Chomsky on the PLO

 (From understanding power p310)

… I’ve always thought that the P.L.O. is the most corrupt and incompetent Third World movement I’ve ever seen.87 I mean, they’ve presented themselves all these years as, you know, revolutionaries waving around guns, Marx, etc.—but they’re basically conservative nationalists, and they always were conservative nationalists: the rest was all pretense.

In fact, part of the reason for the failure of the whole Palestinian cause is that the P.L.O. is the only Third World leadership I’ve ever seen that didn’t try to stimulate or support—or even help)—any kind of international solidarity group. Even the North Koreans, crazy as they are, have made efforts to try to get popular support in the United States. But the Palestinian leadership never did. And it’s not because they weren’t told that it would be a good idea—I mean, there were people like, say, Ed Said [Palestinian-American professor], who were trying to get them to do that for years, and I was even involved in it myself. But they just couldn’t hear it. Their conception of the way politics works is that it’s arranged by rich guys sitting in back rooms who work out deals together, and the population’s irrelevant. They haven’t the slightest conception of the way a democratic system functions. So while it’s true we don’t have like a stellar democracy in the United States, what the population thinks and does makes a difference here—a big difference—and there are mechanisms to influence things. But the P.L.O. leadership has just never understood that.

The extent of this is really astonishing, actually. Just to give you one example of it, back in the early 1980s, when South End Press [a radical American publishing collective] was first coming along, it was publishing some books which could have been very useful for Palestinians. So one of the books it published was a very good war diary about the 1982 Lebanon war, written by a well-known Israeli military officer who was one of the founders of the Israeli army actually, a guy named Dov Yermiya, who’s a very respected guy and a decent human being—and he was absolutely horrified by what was going on during Israel’s attack on Lebanon. So he wrote a war diary which was published in Hebrew and was very different from anything you ever heard here in the mainstream, giving an accurate picture of what was going on, which was massive atrocities.88 Well, obviously no publisher in the United States was going to touch it, but South End did publish it in English translation—and of course, it never got reviewed, no library would pick it up, nobody knows it exists, and so on; I had a book on the Middle East which was the same story, and there were a couple others like that.

Well, there was an approach to the P.L.O. about all of this—and incidentally, the P.L.O. had tons of money. I mean, part of their problem was that they were way too rich for their own good: they had a ton of money because the rich Arab states were trying to buy them off so they wouldn’t cause them any trouble. So you know, Arafat was able to broker billion-dollar loans to Hungary, and all this kind of crazy business. But anyway, the P.L.O. had tons of money, and there was a proposal to try to get them just to purchase books—like, say, Yermiya’s book—and send them to libraries so the book would be in American public libraries: it was nothing more than that.

Okay, it got up to the P.L.O. leadership, and they refused. Or rather, they would agree to do it only if the book was published with a P.L.O. imprint on it, saying, you know, “Published with the support of the P.L.O.” Well you can guess what it would mean if you published a book in the United States with that imprint on it—so that was the end of that idea. But just to do something like buying books which never would be reviewed and putting them in libraries which aren’t going to buy them on their own, as a way to maybe help Palestinians in refugee camps who are being smashed to pieces in Beirut [the Lebanese city that was the focus of Israel’s attack]_ that they wouldn’t do. And in fact, that’s just symbolic: they would do nothing that would help to build up support for the really suffering people who they were supposed to represent—just because they were playing a different game. Their game was, “We’re going to make a deal with Kissinger or Nixon, or some rich guy in a back room, and then our problems will be over.” Well, of course that will never work.

Actually, the corruption of the P.L.O. has just infuriated Palestinians in the Territories, I should say. I was in the Territories back in 1988 or so, and when you went into, say, the old city of Nablus, or villages, and talked to organizers or activists, their hatred and contempt of the P.L.O. was just extraordinary. They were very bitter about it—about the robbery and the corruption and everything else—but they just said: look, it’s the best we’ve got, that’s our international image, you want to talk diplomacy you’ve got to talk to them.

However, by about 1992 or ’93 even that kind of grudging acceptance had begun to collapse. There was a lot of opposition to the Arafat leadership in the Territories—and in the refugee camps in Lebanon, there were open calls for his resignation, calls for democratizing the P.L.O., and so on. The Israeli press knew all about it—they cover the Territories pretty well—and certainly Israeli intelligence knew about it, because they’ve got the place honeycombed. So there were articles by doves in the Israeli press around the summer of 1993 or so, saying: now’s a good time to deal with the P.L.O., because they’re going to give away everything—since their support is so weak inside the Occupied Territories, the last chance the P.L.O. leadership has to hang on to power is to be our agents, Israeli agents. Israeli doves wrote articles about that, and of course the Israeli government knew it.89

Well, okay, that whole phenomenon led to the Oslo Agreements—and now where the P.L.O. leadership fits in is just as part of the standard Third World model: they are the ruling Third World elite. So take a classic case, look at the history of India for a couple hundred years under the British Empire: the country was run by Indians, not by British—the bureaucrats who actually ran things were Indians, the soldiers who beat people up and smashed their heads were Indians. There was an Indian leadership which became very rich and privileged by being the agents of the British imperial system—and it’s the same thing everywhere else. So for example, if you look at Southern Africa in the more recent period, the most brutal atrocities were carried out by black soldiers, who were basically mercenaries for the white racist South African regime. And every Third World country is like that. Whatever you want to call it, the whole American sort of “neocolonial system”—El Salvador, Brazil, the Philippines, and so on—is not run by Americans. The U.S. may be in the background, and when things get out of hand you may send in the American army or something—but basically it’s all being run by local agents of the imperial power, whose internal power depends on their support from the outside, but who very much enrich themselves by their client ruler status. Alright, that’s the standard colonial relationship, and the P.L.O. is intending to play that role.

So they have a huge security force—nobody really knows how big it is, because it’s secret, but they may have thirty or forty thousand men enlisted. They surely have one of the highest densities of police per capita in the world, if not the highest. They work very closely with the Israeli secret services and the Israeli army. They’re very brutal.90 And they’re making a ton of money. So you go to places like Gaza which are just collapsing, there are people starving in the streets—and there’s also a ton of construction, new fancy restaurants, hotels, a lot of Palestinian investors going in and making plenty of money: it’s the standard Third World pattern, that’s the way the whole Third World is organized. And you see it everywhere these days— Eastern Europe is becoming that way too right now. I mean, about a year ago the per capita purchasing rate of Mercedes-Benzes in Moscow was higher than it was in New York, because there is tremendous wealth. Meanwhile, half a million more people are dying every year in Russia than in the 1980s; mortality for men has gone down seven or eight years on average in the last few years; and on and on.91

Okay, that’s the Third World. And that’s the way the P.L.O. leadership sees its future—and with some justice too, you know, because otherwise they probably would have been kicked out. So now that’s their role, to oversee all of this, and they’ll put up with any humiliation, it doesn’t matter what. I mean, you look at the terms of the peace treaty, it was just gratuitous humiliation. But the P.L.O. is perfectly happy to take it. And,they’ll get rich, they’ll have the guns, and they’ll be the equivalent of the elite in India, or Mexico, Thailand, Indonesia, or any other place that you see in the Third World.