Like most events involving Israel and the Middle East, the story of the peace process is complicated and many-sided, yet, as so often is the case, there seems an irresistible temptation by some in the news media to simplify the issues, omit key stories and pitch coverage toward a preferred political view. The widely respected British magazine, The Economist, has been one of the most consistent offenders in this regard, displaying open sympathy for the Palestinian Arab point of view in its editorials and articles, while misrepresenting and disparaging the Israeli perspective.
Founded in 1843, The Economist was recently described by The Boston Globe as responsible for "a remarkable fraction of global perspectives in policy circles." By The Economist’s own measure its half-million weekly readers are "top business decision-makers and opinion leaders." Regrettably, this tier of significant readers is regularly presented biased and incomplete information on the Middle East.
Coverage of the peace process–even intensive coverage–often overlooks the basic tenets of the Oslo Agreements, in which Israel agreed to surrender territories in exchange for genuine peace. The PLO pledged in the accords to renounce terrorism and revise its charter calling for Israel’s destruction. Many specifics were laid out under the agreements, but certain key issues, such as the final borders of the Palestinian area, the nature of the Palestinian government, the future of Jewish settlements under Palestinian jurisdiction, and the status of Jerusalem, were to be resolved later as part of a five year peace process.
In May of 1994, after the signing of the Gaza-Jericho agreement by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat, Israeli authorities withdrew from the Gaza Strip and Jericho, and the PLO set up the Palestinian Authority (PA) to assume governmental and law enforcement functions in these areas. Since then the peace process has slowed, a consequence of the unparalleled level of terrorism against Israel–the worst of any comparable period since the founding of the state.
How has The Economist conveyed these events? For starters the magazine has adopted the politically-motivated misnomer "Palestinian National Authority (PNA)" when referring to the "Palestinian Authority (PA)." According to the peace accords signed by Yasir Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin, the newly-designated governing party in Jericho and Gaza is the "Palestinian Authority." Both signatories to the peace accords agreed that the nature of the authority over the West Bank and Gaza Strip would be determined during a five year interim period. The Economist, however, impatient to bypass negotiations between the parties as well as the confidence-building process, has conferred on the PA immediate nationhood. The same apparent intent is manifest in repeated references to the West Bank as "Palestine." When queried about this by CAMERA, Stephen Hugh-Jones, International Editor of The Economist, replied that while he agrees that "PA" is used in the accords, "like much else therein, it was part of the price the weaker party paid for getting any accord at all."
Such unabashed advocacy of the Palestinian position may explain why The Economist adopts a strikingly indulgent view of Palestinian violations of the accord. The Oslo Agreement and the Gaza-Jericho Agreement, both signed by Yasir Arafat as representative of the Palestinian people, commit the PA to "take all measures necessary to prevent acts of terrorism" as well as to disarm terrorist groups in the area under its jurisdiction. Yet The Economist seems reluctant even to describe as terrorists those who perpetrate violence against innocents for political purposes. Instead, those who bomb and shoot Israelis are called "Islamists," "activists," or "rejectionists." One article reports that a "young man" blew up a bus, killing seven soldiers and an American woman. Occasionally such killers are "suicide bombers," but The Economist is quick to remind readers that "what Israel calls terrorists many Palestinians call resistance fighters."
Interestingly, the magazine displays no such reluctance to identify terrorists in other conflicts. Kurdish PKK extremists, for example, whose actions are in some ways similar to those of Palestinian extremists, are routinely referred to as "terrorists," but The Economist does not feel obliged to remind readers that many Kurds regard them as resistance heroes.
Predictably, The Economist’s understating of Palestinian terror attacks is accompanied by a minimizing of Israeli security concerns. Thus, Yasir Arafat’s comparison of the Oslo Accords to an ancient Muslim treaty designed to trick the enemy with whom it was made is not menacing but merely "incautious", and Israelis who "pounced" on the Arafat statement were "trouble-seekers. Similarly, "Muslim extremists who talk as if they would sweep Israel into the sea" are making these threats for rhetorical points only, according to The Economist. The magazine’s use of quotation marks further signals its disdain for Israel’s security fears, as in these statements, on September 3 and November 19, 1994:
- The Israeli army can count 49 "terrorist incidents."
- The Israelis say [Arafat] is not doing enough to control "terrorism."
Similarly, while Palestinian intentions are unchallenged, despite their leader’s repeated, ominous pronouncements, Israeli motives are constantly criticized. When Arafat calls for a Jihad, a holy war, to liberate Jerusalem, the controversy that this created in Israel is called a "pretext" to doubt the Palestinians’ good faith. Israeli Prime Minister Rabin’s position, that increased PA empowerment must be accompanied by a PA crackdown on terrorists, is termed a "delaying device."
The Economist’s view of the causes for the slowdown in the peace process mirrors precisely the Palestinian position. Israel is portrayed as the intransigent party and security and terrorism issues are all but omitted. Thus the flood of illegal arms into the areas, the establishment of Hamas training camps in Gaza, the expansion of the PLO police from the agreed-upon 9,000 recruits to 19,000, the chilling calls of these recruits to liberate Haifa and Ashdod and their use of the Nazi salute at swearing-in ceremonies, are unmentioned. Rather, The Economist proffers the view, as described in a January 7, 1995 editorial, that "the awkwardness [of Israeli settlements] has proved intolerable, bringing the peace process to a halt." The magazine contends that the settlements incite attack and thus require the presence of Israeli troops to protect them. The presence of Israeli soldiers, in turn, is said to delay Palestinian elections, and thus slows the peace process.
All this recapitulates exactly the Arab perspective, but radically misstates the full picture. In point of fact, not only do the peace accords permit the settlements to remain during the interim negotiating phase, they require the Palestinians to help ensure their safety. But, as in the magazine’s aggressive advocacy of a PLO state, the publication has set aside the stipulations of the Oslo Accords in favor of the demands of the Arabs.
In the same vein, The Economist advocates cooperation between Arafat’s PA
and Hamas, another policy that violates Oslo. Those accords obliged the PA to disarm all militant groups within its jurisdiction. On the Syrian track The Economist asserts that Yitzhak Rabin is the sole obstacle to peace between the countries. Assad "has made his position plain: he is ready for a full peace in return for full Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Golan Heights…" The magazine passes in silence over the issue of Assad’s reliability, even though in years past its writers have described him as "unpredictable" and among the "least savory" of Arab leaders. Nor does The Economist mention the strategic value of the Golan to Israel, or note that when the heights were under Syrian control, they were used continually as a base from which to bombard Israel.
The magazine’s blatant injection of opinion into news pieces is startling by any measure and its overt hostility to Israel’s safety a matter of concern given the publication’s influence. The search for peace is inevitably long and difficult, and is only made more so by the propagandizing that passes for journalism in The Economist.