WASHINGTON POST-WATCH: Still Off Balance, Part II: Credibility Problems — Abbas and the Washington Post

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas may have a credibility problem, but not the one The Washington Post reports May 27 in “Abbas’s Credibility Problem: U.S. Sees Bolstering Palestinian Leader as Key to Mideast Peace”. Jerusalem Bureau Chief Howard Schneider’s dispatch omits inconvenient truths about Abbas.

“Abbas’ Credibility Problem” states:

* “Abbas, 74, a longtime aide to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, took over after Arafat’s death in 2004 and won election on his own the following year. Trained as a lawyer and historian, Abbas came to power from a career spent burrowing into the fine points of peace talks [emphasis added].”

“Trained as a lawyer and historian” is one way to put it. Another would be that Abbas received his doctorate from Moscow’s Soviet-era Oriental College. A 1983 book based on his dissertation was titled The Other Side: The Secret Relation Between Nazism and the Zionist Movement. An earlier book by Abbas minimized the Holocaust. The PA president may be more a Palestinian David Irving — the British writer who lost a libel suit against Prof. Deborah Lipstadt after she confirmed his Holocaust revisionism — than “a lawyer and historian.”

* “A career spent burrowing into the fine points of peace talks” is misleading. In addition to his writings cited above:

Abbas helped Arafat found Fatah in the late 1950s. Fatah was a terrorist group dedicated to the destruction of pre-‘1967 Israel and Jordan. It became the largest component in the Palestine Liberation Organization, an umbrella group of terrorists organizations supported by the Soviet Union. The Fatah-led PLO committed anti-Israel, anti-Western terrorism from the 1960s into the 1980s; some factions still stage anti-Israel attacks.

Mohammed Daoud Oudeh (“Abu Daoud”), planner of the PLO’s “Black September” 1972 Munich Olympics massacre of Israeli athletes, said “Abu Mazen [Abbas] was the financier of our operation,” though he did not know the details (Sports Illustrated, Aug. 26, 2002).

Abbas may appear the gray bureaucrat, but he was Arafat’s executive assistant for 35 bloody years. “A career spent burrowing into the fine points of peace talks” hardly does him justice, or The Post credit.

There’s more …

* Paragraph 13 of “Abbas’ Credibility Problem” notes that “the United States considers the group [Hamas] a terrorist organization.” But paragraph 14 quotes Hani al-Masri, whom The Post describes as “head of the Palestine Media, Research and Studies Center and a member of a smaller party, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine [emphasis added].”

The Post omits the PFLP’s membership in the PLO and that the United States for years has considered the PFLP, like Hamas, a terrorist organization.

* The article asserts, without attribution, that “Hamas remains popular, earning sympathy for a recent three-week war with Israel and fighting Israel’s ongoing economic blockade of Gaza.”

During and immediately after Israel’s December 2008 – January 2009 operation against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, press reports told of Palestinian Arab disaffection with Hamas for provoking the conflict and resultant destruction. The Post gives no acknowledgment that expressions of public opinion can be unreliable in areas in which the public is intimidated by its rulers, like Gazans by Hamas. The article claims Hamas is “earning sympathy” for “fighting Israel’s ongoing economic blockade” when residents of Gaza may well understand that the blockade is a consequence of continued anti-Israel terrorism by Hamas and other groups.

Missing, again

CAMERA commended The Post for a March 23 article by Schneider (“Car Bomb Found Near Crowded Israeli Mall”) that accurately referred to “the disputed territory [emphasis added] of the West Bank ….” That was because the paper routinely terms the area “the occupied West Bank” or “Palestinian territory.” It rarely if ever refers in its own voice to “Judea and Samaria,” as the territory is known generally in Hebrew and often was referred to in English before Jordan illegally occupied it and coined the West Bank description.

“Disputed territory” properly reminds readers that Jews as well as Arabs have legitimate claims there, as Eugene Rostow, undersecretary of state in the Johnson administration and co-author of U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, affirmed. It correctly suggests that sovereignty is unresolved pending a final agreement. In referring to “the occupied West Bank” The Post rarely if ever points out that Israel’s military occupation is legitimate as a result of a successful war of self-defense (1967), pending a negotiated final settlement.

Recent Post usage has reverted to “the occupied West Bank,” “land occupied by Israeli in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war,” “the occupied land” and simply “the West Bank.” This usage, absent the necessary minimum context, implicitly prejudges negotiations in favor of one side, in this case Palestinian. Such usages, but not “disputed territories,” appear in “Coastal Israeli City Offers Glimpse Into Deep-Seated Divide; Plan to House Jews in Arab Sector Of Jaffa Seen as Threat to Coexistence” (May 26), “Abbas’ Credibility Problem” (May 27), “Backers of Jewish Settlements Put Squeeze on Netanyahu” (May 28), and “Obama Pushes Israel On Settlement Issue; Palestinians Also Urged to Boost Security” (May 29).

The paper occasionally and accurately terms eastern Jerusalem “disputed”; so is the West Bank.

Compare Post usage with USA Today’s more accurate wording on May 29 (“Obama sets terms for Mideast peace; Says security, halt to settlements are needed for accord”) and June 2 (“Jewish settlers’ attack injures 6 Palestinians”). The first, from combined wire reports, says “Obama’s comments came on the same day Israel refused a demand to freeze construction in the West Bank, land that Palestinians want to claim for themselves.” The second, an Associated Press dispatch, in referring to the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem tells readers that “the Palestinians claim both areas — captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East War — as parts of a future independent state [emphases added].”

CAMERA has noted that Post Arab-Israeli coverage has improved since the arrival early this year of Schneider as Jerusalem bureau chief. But when it comes to describing PA President Abbas, all Palestinian terrorist groups, and the status of the West Bank, the paper must be more precise, more consistent.

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