Newsweek Guilty of the “Big Omission”: Concealing Palestinian Rejection of Statehood Offers

Above Gregg Carlstrom’s most recent article on the Newsweek website is a short video about tensions in Jerusalem last July. The video, dated July 17, explains that “Palestinians protested new Israeli security measures,” noting that “Israel installed metal detectors at the entrances to Al-Aqsa mosque.” But the segment devotes not even a single word about what precipitated the security measures: the brazen slaying just three days earlier of two Israeli police officers guarding the holy site.

The video, with its glaring omission, serves as a good opening act for the lengthy article that follows, which also conceals essential facts. Entitled “How Israel Won the War and Defeated the Palestinian Dream,” Carlstrom’s essay purports to explore the roots of Palestinian statelessness. His survey of the conflict’s history, though, begins only with the 1967 Six-Day War, omitting the previous two decades during which a Palestinian state was not created even though the West Bank and Gaza Strip were under Arab control. The Arab world and Palestinian leadership during this era was less concerned with statehood than with eliminating Israel.

Carlstrom’s history continues with the first intifada, which he describes as Palestinian “mass protests” to which Israel “responded with brute force” that killed many Palestinians. He fails to explain how these “protests” managed to take the lives of over 200 Israelis. Those deaths, in fact, go unacknowledged.

One section of the essay discusses both Palestinian prisoners and the Palestinian Authority’s $800 million budget gap, but manages to avoid mentioning the controversy over the vast sums of money the Palestinian government gives to Palestinian incarcerated for violently attacks against Israelis — about $300 million per year that is widely seen as incentivizing terror attacks.

Another passage references recent municipal elections in Hebron, but neglects to point out that the newly elected mayor murdered six Israeli worshippers on behalf of the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1980.

These details don’t fit the anti-Israel narrative preferred by some journalists. (Carlstrom, it may be worth noting, was previously employed by the reliably anti-Israel Al Jazeera Media Network, a fact curiously absent from his bio.) To conceal such facts is to conceal the substantial role the Palestinians themselves have played in sustaining the ongoing conflict with Israel and, by extension, their statelessness.

It has become journalistic boilerplate to cite internal political divisions and corruption that holds Palestinians back, a reality that is generally cast as a counterpoint to alleged Israeli inflexibility. Carlstrom’s piece, too, focuses on those hindrances as if they are the beginning and end of the Palestinian role in the conflict. The “realities on the ground,” he says, are “a hawkish government in Jerusalem and a divided, unpopular Palestinian leadership.” But his essay glosses over the central cause of the Palestinian plight: The anti-Israel zealotry and rejectionism cultivated by Palestinian leaders.

The omissions detailed above help make space for the anti-Israel narrative by minimizing the often-violent Palestinian opposition to Israel’s existence, but they are small oversights compared to what might be called the Big Omission. In nearly 5,000 words of explication about why the Palestinians don’t have a state, Carlstrom couldn’t bring himself to mention that Palestinian leaders have turned down multiple offers of statehood. In 2008, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas walked away from peace talks and rejected the state offered by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. In 2000, Abbas’s predecessor Yasir Arafat likewise slammed the door on a Palestinian state. And there would have been no need for negotiations if the Palestinians hadn’t rejected a state in 1947 and opted instead to go to war against the Jews.

This reality — the Palestinian rejection of peace offers and statehood — is toxic to the skewed narrative that Palestinians only seek independence but are stymied by an Israel that is uninterested in making peace. The Big Omission is the antidote to the toxin.

Indeed, in his essay Carlstrom seems to bob and weave around the inconvenient fact that Palestinians have rejected statehood offers. Hamas and Abbas have tried violent battle and diplomatic war, but “none of these moves forced Israel to make concessions,” he tells readers, relying on the Big Omission to conceal vast concessions that Israel has been willing to make.

“Abbas’s diplomatic efforts haven’t … placed any meaningful pressure on Israel,” he asserts, suggesting falsely that lack of pressure has meant lack of Israeli willingness to compromise.

Palestinian violence of the second intifada, Carstrom claims, “silenced the peace camp in Israel.” But this is a half-truth. Israel’s peace camp had survived suicide bombings and other Palestinian violence in the past. The death blow was Arafat’s rejection of a peace offer (and a state) during U.S.-brokered talks.

“Decades of struggle, on the battlefield and around the negotiating table, failed to deliver a state,” readers are told. In fact, the delivery was made. Abbas and Arafat opted not to sign for it.

Carlstrom need not embrace the view that, in rejecting the peace offers, Palestinian leaders reveal an unwillingness to end their war against the existence of Jewish state. But it is journalistically wrong to omit key facts in hopes of steering readers away from that conclusion.

Palestinians, at any rate, have reached conclusions of their own: In February 2016 poll, a significant majority of Palestinians said they don’t think the Palestinian Authority, the West Bank government often dubbed as “moderate,” supports Israel’s right to exist. That poll, of course, goes unmentioned in the Newsweek essay.

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