Media Miss a ‘Core Issue’

Now that negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians have restarted, news stories and opinion pieces about these talks are frequently making reference to the so-called “core issues” which must be resolved before a final peace agreement can be signed. Unfortunately, many in the media downplay the importance of security for Israel by wrongly omitting this issue from lists of core issues.

New York Times editorial writers, surprisingly enough, got this issue right. Several recent editorial about peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians list the”core issues” of the conflict as follows: “the future of Jerusalem, the fate of refugees, the borders of a Palestinian state and guaranteeing Israel’s security.”

By contrast, many others in the media have avoided naming Israel’s need for security as a core issue. These lists that omit mention of security for Israel or an end to terrorism — which are most certainly core issues for Israelis — are incomplete, and read more like a list of issues on which Palestinians demand Israeli action than a list of core issues in general.

The Central ‘Core Issue’

Long before Israel took over the West Bank and built any settlements, and even before any Palestinians became refugees, Arab violence targeting Jews prevented peace from reigning in the Middle East. In 1921, 1929, 1936, 1947, Arabs were incited by demagogues to murder Jews in violent attacks across Palestine. This incitement and killing continued after the modern state of Israel declared its independence in 1948, and still continues today, after peace agreements were signed and many settlements dismantled.

This violence, in fact, is the most central of all the core issues. Had the Arab world not violently resisted the presence of Jews in the region and their right to self-determination, there would have long ago been a Palestinian state. There would never have been any refugees, settlements, or distinctions between eastern and western Jerusalem. And hypothetically, even if every last settlement were dismantled and every last Palestinian refugee repatriated, the rejection of, and terror against, Jews would obviously have to end in order for the conflict to be resolved.

Nonetheless, many journalists describe only issues requiring Israeli sacrifice as “core issues.”

New York Times reporter Helene Cooper, for example, seems to disagree with the newspaper’s editorial board’s recognition (on Nov. 24, Nov. 28 and Dec. 11, 2007) that security for Israel is a core issue. She referred on Nov. 28 to “the core issues that have bedeviled peace negotiators since 1979: the dismantling of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the borders of a Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees who left, or were forced to leave, their homes in Israel.” (Worse yet, while referring with neutral language to the “status” of Jerusalem and the “fate” of refugees, Cooper uses prejudicial language supporting Palestinian demands to describe the issue of settlements. The core issue is the status of Israel’s settlements. Cooper’s language — the “dismantling” of settlements — describes the Palestinian demand.)

Times columnist Roger Cohen, too, ignores terror and security as a core issue. On November 26 he wrote that “On core issues — Jerusalem, borders, settlements — impasse has prevailed.”

At the Washington Post, Michael Abramowitz and Glenn Kessler stated that the core issues are “the boundaries of a future Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem and the right claimed by Palestinian refugees to return to the Jewish state.” (Again, a core issue is framed in terms of the Palestinian demand. The Palestinians say refugees and their descendants should live in Israel, but Israel says they should live in the Palestinian state or be given citizenship in other countries where they’ve lived for generations.)

Associated Press writers have similarly downplayed security as a core issue. “The status of Jerusalem is one of the ‘core issues’ Olmert and Abbas hope to tackle next year, along with the final borders of a Palestinian state and the fate of millions of Palestinian refugees whose families lost properties during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence,” wrote AP’s Josef Federman on Dec. 10. And on Nov. 25, Amy Teibel described “the core issues at the heart of the conflict” as “final borders, conflicting claims to Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees.”

If/when Israel makes demands meant to ensure the security of its citizens, the American public must understand that these demands are legitimate, and that they address an issue at the very core of the conflict — Palestinian violence against and rejection of Israel. It is imperative, then, that the media begin describing core issues in their entirety, without omitting the core issues important to Israel.