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Media Analyses





When PA Talking Points Become AP Talking Points


"This round of Israeli-Palestinian violence has defied … easy explanations," the Associated Press states at the top of a story today. But AP's attempt at explaining the story seems to have been easy enough. They largely embraced pre-packaged talking points by the Palestinian side, often relaying those in the authoritative voice of the Associated Press, while contrasting them with claims and allegations attributed to Israel's "hard-line" government, most of which were buried deep in the article.

The Palestinian narrative pokes through from the first attempt by the reporters, Mohammed Daraghmeh and Karin Laub, to "explain" the wave of Palestinian attacks.

The violence is playing out in one of the darkest periods of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with Israeli rule over Palestinians well-entrenched. Hopes for a peace deal establishing a Palestinian state are at a low after Israelis this year re-elected their hard-line government, which continues to build Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

The story being pitched is clear: In the big picture, there is Palestinian grievance, and there is Israeli intransigence. Israelis alone are cast as being at fault for the dark period and the dashed hopes. It is their settlements. It is they who elected a "hard-line" government.

But which leader has been taking a harder line? The right-of-center Benjamin Netanyahu, who has called for negotiations and a Palestinian state alongside a Jewish one, and under whom settlement construction has actually slowed (though the article seems to suggest otherwise); or Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority leader who has called on Palestinians to protect Jerusalem from the "filthy feet" of Israeli Jews, who has rejected renewed negotiations and the very idea of Jewish national self-determination, and whose party frequently extols murderers as heroes?

To be sure, those partial to the Palestinian narrative do insist Israel is responsible for the impasse and hopelessness, that Israel's leaders are the hardliners, and that Abbas is a would-be peacemaker who has "given up hope of independence through negotiations after two decades of failed attempts." That last quote, though, comes not from proud partisans of the Palestinian cause, but from the AP authors, who claim awareness of, and the authority to enlighten readers about, Abbas's deepest hopes and disappointments.

But, of course, even AP journalists are not omniscient, and do not know what Mahmoud Abbas feels or "hopes." Like Netanyahu, Abbas is a politician, and for that matter one deeply involved in an information war. He has advisors, even entire departments, to help him shape talking points and positions in support of Palestinian goals.

What AP journalists do know, on the other hand, is that despite attempts by Palestinian leaders to cast themselves as being without agency, and thus without responsibility for the current state of affairs, Abbas was offered a peace deal and statehood by former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, but did not take advantage of that offer. Abbas's own responsibility for Palestinian statelessness was ignored by authors, while his purported feelings — his talking point about giving up hope — were relayed as fact.

AP reporters should be aware, too, that Israeli Jews appear to have lost hope. According to a poll released yesterday, 71 percent believe that Palestinian terror against Jews would continue even with the conclusion of a peace agreement. This may be related to the view, held by 61 percent of Israeli Jews, that the current Palestinian violence is not spontaneous, but rather arose with the involvement of the Palestinian leadership.

The Israeli view that Palestinian violence is encouraged from above apparently isn't part of the preferred narrative. Although clearly germane to the topics discussed in the article, it wasn't mentioned by the authors. On the other hand, the allegation by a partisan NGO — "rights activists," according to the Associated Press — that Israel is responsible for the death of Palestinian attackers because of a purported "'shoot-to-kill' atmosphere in Israel, fueled by incendiary comments by leading Israeli politicians and security officials," is part of the preferred narrative. That view appears prominently at the start of the piece.

Throughout the article, in fact, Israeli responsibility is played up while the role of Palestinians is minimized. The authors, for example, refer to an earlier round of Palestinian violence in the early 2000s as being a Palestinian uprising "against Israeli occupation." But Hamas and Islamic Jihad, responsible for scores of deadly attacks, were not murdering in the name of an end to "occupation," at least not as AP readers understand the term. Those groups openly regard the very existence of Israel, within any borders, as a supposed occupation that must be eliminated.
 
The AP authors don't relay this fact, though. Again, it isn't part of the preferred narrative. They do, however, make sure to share that "leading figures in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government openly oppose a two-state solution."
 
The authors only once refer to opposition to Israel's existence, but is cast as a mere claim by Israeli officials, whom have already been dubbed by the authors as hardliners. And as if that wasn't enough, AP reporters themselves push back:

Those inciting to violence are driven by hatred of Israelis and opposition to the existence of the state of Israel, and spread their message over social media networks to Palestinian youth, argue Israeli government officials, who rarely mention that Palestinians have been living under Israeli rule for a half-century.

Let's recap: Reporters cite opposition to a Palestinian state by some Israeli leaders as fact. To this, they add nothing about what Palestinian officials "rarely mention" — one possibility: that that this position might be a result of living for a century under the threat of Arab violence and rejectionism. 
 
On the other hand, opposition to Israel's continued existence by some Palestinian leaders is mislabeled as opposition to occupation, or cast as a mere Israeli claim. And even then, reporters in their own voice rebut with a Palestinian talking point — literally a Palestinian talking point — that "the main issue is the Israeli occupation."
 
Perhaps this round of violence indeed defies easy explanation, as the AP reports state. So reporters should try their best to explain, but while still doing the hard work required of professional journalists, which includes remaining even-handed and reporting impartially. 
 
The short-cut of relying on the Palestinian narrative's template, which casts Israelis as hardline, Abbas as innocent but helpless, and Palestinians as provoked to violence by Israeli oppression, doesn't cut it. Reporters should resist the temptation to push their subjective opinions on readers by using their authoritative voice to push Palestinian talking points while minimizing Jewish concerns as mere claims by bad Israelis. And by hiding the extent of Palestinian support for violence and downplaying their opposition to Israel's existence, reporters ensure the story isn't told in its full complexity. Associated Press readers expect and deserve more.

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