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Media Analyses





Abbas in U.N. Wonderland; Media Miss Cheshire Cat


Alice in Wonderland, Mahmoud Abbas at the United Nations: When Alice heard the Red Queen shriek “Off with their heads!” she at least knew she was down the rabbit hole. But when news media heard the Palestinian Authority president turn Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy upside down in his Sept. 30, 2015 General Assembly speech, major outlets reported his words with too-little skepticism.

Washington Post coverage (“Palestinian leader disavows Oslo pacts signed with Israel,” October 1 print edition) was representative, although it did include some necessary background. For example, The Post noted “Abbas is increasingly unpopular among his own people. Two-thirds want him to resign, polls show. Less than half of Palestinians polled say they believe in a two-state solution, while a growing number support a return to ‘armed resistance.'”

But the newspaper also reported in a matter-of-fact way that “Abbas accused the Israelis of effectively sabotaging peace negotiations, promoted most recently by Secretary of State John F. Kerry before they collapsed in 2014. He praised the French for trying to revive the talks and called for a national united government to unite Palestinian factions.

“Palestinian Finance Minister Shukri Bishara, who attended the speech, said people are becoming increasingly dispirited as they see their dreams of an independent Palestinian state slip away amid continued [Israeli] settlement expansion.”

If the possibility of “an independent Palestinian state” is slipping away, Palestinian rejectionism has played a key role. Abbas' predecessor, Yasser Arafat, rejected Israeli-U.S. offers of a West Bank and Gaza Strip “Palestine,” with eastern Jerusalem as its capital in 2000 and 2001. Instead of a “two-state solution” based on peace with Israel as a Jewish state, he launched the bloody second intifada.

Abbas himself walked away from another Israeli “two-state” offer in 2008. And the primary cause of the collapse of Kerry's 2014 “framework” diplomacy was Abbas' refusal to endorse it, as former U.S. Middle East envoy Dennis Ross has observed (see below).
 
Omissions all around

The Post reminds readers of none of this. But it was not alone in making such a glaring omission while noting Palestinian “frustration.”

The Los Angeles Times (“An Abbas surprise: Palestinians no longer bound by 1993 Oslo peace accords,” September 30 online, and other Tribune newspapers including The Baltimore Sun [“Abbas: Palestinians will no longer observe Oslo Accord,” October 1]; USA Today (“Abbas Says He'll Dump Deals With Israel; Palestinian leader blames ‘occupying power'”, October 1; September 30 online version is more detailed); Associated Press (“Abbas: Palestinian not bound by Israel pacts; Frustration, desperation seen in fiery U.N. speech,” Washington Times, October 1); and The New York Times (“Mahmoud Abbas, at U.N., Says Palestinians Are No Longer Bound by Oslo Accords, September 30 online) all failed to highlight Palestinian rejectionism and so could not spotlight Abbas' revisionism. However, they did note that Abbas' speech was not the “bombshell” Palestinian sources had predicted.

Unmentioned by The Post (and all other major media), in addition to its omission of Palestinian diplomatic rejections, was that what purportedly was “slipping away” was the possibility of a second Palestinian Arab state. That Jordan occupies a majority of the territory originally intended for the League of Nations' British Mandate for Palestine—in which the ancient Jewish national home was to be reestablished—and Palestinian Arabs comprise a majority of its population is a fact far down the Orwellian memory hole.

“Abbas said Israel has not followed through on its commitments in the Oslo Accords to accept a Palestinian state and to curtail settlement growth on the West Bank and East Jerusalem,” Washington Post diplomatic correspondent Carol Morello and Jerusalem bureau chief William Booth reported. Except the Oslo agreements did not obligate Israel to any such things. The Oslo process required both sides to negotiate all outstanding issues in pursuit of peace; it did not specify the results of those negotiations.

In neither in the 1993 accords nor 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement did Israel agree to accept a West Bank, Gaza Strip and eastern Jerusalem state. Oslo's points of reference included U.N. Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973). Among other things, these call for “secure and recognized boundaries” for all parties to the 1967 Six-Day War. Resolution 242's U.S and British authors made clear that Israel's pre-'67 frontiers—the temporary 1949 Israeli-Jordanian (West Bank) and 1950 Israeli-Egyptian (Gaza Strip) armistice lines—did not meet that definition.

Oslo's “final status” matters, including who would exercise sovereignty over what portions of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), Gaza, and eastern Jerusalem, were to be resolved in subsequent talks. The “peace process” assumed the Palestinian side would build Israeli confidence by fulfilling its commitments to ending anti-Israeli incitement and terrorism. That conspicuously never happened. Indeed, elements of Abbas' own Fatah movement celebrated the murder of an Israeli couple, Rabbi Eitam Henkin and his wife, Na'ama, shot in front of four of their children, one day after Abbas' U.N. speech.

'Get me rewrite!' Abbas demands
 
As for Israel's purported commitment “to curtail settlement growth,” Arafat entered the Oslo process without insisting on any such Israeli obligation. Neither did Israel insist that growth in Arab villages and towns in the disputed West Bank and Gaza Strip be “curtailed” during the peace process. As Resolution 242 co-author Eugene Rostow made clear, both sides had claims in the territories that were to be resolved through negotiations.

The Post, like other major news organizations, did not provide readers necessary context regarding the requirements of the Oslo agreements or actual commitments of both the Palestinian and Israeli sides.

Abbas' habit of blaming Israel for the failure of Kerry's 2014 attempt to build a “framework” for renewed Israeli-Palestinian negotiations amounts to more revisionism, as former U.S. Middle East envoy Amb. Dennis Ross wrote in a New York Times Op-Ed 10 months ago (“Stop Giving Palestinians a Pass,” January 4, 2015, cited in “Washington Post Opts for Pop Psychology over Hard News on Palestinian U.N. Moves,” CAMERA, January 19).

After again letting Abbas slide on his Kerry “framework” revisionism, The Post noted his renewed call “for a national unity government to unite Palestinian factions.” It did not remind readers that this amounted to another of Abbas' countless futile pleas for Hamas (the Islamic Resistance Movement)—which has ruled the Gaza Strip since ousting Fatah in the 2007 “five-day war and whose charter advocates the destruction of Israel and genocide of the Jewish people—to accept his leadership.

The Post did report that “a senior official” in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office “called the Abbas speech ‘false propaganda' that ‘will encourage a disaster in the Middle East. We expect the Palestinian Authority and is leader to act responsibly and accept the offer of the Israeli prime minister to hold direct negotiations with Israel without preconditions,' the official said. ‘The fact that he repeatedly does not respond is the best proof that there is no partner for peace.'”

The article finished with the conclusion of Abbas' speech. “a plea to Israelis.” “ ‘My hands remain outstretched for the just peace that will guarantee my people's rights, freedom and human dignity. … I say to our neighbors, the Israeli people, that peace is in your interest, in our interest, and in the interest of our future generations.'” That sounded good, given the omissions that preceded it. Even Alice might have been confused. But not those who know the Arab-Israeli conflict well enough to recognize Palestinian revisionism when—relayed by news media—they hear it.

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