Over the last couple of days, the Los Angeles Times news coverage of Ariel Sharon’s views on the U.S.-backed “road map” and his Cabinet’s approval of the plan unfairly characterized the prime minister and contained several other examples of bias.
* In her May 26 article entitled “Israel OKs U.S.-Backed Peace Plan,” Megan Stack and Rebecca Trounson write of Sharon: “A war veteran famously ruthless in battle, a man they call the Bulldozer and the father of the Jewish settlement enterprise, the uncompromising Sharon is an improbable peace broker.”
This one-sided, editorialized, and erroneous portrayal of Sharon is exacerbated by a photo caption accompanying the story, which reads: “The uncompromising Sharon is an improbable peace broker.”
* Similarly, the same day, in another story, in providing “context” for Sharon’s backing of the peace plan, Times reporters Maher Abukhater and Rebecca Trounson, find this information pertinent:
Sharon, who served as Israel’s defense minister during the 1982 war in Lebanon, was later found indirectly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Palestinian refugees at the hands of Israeli-allied Lebanese militias. Many Palestinians also dislike and fear him for his role in expanding Jewish settlements on occupied Arab lands. (“Palestinian View Is Mostly Skeptical,” May 26)
Apparently, in the minds of Abukhater, Trounson and Stack, the fact that in 1982, as Minister of Defense, Sharon was responsible for the dismantling of the first Israeli civilian settlements ever to be evacuated was not relevant context. He oversaw the dismantling of Yamit and Ophira, where some Israelis had resided for more than a decade.
Also, contrary to the Times’ image of Sharon as “uncompromising” and “an improbable peace broker,” the Israeli prime minister was, in fact, supportive of multiple peace agreements with Arab neighbors, starting with the 1979 Camp David Peace Accords with Egypt, which he helped negotiate as a minister of the Begin government. In 1994, as opposition leader, Sharon supported the accords with Jordan, and later on, as a minister under Netanyahu, he strengthened the accords with Jordan by, for example, arranging for increased water transfers. Moreover, in 1998, as Foreign Minister, Sharon accompanied Prime Minister Netanyahu to the Wye River talks as chief negotiator. As a result of these talks, 13 percent of territories in Area C (under full Israeli control) were transferred to the Palestinian Authority and another 14.2 percent of lands in Area B (Israeli military control and Palestinian civil control) were transferred to full PA control.
* Once again, the Los Angeles Times employs the partisan language of “Palestinian uprising to end the Israeli occupation” (Stack and Trounson, May 26). Until the Palestinians launched their uprising in September 2000, nearly 100 percent of the Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza lived under their own government–the Palestinian Authority–and thus could not have been described as living under “occupation.” Moreover, at the Camp David talks, which preceded the uprising by a couple of months, and at the Taba negotiations a few months later, Israel offered to withdraw from all of Gaza and from almost the entire West Bank. Arafat could have achieved statehood peacefully at the time, but instead he rejected the offer, without even putting forward a counter-offer, and he chose to launch the uprising.
*As noted above, the disputed territories of the West Bank and Gaza were inaccurately described as “occupied Arab lands.”
Suffering From Amnesia
*In the Abukhater and Trounson article about Palestinians’ reactions to the Israeli move, the Los Angeles Times allows a Palestinian student to erase Camp David and Taba from history. They report without noting the misinformation:
Ahmad Abu Sabae, a student at Al Quds University, laughed derisively at the notion of Sharon pushing for a renewed peace process with the Palestinians. Even the left-leaning Labor Party, which helped produce the Oslo peace accords, had not ended Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands, he said. [emphasis added]
“What did we get from Israel after 10 years of Oslo?” asked Sabae, 23. ‘Nothing. Look where we are today. Do you think Sharon, the worst of all the Israeli leaders, is going to be more generous to us than [Yitzhak] Rabin and [Shimon] Peres? They are all the same. Let us not fool ourselves anymore.”
Notice that Ehud Barak is conspicuously absent from Abu Sabae’s recall of Israeli leaders. He was the Labor Party Prime Minister who proposed a complete Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and an almost 100 percent withdrawal from the West Bank, or in other words, an end to “Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands.” It was the Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat, not an Israeli prime minister, who scuttled thatprospect. It was irresponsible of the Times to not remind readers of Barak’s offer at Camp David.
* The subheadline for the Stack article “Israel OKs U.S.-Backed Peace Plan” is: “While the government votes to accept the creation of a Palestinian state, it sets conditions that are likely to complicate the process.” Neither this headline, nor any other Los Angeles Times headline in recent memory makes clear that the Palestinians are also setting conditions “likely to complicate the process.” For example, the Palestinian demand for a “right of return” for Palestinians refugees and their millions of descendants to live in Israel-proper is a non-starter.