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CAMERA ALERT: Faulty Timeline and Partisan Sources at the New York Times

New York Times reporter Deborah Sontag's egregiously biased front-page July 26th article of nearly 6000 words recounts why she thinks the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations failed.  It is entitled, "Quest for Mideast Peace: How and Why It Failed." The subheadline is "Many Now Agree That All the Parties, Not Just Arafat, Were to Blame."

In her rendition, Israel bears the onus, the concessions by former Prime Minister Barak supposedly having been exaggerated and Arafat's lack of response misunderstood.

Distorted Timeline

An accompanying timeline (probably written by a staffer other than Sontag) contains further error and bias. Above the timeline a header reads: “More than 650 people have been killed since September 29, 2000, most of them Palestinians.” The tally of Israeli victims is not even mentioned, though most were non-combatants killed in terrorist attacks while going about their daily business. By contrast, Palestinians losses mainly occurred in violent attacks launched by Palestinians against Israelis.

Apparently to the New York Times, Israelis killed standing in line at a disco, riding in a schoolbus, driving in their cars, exploring a cave, hiking, or just taking out the trash are morally equivalent to Palestinians killed while perpetrating violent attacks against Israelis. While all loss of life is regrettable, the victim of a terror attack bears no responsibility for his death.The same cannot be said of the Palestinians killed while attempting to kill or injure others.

The timeline’s entry for Sept. 28-29 reads: “Violence erupts between Palestinians and the police.” Actually, the Palestinians began the violence by pelting Jewish worshipers at the Western Wall with stones. On October 17, “the fighting continues.” Again, there is  no mention that Palestinians initiated the attacks.

Then on April 17, a specific incident is finally described. What is it? “Israeli forces seize a swath of Palestinian-ruled territory in the Gaza Strip, only to retreat after criticism from Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.” As usual, the newspaper has omitted cause and effect. Israel took this action in an effort to stop frequent Palestinian mortar attacks against Jewish communities. The Palestinians attacked, and the Israelis responded. But the Times writer only saw fit to mention the Israeli action, and the criticism against it. Powell also criticized the Palestinian mortar attacks. Why was that omitted?

The next timeline segment is for June 2 (which is itself an error – the event in question actually took place on June 1.) The only attack against Jews noted in any detail (using just one sentence) is the bombing of the Dolphanarium, a beachside disco. The statement reads:  “A suicide bomber kills at least 18 people outside a beachside club in Tel Aviv, in what is by far the most deadly terrorist attack since September. Mr. Arafat makes a public call for an immediate cease-fire.”

Notably, the description of the suicide attack is immediately followed by mention of Arafat’s call for a cease-fire. In contrast, Prime Minister Sharon’s earlier unilateral cease-fire, which he maintained even after the horrific Dolphanarium attack, went unmentioned in the timeline. Indeed, throughout, Israel’s restraint in the face of such atrocities is ignored, while Arafat’s never-enforced cease-fire is highlighted. Nor is there reference to the fact that Arafat’s cease-fire call came only after intense pressure from Western nations, including from Germany, whose Foreign Minister happened to be on an official visit to the area and had jogged past the beach-side club just hours before the attack.

Emblematic of the Times’ apparent obliviousness toward Jewish victims, the timeline writer couldn’t even remember, or be bothered to research, the actual number of Israelis killed at the disco bombing. It has long been known that the Palestinian bomber killed not “at least 18” Israelis, but exactly 21, mostly teenage girls.

Sontag’s Slanted Source, “Rob” Malley

Much of the revisionist history put forward by the Times is based on questionable accounts of the negotiations offered up by Robert Malley, a former second-level National Security Council staffer who was present at the Camp David summit. Interestingly, in her article Sontag refers quite familiarly to Malley, calling him “Rob Malley” throughout.

Malley put forward his tilted version of the negotiations in a New York Times op-ed (July 8, 2001), and in a New York Review of Books article (August 9, 2001), written with Palestinian academic and former Arafat adviser Hussein Agha. That Malley might not be a disinterested or reliable source should have been evident to Times editors, even ignoring his choice of co-author, from a recent interview he gave to the far-left French newspaper Liberation (April 23, 2001), which was rife with slanted anti-Israel assertions and terminology. (Judging by a book he wrote on Algeria, Malley seems quite fluent in French.) Asked by the interviewer whether Mr. Arafat could make further concessions (!) without entering into conflict with his radicals, Malley replied:

He [Arafat] operates on a political ground a good deal more mined that an Israeli Prime Minister. For the Palestinians, to accept today a cessation of hostilities while gaining only an end to the Israeli encirclement of their territory, that means that they fought four months to return to the preceding status quo. It is the impossibility of accepting that for Arafat which condemns the strategy of Sharon. A political opening (immediate concessions of Israel on the colonies or a transfer of the territories and resumption of the peace process) is essential...

Malley’s claim that it is “impossible” for Arafat to stop the violence without first achieving some political gain ignores the fact that permanently renouncing violence was the first and most important promise Arafat made, without which there would have been no peace process, no Palestinian Authority, and no “President” Arafat. Of course, Malley’s reference to Israeli communities situated over the green line as “colonies” is just further evidence of his bias. (While the French word "colonie" can be translated as settlement, its primary translation is to colony. A fairer choice therefore would have been to use the French "commune," or community.)

Later in the interview, responding to the question of why President Bush began to intervene in the conflict, Malley responds:

Israel had crossed a red line which was all the more likely to set ablaze the situation that occurred after its attack against the Syrian targets in Lebanon and was likely to bring conflict with Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinians...

Malley’s bias is here again evident, as he charges Israel with crossing a red line while ignoring hostile actions of the Syrians and their Hezbollah allies, which attacked and killed Israeli soldiers, crossed the border to abduct three other Israeli soldiers, and in addition also abducted an Israeli civilian. Why is that not crossing a “red line”?

Malley revises out of existence Arafat’s broken promises and responsibility for murder and violence, and he effaces Syria’s and Hezbollah’s provocations, all the while pointing a finger of blame at Israel.

No wonder Sontag finds “Rob” so credible.


The beginning of the article appears below. To read the entire article, go to the web address listed at the end of the article excerpt.

New York Times
July 26, 2001

Quest for Mideast Peace: How and Why It Failed

Many Now Agree That All the Parties, Not Just Arafat, Were to Blame


JERUSALEM -- Days before the Palestinian uprising erupted in September, Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Yasir Arafat held an unusually congenial dinner meeting in the Israeli’s private home in Kochav Yair.

At one point, Mr. Barak even called President Clinton and, two months after the Camp David peace talks had failed, proclaimed that he and Mr. Arafat would be come the ultimate Israeli-Palestinian peace partners. Within earshot of the Palestinian leader, according to an Israeli participant, Mr. Barak theatrically announced, “I’m going to be the partner of this man even more so than Rabin was,” referring to Yitzhak Rabin, the late Israeli prime minister.

It was a moment that seems incredible in retrospect, now that Mr. Barak talks of having revealed “Arafat’s true face” and Ariel Sharon, the present prime minister, routinely describes the Palestinian leader as a terrorist overlord.

But during the largely ineffectual cease-fire effort now under wayin the Middle East, peace advocates, academics and diplomats have begun excavating such moments to see what can be learned from the diplomacy right before and after the outbreak of violence. Their premise is that any renewal of peace talks, however remote that seems right now, would have to use the Barak-Clinton era as a point of departure or as an object lesson or both.

In the tumble of the all-consuming violence, much has not been revealed or examined. Rather, a potent, simplistic narrative has taken hold in Israel and to some extent in the United States. It says: Mr. Barak offered Mr. Arafat the moon at Camp David last summer. Mr. Arafat turned it down, and then “pushed the button” and chose the path of violence. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is insoluble, at least for the foreseeable future.

But many diplomats and officials believe that the dynamic was far more complex and that Mr. Arafat does not bear sole responsibility for the breakdown of the peace effort.

There were missteps and successes by Israelis, Palestinians and Americans alike over more than seven years of peace talks between the 1993 Oslo interim agreement and the last negotiating sessions in Taba, Egypt, in January.

Mr. Barak did not offer Mr. Arafat the moon at Camp David. He broke Israeli taboos against any discussion of dividing Jerusalem, and he sketched out an offer that was politically courageous, especially for an Israeli leader with a faltering coalition. But it was a proposal that the Palestinians did not believe would leave them with a viable state. And although Mr. Barak said no Israeli leader could go further, he himself improved considerably on his Camp David proposal six months later.

“It is a terrible myth that Arafat and only Arafat caused this catastrophic failure,” Terje Roed-Larsen, the United Nations special envoy here, said in an interview. “All three parties made mistakes, and in such complex negotiations, everyone is bound to. But no one is solely to blame.”

Mr. Arafat is widely blamed for his stubborn refusal to acknowledgepublicly any evolution in the Israeli position, and later to seize quickly the potential contained in the 11th-hour peace package that Mr. Clinton issued in late December.

Mr. Arafat did eventually authorize his negotiators to engage in talks in Taba that used the Clinton proposal as a foundation. Despite reports to the contrary in Israel, however, Mr. Arafat never turned down “97 percent of the West Bank” at Taba, as many Israelis hold. The negotiations were suspended by Israel because elections were imminent and “the pressure of Israeli public opinion against the talks could not be resisted,” said Shlomo Ben-Ami, who was Israel’s foreign minister at the time.

Still, the details of a permanent peace agreement were as clear at Taba as they ever have been, most participants said. So afterward, United Nations and European diplomats scrambled to convene a summit meeting in Stockholm. There, they believed, Mr. Arafat who is known to make decisions only under extreme deadline pressure was prepared to deliver a breakthrough concession on the central issue of the fate of Palestinian refugees, and a compromise was possible on Jerusalem.

For a variety of reasons, the summit meeting never took place. In the Israeli elections in February, Mr. Barak lost resoundingly to Mr. Sharon. It was then that peace moves froze -- not six months earlier at Camp David.

After Camp David: Much Went On Behind the Scenes

Key Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, as well as several American and European diplomats keenly involved in the peace talks of the Clinton-Barak era, were interviewed for this article. Mr.Arafat also gave an interview. Mr. Barak did not; Gadi Baltiansky, his former spokesman, said the former prime minister, who has kept a low profile since his defeat, was unwilling to talk.

Few Israelis, Palestinians or Americans realize how much diplomatic activity continued after the Camp David meeting appeared to produce nothing. Building on what turned out to be a useful base, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators conducted more than 50 negotiating sessions in August and September, most of them clandestine, and most at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem...

For the complete article (free registration is required), go to:



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