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For many years, the US has stood virtually alone in blocking a diplomatic settlement in the Middle East. The UN record brings out the facts and the issues clearly. The Security Council was eliminated as a forum years ago, thanks to the US veto. The General Assembly regularly passes resolutions calling for a conference on the Arab-Israel conflict, most recently, in December 1990 (144-2, US and Israel in opposition). In December 1989, the vote was 151-3, Dominica joining the two rejectionist states; a year earlier, 138-2; and so on. The US has also barred other initiatives. Given US power, its opposition amounts to a veto. Accordingly, the peace process has been effectively deterred.
The ideological system naturally presents the picture differently. We read constantly that the Middle East is "littered with American peace plans,"23 and that US efforts have run aground because of the fanaticism of Middle East extremists. Such descriptions conform to the conventions: the "peace process" is restricted to US government initiatives. It follows as a matter of logic that the US is always advancing the peace process, even as it bars efforts to achieve peace, in splendid isolation. It is all really quite simple, once the norms of political correctness are understood.
Departing from these norms, it is easy to understand the traditional US opposition to the peace process. The UN resolutions call for an international conference, and the US brooks no interference in what President Eisenhower described as the most "strategically important area in the world," with its enormous energy reserves. As Henry Kissinger explained in a private communication, one of his major policy goals was "to ensure that the Europeans and Japanese did not get involved in the diplomacy," a goal achieved at Camp David in 1978, and again today (the official "peace process"). Furthermore, UN and other initiatives endorse a Palestinian right of self-determination, which would entail Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories. While there has been elite disagreement over the matter, the prevailing judgment has been that enhancement of Israeli power contributes to US domination of the region. For such reasons, the US has always blocked attempts at diplomatic resolution.24
It should be noted that US hostility to diplomacy in the Middle East is nothing unusual. Southeast Asian and Central American conflicts provide examples familiar to people not confined by doctrinal constraints. The same has been true commonly with regard to arms control and other issues. These are natural concomitants of the role of global enforcer, committed to policies with little appeal to targeted populations but with ample force at the ready.
The basic terms of the international consensus on the Arab-Israel conflict were expressed in a resolution brought to the Security Council in January 1976, calling for a settlement on the pre-June 1967 borders (the Green Line) with "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," including Israel and a new Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The resolution was backed by Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and the PLO -- in fact "prepared" by the PLO according to Israel's UN Ambassador Haim Herzog, now President. It was strenuously opposed by Israel and vetoed by the United States.
These facts are automatically out of history, along with others unacceptable to US power, including repeated PLO initiatives through the 1980s calling for negotiations with Israel leading to mutual recognition. The truth has been distorted beyond recognition, particularly by the Newspaper of Record. Its correspondent Thomas Friedman has shown particular dedication to the task. His effective suppression of the facts now permits him to spin wondrous tales about "the birth of a new pragmatism among the Palestinians" from the late 1980s, raised "another important notch" through Baker's benign influence at Madrid. Until Madrid, Friedman continues, "both sides have hidden behind [the] argument...that there is no one on the other side with whom to negotiate" -- Timesspeak for the fact that the PLO has for years been calling on Israel to negotiate, but Israel refuses. The Palestinians at Madrid called "explicitly for a two-state solution," Friedman writes admiringly -- so different from the despised PLO, which supported (or perhaps "prepared") the 1976 UN resolution and was calling for negotiations to this end through the 1980s.25
Lying behind these gambits is the belief that US-backed Israeli violence has finally brought the Palestinians to heel. The great achievement of Madrid, we read, was "the Palestinian self-adjustment to the real world," Palestinian acceptance of "a period of autonomy under continued Israeli domination"; meanwhile, Israel can build the facts of its permanent domination with US aid. This willingness to follow US orders -- "the real world" -- has "tossed the negative stereotypes out the window," Times reporter Clyde Haberman continues, referring to the stereotypes invented and carefully cultivated by the Times and its colleagues for many years. With their "new pragmatism," Palestinians are at last willing "to talk to Israel, to set aside all-or-nothing demands, to accept half a loaf in the form of interim self-rule under Israeli domination." Richard C. Hottelet adds that the new leadership was granted the honor of sitting "at the table with the President of the United States" during "James Baker's masterpiece" because "they are not demanding all or nothing, as their predecssors did for 70 years."26 Others chimed in with similar flights of fancy.
The PLO can be justly condemned for many crimes and stupidities. But it is beyond question that in the real real world, it has for years been calling for a two-state settlement in accord with the international consensus, and for negotiations with Israel leading to mutual recognition. But reality has been effectively purged from the doctrinal system.
Over the years, the US has proceeded to implement its unilateral rejectionist program. The current circumstances afford an opportunity to carry the process further. Gorbachev's presence at Madrid was intended to provide a thin disguise for unilateral US control; he was acceptable as the powerless leader of a country fading into oblivion. The "peace process" is structured in accordance with US intentions. Palestinians are not permitted to select their own representatives, and those who pass US-Israel inspection are part of a Jordanian delegation. The US alone dictates the terms. The peace process that the world has sought for many years can be consigned to the ash heap of history.
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23 Editorial, Boston Globe, Oct. 20, 1991.
24 Eisenhower, Steven Spiegel, The Other Arab-Israeli Conflict (Chicago, 1985, 51); Kissinger, Towards a New Cold War, 457n.
25 Friedman, NYT, Nov. 4, 1991. On his remarkable record, see Necessary Illusions, particularly appendix 5.4.
26 Haberman, NYT, Nov. 10, 17; Hottelet, Christian Science Monitor, Nov. 25, 1991.