In her April 28, 2005 story, “Many Palestinians question power of their president,” Knight Ridder’s Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reported on the challenges facing Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. Relying almost entirely on Palestinian sources for her quotes, Nelson depicts a situation in which Abbas’ troubles are almost entirely Israel’s fault.
Nelson briefly points out that the Israeli government is “reluctant to make concessions to [Abbas] until he cracks down harder on extremists,” and that Ariel Sharon “says Abbas has given extremists too much sway over the Palestinian Authority by trying to co-opt them instead of crushing them.” But nowhere does she tell readers that a crackdown on “extremists” is required under the international road map peace plan.
The remainder of the article is devoted to Palestinian criticisms of Israel.
“Most Palestinians interviewed for this story,” Nelson notes, “said Abbas was weaker than when he was sworn in Jan. 15, but they argued it was Israel’s fault, not his.”
Israeli gestures are described as “token responses.” A Palestinian deputy minister complains that “the Israelis are present everywhere on the West Bank. Mr. Sharon is not facilitating the mission of the new Palestinian president.”
Another Palestinian politician is paraphrased saying that the “wall” and the expansion of some settlements also work against Abbas.
Abbas himself is quoted saying Israel must give him time and help his government, and that the Palestinian Authority had collected weapons from all wanted men in Jericho and Tulkarm. He asks Israel, “Why do you need to hold tens of thousands of prisoners? Why do you continue to place checkpoints …?”
Yet Nelson gives no opportunity for an Israeli response to these questions. If she did allow an Israeli response, as ethical journalism would necessitate, readers could have been informed, first of all, that there are not “tens of thousands” of Palestinian prisoners, but rather about 7000, according to Palestinian estimates.
• Agence France Presse reported on April 17, 2005: Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed “Qorei emerged from his office to insist that the release of the estimated 7,000 Palestinian prisoners held by the Israelis was one of his top priorities.”
• On March 19, 2005, the Associated Press noted: “Participants in the Cairo talks warned the deal could collapse if Israel does not hold its own fire and release all 8,000 Palestinian prisoners it holds – something the Jewish state has ruled out.”
• The New York Times on Feb. 21, 2005 stated: “Palestinians welcomed the move, but also called for the release of the 7,000 Palestinians who remained imprisoned by Israel.”
An Israeli commentator could have also responded to Abbas’ question about checkpoints by pointing out that, along with continued Palestinian arms smuggling, there are continued Palestinian attacks being attempted, with some thwarted and others succeeding.
Despite Nelson’s contention that Abbas’ “hard-won cease-fire … is holding, even though Israeli soldiers have killed a number of Palestinians,” the lull in violence – which is in fact not a cease-fire (hudna) but only a calm (tahdia) – is far from absolute.
Aside from the Tel Aviv suicide bombing which was carried out shortly after the tahdia was announced, Palestinian attacks continue. Mortars and rockets were fired towards Jewish protesters in the Gaza Strip on April 27, two rockets were fired at Sderot in Israel on April 26, and on the 25th an Israeli soldier at a checkpoint was run down by a Palestinian driver.
Abbas is also permitted to state, without counterpoint, that “his government had collected weapons from all wanted men in Jericho and Tulkarm.” In fact, Israelis point out that this is not the case. On April 27, an Israel radio report noted, “Defence establishment sources said that Qalqilyah will be transferred to Palestinian control next week if they comply with their commitment to collect weapons from the fugitives in Tulkarm and Jericho” (BBC Monitoring International Reports). However, analyst Ze’ev Schiff stated in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz that “the PA is not fulfilling its commitments regarding the wanted men in the two cities – Jericho and Tul Karm …. What troubled Israel was Abbas’ decision not to disarm the wanted men.” (emphasis added)
(Nelson’s article, which ran in the Detroit Free Press and Saint Paul Pioneer Press and the online edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer, follows another Nelson news story from Feb. 28 which similarly portrayed only Israel as an obstacle to peace.)