Necessary Illusions Copyright © 1989 by Noam Chomsky
Appendix V Segment 18/33
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The version presented by the State Department and the media is false in virtually every particular. That fact, however, makes not the slightest difference. The necessary illusions have been established. Accordingly, Arafat can be held to the "pledges" that he has not made, and the Palestinians can be punished if they fail to live up to these solemn commitments. Note again the close similarity to the techniques adopted to undermine the Esquipulas Accord, among other familiar cases.
Seeking to extract what advantages one might from these developments, William Safire expatiated on the crucial difference between the words "condemn" and "renounce." True, he conceded, Arafat had previously "condemned" terrorism (as well as "rejecting" terrorism, he fails to add), but now he had followed our orders and "renounced" it, tacitly conceding that he had previously endorsed it. From the point of view of the security of Israel -- Safire's alleged concern -- or any other issue of possible human significance, the difference is so small as to be near invisible. What impresses Safire, however, is that the United States has imposed a satisfying form of humiliation on the victims of U.S.-Israeli repression and rejectionism, righteously forcing them to concede that they, and they alone, have sinned.105 At the other extreme of the acceptable political spectrum, Paul Berman urges Israel to "take your enemy's watery words and dig a moat for them, and...try to seal your enemy behind a channel of his own promises. By making him repeat his words endlessly, and linking big words to tiny measurable commitments, and the tiny to the large." There has been progress, "if only that Arafat's lies flow today in a better direction than when he was dazzling his own people with news of the secular democratic state to come," Berman continues, while extolling Abba Eban (the "grand veteran of Israeli Labor," and long-time advocate of its rejectionism) and Irving Howe ("easy and weighty, socialism's truest voice," long known for silence over Israeli atrocities or denial of them, and venomous denunciation of Daniel Berrigan, the New Left from Palo Alto to Scarsdale, and an array of other villains whose crime was to tell truths that he preferred not be heard). Neither Safire nor Berman, nor the spectrum between, call upon Israel and the United States to "renounce" their terrorism and their rejection of any political settlement; there are no injunctions that these regimes must be sealed behind a channel of their own promises, compelled to repeat their words of contrition and renunciation endlessly, and to direct their lies along a better course. And the necessary illusions about the diplomatic history remain firmly in place. The imperial arrogance and racist contempt for those in our way are as striking as the easy dismissal of unacceptable fact.106
While all eyes were focussed on Palestinian ambiguity, the press reported that "soldiers raiding the West Bank village of Deir al-Ghusun" shot and killed an Arab, among the many who were killed and wounded in a new outburst of Israeli violence with daily killings. To further underscore the U.S.-Israeli attitude towards terrorism, the U.S. vetoed a Security Council resolution deploring a large-scale Israeli armed attack near Beirut. Shimon Peres, praised in the media as Israel's leading dove, explained that there is no Palestinian partner for negotiations and that Palestinians have no right of national self-determination because Israel determines that their cultural relations with Jordan bar any "notion of artificially dividing the Palestinian people" -- though Israel will allow the people of the West Bank and Gaza "free and secret elections" without Israeli interference, once they abandon in advance the one principle that they would uphold, with near unanimity, in free elections. Israel formed a coalition government based on the familiar demands of both major political groupings: "No talks with the P.L.O. for sure, no Palestinian state between Jordan and the Mediterranean, and no retreat to the 1967 borders." The coalition agreement also called for up to eight new settlements a year in the occupied territories, with U.S. funds.107
There are no ambiguities here. Similarly, the media remain unwavering in their services to derailing any possible peace process as long as Washington persists in its own unambiguous rejectionism.
One aspect of this service is suppression of the position of the United States after the spectacular achievement of U.S. diplomacy. According to the Israeli press, Washington advised Israel to stop requesting that the United States terminate its dialogue with the PLO because these requests "only add significance to the dialogue." Defense Minister Rabin expressed his great satisfaction with the dialogue in late February because it was a delaying action, intended to grant Israel at least a year to suppress the Intifada by "harsh military and economic pressure." This interpretation is reinforced by the protocols of the first meeting between the United States and the PLO in Tunis. These were leaked to the Egyptian journal Al-Mussawar, which is close to President Mubarak, and published in translation by the Jerusalem Post, which could hardly contain its pleasure over the fact that "the American representative adopted the Israeli positions." U.S. Ambassador to Tunisia Robert Pelletreau stated two crucial conditions: the PLO must call off the Intifada, and must abandon the idea of an international conference, accepting the U.S. demand for direct negotiations between the PLO and Israel (which Israel, incidentally, refuses). With regard to the Intifada, the U.S. position is that
Undoubtedly the internal struggles that we are witnessing in the occupied territories aim to undermine the security and stability of the State of Israel, and we therefore demand cessation of those riots, which we view as terrorist acts against Israel. This is especially true as we know you are directing, from outside the territories, those riots which are sometimes very violent.108
The U.S. position, then, is that the Palestinian uprising is terrorism aimed at destruction of Israel, and the PLO must order it to cease. Once the Intifada is brought to a halt, matters will revert to the situation that prevailed before, when the U.S. government cheerfully supported and lavishly funded Israel's brutal repression of the population and its steps towards integration of the territories within Israel, while the media systematically avoided the ongoing atrocities, praised the "benign" occupation, and hailed the occupiers as "a society in which moral sensitivity is a principle of political life" (New York Times, right after the Sabra-Shatila massacres); and the left-liberal intelligentsia praised this "ebullient democracy" striding towards democratic socialism (Irving Howe) while slandering those who called for a political settlement and had the impudence and temerity to observe, quite inadequately, that all was not quite as delightful as was being depicted.109
With regard to direct negotiations, the matter is hardly more subtle. The international community supports a political settlement; the United States does not. Therefore, the international community must be excluded from any role, because it would be an irritant, pressing for the kind of political settlement that the U.S. has rejected for many years. More generally, as we have seen in other contexts too, the international community must be excluded as much as possible from interfering on U.S. turf -- much of the world, including the Middle East -- though the U.S. is willing to turn to it when preferred methods of exercising control have failed. In "direct negotiations," without the interference of those who might press for peace, Israel can continue (with U.S. support) to reject any proposal for meaningful negotiations or political settlement, even if Israel can be brought to take part in the charade.
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105 Safire claims that "Mr. Arafat, by accepting the hated word renounce, promised to cut out what his organization had been doing in the past," by which he apparently means that Arafat promised to cut out what he, Safire, considers to be terrorism. That, however, plainly does not follow; it only follows that Arafat promised to cut out what he, Arafat, considers terrorism. The issue turns again on the right of struggle for self-determination against colonialist and racist regimes and foreign occupation, accepted by the entire world apart from the United States and Israel. Safire's contorted argument misses this point and thus collapses.
106 Safire, NYT Magazine, Jan. 1; Berman, "What is a Jew?," Village Voice, Jan. 3, 1989. On Howe's actual role over many years, see the references of note 96.
107 BG, Dec. 19; NYT; Peres, Op-Ed, NYT, Dec. 21; John Kifner, NYT, Dec. 20, 1988. On casualties, see Daoud Kuttab, Middle East International, Jan. 20, 1989, citing figures of thirty-one killed (including children) from mid-December to mid-January, the highest monthly total since the preceding March, and 1,000 injured. The horrifying details are regularly reported in the Hebrew press. See, for example, Yizhar Be'er, Kol Ha'ir, Dec. 30, 1988, reporting the results of an intensive investigation of the "day of slaughter" in Nablus on December 16, two days after Arafat allegedly said the magic words. For some details, see my article in Z Magazine, March 1989.
108 Hadashot, Feb. 14; Rabin, Nahum Barnea, Yediot Ahronot, Feb. 24; JP, Jan. 6, 1989. Emphasis in JP. It is not impossible that U.S. and Israeli intelligence actually believe that the Intifada was initiated by the PLO and is directed by it. There is ample evidence from the documentary record of the incapacity of intelligence, the national political police, or the political leadership to comprehend the reality of popular movements and popular struggles. The idea is simply too threatening, and cannot be faced or comprehended. It is also necessary to bear in mind the ideological fanaticism that often colors intelligence reports and the higher-level interpretation of them, also amply documented.
109 See references cited earlier; NYT, Nov. 6, 1982.