Lourdes Garcia-Navarro’s Aug. 1 interview with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad typifies all that is wrong with NPR coverage of Israel: it is shallow, one-sided and focuses on narratives in which only Israel can be blamed. Internal Palestinian challenges, such as overdue elections, corruption, or the lack of a unity government are sidelined, even if they are paramount concerns of Prime Minister Fayyad, the subject of the broadcast.
The broadcast, concerning the stalled peace negotiations and the West Bank’s financial crisis, points to “the Israeli occupation” and settlement construction time and again, and ignores factors unrelated to that simplistic story line.
There is, for instance, this excerpt:
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Salem Fayyad has been Palestinian prime minister since 2007. A Western-educated economist, he’s tried, during his tenure, to focus on bolstering Palestinian institutions. He famously promised in 2009 that within two years the West Bank would have the trappings of a state in place. It’s now three years later, though, and the Palestinian Authority is still struggling to meet its basic commitments. In June it was barely able to pay the salaries of its workers. The West Bank’s economy is stymied by the Israeli occupation, and still heavily dependent on foreign aid, aid which has been dwindling as donor nations in the West deal with their own financial crises and in the Middle East, with the fallout of the Arab Spring. The outlook is even gloomier regarding the peace process.
FAYYAD: Virtually nothing is happening in the direction that could begin to suggest to our people a near end to the Israeli occupation.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Each side blames the other for the impasse. Palestinians say negotiations cannot resume until Israel freezes Jewish settlement construction in the occupied West Bank. Israel says there should be no preconditions for talks. Fayyad acknowledges people are frustrated.
FAYYAD: There’s definite failure when it comes to these issues, and exactly what can we possibly do. We’re running out of options here. All we have seen over this period of time, particularly over the past few years, is an occupation regime that’s becoming more deeply entrenched.
Factual Error: Arab, Not Western, Donors Default
Certainly, during his term of office, Prime Minister Fayyad has repeatedly pointed to Israeli restrictions in the West Bank as harming the Palestinian economy. And yet, he has also made clear several times over the last few months that the failure of Arab states to fulfill their financial commitments is the direct cause of the latest West Bank financial crisis. Nevertheless, Garcia-Navarro glosses over the Arab failure to pay up, incorrectly saying that both Western and Arab nations are at fault. She refers to “aid which has been dwindling as donor nations in the West deal with their own financial crises, and in the Middle East, with the fallout of the Arab spring.”
But as Fayyad himself has repeatedly made clear, the Western nations have lived up to their commitments. He has made clear that the current crisis is due to a failure of Arab donors to pay up, not a failure on the part of “donor nations in the West.” In a revealing interview with the Washington Post’s Lally Weymouth several weeks ago (June 22), he addressed the Palestinian Authority’s 2012 financial problems, saying: “There is a shortfall in external assistance from the region – not from the United States or Europe.” Later in the same interview he refers to “countries that have lived up to their pledges, like the European Union and the United States. . .”
Likewise Reuters reported this past May:
Given the task of building institutions in readiness for statehood, Fayyad said his job was being imperiled by a lack of resources, with Arab nations failing to hand over promised aid. . . .
The Palestinian Authority — which exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank — depends on donor aid from the United States, the European Union and Arab states to pay the salaries of public workers, including teachers and security personnel.
The Palestinians had planned for foreign aid of about $1.1 billion in 2011, but received just under $750 million and are lagging again in donations this year. No reason has been given for the failure of some Arab allies to honor their pledges.
Ignored: Palestinians Receive Most International Aid
In a story about the state of the Palestinian economy, and its dip in international aid, Garces-Navarro inexcusably does not even mention that Palestinians receive more international aid per capita than any other people. See, for instance, the Global Humanitarian Assistance Report for 2011, and figure 17:
She also does not note that the Palestinians have a longstanding history of theft and misuse of international funds. Just last month, a U.S. congressional subcommittee held a hearing about Abbas’ alleged corruption.
Ignored: Israel Plan to Bail Out PA’s Budget Shortfall
Moreover, despite the fact that the broadcast centers around Salam Fayyad, NPR’s Garcia-Navarro ignores the fact that last month Fayyad worked out an agreement with Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fisher to bail out the PA from its $100 million shortfall. Although the proposal did not come to fruition because of an IMF policy, Israel and the Palestinians had, in fact, reached a bilateral agreement. As reported in Ha’aretz:
Israel recently asked the International Monetary Fund for a bridge loan of a $100 million dollars that it planned to transfer to the Palestinian Authority to help prevent its financial collapse, but the IMF turned down the request.
T he PA, which is not a state, cannot ask the IMF for help on its own. The plan therefore, was for Israel to take the loan on the Palestinians’ behalf, have the PA repay the loan to Israel, and Israel would repay the IMF.
The IMF rejected the Israeli request, however, saying it did not want to set a precedent of a state taking a loan on behalf of a non-state entity.
Israel’s approach to the IMF began to take shape during the IMF’s annual conference in Washington in mid-April. PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad met during the conference with Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer and the two discussed the PA’s serious financial crisis.
According to a senior Israeli official, Fayyad explained to Fischer that the euro crisis in Europe and the financial crisis in the United States made it impossible for Western nations to increase their financial assistance to the PA. At the same time, Arab states were not transferring funds that they had promised, and Palestinian banks were refusing to extend any more credit to the government due to its inability to make debt payments.
Ignored: Power Struggles, Overdue Elections
Moreover, Fayyad has been an outspoken critic about the overdue Palestinian elections (President Abbas’ term expired in January 2009) and the lack of Palestinian unity. These internal Palestinian issues, as well as Fayyad’s tense relationship with Abbas, went unmentioned by Garcia-Navarro, because they, too, have no place in the Israel-is-at-fault narrative. In his Washington Post interview, Fayyad speaks at length about the overdue elections and the need for a unity government, despite the fact that he knows that the price for a Fatah-Hamas deal could be his dismissal. Fayyad states, for example:
The key problem of the attempt at reconciliation is the lack of seriousness about elections for sure on the part of Hamas. It is a well-known fact borne out by various opinion polls that there has been a steady erosion in Hamas’s standing, both in the West Bank and Gaza. I believe that is why they have been dodging elections.
He continues, “We are not going to be able to have a Palestinian state so long as there is separation between Gaza and the West Bank. We must unify our country.”
Fayyad also notes that the lack of reconciliation contributes to the Palestinians’ financial difficulties:
The problem that is often overlooked is that this on-again, off-again reconciliation produces a sense of transiency about the [Palestinian Authority]. Here’s a government that is about to go. How are banks going to extend loans to us if they think we are not going to be in office next week? It produces a state of uncertainty. I am all for resolving this and deciding it in a swift way. This state of separation can be ended in only one way: elections.
But Garcia-Navarro is silent on these issues. There is apparently no air time left for even a passing mention of Fayyad’s concerns regarding overdue elections and the lack of Palestinian reconciliation by the time the broadcast finishes referring to the “Israeli occupation” (two mentions), the “occupation regime,” Jewish settlement construction in the occupied West Bank, and Israeli military incursions.
So, intent on the Israeli occupation and settlement-building narrative, Garcia-Navarro forgets to note that during Fayyad’s tenure Israel instituted an unprecedented 10-month settlement freeze, relaying only Fayyad’s critical views of Israel. Consider the following excerpt:
Fayyad: Virtually nothing is happening in the direction that could begin to suggest to our people a near end to the Israeli occupation.
Garcia-Navarro: Each side blames the other for the impasse. Palestinians say negotiations cannot resume until Israel freezes Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank. Israel says there should be no preconditions for talks. Fayyad acknowledges people are frustrated.
Fayyad: There’s definite failure when it comes to these issues, and exactly what can we possibly do. We’re running out of options here. All we have seen over this period of time, particularly over the past few years is an occupation regime that’s becoming more deeply entrenched. (Emphasis added.)
Garcia-Navarro does not remind listeners that “over this period of time,” when supposedly the “occupation regime [only became] more deeply entrenched,” Prime Minister Netanyahu imposed that first-ever 10-month settlement freeze. President Abbas refused to meet with Netanyahu for the first nine months of the freeze, and then promptly cut off the talks (which he used to attempt to continue the freeze) when the freeze ended a month later.
Concerning last month’s congressional hearing about Palestinian Authority corruption, Ha’aretz reported:
The committee chairman, Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH), pointed to the fact that in the past the West made the mistake of ignoring the failings of leaders with which they were dealing. “We are shown the plight of the Palestinians in Gaza, but instead of highlighting the ways that the Hamas terrorist leadership mismanages the local economy or gives Israel justifiable cause for concern, we are told that an Israeli blockade is to blame.”
“Similarly, instead of calling attention to the omnipresent and insidious corruption within the PLO and Fatah leadership in the West Bank, we are told that Israeli settlements, many of which will surely not be a part of any future Palestinian state, are the true problem. If the Arab Spring has taught us nothing else, it has shown us that we must be concerned not just with how governments interact with each other, but also with how they treat their own populations,” he said.