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Media Analyses





LA Times Bungles Talks Coverage


The Los Angeles Times news article today about Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' steps to pursue membership in international bodies is marred by two gross factual errors ("Palestinian Authority leader takes steps to press issue of statehood").
 
First, Maher Abukhater and Paul Richter err: ". . . Palestinian leaders are angry about news Tuesday that Israeli Land Authority offered developers the rights to build 708 housing units on land Palestinians claim should be part of their future state."
 
The 708 housing units in question are all located in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, and Palestinians do not claim Gilo should be part of their future state. Although the Jerusalem neighborhood is located over the Green Line, in previous rounds of negotiations, such as in Camp David, and again in the 2008 Olmert talks, it was never under consideration to transfer Gilo to the Palestinian Authority.
 
That the Palestinian Authority accepts that Gilo will remain in Israel, and not become of a future Palestine, was clear from minutes leaked as part of the Palestine Papers concerning talks during Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's tenure. As the Los Angeles Times' own Edmund Sanders wrote about the leaked papers and the Palestinian acknowledgment that Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem, including those beyond the Green Line, would remain in Israel:
Yes, Palestinians appear to have agreed to concede most of the large Jewish developments that are located across the Green Line in areas that are today considered part of Jerusalem. In a quip he likely now regrets, chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said the offer provided Israel with the "largest Jerusalem in the history of the Jewish people."
 
But giving Jewish areas of Jerusalem to Israel and Palestinian areas to the Palestinian Authority is an idea that been supported widely for years, since it was proposed by President Clinton.
 
Also, many of those developments were never historically part of what Palestinians considered to be inside the borders of Jerusalem. Much was rural West Bank land that only became part of Jerusalem when Israel annexed it after the 1967 Six-Day War and substantially increased the borders of Jerusalem. So although those areas were clearly part of the West Bank, they shouldn't necessarily carry the same emotional attachment for Palestinians or Arabs worldwide as the Old City or the historic parts of East Jerusalem. And rather than give away the land in exchange for nothing, as has been widely reported in the Arab press, the documents suggest that Palestinians were demanding in return Maale Adumim, Givat Zeev, Ariel and most other settlements east of Highway 60.
 
That's such a painful concession for Israel that you have to question whether the Palestinian offer was even serious.
 
To most Mideast experts, exchanging Jerusalem developments such as Gilo and French Hill for settlements such as Maale Adumim and Ariel sounds like a great deal for Palestinians and a non-starter for Israelis. And that's pretty much how it played out, with Israel's then-Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni rejecting the offer. (Emphases added.)
Thus, contrary to The Times' report, the land authority offered developers rights to build units on land that the Palestinian Authority does not claim for a future state.
 
No Mention of Hundreds of Prisoners
 
Second, the article is also marred by an egregious error of omission which ought to be rectified with a clarification. Thus, the reporters seriously understate the terms to which Israel had agreed as part of Kerry's three-way deal:
Kerry had hoped to travel to Ramallah to announce an extension of talks, built on a three-way deal involving the potential early release of Jonathan Pollard, an American serving a life sentence in a North Carolina prison, on charges of spying for Israel. The deal called for a partial freeze in the building of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, in exchange for Abbas' agreement not to join the international groups.
Nowhere does the article mention that Kerry's three-way deal included the release of the last batch of 78 pre-Oslo prisoners, as well as an additional 400 prisoners, as was widely reported. As Reuters detailed:

Under the proposed deal, Israel would go ahead with the release of a fourth group of Palestinians, the last among the 104 it pledged to free as a confidence-building measure under an agreement that led to the renewal of the current talks.

That group of inmates also includes 14 Arab citizens of Israel, a potential political stumbling block for Netanyahu.

In addition, Israel would also free 400 other Palestinian prisoners, including women and minors, who have not been convicted of killing Israelis and are close to completing their sentences.

The Times omission of the Israeli agreement to release the 478 prisoners is especially misleading in light of the article's statement that: "With the negotiations facing an April 30 deadline, Israel refused to release the fourth batch of prisoners because Palestinians would not commit to continuing the talks." As early as Saturday night, days before press time for today's LA Times article, Israel had already agreed to release the fourth batch, together with the 400 additional prisoners, as part of the Pollard-related deal.
 
The Times' omission of this key point a gross misrepresentation and out to be rectified.
 
The Pollard Affair
 
The journalists are also selective in their coverage of the Jonathan Pollard affair. Thus they state:
But Pollard's potential release has drawn fierce opposition from U.S. officials in both parties, including former CIA chief George Tenet and former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger. They have argued that the huge trove of secrets released by Pollard did grave damage to U.S. national security, and that his release would set a dangerous precedent.
At the same time, they ignore the fact, that as the Associated Press reported:
In recent years, former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Schultz, along with prominent figures such as Sen. John McCain and former CIA Director R. James Woolsey, have all called for Pollard's release.

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