Necessary Illusions Copyright © 1989 by Noam Chomsky
Appendix V Segment 15/33
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One of the most intriguing reactions was in the Christian Science Monitor, which has been unusual in its occasional willingness to recognize that Palestinians too might have human rights, including the right to national self-determination that is accorded to Israeli Jews. The Monitor presented two columns: the president of the American Jewish Committee presented the case for denying a visa to Arafat and thus sending a message to the PLO that "it must stop trying to destroy Israel," while Monitor correspondent Scott Pendelton, representing the opposite pole of expressible opinion, urged Shultz to reconsider the decision to bar Arafat from speaking at the United Nations. After all, Pendelton argued, "with the United States' encouragement, PLO moderation had been learning to crawl. Our ultimate aim, supposedly, was to help it to walk." Facts aside, the racist arrogance of the formulation is worthy of note. Pendelton goes on to sketch the outlines of a fair settlement. Since "our primary concern is Israel's security," the only question is: "How far can we go toward addressing Palestinians' grievances?" The basic principle, then, is that the indigenous population simply does not have the human rights of Jews. "Giving Palestinians something to lose would guarantee their good behavior," Pendelton urges, adopting the Thomas Friedman stance. So they ought to be granted some kind of "state," but "Israel should expect to retain military bases in the West Bank and Gaza, overflight rights, and lots more stuff"; this "stuff" remains unspecified, except that it will allow Israel to "walk away with everything it needs" in addition to peace. As for the Palestinians, they should understand that if they "so much as look funny at Israel, we'll step back and let Israel annex your new state and drive all you people into the sea." "If Arafat agrees to such a brutally blunt condition," then he will have made a statement of "honest intentions" that is clear enough for us, the advocate of the doves concludes.91

In short, sheer unalloyed rejectionism throughout, laced with racist contempt for the lesser breeds. The entire spectrum is a counterpart to extremist elements among the Arabs.

Much attention is given throughout to the reaction of American Jewish leaders and organizations. The doves among them described Arafat's explicit acceptance of Israel in a two-state settlement as "a further small step on the road, though there were reasons to fear that the expressed attitudes would not survive a political settlement" (Arthur Hertzberg). The director of the Anti-Defamation League criticized Arafat's statement as "encumbered" and "conditional," when what is needed is "utter clarity" (Abraham Foxman). The chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations" described Arafat's declarations as "a thinly disguised version of the same old propaganda line" and dismissed his acceptance of Israel as a "meaningless" recognition of existing reality; his desire to destroy Israel is "unmitigated," and that is all that counts (Morris Abram).92 In short, the only satisfactory step for the Palestinians is national suicide, with "utter clarity." The meaning of these positions is not discussed.

In Israel, Peace Now reacted to these developments by taking a "new position" that "has surprised many," the Israeli press commented: namely, Peace Now published an advertisement calling for negotiations with the PLO, thus abandoning the extreme form of rejectionism that denies the Palestinians even the right to select their own representatives for negotiations. Peace Now did not, however, move towards a political position of the sort that the PLO had advanced in January 1976 and repeatedly since, calling for a peaceful two-state political settlement. The Peace Now ad asserted falsely that "in Algiers the PLO abandoned the path of rejection...and adopted the path of political compromise"; that step had been taken thirteen years earlier when the PLO backed (or, if the president of Israel can be believed, "prepared") the proposals rejected by Israel and the United States, and that step had yet to be taken by Peace Now. The ad urged that Israel "speak with the PLO" to determine "if the PLO has really adopted the path of peace as declared in Algiers." The advice is sound, except that it omits the major question: has Israel, or Peace Now, finally adopted the path of peace? Peace Now spokesman Tsali Reshef stated that "It isn't we who have undergone a transformation so much as the PLO," with its "revolutionary change" in Algiers, recognizing U.N. 242 and a two-state settlement. The change in Algiers was anything but revolutionary, as the record clearly indicates. What had changed was that Peace Now had now separated itself slightly from Labor Party rejectionism, moving along with mainstream opinion -- which, a few months later and after no further change of any significance in the PLO position as we will see, registered support for negotiations with the PLO by a margin of 54 percent to 44 percent.93

While one can, quite properly, point to ambiguities in PLO formulations, to their corruption, deceit, foolishness, and terror, that shameful record is praiseworthy in comparison with that of the Israeli Labor Party and Peace Now, which still had not reached the level of commitment to a peaceful settlement articulated by the PLO and the "confrontation states" well over a decade earlier.

Notably missing from the discussion in the U.S. media was any suggestion that the United States or Israel should depart from their clear and unambiguous rejection of Palestinian rights, or should renounce terrorism.94 There is no thought that denial of Palestinian self-determination is a form of "Endloesung." The only question that may be considered is whether the Palestinians have moved far enough towards our position, which is by definition the right one, therefore unquestioned. The doves say that the Palestinians are learning, and we should reward them for their painfully slow progress; the hawks warn that it is all fraud and delusion. The more forthcoming argue that for the first time the Palestinians have made sounds that reasonable people might listen to, departing from the "old Arafat fudge": namely, endorsement of a two-state settlement based on the right of self-determination of both peoples, the call for negotiations and mutual recognition, and the other proposals that do not even qualify as "hints." The tough-minded refuse to concede even that. A well-crafted history is a powerful instrument.

December 1988 brought a series of events that provide yet another dramatic indication of the ability of the media to adapt instantaneously to the needs of state propaganda. The media consensus, as expressed by the editors of the New York Times, is that in mid-December the PLO underwent a "seismic shift of attitude," for the first time "advanc[ing] towards a serious negotiating position." Recognizing that the PLO had now met all U.S. demands, Washington made the "momentous decision" to talk with them. It is now "reality time" in the Middle East, Thomas Friedman added; whether there will be any progress depends "in large part on how the P.L.O. leadership responds to the dose of reality they are expected to get in their talks with United States diplomats."95

Let us now turn to what actually occurred.

We must, first of all, not overlook the broader context. The Palestinian uprising from December 1987 undermined the assumption that the Palestinians could simply be disregarded. Their resistance was becoming costly to Israel on many levels, a threat to its services to the United States and perhaps even to its social and economic integrity. Israeli rejectionists of both Labor and Likud began to recognize that the Palestinians could not be as easily suppressed as they had supposed, joining a few others who had already come to this conclusion. U.S. analysts were drawing the same conclusions. The rejectionism of the U.S. intellectual community, overwhelmingly dominant, also was beginning to erode, accelerating as the costs of the Intifada to Israel became clear. Even some of the leading hatchet men, who for years had been denouncing advocates of a political settlement as left fascists, self-hating Jews, and the like while producing a steady stream of apologetics for Israeli repression and atrocities, began to fashion for themselves a role as long-term advocates of a political settlement and critics of Israel's lack of compassion (typically blaming the Likud government and exculpating Labor, which has a comparable record, worse in some respects).96 Israel's costly failures in Lebanon from 1982 had led to a similar reassessment, as had Arab military successes in the October 1973 war, which made it clear that the Arab states could not simply be ignored and that it would be best for Israel and the United States to arrange a Sinai settlement. Some change in policy towards the Palestinians, at least at a symbolic level, was therefore likely, on the basis of a reassessment of costs. Against this background, it was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain the illusions that had served for so long. Correspondingly, from early 1988 Arab peace initiatives began to be reported, however deceptively, and to elicit some kind of limited reaction.

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91 CSM, Dec. 8, 1988.

92 Peter Steinfels, Dec. 8, 1988.

93 Aryeh Dayan, Kol Ha'ir, Nov. 25; Peace Now advertisement, Nov. 23; poll, Yediot Ahronot, Dec. 23, 1988.

94 An exception is a column by William Raspberry, pointing out that Israel's commitment to terror continues unabated and that "the real sticking point for Israel is not PLO `ambiguity' but insistence that the Palestinians no less than Israelis have a right to a homeland" (WP, Dec. 14, 1988). With regard to terror, the same can be said about the United States. It is difficult to overlook the fact that this near-unique recognition of reality was written by one of the few Black columnists in the United States.

95 Editorial, NYT, Dec. 21, 1988; Friedman, "Reality Time in Mideast," NYT, Dec. 19, 1988. On Friedman's version of "reality," see below.

96 On the actual record of apologetics for Israel and venomous attack on anyone who departed from the party line, quickly effaced from history when the conditions of respectability changed, see Peace in the Middle East?, chapter 5; Fateful Triangle, 146f., 263f., 378f. Some of the transitions are startling.