When New York Times reporters Joel Brinkley and Steven Weisman interviewed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice a few days ago, she apparently didn’t say what they wanted to hear regarding Israel. So the enterprising reporters twisted her words to fit their own political agenda. (Credit for spotting their dishonest recounting of the Secretary’s words goes to blogger Rick Richman.)
But before getting to the Times reporters’ misrepresentations and even outright inventions, the partisan agenda at work was clear from the first question regarding Israel, posed apparently by Brinkley (he was formerly based in Israel):
How do you assure, given what's going on in Gaza right now, how do you assure that that is not the last step for a good while? I used to be based in Israel and I can see what's going to happen. The pictures of these settlers being dragged out is going to play on television for months. There's an election campaign coming up next year. Nothing's likely to happen before the new election.
So it's going to be at least a year before there can be any meaningful new movement, a year in which the Palestinians will grow ever more frustrated and perhaps the violence will ratchet up again, giving the new government an excuse not to do anything. That's a scenario. How do you avoid that scenario from occurring?
So to Mr. Brinkley Palestinian violence is not a good reason for Israel to question Palestinian intentions, or to reconsider the wisdom of further concessions. No, for Israel, Palestinian violence – and the resulting Israeli deaths – are just a convenient “excuse.”
It’s also remarkable that for Brinkley it’s up to Israel and Israel alone to provide “meaningful new movement,” the absence of which will make Palestinians “grow ever more frustrated,” which will understandably lead to violence. Of course, to the Times Israelis – even just-evicted settlers – are not allowed to get “frustrated” in a way that would justify putting off further one-sided concessions to the Palestinians. And is there anything the Palestinians can do to provide “meaningful new movement?” Apparently not.
As for Brinkley’s claim that pictures of the settlers’ eviction will “play on television for months,” nothing could be more laughable – the Israeli media, including television, is not exactly known for pro-settler sentiments.
It’s bad enough that supposedly objective reporters like Brinkley or Weisman would ask such a partisan (though helpfully revealing) question, but even worse is the way in which they distorted the Secretary’s answers to their questions. (The full text of the interview is available at the State Department website.)
Thus, they quote Rice as saying:
“Everyone empathizes with what the Israelis are facing”, Ms. Rice said in an interview. But she added, “It cannot be Gaza only.”
Did Ms. Rice really say “It cannot be Gaza only?” Not quite. Here’s the exact quote:
The other thing is, just to close off this question, the question has been put repeatedly to the Israelis and to us that it cannot be Gaza only and everybody says no, it cannot be Gaza only. There is, after all, even a link to the West Bank and the four settlements that are going to be dismantled in the West Bank. Everybody, I believe, understands that what we're trying to do is to create momentum toward reenergizing the roadmap and through that momentum toward the eventual establishment of a Palestinian state.
What the Times portrays as Ms. Rice’s statement was actually her recounting of what others are saying “to the Israelis and to us.” Yes, she expresses the US position in favor of the Roadmap and the “the eventual establishment of a Palestinian state,” but that’s a far cry from immediate pressure on Israel to go beyond the Gaza withdrawal, which is what “It cannot be Gaza only” clearly means in this context. Even more deceptive was this passage:
Ms. Rice has visited the region twice recently to ensure that the Gaza withdrawal proceeds smoothly. While she noted that the withdrawal would take several weeks to play out, soon after that, she insisted, Israel must take further steps, including loosening travel restrictions in the West Bank and withdrawing from more Palestinian cities.
This is an absolute invention by the Times – there is no passage in the interview that by any stretch could be read as the Secretary “insisting” that “soon after” the Gaza withdrawal “Israel must take further steps” such as those listed above. On the contrary, the Times reporter says this, and the Secretary responds, “No.” Here is the once again revealing exchange:
SECRETARY RICE: [The roadmap] gives, in parallel, certain obligations to both sides. And the obligation of the Palestinians has to do with the dismantling of terrorist infrastructure and organizations and they're going to have to do it.
QUESTION: And so what should Israel do right now, after Gaza?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, the Israelis will have certain obligations as well about the continued freeing of Palestinian movement and conditions on the West Bank. That's one of the obligations. I think that we would hope that there is progress again on the Sharm agenda where the Israelis, if you remember, were handing over cities to the Palestinians.
QUESTION: Right. Which has regressed since then.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, no, I just think it's -- it's, frankly, people have been very focused on the disengagement and that's fine. Let them do this well. But my only point to Joel is that there is plenty to do after the disengagement that is already really prescribed in things that they've agreed to in the past, so let's get back on that track. Nobody wanted them to be so focused, I think -- at least we did not -- on what might come next, that they didn't nail down the details on how to get to Gaza disengagement.
So Secretary Rice talks about Palestinian obligations to dismantle terror organizations like Hamas, which the Times reporter ignores, instead asking what “should Israel do right now.” But Rice does not respond that Israel needs to do anything right now. Instead she says “I think we would hope that there is progress again on the Sharm agenda where the Israelis, if you remember, were handing over cities to the Palestinians.” By using such tentative, conditional language – “I think we would hope” – the Secretary is hardly uttering the impatient demand that the Times reporters would apparently like to hear.
And when the reporter persists, charging that Israel’s turning over control of Palestinian cities under Sharm has “regressed,” the Secretary offers a clear rebuke, saying “No.”
There was no impatient demand on Israel from the Secretary, so impatient Times reporters simply invented one.
The Times also grossly distorted much of what Ms. Rice had to say about Palestinian obligations, both in words and in emphasis. Again and again in the interview Secretary Rice underscored the requirement that the Palestinians dismantle, rather than coexist with, terrorist organizations like Hamas. The Times could barely get itself to mention this. Here’s what the Secretary had to say about the Palestinians and terrorism:
SECRETARY RICE: Yes, well, I don't doubt that Hamas is trying to train and to increase its capacity. It would be one of the things that we've talked to the Palestinian Authority about is that Hamas very often uses periods of calm to try and enhance its capacity.
QUESTION: Its capacity to do what?
SECRETARY RICE: Its capacity to cause trouble. It's a terrorist organization. But, of course, the Palestinian Authority is enhancing its capability as well in this period of time. That is why the continued security reform is important.
QUESTION: But in terms -- excuse me for interrupting.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes, sure.
QUESTION: But if -- we were just talking about moving from disengagement to the roadmap, does it continue --
SECRETARY RICE: Yes. That's where I was going. That's exactly where I was going. This comes to the fact that you cannot simply let a terrorist organization sit forever, that you cannot -- that there is an obligation in the roadmap to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism, not just coexist with it.
SECRETARY RICE: And so that is one of the most important next elements. I know that the Palestinians have been concerned and so are the Israelis, to have calm in this period of time. It has been a good thing that thus far the Palestinian factions have more or less respected that calm, but that isn't a substitute for the dismantling of the terrorist organizations, because as Abu Mazen himself has said, you can only have one authority and one gun.
SECRETARY RICE: So the answer to the question, what comes next, is that one of the obligations in the roadmap is that the Palestinian Authority should have unified security forces that are all under the authority of the Palestinian Authority and its leadership, its elected leadership. There will be elections in January. But the Palestinian Authority is going to have to deal with the infrastructure of terrorism, that's one of its obligations.
QUESTION: So the -- is it still then the U.S. position that disarmament, dismantling are the next steps for Israel in the expected steps on the right --
SECRETARY RICE: No, I'm not talking about a sequencing here because the roadmap is assiduously not sequencing one step after another. It gives, in parallel, certain obligations to both sides. And the obligation of the Palestinians has to do with the dismantling of terrorist infrastructure and organizations and they're going to have to do it.
QUESTION: And so what should Israel do right now, after Gaza?
Five times in this passage Secretary Rice stated the Palestinians would have to dismantle and disarm Hamas, that this was a requirement of the Roadmap which the Palestinians had agreed to, and they could not simply coexist with terrorist groups.
How did the Times report these emphatic statements by the Secretary? With just two extremely unemphatic sentences. The first was notable also for its obfuscation as to the goals of the terrorist groups:
At the same, she added, the Palestinian Authority must take its own steps, moving quickly to disarm Palestinian factions intent on breaking the cease-fire.
So what the Secretary called terrorist groups are now just “Palestinian factions,” and their aim is not to destroy Israel, but merely to “break the ceasefire.”
The second reference was at least a little more accurate in reflecting the Secretary’s words:
She also made it clear that she expected the Palestinian Authority to take responsibility for disarming Hamas.
“That is their obligation under the road map,” she said, referring to the peace plan that the United States and its allies proposed in 2003.
No single idea was more emphasized by the Secretary in this interview than the need for the Palestinians to dismantle terror organizations. Though she went out of her way to repeat this over and over again, it was apparently not what the Times interviewers were interested in reporting. So they virtually ignored it.
One more remarkable thing about the above passage from the interview was the reporter’s reaction to Rice’s statement that Hamas was using the period of calm to “increase its capacity.” The mind boggling reply of the Times reporter, as if Hamas suicide bombings were unconfirmed Israeli allegations, was “capacity to do what?”
After such dereliction in reporting one has to wonder about the “capacity” of Weisman and Brinkley to be professional journalists. If the Times does not forthrightly correct this story, how can one trust the paper on anything else, especially in cases where there is no transcript to check?