WASHINGTON POST-WATCH: Neither Broad Nor Deep: Washington Post Coverage of Fatah Congress

The one free-standing Washington Post article on the recent Fatah movement congress (“Abbas’s Party Holds Convention; First Such Effort in 20 Years Aims to Yield New Platform,” August 5) was relatively short and superficial.

Special correspondent Linda Gradstein — National Public Radio’s chronically pro-Palestinian Israel reporter — filed in for The Post‘s Jerusalem Bureau Chief, Howard Schneider.

* Gradstein reported that “more than 2,000 delegates from around the world have gathered [in Bethlehem] to choose a new party platform and hold elections for Fatah institutions.” She did not report, as did Reuters (“Old Guard ‘Hijacks’ Fatah Congress, Say Reformers,” August 5) that about 700 delegates were added to the initial 1,500 at the last minute, apparently in an attempt to maintain a status quo favorable to the movement’s “old guard.”

* She quoted Palestinian Authority President and Fatah veteran leader Mahmoud Abbas’s August 4 speech that “‘although peace is our choice, we reserve the right to resistance, legitimate under international law’ …. The Palestinian leader made it clear that by ‘resistance,’ he meant non-violent protests rather than armed confrontation ….” Gradstein did not report that delegates loudly applauded former PA prime minister and current negotiator Ahmed Qurei’s (“Abu Ala’a”) same-day praise for the leaders of the 1978 Coast Road Massacre, in which Palestinian Liberation Organization terrorists hijacked a civilian bus and murdered 37 Israelis, including 12 children. Khaled Abu-Isbah, one of the co-leaders, was in attendance. He and co-leader Dalal Mughrabi, now deceased, were hailed as “heroes.” Neither did Gradstein report that the convention hall was decorated with large posters of Palestinian Arab children brandishing rifles.

Nor did she inform readers that a Fatah “old guard” leader, Jibril Rajoub, former head of the PA’s internal security force, insisted that “Fatah will never give up on the armed struggle until we get our state.” Armed struggle long has been a Fatah/PLO euphemism for anti-Israel terrorism. Omitting declarations like Rajoub’s allowed Gradstein to avoid recalling that ending anti-Israel violence in favor of settling all disputes by negotiations, as then Fatah chairman and PLO leader Yasser Arafat pledged to do in his September, 1993 letter to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, was a sine qua non for the Oslo “peace process.”

* Gradstein noted “Abbas faced some criticism from a group known as the ‘young guard,’ men in their 40s who led the first Palestinian intifada, or uprising, against Israel in the late 1980s and whose jailed leader, Marwan Barghouti, is widely mentioned as the only possible alternative to Abbas.” She did not report that Barghouti is jailed for involvement in five murders during the “second intifada.”

* The Post‘s special correspondent paraphrased Abbas “that Palestinians remain committed to the goal of establishing an independent state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with Jerusalem as its capital.” Gradstein did not report, as BBC News did, that “now, international observers are watching to see whether the movement [Fatah] will update its charter – currently [still] committed to ‘liquidating the Zionist entity’ – and shift formally from liberation movement to political party” (“Can Fatah reinvent itself?” August 4). Neither did she note that Fatah reiterated its refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

The Post did not report on the multi-day congress in its August 6 edition, so readers did not learn that:

a) The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations issued a release on August 5, condemning “the statements made by former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Abu Ala’a and other officials at yesterday’s Fatah congress” praising terrorists, supporting “armed resistance” and rejecting recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

b) The congress unanimously concluded that Israel was behind Arafat’s death. The “Israel-killed-Arafat” theory sprang to life shortly after the PLO leader’s undisclosed final illness and death in a French hospital in 2004. The possibility that Arafat died of AIDS continues largely taboo for major news media. But National Review (“The Week” column, Feb. 25, 2008) noted that “Dr. Ashraf al-Kurdi, who looked after the master terrorist’s health for 18 years — has been telling a Jordanian news agency that Arafat had AIDS.” In July, 2007, Ahmed Jibril, secretary-general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command, a PLO faction, said he’d been told by staff members of Mahmoud Abbas that Arafat died of AIDS. Regardless, the Fatah congress authorized establishment of a “commission of inquiry” and urged an international investigation as well.

c) Some of the Fatah “young guard,” whom The Post periodically portrays as reformers, “have been making under the table deals with some of the old-timers, making it harder than ever to read the map” (Ha’aretz, August 5).

Reliance on Gradstein as a fill-in weakens Post Arab-Israeli coverage. Failure to publish a comprehensive next-day story to “Abbas’s Party Holds Convention” left readers doubly in the dark.

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