The Los Angeles Times has, regrettably, continued its longstanding pattern of bias in reporting on events in Israel. The recent controversy over further redeployment of Israeli troops from areas of the West Bank has prompted a spate of distorted reports. Many of the most egregious articles are by correspondent Rebecca Trounson.
Two articles (December 2 and December 3, 1997) addressing Israel's November 30, 1997 proposal for a redeployment from areas in the West Bank are indicative of the Times' bias. In both articles, Trounson attributed the lack of progress in peace negotiations to Israel's allegedly "hard-line" politicians, the "tough conditions" they are imposing for a pullout, and construction in Israeli settlements. At the same time, she ignored Palestinian breaches of the Oslo Accords and the massive, illegal Arab building campaign underway in the West Bank.
On December 2, in "Netanyahu Warns Arafat on Statehood," Trounson claimed that Israel had set "tough conditions" for the handover of additional territory to the PA. In fact, the Israeli Government has imposed no new conditions on the Palestinian Authority. Rather, it is insisting only that the Oslo Agreements be implemented. By characterizing pre-existing PA obligations as "tough conditions" and failing to identify those conditions, Trounson leaves readers with the false impression that Israel has asked the Palestinians to undertake new responsibilities.
On December 3, in "Israel's Pullout Decision, in Reality, Is Only Theory," Trounson does mention several as yet unfulfilled PA obligations, but reiterates her characterization of Palestinian compliance as "tough conditions.
The decision was also couched in tough conditions, with the pullout contingent on Palestinians fulfilling all obligations under existing peace deals, including greater efforts to fight terrorism and the completion of a revision of the Palestinian National Charter, a politically sensitive issue that Arafat has been loathe to tackle.
Trounson suggests that the reciprocal fulfillment of obligations is a harsh Israeli negotiating tactic rather than the implementation of signed, sworn agreements. In addition, she cites Palestinian views that the proposal is an Israeli "trick."
"Credibility Problems" Blamed on Israel While PA Violations Are Ignored
Trounson reports that Palestinians and Israelis accuse each other of bad faith and systematic violations of the interim peace deals and that neither side trusts the other. She attributes this lack of trust to the expansion of Jewish settlements. She states:
Adding to the credibility problems is the fact that, even as Netanyahu has made his offer to cede more territory to the Palestinians, his government has stepped up construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. . . . (December 3, 1997)
In fact, neither the Declaration of Principles nor the Interim Agreement prohibits or restricts the establishment or expansion of Jewish settlements in Judea, Samaria, or Gaza. During the DOP negotiations, PLO representatives tried to obtain a clause prohibiting Israel from establishing new settlements. Israel rejected this demand, offering concessions to the Palestinians on other matters. These concessions were accepted by Arafat which is why the Oslo Accords do not bar settlement activity during the interim period. Nevertheless, Netanyahu has not established any new settlements.
Trounson reports that Palestinian wariness of Netanyahu's recent proposal and fear that he is attempting to evade Israeli obligations also compound the "credibility problem." Rather than engaging in factual investigation regarding Israeli compliance, Trounson quotes fringe Israeli organizations to substantiate Palestinian claims and represents their opinions as mainstream. For example:
Peace Now . . . says a recent survey of Jewish settlements reveals Netanyahu's strategy: to strengthen Israel's hold on Jerusalem, expand the Jewish presence in the West bank, and blur the "green line" that divides the West Bank from Israel ahead of final status talks with the Palestinians. (December 3, 1997)
Trounson does not link the "credibility problem" to Palestinian violations of the Oslo agreements, despite the fact that over the past four years the Palestinians have breached virtually all of their commitments under these agreements by:
Trounson identified a "flurry of building permits" that the Government has approved for the building of new Jewish homes as additional obstacles to peace. The issuance of these permits is legal. Where is Trounson's analysis of the illegal building campaign that the Arabs have launched? Massive, illegal Arab construction has been tracked and exposed south, north and east of Jerusalem. According to the Jerusalem Post, the Palestinians have built over 19,000 illegal housing units in the greater Jerusalem area since the signing of the Oslo Accords. In addition, much of the illegal construction is being orchestrated by the Palestinian Authority in violation of Oslo.
Pejorative Labeling of Israeli Leaders
In all of her articles, Trounson repeatedly uses pejorative labels to characterize Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Israeli Government. For example, she refers to "Netanyahu's right-religious coalition," "two hard-line Cabinet opponents," hard-line legislators such as Hanan Porat of the National Religious Party," "the right wing Tsomet party," "Sharon, the hawkish former general who has muscled his way . . . ."
While in her December 2 and December 3 articles alone Trounson characterized 6 Israeli individuals as right wing or hard-line, not once did she use similarly loaded terms when discussing Palestinians or fringe, left-wing Israeli organizations. For example, in her December 3 article, Trounson relied largely on Peace Now Director, Mossi Raz. She identified Peace Now as, "an Israeli activist group that tracks construction in the settlements which it views as an obstacle to peace." Peace Now is a left-wing organization that has been a source of much debate in Israel. Its statements do not represent a significant number of Israelis.
Mischaracterization of East Jerusalem
Trounson consistently refers to the eastern section of Jerusalem as "traditionally Arab East Jerusalem." For example:
All substantive peace talks between the sides have been frozen since March, when Israel started to build a housing project in East Jerusalem, the traditionally Arab side of the city. (December 2, 1997)
The eastern section of Jerusalem is neither exclusively nor traditionally Arab. From 1948 until 1967, eastern Jerusalem was homogeneously Arab only because the Jordanians either killed or expelled all of the Jews living there. There has always been a Jewish presence in eastern Jerusalem; the ancient Jewish Quarter, the 2000 year old Jewish cemetery on the Mt. of Olives, and institutions such as Hadassah Hospital and Hebrew University are all in eastern Jerusalem. Currently, Jews and Arabs comprise 48% and 52% of eastern Jerusalem's population respectively. With such close numbers, one cannot claim that either side predominates.
Passive Language Softens Terrorist Atrocities
Trounson uses passive language to soften the atrocities committed by Palestinians. For example, in her December 2 article, she wrote:
The crises deepened last summer after Islamic militants were involved in suicide bombings in Jerusalem that killed 21 people. (December 2, 1997)
Trounson reported that Islamic militants "were involved" in suicide bombings. Five Palestinian terrorists blew themselves up in Jerusalem's outdoor market place and on Jerusalem's pedestrian mall — Palestinians with clear goals, not unknown or foreign Islamic militants. All five bombers have been identified and came from areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority. In Military leaflet Number 2, Hamas claimed credit for the September 4, 1997 triple bombing on Ben Yehuda Street and explained that it will continue to execute suicide missions until the Israelis meet five demands. Among them: the release of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and the release of all "freedom fighters" from all factions, primarily Hamas, who are serving life sentences.