WASHINGTON POST-WATCH: Washington Post Misreports Abbas’ Referendum

Palestinian Authority President and Fatah movement leader Mahmoud Abbas might have been trying to outmaneuver the PA’s Hamas-led cabinet by proposing a referendum on strategy toward Israel. But the party he immediately out-foxed was the Washington Post. In “Abbas Will Put Two-State Issue to a Vote of Palestinians” (June 6) by Jerusalem correspondent Scott Wilson, the Post misleads its readers on the substance of Abbas’ proposal.

Reality Versus News Coverage

1) Wilson writes that “the basis of the talks [between Abbas and Hamas leaders] and the referendum is an 18-point document signed last month by Hamas and Fatah leaders in prison …. [that] endorses a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza [Strip] and East Jerusalem.” Wilson adds that “Abbas, considered a moderate,” “favors a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem alongside Israel” while “Hamas envisions a future Palestinian state across land that now includes Israel ….”

This makes it seem that Abbas’ proposed referendum, based on the prisoners’ document, complements President George W. Bush’s “vision” of Israel and a West Bank and Gaza Strip “Palestine” side-by-side and at peace.

But the prisoners’ document calls for “the right of return” to Israel of the alleged 3 – 5 million Palestinian Arab “refugees” and their descendants. This provision appears to make a referendum based on the document a non-starter regarding resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The Washington Post article does not mention “the right of return” demand.

Yet, as historian Benny Morris has emphasized, most recently in a January 6, 2006 New York Times Op-Ed, this is a key to the conflict. Palestinian leadership appears to maintain the “right of return” as part of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s 1974 “phased plan” for Israel’s destruction. The “phased plan” calls for gaining by violence and/or diplomacy a state on land relinquished by Israel, then using that land as a base to continue the struggle, which includes the non-negotiable “right of return.”

2) Washington Post coverage states that “a non-binding vote on the question would also help clarify for a divided Palestinian political leadership, Israel and the rest of the world how a majority of Palestinians envision a final peace agreement with the Jewish state.”

But the “prisoners’ document” does not explicitly recognize Israel, as Israeli Brig. Gen. (Res.) Moshe Elad points out in “Beware the referendum: Israel has little to gain from encouraging Hamas to accept prisoners’ document.” Elad’s commentary was posted June 6 at ynetnews.com, the English-language Web site of Yediot Aharanot, Israeli’s largest Hebrew daily.

3) The prisoners’ document also demands of Israel “to liberate all prisoners and detainees” — that is, it calls for the release of every one of the several thousand Palestinian Arab terrorists and terrorist suspects held in Israeli jails.

The Washington Post coverage omits this demand as well.

4) According to The Jerusalem Post’s same-day coverage (“Israel: PA referendum ‘internal matter'”), “Israel made clear … it views the Fatah-Hamas dispute over the proposed referendum on the ‘prisoner’s document’ as an internal Palestinian matter that will not change Israel’s insistence that the Palestinian Authority fulfill its obligations under the [diplomatic] road map before final status talks can begin. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni relayed this message in separate meetings Monday [June 6] with visiting EU [European Union] foreign policy chief Javier Solana.” The Palestinian obligations referred to include ending anti-Israel violence and beginning to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure.

The Washington Post article does not mention the high-level Israeli reaction, which included a “senior diplomatic source in Jerusalem” saying “this is not the document that will be the basis for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.” That will be the “road map,” including its provisions regarding Palestinian terrorism.

5) The “prisoners’ document” supports continued Arab “resistance” — that is, terrorism — against Israelis in the disputed West Bank (Judea and Samaria).

The Post does not report that this stance violates not only the “road map” but previous Palestinian pledges of negotiations instead of violence that were crucial to the 1993 – 2000 Oslo process.

6) Washington Post reporting says the document was “signed last month by Hamas and Fatah leaders in prison.” But readers are not told those leaders were:

Marwan Barghouti, Fatah al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade organizer and director of the 2000 “al-Aqsa intifada” (launched in rejection of the Israeli-U.S. offer at Camp David that summer of a West Bank and Gaza Strip Palestinian state, with eastern Jerusalem as its capital, in exchange for peace with Israel as a Jewish state), serving life sentences for deadly terrorist attacks;

Abdel Khalik al-Natsche, a Hamas leader;

Bassam al-Saadi, a Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader;

Abdel Rahim Malouh, a Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine leader involved in the murder of Israeli cabinet member Rehavam Zeevi; and

Mustafa Badarne, of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

In other words, five senior leaders of terrorist organizations.

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