Update on Media Coverage of Prisoners’ Document

Negotiators from Hamas and Fatah have agreed on a modified version of the so-called prisoners’ document. (Read CAMERA’s initial article on the topic, “Prisoners Document: Peace Plan or ‘Phased Plan’?,” here.) Even while Hamas officials unequivocally stress the signing of document does not mean the group accepts Israel’s legitimacy, some news organizations continue to wrongly claim that by signing the document, Hamas leaders “effectively endorse a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Other news organizations, however, have significantly improved their reporting on the document.

The following quotations are from media with solid—or at least improved—coverage of the prisoners’ document:

• In the June 28 Philadelphia Inquirer, reporter Michael Matza notes:

Before anyone gets too excited about the Palestinian agreement initialed yesterday but not yet a done deal, consider what it does not do…

“This is an internal agreement,” Palestinian lawmaker Abdul Rahman Zidan told the BBC. “… You will not find one word in the document clearly stating the recognition of Israel as a state.”

Recognizing Israel’s physical existence is different from recognizing its legitimacy.

Furthermore, the document does not renounce violence as a political tool, as demanded by the international community. Instead, the document says it will “focus resistance” on the occupied territories.

• In today’s Boston Globe, reporter Anne Barnard quotes Hamas leader Khalil Abu Leila saying: “Fatah wants from us more than what is in this document. They want Hamas to recognize Israel and be a copy of Fatah, something that will not happen…. We will never recognize Israel.”

The Globe also quoted Ziad Dayeh, described a Hamas official who worked on the deal, saying: “We are recognizing Israel’s existence, not its legitimacy.”

• Today’s Chicago Tribune quotes two other Hamas leaders. Reporter Joel Greenberg writes:

“The document included a clear clause referring to ‘the non-recognition of the legitimacy of the occupation,'” Abu Zuhri said. Hamas uses the term “occupation” to refer to Israel.

Salah Bardaweel, the leader of the Hamas faction in parliament, said: “We accept a state in [territory occupied] in 1967, but we did not say we accept two states.”

• Also today, in newspapers owned by McClatchy (formerly Knight Ridder), reporter Dion Nissenbaum quoted Khalid Abu Hilal, a senior Hamas leader, saying: “Our principles and statements are clear. We will never recognize Israel. We will recognize Israel only if it is far away.”

• Writing in today’s Jerusalem Post, Khaled Abu Toameh quotes Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri saying: “We agreed to all the articles of the document without having to recognize Israel. This is a major achievement for Hamas because the agreement also allows us to pursue the resistance against Israel.”

• In an online report yesterday, BBC explained that “Hamas negotiators have denied earlier reports that the deal meant the militants would implicitly recognise Israel.” The network continued:

Palestinian minister Abdel Rahman Zeidan told the BBC the Hamas-Fatah document did not in any way recognise the state of Israel.

“There is no agreement between the Palestinians on specifically this phrase. You will not find one word in the document clearly stating the recognition of Israel as a state. Nobody has agreed to this. This was not on the table. This was not in the dialogue,” he said…

The BBC’s James Reynolds in Gaza says that the central point of the joint manifesto is the creation of a Palestinian state on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Traditionally that is one half of a two-state solution, but the existing drafts of the deal make no mention of the second half of this solution – the state of Israel.

This omission is deliberate, our correspondent says.

While some have argued that this means Hamas tacitly accepts Israel’s right to exist, it is becoming clear that that is not how Hamas sees it. Hamas negotiators have told the BBC that the entire state of Israel has been built on occupied Palestinian land. They believe that a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza is a first step – not a final step.

Despite these numerous rejectionist statements by Hamas leaders and spokespersons, other newspapers continue to promote the inaccurate notion that by signing the document, Hamas is agreeing to a permanent two state solution, rather than a phased plan for Israel’s destruction.

Writing in today’s Washington Post, correspondent Scott Wilson claimed:

If formally signed Wednesday as scheduled, the agreement would signal a major shift by Hamas’s political leaders, who for the first time would effectively endorse a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict…

“In our view, this is an important step toward a lasting peace,” said Walid Awad, a spokesman for Abbas. “The Hamas government has recognized the state of Israel.”

Only much deeper in the article does Wilson finally point to Hamas’s actual position, although not without raising doubts:

Nashar and other Hamas leaders said the agreement does not commit Hamas to recognizing the Jewish state, which they believe was created illegally on Arab land through a 1947 United Nations resolution. But it does endorse previously signed agreements that do so, as well as the 2002 Arab peace initiative that calls for Israel to withdraw from all territories occupied in the 1967 war in exchange for peace and recognition.

(The prisoners’ document actually does not clearly endorse specific agreements that recognize Israel.)

Similarly, USA Today claimed that “Negotiators from the ruling Hamas movement said Tuesday that they had accepted a document implicitly recognizing Israel.” Much deeper in the article, the newspaper does explain that the document “stopped short of fully breaking with Hamas’ long-held opposition to Israel’s right to exist” and notes that a Hamas leader said the organization “is sticking to its ‘agenda of resistance’ against Israel.

Neither the Washington Post nor USA Today cite any of the clear repudiations of Israel by Hamas leaders note d above.

For more on the issue, read

• “Hamas resists Israel recognition,” BBC News, June 27, 2006

• “Palestinian pact, but little shift,” Philadelphia Inquirer, June 28, 2006

Comments are closed.