Washington Post Misses Its Own Point on Romney’s Palestinian Doubts

Can a news article miss the point of the news it reports? Yes, if it’s “Romney told donors Palestinians don’t want peace with Israel” (Washington Post, September 19 print edition).

The story, by Post White House correspondent Scott Wilson and the paper’s congressional blogger Ed O’Keefe, says a secretly-made video shows Republican presidential candidate Mitt “Romney responding to a question about how ‘the Palestinian problem’ can be solved. He replied by suggesting that ‘the Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace and that the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish.’”

According to The Post, “the candidate’s more pessimistic comments on peace in the Middle East put him at odds with the Republic Party platform ….” Never mind that any future Israeli-Palestinian peace would not be synonymous with “peace in the Middle East.” The region is beset by strife between Iran and Saudi Arabia; Turkey and Syria; within Syria; among Egypt’s new Muslim Brotherhood government and more extreme fundamentalist in the Sinai Desert and elsewhere; among tribes, regions and parties in Yemen; and Israel versus Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

Focus on Romney’s reported pessimism and the Republican platform. Wilson and O’Keefe report that the document supports “two democratic states—Israel with Jerusalem as its capital and Palestine—living in peace and security.” The Post notes that the platform adds “for that to happen, the Palestinian people must support leaders who reject terror, embrace the institutions and ethos of democracy, and respect the rule of law.”

Democratic, anti-terror PA?

The last time voters in the West Bank and Gaza Strip went to the polls, they gave a plurality to Hamas (the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement) in the legislative council, and a majority to Fatah (Movement for the National Liberation of Palestine) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas for president. The Post does not say that both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (Fatah) have been criticized subsequently by Palestinian and international human rights groups for violating the freedoms of West Bank and Gaza residents and disregarding the rule of law. Neither can be said to be democratically legitimate, new elections being years overdue.

Hamas, which now has sole control of the Gaza Strip, “has refused to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist and calls for its destruction in its founding charter,” The Post reports. The paper does not mention that Hamas also has murdered hundreds of Israelis and is designated as an international terrorist organization by the United States, Israel and a number of other countries.

The newspaper differentiates “the secular Fatah movement and the Palestinian Liberation Organization [of which Fatah is the major component]” from Hamas, writing that the former two groups “recognized Israel in the early 1990s and continue to seek a two-state solution.” The Post does not add that Fatah and the PLO recognized Israel’s existence, not its right to exist as a Jewish state, something Abbas recently and adamantly has refused to do.

Neither does the newspaper clarify that the Hamas-Fatah division over recognizing Israel’s existence (but not its legitimacy) appears to be tactical, not strategic. As CAMERA has shown (“Is Fatah Moderate?” Aug. 14, 2007), Fatah’s “covenant” and Hamas’ charter echo each other:

“Hamas openly and consistently states its goal is to destroy the Jewish state and replace it with an Islamic one. Its charter calls for Jihad against ‘the Jewish occupation of Palestine’ and dismisses any political solution. ‘Israel will exist, and will continue to exist, until Islam abolishes it, as it abolished that which was before it,’ reads an introductory quote on the document.

“But the constitution of the Fatah movement—now being cast by many in the media as the hope for peace—is no less belligerent than that of Hamas. It also calls for the ‘complete liberation of Palestine, and eradication of Zionist economic, political, military and cultural existence’ through violence, and similarly dismisses political solutions. And while many journalists have reported on Hamas’ openly stated goals, most continue to ignore those of Fatah.

“Until the Abbas government announced on July 27 [2007] that it was dropping the phrase ‘armed resistance’ from its government’s platform, the media had not reported such a clause existed. In any case, it is a moot point as Fatah members—such as those belonging to the Al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade—continue to adhere to the movement’s charter, rejecting efforts by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and President Mahmoud Abbas to moderate their stance toward Israel.”

Abbas the pragmatist, not moderate

As for Abbas’ own moderation, he served as Fatah leader and PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat’s right-hand man for decades when the PLO was a leading international terrorist organization. The PA president’s critiques of anti-Israel violence have been on the grounds that they don’t serve the Fatah-PA cause now, not that they are illegal or contradict Israeli-Palestinian agreements.

The GOP platform envisions a two-state solution in which Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. Abbas has a conflicting view, as reported by the PA-affiliated newspaper Al-Hayat al-Jadida on August 22 and cited by Palestinian Media Watch:

“‘[The] purpose is to achieve its black goals: Destroying the Al-Aqsa Mosque, building the “alleged Temple”, taking over the Muslim and Christian holy sites, and destroying its [Jerusalem’s] institutions in order to empty it, uproot its residents, and continue its occupation and Judaization.’ Abbas’ statement also said that all of Israel’s archeological digs and tunnels … will not change the reality of the city … and will not create a [Jewish] right based on fantasy and legends. The statement ended … ‘there will be no peace, security, or stability unless the occupation [Israel], its settlements and settlers will be evacuated from our holy city and the eternal capital of our state.’”

The Post also writes that “Romney’s comments could marginalize the more moderate Palestinians seeking peace negotiations with Israel and empower the armed groups, which argue that peace talks are futile.” It implies those “more moderate Palestinians seeking peace negotiations” are led by Abbas and the PA.

But last year Abbas went to the United Nations in search of a unilateral declaration of statehood. He hoped to bypass the direct negotiations with Israel the PA pledged itself to in Oslo “peace process” agreements and that are required by U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 and the more recent international “road map.” Post deputy editorial page editor and columnist Jackson Diehl detailed Abbas’ anti-negotiations strategy on the paper’s Web site earlier this year (“Mahmoud Abbas’s unhappy anniversary,” April 19).

The campaign contest between President Obama and Romney aside, on the Republican’s purported distance from his party’s Israeli-Palestinian platform planks and his continuing skepticism about Palestinian commitment to a two-state solution, The Post “did not do nuance.” It failed to provide context that previously had appeared in the paper itself. It didn’t aid readers in answering a question that helped make the article newsworthy in the first place: Do Palestinian Arabs and their leaders want peace with Israel or not?

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