The Washington Post’s “Mideast Debrief: A few reasons for optimism about latest attempt at peace” (August 13) epitomized what is wrong far too often with the newspaper’s Arab-Israeli reporting: The Arab side, in this case Palestinian, is virtually absent as a culpable party. Infantilizing the Palestinian Arabs, The Post inverts the conflict by focusing almost exclusively on Israel. As a result, Post State Department reporter Anne Gearan’s dispatch suffers from errors of commission and omission, including:
Portraying Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “with no history of peacemaking” but Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as “an elder statesman” with “moderate politics”;
Claiming a 2010 initiative “fell apart almost immediately over the question of a settlement freeze” when, in reality, Palestinian refusal to engage left it stillborn; and
Telling readers former Palestinian chief Yasser Arafat lacked diplomatic cover to make a peace deal in 2000 when Saudi Arabian and Egyptian leaders both criticized him for rejecting an Israeli-U.S. two-state proposal.
The Post claims, in its own voice, that “Netanyahu is a longtime hawk with no history of peacemaking.” In reality, Netanyahu in his first term as prime minister, 1996 – 1999, implemented the Hebron and Wye Agreement withdrawals, tripling the area under direct Palestinian Authority control. Early in his second term, in 2009, Netanyahu called for a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside Israel and unconditional talks to reach an agreement; the Obama administration welcomed the prime minister’s statement, the PA rejected it.
The newspaper, again with no attribution, refers to Abbas as “an elder statesman whose moderate politics and willingness to bargain with Israel appear naïve or anachronistic to many Palestinians.” In fact, for more than three decades Abbas was a top aide to Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Arafat when the latter was a leading international terrorist.
Abbas’ ‘moderate’ paper trail
Abbas’ doctorate, from Soviet-era Moscow University, was an exercise in Holocaust revisionism. He reportedly was paymaster
for the PLO’s “Black September” massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. As Arafat’s successor, he has presided over PA news media, schools and mosques that incessantly spew anti-Zionist, antisemitic incitement, denying Jewish historical ties to the land of Israel and glorifying murderers as heroes. He repeatedly has spurned unconditional, direct negotiations with Israel and the compromise concessions they would require.
The Post claims “the Palestinian economy has plunged to new lows, with little hope of improvement unless Israel no longer controls all access to airports, shipping terminals, roads and water.” In the real world, the West Bank economy, under Abbas’ PA, is one of the world’s leading per capita recipients of outside aid. But corruption and nepotism has meant that little of that money has underwritten private sector growth. Instead, PA officials build villas, drive luxury cars, and pad the payroll with tens of thousands of unproductive “security forces” and other administrative jobs.
Former Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad, an internationally respected economist, struggled to free state-building from favoritism but lacked political support. His successor resigned after less than three weeks, recognizing that Abbas’ cronies retained real power, before being pressured to reconsider.
Israel supplies the PA with more water
than required under Israeli-Palestinian agreements. It controls transit facilities primarily to minimize terrorism like that from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.
The paper tells readers that in Gaza, “the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which is opposed to peace with Israel, holds power.” Hamas is opposed, genocidally, not just to peace but also to the existence of Israel and the Jewish people. Further, it is not a “militant group,” whatever that means, but a terrorist organization—one whose strategy and tactics call for the intimidation and murder of non-combatants—and is so designated by Israel, the United States, Canada and other countries. What is the point of The Post’s hygienic rephrasing?
The Post states, as if true, “the last [Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic] effort, in 2010, fell apart almost immediately over the question of a settlement freeze.” Not even close. In 2009, Netanyahu announced a 10-month freeze on new housing construction in Israeli West Bank communities (virtually none was occurring at the time in any case) and urged a resumption of direct talks. For nine months Abbas and the PA refused. Under U.S. pressure, Palestinian representatives showed up, repeated pro forma positions and then, as the freeze expired, resumed their avoidance of talks with Israel.
Scratching the diplomatic record
The newspaper says support from Arab states for a two-state deal “gives Abbas cover that his predecessor Yasser Arafat did not have when he balked at peace terms in 2000.” Arafat did not “balk at peace terms,” he rejected an Israeli-U.S. offer of a West Bank and Gaza Strip state, with eastern Jerusalem as its capital, in exchange for peace with Israel. He walked out without making a counter proposal. Judging by the criticism he received from Saudi Arabian and Egyptian leaders for rejecting the deal, Arafat would have had important inter-Arab “cover” had he accepted.
And then there’s the big, color Reuters photograph The Post chose to illustrate “A few reasons for optimism. The cutline of this apparently posed, meant-to-engender-sympathy family scene, reads: “The mother, left, of Ateya Abu Moussa, pictured in poster, hugs her sister in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, after hearing news about the expected release of her son, who has been held by Israel for 20 years.”
Neither the cutline nor the article itself informs Post readers why Israel held Abu Moussa. In 1994 he and another Palestinian “hero,” as an “initiation rite” for a terrorist organization, murdered contractor Isaac Rotenberg, 67, a Holocaust survivor, fighter in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, with axes as he worked plastering on a project in Petach Tikva, Israel.
The use of the photograph and the glaring omission of the who, what, when, where, why and how about Ateya Abu Moussa perhaps suggest how “A few reasons for optimism” came to be so tendentious: A failure to face important facets of Palestinian reality.
Note: The print version quoted Secretary of State John Kerry as saying “the United States of America views all the [Israeli] settlements as illegal ….” The version posted online includes a correction noting that Kerry said “illegitimate,” not illegal.
While that political nuance is important for diplomacy—and it is important that The Post get it right—the paper’s refusal to note the Israeli legal counter-argument, that settlements are not only legitimate but also encouraged under the League of Nations’ Palestine Mandate, Article 6, continued by the U.N. Charter, Chapter XII, Article 80, amounts to suppressing half the story. Especially as a group of more than 1,000 jurists from 20 countries recently delivered a statement to the European Union that, contrary to its own Kerry-like position, the settlements are legal and the formulation “1967 borders” doesn’t exist in international law (it’s the 1949 Israeli-Jordanian armistice line, a temporary frontier).
That’s a lot wrong with a relatively short article meant to be a breezy recap. But in journalism, as in diplomacy, the devil is in the details.