New Negotiations, Old Biases

Here we go again.

Israelis and Palestinians embarked on renewed discussions to resolve the Middle East conflict and once more old media story lines were rustled up that skew facts and context about the players and the issues in dispute. Though Israel’s prime minister had been urging unconditional, direct talks for many months and Palestinian president Abbas had resisted, the Israeli leader has often been cast as the suspect party, the demanding hardliner and potential spoiler and the one obliged to make concessions to a blameless Arab counterpart. In the days preceding the talks, news reports were all too predictable:

Journal Slants

In a Wall Street Journal story on August 23 (“Netanyahu Says a Treaty is ‘Difficult’ but ‘Possible’”), reporter Joshua Mitnick wrote:

Mr. Netanyahu, speaking amid skepticism about the prospects for renewed talks, laid out several broad demands for a peace treaty, in line with previous demands and, in some regards, clearly at odds with Palestinian positions.

The contours of the talks haven’t been defined by the U.S. or others, but the lack of any specific concessions by Mr. Netanyahu Sunday underscored the challenges ahead for the talks.

Mr. Netanyahu reiterated his support for a demilitarized Palestinian state, and demanded recognition by Palestinians of Israel as the “national state of the Jewish people.” The prime minister told the cabinet such recognition means Palestinian refugees would have the right to return to a Palestinian state but not to Israel, which is a key Palestinian demand in any deal.

Not only is the Israeli leader repeatedly said to be laying out “demands” but his failure to preemptively offer “any specific concessions” is said to pose “challenges.” Israel’s settlement freeze, inaugurated nine months ago, though an unprecedented concession, is unmentioned in this context. It is cited only to note that any failure to extend the moratorium would be a negative. Nor is there any hint that the Palestinian side should offer pre-negotiation concessions or that the lack thereof poses challenges. Israel, it appears, is the party expected to make continuous concessions; the Palestinians’ role is seemingly merely to receive them.

Mitnick goes on to report that “critics on both sides” question whether either of the leaders can “push through the significant concessions needed,” but the reporter doesn’t cite “both sides.” Only the Palestinian side is quoted, faulting Israel. Ghassan Khatib accuses Netanyahu of engaging in mere “public relations” and claims failure to extend the building moratorium would show a lack of commitment to peace.

 Israel’s side and “critics” who question Palestinian motives are omitted entirely, raising the question whether it’s the reporter who’s taking “sides.”
Time Tilts

Similarly, the emphasis on Palestinian grievances is seen in Time magazine where correspondent Karl Vick bracketed his short August 22 story at beginning and end with two Palestinians from Ramallah complaining that previous negotiations have brought nothing (“Israeli-Palestinian Talks Face a Big ‘So What?’). In a city enjoying striking prosperity, peace and quiet, the claim is “we do not see any result” and, among other allegations: “They steal our water.”

Palestinians, of course, do see results throughout the West Bank in the burgeoning economy. Even many journalists have seen and reported the dramatic changes. Nor does Israel “steal” water; it provides more than 80% of Ramallah’s water, or 5 million cubic meters, from Israeli sources.

But Vick doesn’t bother checking or refuting the rote slurs. He just relays them.

In the middle of the shoddy, little report are predictable references to Netanyahu and the alleged “hard-liners” among his ministers who could block progress.
Abbas and his advisors earn no labels at all, though the PA leader has only recently again lauded a terrorist, this time Amin al Hindi, planner of the Munich massacre. Secretary General of the President’s office, Al-Tayeb Abd Al-Rahim, joined President Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad on August 18 for al Hindi’s funeral where they praised the deceased as a hero. Evidently extolling a man known for the kidnap and slaughter of innocent Israeli athletes at the Olympic Games isn’t “hard-line.”
Financial Times Attacks

Yet, these partisan accounts are models of ethical journalism compared to the biased, anti-Israel vitriol offered up by David Gardner in the August 25 Financial Times (“A poisoned process holds little hope”).

In blatantly propagandistic language, the British paper’s International Affairs editor gave his version of the roots and dynamics of the conflict and the lead-up to negotiations, blaming Israel entirely for the ongoing impasse and absolving the Palestinians.

Indeed, unlike the allegedly obstructionist Israelis, the Palestinian Authority was described as agreeably cooperative and in harmony with the Quartet nations, all seeking “a negotiated solution” and “two states living in peace and security.”
Gardner deplored: “Israeli colonisation of occupied Palestinian land” and “segregated Israeli roads” and the “siege of Gaza” and Gaza, the “open-air prison.” He termed Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu “profoundly irredentist”.

All these statements are not just inflammatory, but false.

Israeli settlements in the West Bank are not “colonisation” of “Palestinian land” – in the meaning a European like Gardner intends, as imperial outposts in foreign territory. The land in question is disputed and unallocated to either Israelis or Palestinians, as per UN Security Council Resolution 242. Its disposition is to be determined by negotiation and agreement of the parties upon “secure and recognized boundaries,” and until then Israeli construction on public lands in disputed areas is no less legitimate than Palestinian construction in such areas. None of the prior negotiatons achieved agreement on the final status issue of borders. Despite this, and despite the Palestinians torpedoing Oslo agreements by launching a terror war against Israel in 2000, Israel has not, for example, built in areas that it provisionally ceded to the Palestinians in the Oslo process. The “colonisation” charge is nothing more than incendiary name-calling.
The author’s reference to “segregated Israeli roads” is similarly propagandistic, implying racist separation. Anyone who travels West Bank roads, however, knows Palestinian drivers use them continuously. There may be stretches of some roads at some times where restrictions are imposed for security reasons, but the roads overwhelmingly benefit both populations. CAMERA has extensively tracked and refuted this favorite allegation of Israel’s detractors.

Gardner’s references to Gaza as a prison and under siege are similarly inflammatory and out of context. Not a word tells readers why the Jewish state has had to seal off Gaza to protect Israelis — while, nevertheless, continuing to provide food, medical supplies and other materials. Nothing at all is said about the violent Hamas regime firing thousands of rockets into Israel, targeting civilivians and working toward the destruction of the Jewish state. Although Gazans had a fresh opportunity to choose peace when Israel pulled every man, woman and child out of the area, they chose warfare instead. But Gardner ignores these facts too. “Profoundly irredentist” is reserved for the Israeli leader, not Hamas chieftains calling for the demise of another nation.

In a revealing reference to Yasir Arafat’s role in the failed Oslo effort, Gardner writes:

Many Israelis will point to the perfidy of the late Yassir Arafat, who wanted to talk peace but keep the option of armed resistance dangerously in play. But what killed Oslo was the occupation.

As though getting a troublesome factual problem out of the way, Gardner concedes the former Palestinian leader was guilty of “perfidy” but he falsifies what actually happened ten years ago. Arafat didn’t just want to “keep the option of armed resistence dangerously in play,” as Gardner puts it. He actively financed and incited terrorism, and praised its perpetrators. This was not just an option; it was a reality, a  savage campaign that resulted in the murder and maiming of thousands of Israelis in cafes, buses and religious festivals — any place Israeli civilians could be targeted.
Likewise, “what killed Oslo” could hardly have been “the occupation” since the Israelis proposed to end it at the Camp David/Taba negotiations, while Arafat rejected an end to it and launched the worst terror onslaught in Israel’s history. What killed Oslo was Arafat’s refusal to accept the legitimacy and permanence of Israel and agree to an “end of conflict.”
Why Gardner casts even his mildly negative point about Arafat as something Israelis “point to” rather than as an objective fact about the nature of Israel’s adversary is, again, suggestive of the writer’s extreme reluctance to convey the realities about threats to Israel. Nor, similarly, is there in the Financial Times story the slightest indication of the broader genocidal goals of the Palestinians and the wider Arab world as expressed in their mosques, media, schools and political discourse with regard to Israel and the Jewish people.
As noted, the Israeli prime minister comes in for especially hostile treatment, with Gardner scorning Netanyahu’s public statements in which he pledged a willingness “to take risks for peace.” The editor claims there is “no evidence for this whatsoever.” But, again, such extreme statements are disconnected from the facts. The 10-month moratorium on building in settlements inaugurated by Netanyahu is undeniable evidence.
And so it goes. Gardner’s extreme animus towards the Jewish state trumps the facts. Anyone looking for objective information about the latest Israeli-Palestinian talks should steer clear of his reporting about what he terms the “poisoned process”; Gardner, unfortunately, spreads his own very toxic variety of poison.

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