Necessary Illusions Copyright © 1989 by Noam Chomsky
Appendix V Segment 14/33
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At the Algiers meeting of the Arab League in June 1988, the PLO circulated a document written by Arafat's personal spokesman Bassim Abu Sharif, submitted to the major U.S. media and reported in a cable to the State Department on June 8. The document once again explicitly accepted U.N. resolutions 242 and 338, explaining why the PLO will not accept them in isolation. The reason, long understood, is that "neither resolution says anything about the national rights of the Palestinian people, including their democratic right to self-expression and their national right to self-determination." "For that reason and that reason alone," Abu Sharif continued, "we have repeatedly said that we accept Resolutions 242 and 338 in the context of the U.N. Resolutions which do recognize the national rights of the Palestinian people." The same considerations are what underlie the insistence of the United States and Israel that the PLO accept U.N. 242 and 338 in isolation, thus implicitly abandoning their right to self-determination. The Abu Sharif statement was published in the small democratic socialist weekly In These Times. The Washington Post refused publication. The New York Times published excerpts as an opinion column, accompanied by a front-page news story headlined "An Aide to Arafat Comes Under Fire: Hard-Line Palestinian Groups Criticize the Adviser's Call for Talks With Israelis." The article focuses on the condemnation of Abu Sharif by George Habbash's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and groups that oppose the PLO, barely mentioning the contents of the proposal. It is possible that the Times withheld publication until they could frame the story in this manner.83

Recall that it was after all of this that the Times editors condemned the "sterile rejectionism" and "intransigence" of the Palestinians and the Arabs generally, in their June 13 editorial cited above. A few weeks later, Faisal Husseini, a leading West Bank moderate, was again placed under administrative detention, this time for publicly advocating the Abu Sharif proposal at a Peace Now meeting, a fact too insignificant to merit a story in the Times (see below). Peace Now's association with Husseini in mid-1988 could be interpreted as indicating oblique support for the nonrejectionist two-state proposal that Husseini advocated, though subsequent Peace Now statements make this interpretation doubtful.84 Husseini had emphasized -- accurately -- that he was taking a position long advanced by the PLO. If Peace Now did intend to signal in an ambiguous way its support for something like Husseini's position, then we could conclude that for the first time, Israel has a nonrejectionist peace movement comparable to the PLO, apart from the margins of the political system. These words, though accurate, would be virtually incomprehensible in respectable political discourse in the United States.85

The events of late 1988 again revealed the utility of this extensive government-media campaign to eliminate Arab and PLO initiatives from the historical record while depicting U.S.-Israeli efforts to derail a political settlement as "the peace process" and their rejectionism as moderation. As noted in the text, the Palestine National Council, meeting in Algiers, called for an international conference based on U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338 (which recognize Israeli rights but say nothing about the Palestinians) along with the Palestinian right of self-determination. One might have imagined that this very clear reaffirmation of the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians would have raised some problems for U.S.-Israeli rejectionism. The expected PNC announcement did, in fact, arouse such fears. They were expressed, for example, in a headline in the more dovish segment of the American Jewish press reading "Israel girding itself for Arab peace offer," all pretense that Palestinian moves towards peace would be welcome having been abandoned as the dread moment approached.86

But the fears of peace were quickly put to rest as the PNC peace proposal passed through the media filter. For the editors of the New York Times, it was simply "the same old fudge that Yasir Arafat has offered up for years," a "wasted opportunity," another refusal to abandon "the rejectionist formulas." Once again, a clear nonrejectionist stance is "rejectionism" because it does not accord with the U.S.-Israeli position rejecting Palestinian national rights. With regard to the PLO's reiteration of the position on terrorism endorsed by the entire world apart from the United States, Israel, and South Africa this is just "the old Arafat hedge," the editors scornfully observed.87

A few weeks later, the ever-annoying Arafat stated explicitly in Stockholm that the PNC declaration had "accepted the existence of Israel as a state in the region," reiterating in a joint declaration with American Jews that the PLO affirms "the principle incorporated in those United Nations resolutions that call for a two-state solution of Israel and Palestine" and calls for an international conference "to be held on the basis of U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338 and the right of the Palestinian people of self-determination without external interference." The Times again reacted with contempt, as did both major Israeli political groupings and the U.S. government. The editors explained that once again, "the endorsement of Resolutions 242 and 338 also contains vague allusions to other U.N. declarations, not excluding those that impugn Israel's legitimacy." That statement is flatly false: the only U.N. resolutions to which Arafat made reference are 242, 338, and those that recognize the right of the Palestinians to self-determination. The editors also reiterated the official position that Arafat did not go far enough in "rejecting terrorism," meaning that he did not join the U.S. government and the Times in their splendid isolation off the spectrum of world opinion, a simple matter of fact that the Newspaper of Record has refused to publish.88

The Times editors went on to say that the PLO "seems to have crept closer to accepting Israel's right to exist" though "how far the P.L.O. has moved is hard to tell." The U.S. must therefore stand fast, and "keep the pressure" on Arafat "for more clarity." Their meaning is transparent. Only when the Palestinians explicitly and without equivocation abandon their claim to human and national rights, in accord with State Department-Times directives, will their position be sufficiently clear to merit consideration.

The Los Angeles Times described the Algiers declaration as "the first official hint of a PLO interest" in abandoning their claim for "sovereignty over the whole of Palestine," though "it would be stretching things to use any word stronger than `hint' to describe what came out of the PLO meeting in Algiers." The PLO proposals for a two-state settlement incorporating the right of all states to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries, negotiations leading to mutual recognition, etc., for well over a decade, do not qualify as "hints" because they have been excised from the historical record. Particularly troublesome, the editors continue, was that "the PLO's proclamation doesn't define the boundaries of a Palestinian state"; Israel's refusal to do the same from its founding has never been troublesome. The Washington Post, anticipating the PNC statement, was hopeful, because "for the first time reasonable people can ask if Palestinians are at least moving toward peace"; fair enough, on the assumption that historical facts do not exist if they would compel us to acknowledge unpleasant truths about ourselves.89

Among columnists, the spectrum extended from doves who described the Algiers declaration as "a clumsy but potentially significant move" (Judith Kipper of the Brookings Institution), to George Will, who explained that the German word for "two-state settlement" is "Endloesung, meaning `final solution'." At the dovish extreme, Anthony Lewis applauded this move "in a constructive direction" even though the resolution "was not as clear as we would like," and the PLO must still be excluded from negotiations because of its failure to "unambiguously renounce all terrorism" -- that is, to join the United States and Israel (and, of course, South Africa) in defiance of the world. Boston University history professor Allen Weinstein, president of the Center for Democracy, questioned whether we can trust Arafat's alleged "moderation." We can test it, he suggested, by calling upon him to order a unilateral pause in the Palestinian uprising (Intifada) "as a valuable good faith gesture in shaping future US response to the legitimate demands of the Palestinian people"; Weinstein does not indicate what the United States and Israel would then do to meet these "legitimate demands," or why they did not respond to them prior to the Intifada.90

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83 In These Times, June 22, distributed several days earlier; New York Times, June 22, 1988. In subsequent weeks, there were continued indications of controversy within the PLO over the Abu Sharif initiative.

84 As of 1988, Peace Now -- unlike the PLO -- had never proposed a nonrejectionist peace settlement. Individuals associated with the group have done so, while others (notably Abba Eban) maintained an association with it while clearly advocating Labor Party rejectionism (see, e.g., his "The Central Question," Tikkun 1.2, 1986). As of April 1988, leading activists in Israel were unable to provide me with a single textual example of support for a two-state settlement, and I can find none. Funding literature of November 1988 cites Peace Now's willingness to "talk to Palestinians" who advocate a nonrejectionist political settlement, so that other Palestinians can be "encouraged to renounce violence and fend off rejectionists." But there is not a word to indicate that Peace Now joins their Palestinian interlocutors (specifically, Faisal Husseini) in adopting a nonrejectionist position. See below for further confirmation of this conclusion.

85 In the intellectual climate in the United States, often semi-hysterical on these matters, it is perhaps worth adding that the review of the factual record does not entail that the PLO is an admirable organization. In fact, it has proven over the years to be incompetent, corrupt, foolish, and often murderous, particularly in the early 1970s. These are matters that I have often discussed for the past twenty years. They have no relevance in the present connection, just as the long record of Zionist violence was not relevant to evaluating the right of Jews to be represented by the Zionists in 1947, or their right to national self-determination in Palestine.

86 Jewish Post and Opinion, Nov. 16, 1988.

87 See chapter 4. Editorial, NYT, Nov. 16, 1988.

88 Editorial, Dec. 8, 1988; Steve Lohr, "Arafat says P.L.O. Accepted Israel, NYT, same day; official statement, same day.

89 Editorials, LAT, Nov. 16, WP, Nov. 15, 1988.

90 Will, BG, Nov. 20; Kipper, Lewis, NYT, Dec. 1, 1988; Weinstein, BG, Dec. 4, 1988.