Media Ignore Ha’aretz Report on Israeli Flexibility

With four days to go before Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas submits an appeal to seek recognition as a member state at the United Nations, international diplomats are engaging in frantic eleventh-hour attempts to avert an all out showdown, and the media coverage — both news and editorial — is at full tilt. For the New York Times, that means repeated editorials and Op-Eds highlighting what it sees as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s intransigence and primary responsibility for the lack of direct talks.

There was, for instance, the Sept. 12 editorial which blamed Netanyahu first and foremost for failed negotiations (“we put the greater onus on Netanyahu, who has used any excuse to thwart peace efforts”). Another Op-Ed three days later repeated the sentiment (“Israel and New York’s Ninth District,” Sept. 15), stating:

But Mr. Netanyahu has been the most intractable, building settlements and blaming his inability to be more forthcoming on his conservative coalition. Egged on by Congressional Republicans, he has sought to embarrass Mr. Obama — astonishing behavior for so close an ally that does not serve his own country’s interest.

There was the Thomas Friedman Op-Ed yesterday (“Israel: Adrift at Sea Alone”) accusing Netanyahu of a “do nothing” strategy:

What Israel’s prime minister, Bibi Netanyahu, is responsible for is failing to put forth a strategy to respond to [the toppling of President Mubarak, the uprising in Syria, and other regional events] in a way that protects Israel’s long-term interests.

As the New York Times often does, Friedman saw fit to quote from the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, stating:

“The years-long diplomatic effort to integrate Israel as an accepted neighbor in the Middle East collapsed this week, with the expulsion of the Israeli ambassadors from Ankara and Cairo, and the rushed evacuation of the embassy staff from Amman,” wrote Haaretz newspaper’s Aluf Benn. “The region is spewing out the Jewish state, which is increasingly shutting itself off behind fortified walls, under a leadership that refuses any change, movement or reform. . . .”

It’s clear that in recent days the New York Times is closely reading Ha’aretz‘s coverage. Besides’ Friedman’s citation of Aluf Benn, the Sept. 15 editorial also quoted Ha’aretz:

On Wednesday, an article on the Web site of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz said that “in politics it is the perception that counts,” and that the Democratic loss “will be portrayed, as the outspoken former Mayor Ed Koch put it, ‘as a message to President Obama that he cannot throw Israel under a bus with impunity.'”

And a Sept. 11 news article by Ethan Bronner about growing Israeli isolation internationally also quoted Benn’s criticism of Netanyahu:

“Seven months after the downfall of Hosni Mubarak’s regime, Egyptian protesters tore to shreds the Israeli flag, a symbol of peace between Egypt and its eastern neighbor, after 31 years,” Aluf Benn, the editor in chief of the left-leaning Israeli newspaper Haaretz, wrote Saturday. “It seems that the flag will not return to the flagstaff anytime soon.” . . . .

Mr. Benn, the Haaretz editor, acknowledged that Mr. Netanyahu could not be faulted for the events in Egypt, the rise of an Islamic-inspired party in Turkey or Iran’s nuclear program. But echoing criticism by the Obama administration, he said that Mr. Netanyahu “has not done a thing to mitigate the fallout from the aforementioned developments.”

Given the Times’ frequent reliance on the Israeli newspaper, will editors take note of Ha’aretz’s page-two story, top of the fold: “Quartet: Israel showing flexibility as Palestinian recognition bid approaches“? Barak Ravid reports:

In an effort to convince Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to return to the negotiating table with Israel and suspend the request to the United Nations for recognition of a Palestinian state, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed to show flexibility on a number of issues. These involve recognition of Israel as a Jewish state; the status of the June 4, 1967 borders and territorial swaps with a Palestinian state; and the time frame for the conclusion of negotiations.

Nonetheless, Abbas has rejected the new proposal, which was presented to him by American Middle East envoys and Quartet representative Tony Blair. . . .

Quartet representative Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, along with U.S. envoys Dennis Ross and David Hale, conducted intensive discussions last week with Netanyahu on a draft of a Quartet statement calling for the resumption of peace negotiations. In July, at the conclusion of talks between Israel and the U.S., a draft statement that was accepted by Israel but rejected by the Palestinians, Russia and the European Union was presented at a meeting of the Quartet in Washington.

Blair and the Americans told Netanyahu that the Israeli premier would have to demonstrate additional flexibility if a draft is to be developed that would be acceptable to the Palestinians. According to a senior Israeli cabinet official, as well as American diplomats and associates of Blair, Netanyahu responded to the request and softened his positions on a number of issues.

In contrast to past experience, the problem currently is not the Israeli prime minister, who has demonstrated a positive approach, but rather with Abbas, who has rejected every suggestion presented to him, a Blair associate said.

On the issue of the borders of a Palestinian state, Netanyahu agreed to a more vague formulation with respect to Jewish settlement blocs, to give the Americans and Blair greater flexibility with the Palestinians. With respect to recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, Netanyahu agreed to wording that refers to two states for two peoples and two nation-states, without specific reference to a Jewish state. (Emphases added.)

The record has shown that Ha’aretz is a favored source for the New York Times. Will the Times now cite Barak Ravid’s article about Netanyahu’s flexibility and Abbas’ rejectionism even though it completely contradicts the Gray Lady’s editorial line? Will Times editorial writers be forced to acknowledge that while Netanyahu is exhibiting willingness to compromise, it is Abbas “who has been the most intractable”? Will Ethan Bronner quote Ha’aretz’s news article about the Israeli leader’s flexibility?
As of press time, neither the New York Times nor any other media outlet aside from Ha’aretz appears to have covered the American and British observations about Netanyahu’s flexbility and Abbas’ intransigence.

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