Selective Memory Bedevils Washington Post Op-Ed Contributors

March 29, 2015 was a bad day for readers of Washington Post opinion articles submitted by outside contributors. Several Arab-Israeli and general Middle Eastern pieces in that Sunday’s print edition, including one by former President Jimmy Carter, omitted details essential to readers accurately understanding the issues discussed.

In particular, commentaries by Matthew Duss and Michael Cohen (“The U.S. should recognize Palestine”), Carter (“Rebuilding Gaza will avert the next war”),  and former Saudi adviser Nawaf Obaid (“Saudi Arabia, taking over for the U.S.”) misled by omission.

Carter claims that rebuilding portions of the Gaza Strip damaged in last summer’s Israeli-Hamas conflict will avert another war. The ex-president writes Gazans are experiencing “unprecedented levels of deprivation, and the prospect for renewed conflict is very real.”

Foreign countries, including Israel, and international organization have pledged $5.4 billion to rebuild damaged or destroyed areas of Gaza. Although Carter briefly notes that promised reconstruction money hasn’t been delivered due to disagreements between Hamas, which rules the Strip, and Fatah, the major party in the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank, he casts the blame on Israel.

The ex-president says “Israel has [only] restricted access to Gaza.” He doesn’t say that Israelis have done so because Hamas, a U.S. and Israeli designated terrorist group, has used Gaza as a base for anti-Israel attacks for the past decade and more. At no point does he note European Union concerns, as well as Israel’s, that Hamas will use relief monies to fund terrorism, potentially leading to another destructive conflict with Israel. Hamas vows to reconstruct its tunnels (“Iran gives Hamas tens of millions to rebuild tunnels, UK report says,” Times of Israel, April 5) pass in silence.
Instead, Carter argues that “western governments should push Israel to drop its insistence on tracking every bag of cement. The evidence suggests that such fine-grained monitoring may be impossible, but tunneling can be prevented with a supervised peace agreement.”
Tilting toward terrorists
This is one of only two instances in which Carter even alludes to the terror tunnels Hamas spent hundreds of millions of dollars to build before the summer, 2014 Hamas-Israel war to be able to kidnap and kill Israelis. He never explicitly mentions the large-scale diversion of cement used for tunnel construction, let alone the tunnels’ intended purpose.

Egypt, which borders Gaza and also closely monitors traffic into and out of the Strip, elicits a one-word mention in the 676-word article. Post Op-Ed pages have let Carter lobby for Hamas before, for example “An Unnecessary War” (January 8, 2009). But the former president was not alone in Post commentaries riddled with omissions. 

Matthew Duss and Michael Cohen argue that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is on life support and failure to achieve a Palestinian state is due to “[Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu standing in its way.” The authors advocate new U.S. recognition of “Palestine,” claiming that it’s the “Israeli government that deliberately impedes this goal.”

They don’t mention Israel’s repeated offers to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to negotiate a peace agreement without preconditions. They claim their advice “is not about punishing Israel,” but four paragraphs later state that U.S. recognition of “Palestine” prior to, instead of after successful direct talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, would “be an object lesson for Israelis about the costs of continued recalcitrance.”

Actually, it would reward Palestinian recalcitrance to uphold its commitments to negotiate outstanding issues, made in the 1993 letter from then Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin that started the “Oslo peace process” and the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement.

Compounding their confusion, the authors admit that recognition of “Palestine” would be “problematic,” signaling American support for the PA’s Mahmoud Abbas, whom they call both “obstinate” and “embattled.”  But Duss and Cohen omit that in April 2013, three months before Secretary of State Kerry was seeking to restart peace talks, Abbas—supposedly the Palestinian leader with whom Israel can make peace—personally awarded the authority’s highest honor to Nayef Hawatmeh, head of the Syrian backed Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The DFLP committed numerous terrorist attacks, including the 1974 murders of 25 schoolchildren and teachers in Ma’alot, Israel. The omission of this and similar acts by Abbas or other senior PA officials enables Duss and Cohen to assert that Abbas favors diplomacy over violence. They thus avoid examining whether Abbas’ “moderation” is tactical or strategic.

White-washing Palestinian rejectionism
In their 1,315-word commentary, Duss and Cohen fail to mention numerous Israeli attempts at negotiating peace. They omit Palestinian responsibility for rejecting U.S.-Israeli “two-state” proposals in 2000 and 2001, an Israeli deal in 2008, and Secretary of State John Kerry’s “framework” for a two-state peace last year.

Netanyahu’s relinquishing civilian control in Hebron to Palestinian authorities or his signing of the Wye River memorandum during his first term in office from 1996-1999 is similarly left out. Yet not a single mention of Palestinian rejectionism appears. 

Nawaf Obaid’s column, “Saudi Arabia, taking over for the U.S., also exhibits the “Swiss cheese” problem of a text featuring notable holes of omission. Obaid states that Saudi Arabia, guardian of Islam’s two primary mosques in Mecca and Medina, is uniquely positioned to “meet an urgent need for a united Sunni front against Shiite Iran, as well as the terrorist movements tearing the Arab world apart.”

However, the former adviser to the Saudi ambassador to the United Kingdom makes no mention of the role that man
y Saudis have played in fostering Sunni terrorism, epitomized by al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, through supporting the Saudi-backed radical Wahhabi sect. Obaid fails to note financial ties of government officials and Saudi royal family members to Sunni charities that funnel money to jihadists (“’Pakistani jihad networks funded by Saudi, UAE charities’; WikiLeaks: financial support estimated at $100 million a year was making its way from Gulf Arab states to fund ‘holy war’: children recruited,” Reuters dispatch, Jerusalem Post, May 22, 2011).

All was not lost on Post opinion pages at the end of March, however. The president emeritus of Princeton University, William G. Bowen, noted both sides of the debate on divestment—including anti-Israel campaigns—at universities (“Divestment isn’t the answer,” March 29).  Bowen came down plainly against the tactic.

And in only 583 words, a Post editorial on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (“A long time building,” March 26) did itemize previous Palestinian rejection of peace efforts. It stated that an attempt to portray a single Israeli leader, currently Netanyahu, as a “single-handed spoiler makes no sense.”

But as for the newspaper’s commentaries by most outside contributors, omissions of essential information created one-sided narratives. Such unsubstantiated opinion pieces present an unbalanced picture.  Readers of The Post deserve more than such careless, if not mendacious, advocacy. And whatever claim James Earl Carter Jr. retained on The Post’s Op-Ed pages from one term in the White House that ended 34 years ago, his subsequent activity, including repeated apologia for Hamas, would seem to have cancelled it. 

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