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Middle East Issues





AFP's Timeline of Bias, Redux


In 2005, AFP released a timeline called "Major events in Palestinian history," which we faulted at the time as "tendentious, largely whitewashing Palestinian violence and responsibility for the conflict." Nearly eight years later to the day, AFP does it again.

Today's 20-year timeline, marking "Israel-Palestinians: Key Dates since the Oslo Accords," includes some of the misleading entries from 2005, and some new ones as well. The most glaring oversight exonerating Palestinians of any responsibility is the absence of any reference to Palestinian terrorism.

Thus, the 2002 entries state:

- March 29: Sharon, elected prime minister a year earlier, launches Israel's biggest offensive in the West Bank since the 1967 Middle East war, destroying most of Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah.

- In June 29, Israel starts construction of a separation barrier to separate it from the West Bank that in places dips need into the Palestinian territory.

Nowhere does the AFP mention that Israel's huge offensive was the result of a series of brutal Palestinian terror bombings and other terror attacks, beginning in 2000, which killed and injured thousands Israeli men, women and children at Israeli pizzerias, discos, and even family Passover seders taking place at the Park Hotel in Netanya. As then Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan wrote in his report about the Israeli offensive:

From the beginning of March until 7 May, Israel endured approximately 16 bombings, the large majority of which were suicide attacks. More than 100 persons were killed and scores more wounded. Throughout this period, the Government of Israel, and the international community, reiterated previous calls on the Palestinian Authority to take steps to stop terrorist attacks and to arrest the perpetrators of such attacks. . . .

The proximate cause of the operation was a terrorist attack committed on 27 March in the Israeli city of Netanya, in which 28 people were killed and 140 injured. I condemned the terrorist attack from the Beirut Summit of the League of Arab States as morally repugnant and later described it to the Security Council as a blow against the very possibility of coexistence. On 29 March 2002, the Cabinet of the Government of Israel issued a communiqué approving “a wide-ranging operational action plan against Palestinian terror” and, to that end, “the mobilization of reserves as per operational need”. The objective was to “defeat the Palestinian terror infrastructure and to prevent the recurrence of the multiple terrorist attacks which have plagued Israel”.

These same terrorist attacks — ignored by the AFP — were also the impetus for the construction of the separation barrier.

AFP again ignores Palestinian terror, and reports only the Israeli response, with respect to Israel's winter 2008-09 "Cast Lead" offensive in the Gaza Strip. The Dec. 27 entry states:

Israel begins a devastating 22-day military offensive in the Gaza Strip, prompting the Palestinians to suspend talks.

The timeline contains nothing at all about the thousands of Palestinian rockets and mortar shells, aimed at Israeli towns, villages, kibbutzim, and cities, which prompted the offensive.

AFP's description about the start of the second Palestinian intifada in 2000 is equally biased. The timeline states:

In late September, a controversial visit by Ariel Sharon to the mosques compound in annexed east Jerusalem sparks a new Palestinian uprising, or intifada.

But as we noted back in 2005:

It is nonsense to blame Sharon for “sparking” the intifada, when even Palestinian officials have exonerated him and acknowledged their own culpability. According to Communications Minister Imad Al-Faluji:

Whoever thinks that the Intifada broke out because of the despised Sharon’s visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque is wrong.. . . This Intifada was planned in advance, ever since President Arafat's return from the Camp David negotiations, where he turned the table upside down on President Clinton. (Al-Safir, March 3, 2001. Translated by MEMRI)

Elsewhere, Al-Faluji said: “The PA had begun to prepare for the outbreak of the current Intifada since the return from the Camp David negotiations.” (Al-Ayyam, December 6, 2000. Translated by MEMRI).

The 2013 entry is even more problematic than its 2005 predecessor. Nowhere does the new timeline note that the "mosques compound," the Temple Mount, is Judaism's holiest site. The 2005 chronology at least referred to the "Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, a site holy to Islam and Judaism."

AFP's accounts, both in 2005 and now, of the failure of the Camp David talks are carefully wiped clean of any Palestinian responsibility. Thus, the new timeline delicately states:

- July 11-25: US president Bill Clinton hosts talks with Arafat and Israeli premier Ehud Barak at Camp David that collapse over the thorny issues of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees.

Former Middle East envoy Dennis Ross, who worked under President Clinton during the Camp David talks, has made clear that Arafat intentionally sabotaged the peace talks:

He [Arafat] agreed to set up a private channel between his people and the Israelis, which I joined at the end of August. And there were serious discussions that went on, and we were poised to present our ideas the end of September, which is when the Intifada erupted. He knew we were poised to present the ideas. His own people were telling him they looked good. And we asked him to intervene to ensure there wouldn’t be violence after the Sharon visit, the day after. He said he would. He didn’t lift a finger. (Fox News, April 21, 2002)

It's not that AFP has a problem in general in apportioning blame for the break down in talks. On the contrary, AFP writers have no problem identifying the culprit when they believe that they can get away with blaming Israel. Thus, regarding current talks which started in July, the AFP states: "The previous direct negotiations broke down in September 2010 over Israel's settlement building."

PA Talking Points

That talks broke down in September 2010 because of Israel's settlement building is the official Palestinian Authority line. This line is wholeheartedly adopted in another AFP item today, an article by Selim Saheb Ettaba and Hossam Ezzedine, "20 years on, historic Oslo accords seen as false dawn." The article repeatedly blames settlements for the failure of talks:

With Palestinian officials admitting the latest US-brokered talks are "doomed to failure" and Israel stepping up settlement construction, analysts see outside pressure as the only way to reach an agreement. . . .

Settlement building, to which the Palestinians had long demanded a halt before negotiating, was stepped up with Israel's announcement before talks on August 14 of more than 2,000 new settler homes, infuriating Palestinian negotiators.

The last round of talks in 2010 broke down within weeks over the settlements issue.

Actually, Palestinians have not "long demanded" a halt of settlement construction before negotiating. This precondition was a Palestinian innovation dating back only to 2010. Before then, Palestinians managed to carry out dozens of talks, including those that resulted in the Oslo accords, at the same time as settlement construction was ongoing. But to point out that the Palestinian demand for a settlement freeze is a relatively new innovation suggests Palestinian Authority obstructionism.

And that clearly is something that AFP's Hossam Ezzedine, who also writes for the Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam, cannot do.

Given that Al-Ayyam is the Palestinian Authority's official newspaper, Ezzedine's whitewashing of Palestinian responsibility for violence and the breakdown of talks is no surprise. And, as Philippe Assouline points out, Ezzedine is not the only Palestinian journalist who has worked at the AFP while contemporaneously enjoying close ties with Palestinian administrations.

The glaring lopsidedness of the timeline and article give the impression that the journalist intended to submit the copy to Al Ayyam,  but mistakenly perhaps handed it instead to AFP.  The real surprise is that the international, supposedly objective news agency did not hesitate to publish the propagandistic copy.


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