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Media Analyses





Selective Quotes Distort Intent of Sharon's Gaza Withdrawal


In his interview with the Israeli daily Haaretz, Dov Weissglas, a close advisor to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, was asked about Israel's decision to withdraw from the Gaza Strip. According to American media coverage of this interview, Weissglas suggested that Ariel Sharon's true intention in planning the Gaza disengagement is to freeze the peace process and prevent a Palestinian state. However, this was not his message at all; his words were taken out of context.

The misleading account of the interview stems from an Oct. 6 Haaretz article, a "teaser" promoting the publication of the full interview on Oct. 8. The "teaser" revealed a few selected quotes, and carried the sensational headline, "Top PM aide: Gaza plan aims to freeze the peace process." Though the article made clear that the full interview would appear on Friday, Oct. 8, American newspapers on Oct. 7 followed Haaretz's lead, proclaiming that Sharon's advisor had finally admitted the Gaza disengagement was aimed at sidestepping negotiations and obstructing formation of a Palestinian state. Weissglas protested that his words had been taken out of context, and some newspapers did make note of this – but they left it as a matter of doubt.

Upon publication of the full interview in Haaretz, it became clear that the newspaper's teaser, and the American media coverage, did not at all reflect the substance of the interview. None of the journalists, however, informed their readers that Weissglas' comments had indeed been taken out of context.

In the interview, published in full by Haaretz Friday Magazine (Oct. 8, "The big freeze"), Weissglas (also spelled "Weisglass") recounted a long established Israeli decision to delay negotiations with the Palestinians until such time that their leadership abandons terror. He said withdrawing from the Gaza Strip would enable this delay, because it would put the onus on the Palestinians to end violence.

Summary of Full Interview

Weissglas explained that Israel, along with the U.S., "reached the sad conclusion that there is no one to talk to, no one to negotiate with" on the Palestinian side. This conclusion was reached "after years of thinking otherwise. After years of attempts at dialogue." Over the years, the Palestinian leadership had consistently broken their "most solemn promises" to the U.S. and Israel. "Hence the disengagement plan," he said.

Weissglas elaborated:

[Sharon] understood that in the Palestinian case the majority has no control over the minority. . .. He understood that Palestinian terrorism is in part not national at all, but religious. Therefore, granting national satisfaction will not solve the problem of this terrorism. This is the basis of his approach that first of all the terrorism must be eradicated and only then can we advance in the national direction. Not to give a political slice in return for a slice of stopping terrorism, but to insist that the swamp of terrorism be drained before a political process begins. [emphasis added]

For this reason, the U.S. and Israel decided the Palestinians must end terrorism before negotiations begin. "What's important is the formula that asserts that the eradication of terrorism precedes the start of the political process," Weissglas noted. This principle, he said, was the main achievement of the "road map" peace plan.

According to Weissglas, Israel was pushed to the disengagement idea because the Palestinians were not fulfilling their obligations under the "road map". With the "road map" stalled, he explained, Sharon realized Israel would be pressured to negotiate even while the terrorism continued and that the principle calling for an immediate stop to Palestinian violence would be "annulled." Weissglas continued:

And with the annulment of that principle, Israel would find itself negotiating with terrorism. And because once such negotiations start it's very difficult to stop them, the result would be a Palestinian state with terrorism
...

The disengagement plan is the preservative of the sequence principle. It is the bottle of formaldehyde within which you place the president's formula so that it will be preserved for a very lengthy period. The disengagement is actually formaldehyde. [emphasis added]

Clearly, the point made in the interview was that Israel's intent in withdrawing from Gaza is to avoid negotiating with a leadership that espouses terrorism, and thus to avoid formation of a Palestinian state that engages in terrorism. Far from abandoning the two state solution or the "road map," Weissglas believes that by putting the ball firmly in Palestinians' court, the withdrawal will secure the "road map" formula that terror must end before negotiations are restarted.

Media's Coverage

Amazingly, these comments made by Weissglas were neither cited in the Haaretz teaser, nor by the American media.

News reports and editorials provided only selected comments Weissglas had made elaborating on the concept he had put forth. Removed from their context, these quotes wrongly suggest that Israel's withdrawal was simply a trick to avoid peace. For example, Haaretz – and the American newspapers – used the following quote without its context: "The significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process." When isolated from Weissglas' preface, this quote implies Israel has nefarious intentions.

Even though Weissglas told Israel Radio later that day that Haaretz had taken his comments out of context, the U.S. media nonetheless used only the quotes from the misleading teaser.

Headlines trumpeted:

* "Sharon aide: Gaza plan seeks to 'freeze' Palestinian statehood; 'The significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process,' said a senior diplomatic adviser. Many were angered” (Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/7).

* "Sharon aid says goal of Gaza Plan is to halt Road Map; Key Adviser: Israel got U.S. Blessing" (Washington Post, 10/7).

* "Israeli aide hints that Gaza exit would freeze peace plan; A Sharon adviser's comments raise doubts about Palestinian statehood" (New York Times, 10/7).

* "Israeli talks of delaying peace process; Gaza pullout seen easing pressure" (Boston Globe, 10/7).

By valuing sensationalism over accuracy in its teaser, Haaretz practiced irresponsible journalism. Still, the newspaper eventually provided the full interview, allowing its readers to draw their own conclusions. American readers were not afforded that opportunity. The U.S. newspapers repeated the same faulty message without ever presenting the full context of Weissglas’ words.

Washington Post

John Ward Anderson neither waited for the full interview nor clarified that his report was based on partial quotes, stating only that the article was based on "an interview published Wednesday [Oct. 6]." He also misquoted Weissglas when paraphrasing:

Weisglass. . . said the U.S.-backed peace plan called the "road map" is dead. (10/7)

No such comment was made.

New York Times

Greg Myre of the New York Times simply stated:

Israel's proposed withdrawal from the Gaza Strip is intended to put the issue of Palestinian statehood on indefinite hold, a close aide to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said in an interview that was published Wednesday. (10/7)

Boston Globe

Dan Ephron misled readers as well:

The top adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said in unusually candid remarks published yesterday that Israel's plan to withdraw unilaterally from the Gaza Strip was really meant to 'remove indefinitely from our agenda' the viability of a peace process or a Palestinian state. (10/7)

Ephron further deceived readers by insisting that neither Sharon nor Weisglass "disputed the accuracy of the long Haaretz interview, which will be published in full tomorrow."

True, Weisglass did not dispute the accuracy of the full interview, but he did emphasize that the excerpts – on which Ephron apparently based his article – were taken out of context and twisted the meaning of his comments.

The L.A. Times, Chicago Tribune and Philadelphia Inquirer similarly propagated the misinformation by reporting only the partial quotes from the teaser, and none of the quotes from the full article. They did briefly note that Weissglas said his words were taken out of context.

Editorials

Newspaper editorials went even further, using partial quotes to implicate Israel as the obstacle to peace.

An editorial in the Baltimore Sun ("The real Gaza plan," 10/8), citing only the misleading quotes from the teaser, proclaimed: "Israel's plan to unilaterally withdraw troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip has been unmasked as a subterfuge."

The Boston Globe editorial on the subject ("Unguarded on Gaza," 10/13) stated that "the true aim of Sharon’s plan to withdraw from Gaza is to freeze the peace process embodied in the "road map" endorsed by President Bush, the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations."

The Globe did acknowledge in its conclusion that "the war between Palestinians and Israel must end before [the] negotiations begin." However, this idea was presented as a contradiction to Weissglas’ words, when in fact it was exactly his point.


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