The Washington Post’s lead “The World” section article “U.N. envoy sees little hope for Mideast peace; As he leaves Jerusalem, Robert Serry recalls failed talks, three wars” (March 31, 2015) is an odd pretext for the newspaper to mash Arab-Israeli news through the rusty sieve of the “Palestinian narrative.” Post Jerusalem Bureau Chief William Booth’s coverage not infrequently has been relatively balanced. But when it stumbles, it’s usually by failing to report Israeli policy in context while simultaneously glossing over Palestinian rejectionism, incitement and aggression. That happens again with “U.N. envoy sees little hope for Mideast peace.”
Among the article’s flaws:
- Mistakenly elevating Robert Serry, outgoing U.N. “special coordinator for the Middle East peace process,” to newsworthiness. Serry, a Dutch diplomat, played no important role in U.S.-led efforts to mediate an Israeli-Palestinian settlement—nor was he meant to.
- The Post gives 1,000-plus words to Serry’s superficial repetition of conventional U.N. wisdom on Israeli-Palestinian matters. For example, it quotes him as lamenting “despite all our [United Nations] efforts, Gaza is our collective failure”—but provides little insight, in Serry’s words or the newspaper’s, as to why.
- The article lets Serry bemoan “the end of an era”—working for a “two-state solution”—and warn of “a one-state reality” that would threaten Israel’s status as a Jewish democracy. No analysis of the “one-state” bug-a-boo, often invoked to prod Israel toward unreciprocated concessions, or alternatives to it, is offered, nor mention made of repeated Palestinian rejection of two-state offers.
- The Post paraphrases the U.N. special coordinator as suggesting “the United Nations could propose the broad outlines of a peace plan, should conditions permit it.” It fails to remind readers that such U.N. outlines already exist—Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973). They have provided the basis for all successful Arab-Israeli diplomacy previously, including the 1993 Oslo process. It failed not for lack of U.N. backing, but due to repeated major Palestinian violations.
1) The Post does not remind readers that ever since the 1967 Six-Day War, successful Arab-Israeli diplomacy has been primarily an American-facilitated effort. Outside such efforts, the United Nations—and its functionaries including Serry—usually have been supporting actors at best, irritants and obstacles at worst. In that vein, repeated without much context by the newspaper, “Serry said there will never be peace unless the problem of Gaza—an impoverished enclave that is under a partial military blockade, isolated from the West Bank, and pinned between two hostile states—is solved.”
The strip is “partially blockaded between two hostile states”—Egypt as well as Israel, unidentified by The Post—because of chronic Hamas-supported terrorism against Israel from the Strip and against Israel and Egypt from the adjacent Egyptian Sinai Peninsula. Gaza enjoyed the beginning of an economic boom in the first years after Oslo, growth undercut by terrorism from Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (another Islamic terrorist organization) and wings of the “moderate” Fatah. Even during the depths of the second intifada (2000-2005), Gazans still under Israeli occupation enjoyed a higher standard of living than Algerian, Egyptian, Moroccan, Syrian and Yemeni Arabs, according to a U.N. report. Problems of the Gaza Strip apparently are primarily the making of Gaza’s leaders, though neither Serry nor The Post by extension conveys that to readers.
2) Perhaps failure to rebuild damaged portions of Gaza after three conflicts with Israel started by the territory’s Hamas rulers lies not with the United Nations but with Palestinian leadership. Hamas appears more interested in preparing to attack Israel again, and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority on the West Bank finds it both too dangerous to challenge Hamas and convenient to use Gaza as a visual in its anti-Israel campaign. With ironic amnesia, The Post says “the U.N. envoy proposed a ‘Gaza first’ strategy, in which Hamas relinquishes control of the crossings into the coastal enclave; embraces the new but ineffectual Palestinian unity government, and pledges to maintain a truce with Israel to allow Gaza to be rebuilt. Serry imagines a reconstruction ‘hudna,’ or freeze, of all military activities ‘above and below ground’ by Hamas and other militant factions … for three to five years in exchange for large-scale projects” of reconstruction.
Under the rubric “Gaza and Jericho first,” supporters sold the Oslo “peace process” to Israelis. If progress toward peace didn’t happen, the process would be stopped, the argument went. Twenty-two years later, with more Palestinian-Israeli destruction and death than in the 22 years before Oslo, Serry proposes to try “Gaza first” again, with an unregenerate Hamas? The Post props his notion up with foggy references to “military activities” and “militant factions” instead of accurate descriptions of terrorist tunnels into Israel and terrorist factions. Why not mention, for specificity’s sake, that Hamas’ charter calls for the destruction of Israel, genocide of the Jewish people, and establishment in its place not of a Palestinian Arab state but an Islamic theocracy? Readers could then add a little meaning to the amorphous word “militant.”
3) The Post paraphrases Serry that “each failed round of peace talks [during his seven years as coordinator] was followed by war in Gaza.” Then he cites Albert Einstein’s definition of madness as doing the same experiment over and over but expecting different results. That Hamas, et. al. resorted to violence partly to obstruct any possibility or suspicion of diplomatic progress escapes both Serry and the paper.Readers aren’t reminded that Palestinian leaders beginning with Palestinian Authority (Fatah) heads Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas, not Israelis, rejected two-state deals in 2000, 2001, 2008 and in 2014. If a West Bank and Gaza Strip Palestinian country, with eastern Jerusalem as its capital, required peace with Israel as a Jewish state, maybe that was not their primary objective.
If the “peace process” amounts to “a can … kicked down an endless road,” as Serry puts it, perhaps the fault lies elsewhere than with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as The Post implies, pivoting from Sperry to U.S. President Barack Obama. Though Post columnist Charles Krauthammer’s focus on Palestinian rejectionism (“No peace in our time,” March 20)may be partisan, the chronology of refusal it relates is context missing from “U.N. envoy sees little hope for Mideast peace” as a news article. More “even-handed” perhaps is another opinion piece, this one by President Bill Clinton’s chief Arab-Israeli envoy, Amb. Dennis Ross, also highlighting the Palestinian rejectionism The Post now manages to ignore (“Stop Giving Palestinians a Pass,” New York Times, Jan. 4, 2015). Such one-sidedness is almost inevitable when The Post runs news through the Palestinian (and in this case U.N.) filter.
Invoked without analysis is the “one-state” bogeyman—that if Israel doesn’t make all the concessions demanded of it, often unreciprocated, by the Palestinian side and its supporters, then the Zionist dream inescapably will be engulfed by Israel’s annexation of the estimated 3.5 million or more West Bank and Gaza Strip Arabs. One-sidedly, The Post paraphrases “Serry and many others” who warn of a “one-state solution,” editorializing that “either Israel maintain the almost 50-year-old status quo that denies civil rights to Palestinians, who denounce the military occupation and its strictures as apartheid, or somehow absorb millions of Palestinians as fellow citizens ….”
Resolutions 242 and 338 call for, among other things, Arab-Israeli negotiations to achieve “secure and recognized boundaries” for Israel and all other parties to the conflict, a “just settlement” of the refugee problem, including the 800,000-plus Jewish refugees from Arab lands as well as the 420,000 to 650,000 Arab refugees from what became Israel and an end to all states of belligerency between parties to the ’67 Six-Day and 1973 Yom Kippur wars. Israel has cold but functional peace with the present regimes in Egypt and Jordan, no likelihood of talks with Iranian-influenced, politically shattered Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, and some functioning security, water and other arrangements with the PA-administered West Bank.
Israel could withdraw unilaterally from the West Bank, as it did from the Gaza Strip in 2005—and get a Hamastan, if not al-Qaeda, the Islamic State or Hezbollah outside Jerusalem. But until Palestinian leaders embrace the give-and-take of negotiations toward a “two-state solution” as an end to the conflict, Israel’s military occupation is obligatory under international law. Perhaps a Jordanian government interested in an Israeli-Jordanian “condominium” in the West Bank will come forward. But until then, continued Israeli security presence in the Jordan Valley, Jewish communities in the disputed territories of Judea and Samaria—and Arab villages and towns in the same region—neither denies West Bank Arabs civil rights (the PA does that on a daily basis, including jailing critics), nor resembles pre-majority-rule South African apartheid. How long have U.S. troops been stationed in South Korea, including guarding the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea? Difficult situations without immediate solutions can and do continue, without requiring an aggrieved party—in this case Israel—to make them more difficult.
5) What was the point of The Post’s big farewell interview with Serry? No legitimate news peg warranted it. But it did give the Palestinian-international anti-Israeli perspective another shot of reinforcement.