early on in the propaganda campaign, was unpublishable in the United States. It was only after the book appeared in England, and was utterly demolished by reviewers (in part, relying on Finkelstein's unpublishable analysis), that its American enthusiasts, or at least the less audacious among them, broke ranks and dropped the matter, some claiming falsely that they had not known before about the fraud that was being perpetrated with their assistance. This is a revealing story that has yet to be properly told.
58 Like any historical comparison, this one is inexact in some ways. To mention only the most obvious discrepancy, and the one least likely to be recognized, support for the PLO among the Palestinians, by all available evidence, is far beyond support among Jews for the Zionist organizations in the mid-1940s.
59 For further details and the background factors, see Fateful Triangle; Pirates and Emperors; and my articles "The Palestinian Uprising," Z Magazine, May 1988, and "The U.S. and the Middle East" (see chapter 3, note 23). The latter also reviews some important documentation from the Israeli diplomatic record. See the same sources for references, where not cited below.
60 Mary Curtius, Boston Globe Magazine, Aug. 14, 1988. The example is more interesting than most, because Curtius is an independent and knowledgeable Middle East correspondent. For a sample of many other cases, see Fateful Triangle, chapter 3, 2.4.2. Major journals have even rejected letters to the editor correcting false statements on this matter.