The Washington Post’s Missing Peace

The Washington Post has, once more, missed an opportunity to inform readers about Palestinian rejection of U.S. and Israeli offers for peace and statehood in exchange for the recognition of the Jewish state. In so doing, the paper provides another example of its inability, or perhaps unwillingness, to detail Palestinian political developments and positions.

A Feb. 3, 2016 dispatch (“White House warns Israeli new settlements may not help achieve peace”) by reporters Abby Phillip and Karen DeYoung is but the latest in a long-line of Post coverage that omits Palestinian leaders’ rejectionism. In their report, Phillip and DeYoung note that peace efforts “broke down” in 2013 and 2014, but fail to inform readers why.

As CAMERA has frequently noted (see, for example “Abbas Rejects Peace and Palestinian Statehood, U.S. Media Rejects Coverage,” The Times of Israel, April 3, 2016) , the Palestinian Authority (PA) refused U.S. and Israeli offers in 2000 at Camp David, 2001 at Taba, 2008 after the Annapolis conference, as well as efforts by then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden, in 2014 and 2016, respectively. The March 9, 2016 proposal by Biden offered a freeze on Israeli settlement construction and a Palestinian state with its capital in eastern Jerusalem—three things that PA President Mahmoud Abbas has claimed to want. In exchange, the PA would be expected to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and desist with calls to destroy its Jewish character by the so-called “right of return.” Under this “right”—not found in U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194 (1948) or related resolutions as claimed by Palestinian spokesman—descendants of Palestinian Arabs who fled or chose to leave during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war would be allowed to settle in Israel instead of a newly-created Palestinian state.

Missing peace offers

Yet, this proposal, similar to the 2008 offer by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, was seemingly rejected “out of hand,” to quote Abbas on the Olmert offer. The Post, among other major U.S. news outlets, failed to cover the 2016 offer. In the ten months since, the paper has continued—despite numerous opportunities—to omit the history of Palestinian rejectionism. Instead, readers are frequently left with the impression that opportunity for a Palestinian state and peace just inexplicably failed, or more misleading still, that Israel is responsible for that failure.

In January 2017 alone, The Post offered more than 16 reports in which a mention of the above offers—and the reason for their failures—would have been pertinent. A January 29th dispatch, by reporter Ruth Eglash and Jerusalem bureau chief William Booth, claimed, “the Palestinians are seeking” a “sovereign state…that previous U.S. administrations have tried hard to create (“Netanyahu’s talk of a ‘state-minus’ stumps diplomats”).” To this, “Israeli administrations” could be added—if The Post was so inclined. But it seems that its not.

A January 25th report by Booth claimed that Palestinians wanted east Jerusalem as the capital of a “potential future Palestinian state.” Yet, Olmert’s 2008 offer, among others, presented the PA with precisely such an opportunity—had they wanted it. In what seems to be a pattern, this goes unmentioned.

Washington Post columnist Ishaan Tharoor provided readers with two January articles with headlines that indicated a ‘dying’ two-state solution, but no word on who killed it (“The last gasp of the two-state solution,” January 13 and “Trump’s unquestioning support means trouble for Israel; The death of the two-state solution seems imminent,” January 25).

Indeed, a Lexis-Nexis search of reporting by The Washington Post in 2016, turns up not a single mention of PA rejection of the aforementioned opportunities for a “two-state solution.” It’s almost as if it never happened.

Alternative facts and alternative narratives

Instead of detailing Palestinian rejectionism, Post reporting points to another culprit supposedly responsible for the lack of peace and Palestinian statehood: Jewish housing units in the West Bank. The paper offered literally dozens of reports on “settlements” in 2016-2017—many of which, in contrast to items about internal Palestinian political developments, appeared both online and in print, increasing their circulation. Many of these articles left the misleading impression that Jewish communities in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) were both expanding externally (in fact, most of the growth is the result of natural, internal population growth) and responsible for the lack of a Palestinian state. For example, a January 3 dispatch by Griff Witte (“A new wave in the West Bank”) claimed that the Obama administration was “unable to halt settlement growth” and uncritically passed on claims by anti-Israel groups that the communities were creating an “obstacle to peace” and creating “Palestinian ghettoes.” In this article, The Post presented no alternative viewpoint and no mention was made of rejected peace and statehood offers. Similarly, Israel’s declared 10-month settlement freeze in November 2009—an effort to “restart talks” with Palestinians—was omitted.

In fact, as The Post’s own editorial board noted, 80 percent of the growth in “settlements” in the last eight years was “in areas that Israel would likely annex” in a future agreement. What is more, The Post commentary pointed out:

“That growth of about 3 percent per annum, the product of a restraint for which Mr. Netanyahu received no White House credit, means that the Jewish population outside Israel’s West Bank fence may have decreased as a percentage of the overall population even as Mr. Obama and Mr. Kerry have made it the focal point of U.S. policy.”

It may also be said, of course, that Post reporting, in contrast to the paper’s own editorial boards, has made settlements a focal point of coverage.

The Post’s Editorial Board Vs. The Post’s Jerusalem Bureau

On January 24, Israel announced the construction of 2,500 new housing units in the West Bank. The overwhelming majority of the units are in blocs that Israel is expected to keep in any future agreement with the
PA. Nonetheless, as Jackson Diehl, The Washington Post’s deputy editorial page editor, noted on Twitter, it would “wrongly be reported as a big deal.”

Diehl was correct. Media coverage of the announcement—including by The Post—was overblown and lacked important details, including that most of the construction was in Area C; an area that the PA agreed during the Oslo process would be administered by Israel. In the week that followed the announcement, The Post filed no less then five reports on settlements.

By contrast, internal Palestinian political developments often go ignored by the paper. For instance, on Jan. 9, 2017, PA President Mahmoud Abbas marked his thirteenth year in power. Abbas has only been elected once—to a four-year term in 2005. He has refused to stand for election since. The Post failed to report the anniversary of his rule—just as it has failed to report PA admissions of torturing Palestinians (see, for example “Where’s the Coverage? Palestinian Official Admits Torture Happens,” March 28, 2016)

Similarly, in late November-early December 2016, when Abbas’ Fatah movement held its first conference in seven years, The Post only provided readers with a single report of the event, and that was only available online. Other important internal Palestinian developments, such as reconciliation talks between Fatah and rival Hamas, also received scant attention by the paper. On Jan. 12, 2017, when an estimated 10,000 Palestinians protested Hamas rule in Gaza, the paper only provided readers with an AP report of the event, and this too was only available online (see, for example “If Hamas Assaults a Journalist, Does it Even Make the News?” CAMERA, Jan. 16, 2017).

A comparison of Post coverage of settlements to the paper’s lack of reporting on Palestinian political developments and history, is striking. If there is an incongruity between the paper’s editorial board and its reporting, a similar disparity exists between its coverage of Jewish houses and Palestinian affairs. The frequently omitted peace offers then, are perhaps reflective of reporting that, at the least, seems imbalanced. And at worst, distorting.

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