Correspondent Molly Moore’s often problematic coverage of Israeli-Palestinian news is highlighted by her dispatch, “A Leader’s Conflicting Impulses; Palestinian Is Known for Strong Views, but Shuns Confrontation,” page one, The Washington Post, May 10.
1) Moore leads her portrait of the new Palestinian Authority prime minister this way:
At a closed-door meeting of political activists in the Gaza Strip last fall, during a period of repeated Palestinian suicide bombings and attacks against Israelis, Mahmoud Abbas, then the number two official in the Palestine Liberation Organization, voiced unusual criticism of the militant groups carrying out the attacks. [emphasis added]
Moore omits key details:
1. Abbas (“Abu Mazen”) was not meeting with “political activists” but representatives of groups including Hamas (Islamic Resistance Movement), and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, identified by the United States government as terrorist organizations.
2. The “armed conflict” Moore paraphrases Abbas as referring to, carried out by what she terms “militant groups,” was primarily terrorism against civilians committed by terrorists, not military operations against the Israeli army.
A page one Post article by John Mintz, headlined “FBI Focus Increases On Hamas, Hezbollah,” in the May 8 edition, describes Hamas as a terrorist organization in the first paragraph. It also notes that the U.S. government “has designated [Palestinian Islamic Jihad] a terrorist group because of its suicide bombings of Israelis.” But Moore neither identifies the groups by name nor uses the words terrorism or terrorist.
2) Moore writes that Abbas “believed Palestinians made a major error when they turned to suicide bombings and other armed attacks on Israelis in their frustration with Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.” [emphasis added]
Moore omits the key chronology: The Palestinian Arabs “turned to suicide bombings and other armed attacks” within months of PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat’s pledge in 1993 to then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to resolve all conflicts through peaceful negotiations. Rabin required that promise to start the Oslo process. The past 31 months of intensified Palestinian attacks on Israelis began in September 2000, two months after Arafat and the Palestinian Authority rejected Israel’s offer of a state on 95 percent of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, at a time when Israel occupied no Palestinian cities.
Moore omits consideration that Abbas’ objection to recent terrorism is on tactical grounds, not moral. She does not mention his reported offer of cabinet posts to Hamas.
3) Moore mentions Abbas’ book about the Oslo negotiations, Through Secret Channels. She also notes that he earned “a doctorate in history from Moscow’s Oriental College.” However, Moore omits another key detail: Abbas wrote an earlier book minimizing if not denying the Holocaust. The 1983 publication, The Other Side: The Secret Relationship Between Nazism and the Zionist Movement, was based on Abbas’ doctoral dissertation.
4) Moore writes that “in the late 1950s …. Abbas assisted Arafat in founding the Fatah movement. Before becoming prime minister, Abbas was the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee.”
Moore fails to mention that Fatah, largest of the more than half-a-dozen groups that formed the PLO in 1964, was — like its partners — a terrorist organization. Nor does she inform readers that Fatah is a reverse Arabic acronym for the Movement for the Total Liberation of Palestine and originally claimed all of British Mandatory Palestine, including Israel, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
5) Moore quotes former Israeli negotiator Yossi Beilin that “for those who believe Arafat is extremist and here (Abbas) is a moderate Palestinian it will be easy to make peace with, forget it.”
Moore omits an allegation by Mohammed Daoud Oudeh (“Abu Daoud”), planner of the PLO’s 1972 Munich Olympics massacre of Israeli athletes. According to Abu Daoud, “Abu Mazen was the financier of our operation,” although he did not know the details (Sports Illustrated, Aug. 26, 2002).
6) Moore writes that Abbas “was born in 1935 in Safed …. Now a part of northeastern Israel, Safed then was a mostly Palestinian town under the control of the British mandate ….”
Moore uses inappropriate terminology here. Before 1948 (when the new Jewish state took the name Israel), the adjective “Palestinian” referred exclusively to things Jewish, such as the Palestine Philharmonic, the Palestine National Fund and The Palestine Post. Arabs of the region, who thought of themselves largely as south Syrians, to the extent they applied any national-geographic term to themselves, shunned the label “Palestinian” as one associated with the Zionist movement.
7) Moore asserts, without attribution, that “in 1948, after the creation of Israel, [Safed’s] estimated 10,000 Palestinian residents were forced to flee.”
Moore omits that Safed’s Arab majority fled after Arab gunmen lost a battle with the defenders of the town’s Jewish minority. Had Arab leaders not rejected the U.N. partition plan, and had they not waged war against the new Jewish state, Safed’s Arabs would not have felt compelled to flee.
Molly Moore is one of The Washington Post’s two Jerusalem-based correspondents. Unfortunately, “A Leader’s Conflicting Impulses” fits the pattern of her Arab-Israeli coverage, biased by omission in favor of Palestinian claims.
The Moore article appears below.
A Leader’s Conflicting Impulses
By Molly Moore
JERUSALEM, May 9 — At a closed-door meeting of political activists in the Gaza Strip last fall, during a period of repeated Palestinian suicide bombings and attacks against Israelis, Mahmoud Abbas, then the number two official in the Palestine Liberation Organization, voiced unusual criticism of the militant groups carrying out the attacks.
They had turned a popular uprising into an armed conflict, he said, leading to the “complete destruction of everything we built.”
A decade earlier, after he signed the Oslo peace accordsas the Palestinians’ chief negotiator with Israel, Abbas became so frustrated with the authoritarian ways of his boss, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, that he withdrew from active politics and didn’t speak to Arafat for months, according to colleagues and news accounts at the time.
These two episodes shed light on the contradictory impulses of Abbas, the new Palestinian prime minister who has spent decades working behind the scenes of Palestinian politics and is now being cast into the most public and confrontational role of his career. Abbas, 68, popularly known as Abu Mazen, is facing conflicting expectations and pressures at the outset of another diplomatic initiative by the United States and others to end 31 months of violence between Israel and the Palestinians.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and President Bush have expressed hope that the ascension of Abbas to the new office will enhance chances for negotiation by diluting Arafat’s power. This weekend, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell will try to relaunch peace talks by meeting with Sharon and Abbas, but not Arafat.
Abbas made it clear, even before he took over as prime minister latelast month, that he believed Palestinians made a major error when they turned to suicide bombings and other armed attacks on Israelis in their frustration with Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bankand Gaza Strip. In large measure, this stand was what made him attractive to Sharon and Bush.
But a cross section of his associates say Abbas remains under pressure from a defiant Arafat, who has been chafing at the efforts to marginalize him. Abbas has a personality that is not as volcanic as Arafat’s, they say. But he is not as flexible as the United States and others might want him to be on broader issues, particularly concerning Palestinians’ right to a state, and he is less likely to try tocountermand Arafat than they might hope, the associates say.
“Nobody who is really informed about the situation in the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian street will say Abu Mazen is in power instead of Yasser Arafat,” said Ahmad Tibi, an Israeli Arab politician who worked closely with Abbas during previous peace efforts. He said that in recent days Abbas has told him and others: “Yasser Arafat is my president. He nominated me. He can nominate others. I respect his presidency and his position as the symbol for the Palestinian people.”
“He’s a non-political politician,” said Yossi Beilin, who has spent countless days as Abbas’s counterpart in every major Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiation of the past decade. “He doesn’t have elbows. He’s nonconfrontational.”
But Beilin added, “For those who believe Arafat is extremist and here [Abbas] is a moderate Palestinian it will be easy to make peace with, forget it.”
Arafat was pushed into accepting a prime minister by international mediators as well as other Palestinian leaders eager to improve relations with the United States. He has fought some of Abbas’s most basic requests for change. In return for promotions for three of his longtime political associates within the new cabinet, Arafat agreed to allow Abbas to appoint his own security minister, one of the most critical positions. But in recent days Arafat has balked at Abbas’s efforts to transfer most authority for security operations.
Abbas did not grant a request for an interview, but told reporters from Palestinian newspapers this week that “differences of viewpoints occur constantly, and even over simple issues,” between him and Arafat and other Palestinian officials. He added, however, that overall, he considers his working relationship with Arafat to be “excellent.”
Over the years, Abbas has developed a pattern of temporarily walking away from situations he found too frustrating, rather than engaging in fierce battle, according to those who have worked with him, making some colleagues wonder whether he will stick with the current job if matters become too confrontational.
When President Bill Clinton sequestered Israeli and Palestinian peace negotiators on the wooded grounds of the Camp David presidential retreat three years ago, Abbas, one of the Palestinians’ main negotiators, left during one of the most intense periods to attend his son’s wedding in the West Bank city of Ramallah. He was the only participant, other than Clinton himself, who was allowed to leave the compound.
But it was not Abbas’s departure that troubled some of his partners.
According to Beilin, U.S. and Israeli participants were baffled by what they called his apparent “diffidence” to the entire process. “You could immediately see it in his eyes,” said Beilin, who negotiated for Israel at Camp David.
In his years of working with Abbas, Beilin said, “if you had disputes, he would go to Morocco or Qatar or Jordan. Sometimes he would go to Moscow. He would be incommunicado. I couldn’t reach him. . . .He would disappear.”
Several times during discussions involving Arafat and international mediators over the new prime minister’s position, Abbas reportedly threatened to quit the process and not accept the nomination even if offered.
In his book about the Oslo peace accords, “Through Secret Channels,” Abbas conceded he used the threat to resign as head of the Palestinian negotiating team as a ploy to spur floundering negotiations. Abbas also made clear in his book that he delighted in the covert process of the Oslo accords that kept U.S. officials, Israeli intelligence agencies and the world’s news media in the dark during nine months of clandestine meetings between Palestinians and Israelis in Norway.
Abbas said he managed the smallest details to guarantee the secrecy of the meetings, including passing out cash to the Palestinian participants and telling them to make airplane reservations that ensured none of them would cross paths in the same airports to or from the meetings.
Associates of Abbas said they worry that a man who is so much more comfortable in the erudite atmosphere of policymakingthan in the rowdy, unpredictable world of personal politics could jeopardize his chances for success in his new, more public position.
“He’s never worked gaining support from the people,” said one prominent member of the Palestinian Legislative Council. “He just wants to discuss high policy.”
Abbas has a professorial air in demeanor and appearance, favoring conservative business suits and sporting a carefully clipped mustache in contrast to Arafat’s trademark olive green battle jackets, kaffiyeh and stubble. Abbas is said to be a voracious reader and a meticulous note-taker who records details of meetings at the end of the day at his home office. And he is intensely private in his personal life, according to associates. He eats most meals at home with his family and frequently shuts off callers who disturb him while he is playing with his grandchildren, colleagues said.
He is an aficionado of Arab music and movies and can “go back to the ’40s and tell you who acted and sang in any movie,” said Saeb Erekat, a longtime Palestinian negotiator.
Abbas’s personal history is inextricably woven into the Palestinian history of the last half-century. Abbas assisted Arafat in foundingthe Fatah movement. Before becoming prime minister, Abbas was the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee.
He was born in 1935 in the town of Safed, about six miles from the Syrian border. Now a part of northeastern Israel, Safed then was a mostly Palestinian town under the control of the British mandate over Palestine. In those days, Safed was famous for its cheese produced from sheep’s milk. Abbas’s father owned a flock of sheep and was among the town’s prominent cheese merchants. He also sold nuts and vegetables from a small shop beneath the family’s apartment on the edge of Safe d’s boisterous wholesale market.
In 1948, after the creation of Israel, the town’s estimated 10,000 Palestinian residents were forced to flee. Abbas, then 13, and his family left their home and their shop with all the belongings they could tote. His family first sought refuge in Damascus, whereAbbas spent his teenage years. He earned a law degree from the University of Damascus and, later, a doctorate in history from Moscow’s Oriental College.
He married another refugee from his home town and moved to Qatar. He worked as an elementary school teacher, then as a personnel director for a government ministry in Qatar. He had three sons — Mazen, Yasser and Tareq — and in the custom of many Arabs, took the name of his eldest son, Mazen, as his nickname, becoming Abu Mazen, or father of Mazen. In what associates saidwas one of the greatest tragedies of Abbas’s life, Mazen died last year of a heart attack at age 43.
In the late 1950s, Abbas joined a group of passionate young Palestinians who founded the Fatah movement under Arafat’s leadership. Throughout half a century, Abbas has held leadership roles in Fatah and the PLO.
According to Beilin, the Israeli peace negotiator, Abbas and Arafathave few substantive differences in their views of a Palestinian state or Palestinian rights.
In a glimpse of the introspection into which he frequently retreats, Abbas wrote that he spent most of a 10 1/2-hour flight between Tunis and Washington alone, separate from the rest of the Palestinian delegation, as he prepared for the signing of the Oslo accords.
“Would what we were about to do open the gates of a future for us or shut them?” Abbas wrote that he pondered. “Had we forfeited the people’s rights or preserved them? . . . And what would history say about us?”