Note to Foreign Desk–Washington Post Editorial Reports News

The Washington Post’s editorial “A long time building; Mr. Obama pretends the Israeli-Palestinian logjam is a new development” (March 27, 2015) does what some of the newspaper’s news reports on the subject have not—helped clarify Palestinian responsibility for failure of U.S. attempts to mediate peace.

“We can’t continue to premise our public diplomacy based on something that everybody knows is not going to happen,” The Post quoted President Barack Obama as saying. “There still does not appear to be a prospect of a meaningful framework … that would lead to a Palestinian state…”

The Post editorialized that “for those who have criticized the administration for its unwarranted conviction that a peace deal was within reach, that is a welcome change. The curious thing about Mr. Obama’s statement is that he portrayed this state of affairs as a recent development, attributing it to an election-eve statement made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu [that as prime minister he would not permit establishment of a West Bank and Gaza Strip ‘Palestine’].”

But, according to the paper, the prime minister “said pretty much what the president did: For now, the conditions don’t exist for creating a Palestinian state.” Contrary to Obama’s implication, Netanyahu’s “heat-of-the-campaign declaration” did not create what The Post called “this lamentable situation.”

That’s because “the ‘framework’ for a Palestinian state painstakingly assembled by Secretary of State John F. Kerry was also spurned by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and the ‘peace process’ has been dormant since that happened nearly a year ago. Moreover, Mr. Obama’s efforts to promote a settlement, going back to 2009, ignored innumerable warnings … that he was premising his diplomacy on breakthroughs that were not achievable.”

The incitement that dare not be named

The Post gets the frozen status of Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy mostly right, although it could have mentioned as causes—something its news dispatches rarely do—incessant official Palestinian anti-Israel, anti-Jewish incitement, refusal to reach a “two-state solution” if that means ending the conflict, dropping the so-called “right of return” of Arab refugees and recognizing Israel as the Jewish state. The newspaper’s syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer did just that a week earlier (“No peace in our time,” March 20). 

The editorial misses its mark by referring to “prospects for Middle East peace” when it means Israeli-Palestinian peace. CAMERA has pointed out previously that many Middle Eastern conflicts far exceed the Israeli-Palestinian clash in size and importance and a peaceful resolution of the latter would have virtually no effect on the former. The commentary also contradicts its own blame of Palestinian leadership for lack of progress with a call for Israel to stop punishing that leadership by withholding tax revenue (something Israel subsequently announced it would do).

The Post cautions the administration against “breaking with long-standing U.S. policy by supporting U.N. Security Council resolution on the terms for Palestinian statehood.” But it fails to remind readers that a second Palestinian Arab state—Jordan has a Palestinian-majority population (or did before the influx of refugees from wars in Syria and Iraq) on a majority of the land originally intended for a reconstituted Jewish national home in the League of Nations Palestine Mandate—is not the primary object of Arab-Israeli negotiations. A general Arab-Israeli peace is. A West Bank and Gaza Strip “Palestine” might be a by-product of such talks, but in any case resolutions governing them already exist. These are the rarely mentioned and less explained U.N Security Council resolutions 242 and 338.

The editorial’s weaknesses do not outweigh its strength—recognition of Palestinian responsibility for the absence of peace with Israel. Post news coverage of related developments not infrequently has lacked the clarity of editorials such as “A long time building.” Reports sometimes omit or elide Palestinian culpability (“Obama: Remarks dim prospects for Palestinian state,” March 25) for the lack of peace or progress toward it, wrongly assume the primary goal of Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy is a new Palestinian state rather than Arab-Israeli peace, or give unwarranted credence to Palestinian spokesmen with histories of exaggeration and fabrication (“Netanyahu steps back from full opposition to Palestinian state,” March 19).

Post foreign and national desk reporting each had one foot—though not both—in the general media frenzy in portraying Netanyahu’s election-eve “no Palestine on my watch” as a repudiation of his 2009 pledge to work for a “two-state solution.” What the prime minister said was that for Israel to withdraw from the West Bank now would be to invite Arab and Islamic radicals in, as happened after the 2005 evacuation of Gaza and until that circumstance changed, a “two-state solution” of Israel and a West Bank and Gaza Strip Palestine would be dangerously premature.

An old journalism saw holds that it’s the job of editorial writers to come down out of the hills after a battle and shoot the wounded. This time Post editorialists aiming at the administration also scored unintended hits on their own foreign and national desks.

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