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Media Analyses





Washington Post Ops for Pop Psychology over Hard News on Palestinian U.N. Moves


Why does Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas try to “internationalize” his conflict with Israel? An obvious answer would be to avoid direct negotiations—to which Palestinian leaders previously committed themselves—and a compromise peace settlement such talks would imply. Nevertheless, The Washington Post reports otherwise.

In “ICC inquiry is wild card in Israeli-Palestinian conflict; War-crimes probe, opposed by U.S., could destabilize West Bank” (Jan. 19, 2015) and “Palestinians fighting a diplomatic war; Abbas's new strategy is to ‘internationalize' struggle with Israel” (January 10), The Post pegged its news coverage to pop psychology. That enabled it to offer a justification of sorts for Palestinian behavior: Not avoidance of the required direct talks and compromise with Israel but rather “frustration” over previous negotiations.

In “ICC inquiry is wild card in Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” the newspaper's Jerusalem bureau chief, William Booth, and bureau staffer Ruth Eglash wrote that “the Palestinian Authority applauded the ICC [United Nations International Criminal Court] decision to begin its probe [of alleged war crimes]. Frustrated by the failure of U.S.-brokered peace talks [emphasis added] and under growing pressure from his people to confront the Israeli occupation, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is now waging diplomatic war against Israel, betting on a risky campaign to fully ‘internationalize the struggle' by moving toward the international court in the Hague and away from the United States.”

In “Palestinians fighting a diplomatic war” published nine days earlier, Booth's lead stated: “Frustrated by the failure of U.S.-brokered peace talks [emphasis added] and under growing pressure from his people to confront the Israeli occupation, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is launching diplomatic war against Israel, betting on a risky campaign to fully ‘internationalize the struggle' by moving toward the United Nations and away from the United States.”

Palestinian leadership is frustrated by the failure of U.S.-brokered peace talks? Or did Palestinian leaders cause the failure of previous negotiations?

In a New York Times Op-Ed (“Stop Giving Palestinians a Pass”) published six days before The Post's most recent diagnoses of Palestinian frustration, former U.S. chief negotiator for Arab-Israeli issues, Dennis Ross argued that avoidance, not frustration, was the problem. “Since 2000, there have been three serious negotiations that culminated in offers to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Ross wrote. “Bill Clinton's parameters in 2000, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's offer in 2008, and Secretary of State John Kerry's efforts last year.

‘Frustration,' or rejection?

“In each case,” Ross said, “a proposal on all the core issues was made to Palestinian leaders and the answer was either ‘no' or no response. They determined that the cost of saying ‘yes,' or even of making a counteroffer that required concessions, was too high.”

Actually, there were four offers, counting an enhanced version of the 2000 proposal by Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered at Taba in 2001. Ross doesn't quite spell out what Palestinian leaders—Yasser Arafat in 2000 and 2001, Abbas in 2008 and 2014 rejected. They turned down a new Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, with part of eastern Jerusalem as its capital and ending “the occupation,” in exchange for peace with Israel as a Jewish state.

But Ross forecasts that if a U.N. resolution or European initiative required such an outcome, with “security arrangements that leave Israel able to defend itself …. In all likelihood the Palestinians would reject such a resolution. Accepting it would require compromises that they refused in 2000, 2008 and 2014.”

Why did Palestinian leaders reject an end to Israel's presence in the West Bank and a Palestinian state with its capital in eastern Jerusalem? Because, Ross says, “Palestinian political culture is rooted in a narrative of injustice; its anticolonialist bent and its deep sense of grievance treats concessions to Israel as illegitimate. Compromise is portrayed as betrayal, and negotiations—which are by definition about mutual concessions—will inevitably force any Palestinian leader to challenge his people by making a politically costly decision.”

That doesn't sound like frustration over failed talks. It sounds like the Palestinian side, by intransigence and rejectionism, made sure negotiations would fail so they wouldn't dangerously undermine themselves by a compromise settlement with an “illegitimate” Jewish state.

Fantasy ‘Palestine' no amusement park

The same day Ross' New York Times commentary appeared, The Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens, a former editor of The Jerusalem Post, observed (“The Dream Palace of the Arab,” January 5) that “people who are in the business of making excuses for Palestinians—and the apologists are legion—sagely explained that the vote for Hamas [in the 2006 Palestinian legislative council elections] wasn't a public endorsement of a terrorist group sworn to Israel's annihilation, but rather a vote against the corruption of Fatah, Mr. Abbas's party. As if the two propositions could not both be true.”

Stephens charged Abbas with “serial fiascoes” since taking over after Arafat's death in 2004. These culminated “in his failed bid last week to force a vote in the Security Council over Palestinian statehood. … Last March, President Obama personally offered Mr. Abbas a U.S.-sponsored ‘framework' agreement [reportedly reflecting the “Clinton parameters” at the core of Kerry's diplomacy]. Again Mr. Abbas demurred. The following month, Mr. Abbas signed a reconciliation' pact with Hamas. War came by summer.
 
“Now Mr. Abbas has moved to have ‘the state of Palestine' join the International Criminal Court, chiefly in order to harass and perhaps arrest Israeli military officers and politicians spuriously accused of war crimes. The gambit will fail for the simple reason that two can play the game.”

So why do Palestinian Arabs want to “internationalize” their conflict with Israel, or rather—contrary to The Postpersist in a four-decade-old effort to do so? (See, for example, “The 1975 ‘Zionism-is-Racism' Resolution: The Rise, Fall, and Resurgence of a Libel,” by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, May 2, 2010.) According to Stephens, “a Palestinian state—a reasonably peaceful and prosperous one, at any rate—is deeply in Israel's interest.” If Israel isn't frustrating the potential development of a such a country, what is?

Stephens asserts that so long as Palestinian Arabs can dream of a fantasy Palestine that replaces Israel—a “Palestine” regularly seen on PA Television on the West Bank and Hamas television in the Gaza Strip—and inculcate their people with that fantasy, why compromise for a “two-state solution” and peace? Why risk public anger over “betraying” the dream? Why trade the “revolutionary's” spotlight for the administrator's routine?

Both “ICC inquiry is wild card” and “Palestinians fighting a diplomatic war” contain timely information. Both include relevant Israeli and U.S. as well as Palestinian sources.

But neither reminds readers that existing U.N. Security Council resolutions (242, adopted in 1967, and 338, adopted in 1973) already outline how Arab-Israeli conflicts are to be resolved—through direct negotiations for compromise agreements. In that sense, the Arab-Israeli conflict was “internationalized” long ago. It's just that Abbas and his supporters want different terms of reference, terms requiring Israel to make the concessions while allowing the Palestinian side to advance its dream.

Neither article points out that Palestinian leaders committed themselves to the original “internationalized” mechanisms in the 1990s Oslo process. Instead, by repeating boilerplate about Palestinian leadership “frustrated over the failure of U.S.-brokered peace talks,” without noting Palestinian responsibility for the collapse of those talks, The Post forces the news into a false frame.

The photograph selected to illustrate “Palestinians fighting a diplomatic war” highlights false “framing.” A large (four columns by five and a-quarter inches) blurry black-and-white Reuters picture showing the sad face of a young child carries this cutline: “Amid downpours and temperatures near freezing, a Palestinian boy looks out Friday through a plastic sheet covering part of his family's house in the Gaza Strip village of Johar a-Deek. Witnesses said the house was damaged by Israeli shelling in last summer's 50-day war.”

Who started the war? How? Who obstructs rebuilding, keeping children like the one pictured in damaged houses in bad weather? To answer Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist group governing the Gaza Strip; by firing thousands of mortars and rockets into Israel from civilian areas (a double war crime); and Hamas again, reportedly intent on rearming and reconstructing terrorist tunnels into Israel would put the story into a frame less skewed by Palestinian “frustration.”

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