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Media Analyses





NPR Skews the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict


A fundamental obstacle to establishing a two-state peace agreement between the Palestinians and Israelis is the continued refusal of Palestinian leaders to accept, much less prepare their people to accept, a neighboring Jewish state. The frank truth is that Palestinian (and Arab) leaders have never given up on their ultimate goal of eliminating a Jewish state in the region. While they may give lip service to the notion of accepting an Israeli state, they consistently make it clear that this is not to be misconstrued as accepting two states for two people: a Palestinian state for Arab/Palestinian Muslims and an Israeli state for Jews. As former Palestinian Foreign Minister and chief negotiator Nabil Shaath explained in 2011:

[The French initiative] reshaped the issue of the "Jewish state" into a formula that is also unacceptable to us – two states for two peoples. They can describe Israel itself as a state for two peoples, but we will be a state for one people. The story of "two states for two peoples" means that there will be a Jewish people over there and a Palestinian people here. We will never accept this – not as part of the French initiative and not as part of the American initiative. (ANB TV, July 13, 2011)

In his 2004 book The Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace, former U.S. Middle East envoy Dennis Ross provided a post-mortem of the failed peace negotiations he mediated in 2000 during President Bill Clinton's administration. He lamented that then-Palestinian leader and PLO chief Yasir Arafat was unwilling to "give up Palestinian myths," "compromise or concede" or "generate a fundamental transformation" among his people to prepare them for peace with the Jewish state.

Instead, the Palestinian leader continued to assure his people that accords with Israel were just a first step in a "phased strategy" to replace the Jewish state with a Palestinian one, while presenting a peaceful face to a Western audience. This "phased" strategy is spelled out in the Palestine National Council's 1974 ten point program, known as the "Phased Plan" for Israel's destruction, which would first create a Palestinian state on any territory handed over by Israel (Article 2) and then use that state to "complete the liberation of all Palestinian territory." (Article 8).

This approach, continued by Arafat's successors, has resulted in the persistent failure of Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations.  Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas continues to publicly and categorically reject a Jewish state in the region. Palestinians are taught – both by the Hamas leadership in Gaza and the Fatah leadership in the West Bank – that Israel has no right to exist,  that Jews have no history or rights in the region, that Jews and Israelis are evil interlopers trying to take over Muslim holy sites and that it is incumbent upon Muslims and Palestinians to wage violent jihad in order to protect these sites.

But these unassailable fact were not to be found in NPR's Morning Edition's recent coverage of U.S. envoy Jared Kushner's visit to the Middle East. Those filtered reports about the prospects for peace were predicated on the notion that any failure to advance peace is due only to Israeli policy and the supposed inability of the Israeli government to compromise with the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinians and their leaders, by contrast, are presented as having no agency of their own in the matter. Their rejection of previous statehood offers, their repeated refusal to accept a neighboring Jewish state, and their continuous demonizing of Israeli Jews and calls to jihad are treated as if they never occurred.

* In a August 23, 2017 Morning Edition interview, NPR host Ailsa Chang interviewed Senator George Mitchell, President Obama's special envoy for Middle East, with the leading question:

"The Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, has said that he's frustrated because Trump envoys keep telling him privately that they are committed to a two-state solution and that they want to stop construction in the settlements. But then Abbas has also said that those White House officials won't say the same thing to Israel. What do you think? Is the U.S. too close to Netanyahu to really pressure him?"

She then focused on Israeli "settlements" as "a real major obstacle in the peace process." There were no questions about Palestinian rejectionism or incitement, nothing about the continued refusal to accept Israel as a Jewish state in any borders, no mention of Palestinian unwillingness to compromise. The entire interview was based on the premise that it is the Israeli leader alone who must be pressured and upon whom peace is contingent.

* In a news brief that same day, NPR reporter Daniel Estrin explained why it had become more difficult for the US to broker peace: He asserted:

"Just last month, there was a deadly - deadly violence here because of tensions surrounding a really important religious site in Jerusalem. And that led Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to announce he was going to stop cooperating with Israel on security matters. The Palestinian public is really against any kind of cooperation with Israel."

Estrin neither mentioned the fact that the initiators of the "deadly violence" were armed Arabs who had come from the religious site to murder Israelis, nor that the "tensions" surrounding the religious site were fomented by the Palestinian leadership who falsely accused Israel of trying to take over a Muslim holy site, using this as a battle cry to wage a violent jihad against Israeli Jews. Provided only with the information that "deadly violence" led to Abbas halting "cooperation" with Israel, listeners could be excused for assuming that Israel is to blame for Abbas' move. The reporter followed up:

"And then there were some really big developments in corruption investigations involving Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And Netanyahu has gone to battle for his political survival. He held this enormous event to rally his right-wing base. His base is totally against concessions to the Palestinians."

What about Abbas' own corrupt regime, internal struggles, battle over succession and intransigent rejection of a Jewish state?

These points have no place in the NPR narrative in which only Israel's "corrupt" leader and his "right-wing base" are not making the concessions necessary to achieve peace.

* In an Aug. 24 news story on Morning Edition, NPR reporter Daniel Estrin acknowledged that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu "did have some polite remarks at the start" of a meeting with Kushner, but immediately followed up with, "I don't think most of his government agrees with him." The reporter then proceeded to minimize Israeli complaints about a negative Palestinian role in peace negotiations, by presenting them as an accusation by a single "government minister close to Netanyahu," which Estrin reported in a dismissive way:

"...Today, a government minister close to Netanyahu said the Palestinian government is not one of peace. And he went through this whole list of reasons like citing the fact that the Palestinians still haven't fully restored their security cooperation with Israel, which they suspended last month, some other reasons." [emphasis added]

By contrast, Palestinian accusations against Israelis were given far more weight, with the reporter underscoring Palestinian skepticism in his own voice:

"Above all, they [the Palestinians] don't think Netanyahu is a partner for peace. He's fighting corruption allegations. His government, his base are very much against creating a Palestinian state."

The question is why do Morning Edition reports conceal relevant facts and present events from such a skewed vantage point?

It is unclear whether Noor Wazwaz, a producer at Morning Edition, played any role in deciding what context should be included or omitted in these reports or in NPR's approach in reporting about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It is noteworthy, however, that the NPR producer has publicly called for news reports to hew to the Palestinian narrative.

In a talk she gave at the Palestine Center in Washington, D.C. on July 28, 2017, for example, the young Palestinian-American journalist impressed upon her audience the importance of "reframing the frame" of the Palestinian-Israel conflict. Among the specific points she said must be made clear in reports about the conflict were:

*"Under international law, Palestinians have a right to return to their homeland."

The NPR journalist substitutes a Palestinian position for fact: There is no international document that legally compels Israel to absorb and resettle Palestinian refugees. Rather, there are different interpretations of the non-binding UN resolutions and documents that deal with Palestinian refugees returning to Israel. In the words of Lex Takkenberg, former deputy-director general of UNRWA and author of the book, The Status of Palestinian Refugees in International Law, there is "no consensus amongst legal scholars as to the applicability of the principles and provisions of international instruments concerning the right of return..." (Quoted in "The Controversy of a Palestinian 'Right of Return' to Israel," Tamar Kramer, Arizona Journal of International and Comparative Law, Vol. 18 #3, 2001) 

Palestinian spokesmen and advocates maintain that Palestinians have a legal right to return to Israel, citing Resolution 194, passed after the first Arab-launched war against Israel. In fact, Arabs rejected this resolution and refused to negotiate a peaceful settlement with Israel, one of the central assumptions of the resolution.  Most legal authorities find that Palestinian claims for repatriation to their homes of 1947–49 are not well grounded in law and that their so-called "right of return" has no meaningful legal basis. (See, for example, "Evaluating the Palestinians' Claimed Right of Return," Andrew Kent, 34 U. Pa. J. Int'l L. 149, 2012) 

*"Under international law, settlements are illegal."

Here too, Wazwaz substitutes a Palestinian talking point for hard fact: There is no consensus among legal scholars about settlements in international law. Those who believe that the settlements are illegal rely on Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (1949), while those who maintain Israeli settlements are legal argue that this document is not applicable to Israel's settlements. For example, the late Professor Julius Stone, a prominent legal theorist who authored 27 books on international law, maintained that the effort to designate Israeli settlements as illegal was a "subversion. . . of basic international law principles." Stone set forth the central principles of international law upon which Israel's right to settle the West Bank is based and discussed the inapplicability of Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the case of Israeli settlement. 

*"Under international law, the occupation in and around Jerusalem is illegal."

Here again, the claims of illegality are rooted in politics rather than in international law. Occupations are not "illegal". George P. Fletcher, the Cardozo Professor of Jurisprudence at Columbia University School of Law, explains that "it is not illegal for victorious powers to occupy hostile territory seized in the course of war until they are able to negotiate a successful peace treaty with their former enemies."

Moreover, there are differing opinions regarding the status of Jerusalem, including those of prominent jurists and legal scholars who argue that Israel's claim to sovereignty over a unified Jerusalem has the most legitimacy.

In the course of her talk, Noor Wazwaz made several other propagandistic assertions not rooted in fact. For example:

"Israel doesn't let children in from Gaza for cancer treatment."

"There is systematic racism [against Arab Israelis]: They are not allowed to vote in some things, they are targeted and so on."

"The U.S. favors Israeli security over Palestinian security."

According to NPR's ethics guidelines handbook

We do not express personal opinions in public appearances outside NPR — just as we would not on our own broadcasts. If we are part of a panel discussion or a current events roundup and are asked what we think about an issue, what we think a politician should do or what is likely to happen next, we give answers that are based on solid reporting, not opinion...

And

We avoid speaking to groups where the appearance itself might put in question our impartiality. This includes situations where our appearance may seem to endorse the agenda of a group or organization, as well as participation in some political debates and forums where the sponsoring groups or other participants are identified with a particular perspective on an issue.

But then again, NPR ethical guidelines also suggest a commitment to impartiality, completeness, accuracy and fairness:

The public deserves factual reporting and informed analysis without our opinions influencing what they hear or see. So we strive to report and produce stories that transcend our biases and treat all views fairly. We aggressively challenge our own perspectives and pursue a diverse range of others, aiming always to present the truth as completely as we can tell it.

NPR journalists are clearly flouting their media outlet's guidelines and are delivering an inaccurate, incomplete and skewed version of the news about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Listeners should hold them accountable.


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