King Calls for Stenographer, Washington Post Responds

Asked during the “al-Aqsa intifada” why The Washington Post often gave short shrift to statements by Israeli officials, then-Foreign Editor David Hoffman told CAMERA, “we’re not stenographers.” Perhaps, but the newspaper’s “Turmoil In The Middle East: Jordanian king’s Mideast outlook dims; Abdullah says failure to restart peace talks could spark uprising” (June 16) is mostly a stenographic record of the monarch’s selective venting.

A sidebar subhead describes the article as an account of “A wide-ranging interview.” Hardly. The prominently displayed item reads like a political maneuver by King Abdullah II to distract from his real troubles. For example:

* The monarch claims that al-Qaeda “disappears as an international organization when Israel-Palestine as an issue is taken off the table.” Post reporter Joby Warrick, beneficiary of this royal audience, doesn’t challenge the revisionism. Yet al-Qaeda’s central mission has been to overthrow regimes it labels as insufficiently pious – like that of the king’s – and replace them with a renewed caliphate, Israel or no Israel.

No questions about concessions

* King Abdullah II worries, in The Post’s words, that Israel’s “increasingly conservative political climate has rendered its government incapable of making … meaningful concessions needed for peace.” The interviewer doesn’t probe what “meaningful concessions” Abdullah envisions, given that Palestinian leaders have rejected offers of a state on virtually all the West Bank and Gaza Strip in exchange for peace three times in the past 10 years.

* The king predicts “if it’s not a two-state solution, then it’s a one-state solution …. And then, is it going to be apartheid, or is it going to be democracy?” Talk about chutzpah. Israeli Arabs have democratic rights Jordanians and Arabs elsewhere have been agitating for – not that The Post presses the king on the point. In the last West Bank and Gaza Strip elections, Palestinian Arabs gave Hamas – dedicated to Israel’s destruction – a plurality, and placed Fatah – busy seeking United Nations recognition so it does not have to negotiate peace with the Jewish state – second place.

* The king laments that “the polls in Israel are extremely disturbing, unlike they were a couple of years ago. Eighty-five percent of Israelis are saying they’re not interested in the ’67 borders, so it just shows me that now Israeli society has changed, where they’re beginning to believe the rhetoric of their leaders. I think you have the right and the hard right in Israel, and everybody has moved so many degrees.”

Again, no relevant follow-up question from The Post. Perhaps Palestinian launching of mortars and rockets from the Gaza Strip at Israel after it withdrew in 2005, the Hezbollah missile onslaught in 2006, and Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel in any borders as a Jewish state while insisting on a “right of return” has affected Israeli public opinion? Journalistically, why not query the king on public opinion in Jordan about his peace with Israel, from “moderate” Islamist opposition to “hard” Islamist rejection, with ambivalence from influential tribes.

* Paraphrasing the king, The Post writes that “if the Israelis op for full rights for Palestinians [in the West Bank and Gaza Strip], they will be outnumbered by burgeoning Arab populations within a decade. If not, he said, Israeli will soon see more clashes like those that erupted during protests last month by Palestinians. Again no pertinent follow-up. But Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics estimates, often used to support “Arab population bomb” arguments, apparently were inflated compared to Palestinian Authority Health Ministry figures for the West Bank. In addition, fertility rates among Palestinian Arabs (and Muslim Israeli Arabs) reportedly have been declining, converging with those of Israeli Jewish women. In any case, no Israeli leaders are talking about annexing large Arab-populated areas of the West Bank

* Nowhere does the article remind readers that Abdullah II represents a minority Hashemite dynasty whose top-down government is increasingly criticized by its own Palestinian majority. The real news out of Amman lately, absent from The Post’s stenographic record, is that Jordan, like the monarchy in Morocco, seeks membership in the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes the smaller oil emirates, as a royal buffer against “the Arab spring.”

Gloom, doom and no follow-up

* The article makes much of King Abdullah II’s gloomy mood. He says “2011 will be, I think, a very bad year for peace.” Regarding the “Arab spring” and attendant violence, “I think initial instability is something that we are all extremely nervous of.” But The Post doesn’t press the ruler over the issues which brought demonstrators into the streets, and led to the ouster of strongmen in Tunisia, Egypt and, apparently Yemen, to civil war in Libya and murderous mass repression in Syria, that required intervention by Saudi forces to prop up a minority Sunni aristocracy ruling a Sunni majority in Bahrain and that sparked protests against his own government. These issues were primarily corruption, economic stagnation, rule by favored elites, and political and civil repression. They were not Israel and not the Palestinian Arabs.

* Like a Xerox copier, The Post replays the king’s criticism of what the paper describes as America’s “record of unshakable U.S. support for Israel regardless of its policies toward Arabs.” This myth is particularly threadbare, unable to account for Washington spurring Jerusalem many times. A short list would include the crippling arms embargo clamped on the new Jewish state immediately after diplomatic recognition in 1948, pressure to evacuate the Sinai peninsula in ‘56 without adequate security guarantees, withholding “friend or foe” aviation identification codes in the 1991 Persian Gulf war — preventing Israeli planes from retaliating against Iraq for Scud missile attacks, providing hundreds of millions of dollars to the Palestinian Authority despite its failure to uphold Oslo “peace process” accords and never relocating the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

* The newspaper superficially refers to “the moderate Palestinian leadership in the West Bank ….” It notes Israeli and American criticism of the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority for entering a “unity” agreement with Hamas. But it doesn’t otherwise question the “moderation” of a PA that consistently disseminates anti-Israeli, anti-Jewish incitement in school curriculum, sermons by government-backed clerics, in PA-aligned newspapers and on official television and radio broadcasts. It doesn’t examine the “moderation” that has led PA leadership to reject three times in 10 years Israeli and Israeli-U.S. offers of a West Bank and Gaza Strip country in exchange for peace with Israel as the Jewish state.

* The Post erroneously explains Palestinian Arab commemorations of “al-Naqbha, or the catastrophe,” as referring “to the 1948 war.” Al-nakba as used currently by Palestinian Arabs and their backers refers not to Israel’s 1948 – 1949 War of Independence itself but to Israel’s victory. Had the Arabs won and eliminated Israel (and killed many of its people), the ’48 war would not have been referred to as a catastr

For a newspaper that prides itself on its unwillingness to report official statements at face value, “Jordanian king’s Mideast outlook dims” amounted to a journalistic pratfall, one in which The Post landed on Israel.

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