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Middle East Issues





Talking about Peace Talks


Secretary of State John Kerry is returning to Israel, Ramallah and Jordan in his continued efforts to restart peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. With major turbulence in Syria and Egypt, and Iran's efforts to achieve nuclear weapons capability, various media have commented on the focus on Israel. The Washington Post editorialized:

The intense focus of Secretary of State John F. Kerry on the long-moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process when neighboring Egypt is collapsing into chaos and Syria's civil war rages unabated provokes more than a little head-scratching among diplomats from the Middle East. What, they ask us, could possibly possess Mr. Kerry to so intently pursue such an unpromising initiative, even as the United States refuses to exert leadership on crises of paramount importance to the region?

Whether successful or not, there will be heavy media coverage of Kerry's efforts. Frequently, reporting stresses the issues raised by Palestinian leaders and ignores Israeli concerns. Many times, Israeli positions are described as “demands” while Palestinian positions are cast as reasonable expectations Israel should accommodate. Journalists have a responsibility to present the full story, objectively and without bias, including issues important to the Israeli side.

Willingness to Negotiate

Though the media narrative of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations frequently portrays supposed Israeli intransigence as the chief obstacle to negotiations, this is utterly false. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly offered to negotiate without preconditions. On the other hand, Palestinian leaders refuse to negotiate unless Israel first satisfies their preconditions. Furthermore, even Washington Post editors acknowledged:

In 2008 Mr. Abbas rejected an offer from Mr. Netanyahu's predecessor, including the incorporation of half of Jerusalem into a Palestinian state and the “return” of some Palestinian refugees to Israel, that Mr. Netanyahu would never accept.

Like previous failed U.S. initiatives, Mr. Kerry's diplomacy ignores the powerful Hamas movement, which controls the Gaza Strip, opposes a peace deal and is capable of disrupting negotiations at any time by resuming missile attacks against Israel. Mr. Kerry banks on the support of Arab states, but two of Israel's Arab neighbors have no functioning government, while the other two — Jordan and Lebanon — have been all but overwhelmed by the spillover of refugees and fighting from Syria.

Settlements

One of the Palestinian pre-conditions is a “settlement freeze.” Even after Israel in 2009 announced a 10-month moratorium on new settlement construction, Mahmoud Abbas avoided talks until just weeks before the moratorium was set to expire. And when the moratorium did expire, he again spurned negotiations.

Regardless of whether or not Israel chooses to acquiesce to a freeze on construction in Jewish neighborhoods beyond the 1949 armistice lines –often incorrectly referred to as the “1967 borders”– in order to facilitate negotiations, those towns and neighborhoods are legal according to international law. In addition, as CAMERA explained:

Since 1967, Israeli leaders have repeatedly expressed willingness to relinquish territories won during the 1967 war and dismantle settlements built there in exchange for peace. Indeed, in April of 1982, Israel dismantled or transferred settlements in the Sinai to Egypt and in the summer of 2005, Israel withdrew its entire military and civilian presence from the Gaza Strip, dismantling all the settlements constructed there, transferring thriving greenhouses to the Palestinians, and expelling Israeli residents from their homes in the hopes of establishing peace with the Palestinians.

Instead, Palestinian militants –with the support of their Hamas-led government– have used the evacuated territory to launch rockets into Israel's pre-1967 borders, shelling residents of Sderot and other neighboring communities and causing death, injuries and damage within Israel. Since Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, the territory has also become the site of deadly internecine violence among Palestinian factions, kidnapping of journalists, vandalism, looting and general mayhem. Far from bringing peace to the Gaza Strip, the withdrawal has resulted in less secure borders for Israel.

Prisoners

One of the other Palestinian preconditions one might read about is the release of certain prisoners held in Israel. CAMERA recently reported:

Palestinian officials and the public have long pressed for the release of Palestinian prisoners, who are revered as heroes in government-controlled Palestinian media. Over the last several decades, Israel has released thousands of such prisoners, often times as goodwill gestures. This spring, President Mahmoud Abbashas reportedly insisted in talks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on the release of all Palestinian prisoners, including those convicted of brutal crimes, as a pre-condition for resuming negotiations with Israel.

All too often, mainstream media outlets have whitewashed the terrorist acts and violent crimes of Palestinian prisoners by failing to mention the crimes at all or by falsely minimizing the degree of violence. In some cases, media outlets euphemistically refer to prisoners incarcerated since before 1994 as “political prisoners,” covering up the atrocities they carried out.

For details on some of these crimes, please see the complete article.

Incitement

There is frequent incitement to hatred of Jews and Israel in Palestinian media, schools and the public square. Blood libel, the false accusation that Jews murder children, is a favorite theme of Arab media, used as the story line for comedy sketches and dramatic programming. Palestinian Media Watch has documented numerous instances of Palestinian Authority dehumanization and vilification of Jews and Israelis.

Only recently, official Palestinian television broadcast two young girls reciting a poem referring to Jews, “Oh Sons of Zion, oh most evil among creations; Oh barbaric monkeys, wretched pigs.” This incident received almost no coverage in the popular press, though it is certainly newsworthy. Teaching citizens, including children, to hate the potential peace partner cannot be conducive to achieving peace.

Refugees

There is frequent mention in news coverage of “the right of return” of Palestinian Arab refugees to Israel but there is scant mention of the equal or greater number of Jewish refugees from Arab lands, approximately 850,000, who were driven out of their homes in the wake of the establishment of the state of Israel. Ancient Jewish communities had existed in Arab countries for millennia until the Arab League defined all Jews as enemies of the state in 1947. State-sanctioned violence, arbitrary arrests, and forced expulsions followed. Arab governments confiscated billions of dollars of Jewish property. The total area of land seized from these Jews is five times the size of the state of Israel.

Jerusalem

There is no such thing as “Arab East Jerusalem.” In its 3,000-year history, Jerusalem has only been divided into “East” and “West” for the 19 years it was illegally occupied by Jordan and the Jews were ethnically cleansed from the city. CAMERA notes:

Since 1004 BCE, when King David established Jerusalem as the capital of his kingdom, there has been a continuous Jewish presence in Jerusalem, the holiest city in Judaism. Following the building of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the designation of other holy sites by Constantine the Great in 333 CE, Jerusalem became a destination of Christian pilgrimages. During Umayyad rule from 661 to 750 CE, the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque were built on the site where the Jewish Temples had once stood, and Jerusalem became the third holiest city in Islam.

Jews have constituted the largest ethnicgroup in Jerusalem since 1820. According to Yehoshua Ben-Arieh, "In the second half of the nineteenth century and at the end of that century, Jews comprised the majority of the population of the Old City ..." (Jerusalem in the Nineteenth Century). Martin Gilbert reports that 6,000 Jews resided in Jerusalem in 1838, compared to 5,000 Muslims and 3,000 Christians (Jerusalem: Rebirth of a City). Encyclopaedia Britannica of 1853 "assessed the Jewish population of Jerusalem in 1844 at 7,120, making them the biggest single religious group in the city." (Terence Prittie, Whose Jerusalem?). And
othersestimated the number of Jewish residents of Jerusalem at the time as even higher. Until about 1860, Jerusalem residents lived almost exclusively within the walls of the Old City, in east Jerusalem. Between 1860 and 1948, Jews lived in both eastern and western Jerusalem.

During the 19 years when Jordan occupied eastern Jerusalem and its holy sites (1948-1967), Jerusalem was divided. Jews were expelled from eastern Jerusalem and barred from visiting their holy places.

As a result of the Six Day War, the entire city of Jerusalem and its holy sites came under Jewish control. Israel reunified the city, extending Israeli law, jurisdiction and administration to the parts previously occupied by Jordan. The Israeli Knesset passed laws to protect holy sites and ensure freedom of worship to all, and offered Israeli citizenship to Jerusalem's Arab residents, most of whom declined.


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