On April Fools Day, The Washington Post tricked readers of Arab-Israeli news, and perhaps itself, twice.
The Post upended accurate understanding in a page one article headlined “U.S. considers release of Israeli spy Pollard” and a page A-8 dispatch “Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert is found guilty of taking bribes; Political life over for politician who hinted about running again.” The story on Olmert ran at the bottom of the Pollard report’s inside jump.
There was nothing much wrong with the Olmert report until the 11th of its 12 paragraphs. Then The Post’s Jerusalem bureau chief, William Booth, wrote:
“In one of the last serious efforts at making peace with the Palestinians, Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met in Annapolis, Md., in 2007, and again in 2008 in Jerusalem, where Olmert said he offered major concessions to the Palestinians, which ultimately did not produce a deal.”
That language, “where Olmert said he offered major concessions” but they “ultimately did not produce a deal” could be understood as implying the former Israeli leader was exaggerating, if not inventing. And the anodyne “ultimately did not produce a deal” lets Palestinian leaders off the hook for their brush-off at the time of a sweeping Israeli “two-state solution” proposal.
What really happened
The Post knows better. In a July 17, 2009 Op-Ed for the newspaper (“How to Achieve a Lasting Peace; Stop Focusing on Settlements”), Olmert wrote “I cannot understand why the Palestinian leadership did not accept the far-reaching and unprecedented proposal I offered them.” He said he proposed to Abbas a West Bank and Gaza Strip state, with land swaps to compensate for the 6.4 percent of the former that Israel wanted to annex, in exchange for peace.
Abbas promised to return with his advisors the next day to discuss the offer. Instead, the PA president begged off and, according to an interview Olmert later did with The Australian, “I never saw him again” while prime minister.
Post Deputy Editorial Page Editor Jackson Diehl essentially confirmed Olmert’s account of Palestinian rejection in a column of his own (“Abbas’ Waiting Game on Peace with Israel,” May 29, 2009).
But Post news reporters and editors periodically revise the record. They imply, as in “Netanyahu, Abbas ‘mean business,’ U.S. envoy says,” Sept. 16, 2010; “Little momentum for Kerry ahead of visit to Israel,” June 25, 2013; and again now that in 2008, Olmert’s generous offer—Diehl wrote it exceeded those suggested by Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush—almost achieved peace but somehow “ultimately did not produce a deal.”
The paper published a CAMERA letter to the editor correcting “Netanyahu, Abbas ‘mean business,’ U.S. envoy says”. It was headlined “Revisionist Mideast history” in the Sept. 25, 2010 print edition. The Post did not print a similar letter responding to “Little momentum for Kerry.” Regardless, every so often the paper, by its imprecise, functionally inaccurate wording, airbrushes away Abbas and his colleagues’ refusal to accept the Olmert offer.
With Pollard, worse
“U.S. considers release of Israeli spy Pollard,” reported by diplomatic correspondent Anne Gearan and Booth, says Jonathan Pollard “was a civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy who was arrested in 1985 after providing classified information to Israeli agents. He pleaded guilty, was sentenced to life in prison and is eligible for release in November 2015.”
It omits that Pollard made a plea bargain on the assurance the U.S. government would not seek a life term. It does not remind readers that the presiding judge disregarded the agreement after receiving an ex post facto secret memorandum from Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger. Weinberger perhaps assumed that Pollard, not the as-yet-undetected Soviet CIA mole Aldrich Ames, was responsible for the grave damage suffered by U.S. intelligence. In any case, Weinberger incited the judge by claiming Pollard had undermined severely U.S. security.
The Post notes that in 1998, Benjamin Netanyahu, in his first term as prime minister, asked Clinton to release Pollard. “George Tenet, then director of the CIA, recalled in his memoirs telling Clinton in a one-on-one meeting that ‘if Pollard is released, I will no longer be the director of central intelligence in the morning.’”
The paper adds that a former Defense Department official and coordinator of an investigation into the damage done by Pollard, wrote in a January New York Times Op-Ed that “there are no other Americans who have given over to an ally information of the quantity and quality that Mr. Pollard has….” But The Post does not tell readers that other previous U.S. government officials, including former CIA Director R. James Woolsey, have said that it is past time to free Pollard (“Former CIA director renews call for Pollard’s release,” Jerusalem Post, Nov. 7, 2013).
The Post reports the possibility of Pollard’s release as an inducement to Israel to keep freeing Palestinian prisoners as part of U.S.-promoted Israeli-Palestinian talks. It says “the prisoners are a highly emotional issue for both sides. Israelis say their government is freeing murders in order to make peace, while the Palestinians view the prisoners as heroes—freedom fighters who have served long sentences in Israeli jails essentially as POWs.”
This “he-said, she-said” description of the “highly emotional” prisoners issue avoids the central fact. The Palestinian prisoners in most cases have been convicted in court of killing non-combatants—that is, of committing murder—not of killing enemy soldiers. That makes them, by definition and law, criminals, in fact terrorists guilty of crimes against humanity. So, again by definition and law, they cannot be “freedom fighters” and prisoners of war, no matter how other Palestinian Arabs may view them.
The article refers in fairly typical Post language to “the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” The modern conflict between Arabs and Jews is much more than a century old.
It began with Arab attacks on early Jewish settlers returning to eretz Yisrael, the land of Israel, in the 1880s and intensified with Arab massacres of Jews—who were then the group more likely to be identified as “Palestinians”—during the 1920s. It predates the reestablishment of the Jewish state in 1948, Israel’s conquest of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967, and the emergence of Palestinian Arab nationalism.
What’s in both articles is factual. But what’s omitted is critical. The resulting Swiss cheese nature of the reports leaves readers under-, if not misleadingly, informed.