New York Times Promotes (Actual) Palestinian Talking Point

What does Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas truly want, behind all the politicking and positioning? No one can really know.

No one, it seems, except for New York Times journalists.

A recent story by David D. Kirkpatrick explains that Abbas's true, inner desire is to restart peace talks, which until now he has assiduously avoided. Or as the headline to Kirkpatrick's March 21 article puts it, "Document Shows Abbas's Desire to Resume Israeli Talks."
The story's lede likewise informs readers that Abbas is "so eager to return to peace talks with the Israelis that he may soften his demand that Israel's president [sic] publicly pledge to halt construction of new settlements on Palestinian land [sic] before such negotiations can resume."

The problem is, the newspaper's certainty about Abbas's inner hopes is based entirely on a document, prepared for the Palestinian leader by strategists at his Negotiations Affairs Department, which suggests certain talking points for the Palestinian leader to use during his meeting with the U.S. president. A correction published by the newspaper two days after Kirkpatrick's article was published accurately described the document as "a set of draft talking points prepared for President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, which suggested that in his meeting with President Obama, Mr. Abbas express a strong desire to resume peace talks with Israel...."

In other words, New York Times journalists saw a document meant to help Abbas promote Palestinian intersts and position himself as desirous of the peace talks he has long shunned, and they accepted the premise of those carefully designed talking points as fact.

To be sure, the newspaper isn't always so trusting about leaders intentions. When describing Netanyahu's assertions that he wanted peace talks, for example, Times reporters have cast it as mere spin. "Mr. Netanyahu's office seemed eager to sound open to renewing talks," a September 18, 2011 article asserted.

And that — the gap between "seems eager" and "so eager" — captures the all-too-predictable double standard at the New York Times. Israeli calls for a return to negotiations are dismissed as an attempt to "seem eager to sound open" to talks, while Palestinian talking points supposedly prove that they are "so eager to return to peace talks."

The article is plagued by other problems, too:

• The reporter promotes the questionable idea that by demanding an Israeli settlement freeze without also demanding a public announcement of that freeze, Abbas is "softening" the Palestinian position. In fact, according to the article, Abbas's core demand remains unchanged.

• Not a single critical voice is heard addressing the supposed softening by Abbas. The only person quoted in the article is a former Palestinain negotiator. Meanwhile, international pressure on the Palestinians to drop their preconditions is completely ignored.

• While insisting that Abbas desires peace talks, the article doesn't say the same about Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu, and instead spins his consistent calls for immediate, unconditional negotiations into a "refusal to ... negotiate from the 1967 borders."

• The "1967 borders" referenced in the article are not borders at all, but rather lines — and the difference is substantive. 

• Israeli settlements are not being built on "Palestinian land," as Kirkpatrick claims, but rather on disputed land that Palestinians claim for themselves. There has yet to be an agreement on what territory would become part of a future Palestinian state and what will remain under Israeli control. This designation of borders is considered a "final status" issue to be settled in negotiations between the sides, though it is generally agreed that most settlers, though not most settlements, will remain in their homes under Israeli sovereignty under an eventual peace agreement.

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