“This round of Israeli-Palestinian violence has defied … easy explanations,” the Associated Press states at the top of a story today. But AP’s attempt at explaining the story seems to have been easy enough. They largely embraced pre-packaged talking points by the Palestinian side, often relaying those in the authoritative voice of the Associated Press, while contrasting them with claims and allegations attributed to Israel’s “hard-line” government, most of which were buried deep in the article.
The Palestinian narrative pokes through from the first attempt by the reporters, Mohammed Daraghmeh and Karin Laub, to “explain” the wave of Palestinian attacks.
The violence is playing out in one of the darkest periods of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with Israeli rule over Palestinians well-entrenched. Hopes for a peace deal establishing a Palestinian state are at a low after Israelis this year re-elected their hard-line government, which continues to build Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
The story being pitched is clear: In the big picture, there is Palestinian grievance, and there is Israeli intransigence. Israelis alone are cast as being at fault for the dark period and the dashed hopes. It is their settlements. It is they who elected a “hard-line” government.
But which leader has been taking a harder line? The right-of-center Benjamin Netanyahu, who has called for negotiations and a Palestinian state alongside a Jewish one, and under whom settlement construction has actually slowed (though the article seems to suggest otherwise); or Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority leader who has called on Palestinians to protect Jerusalem from the “filthy feet” of Israeli Jews, who has rejected renewed negotiations and the very idea of Jewish national self-determination, and whose party frequently extols murderers as heroes?
To be sure, those partial to the Palestinian narrative do insist Israel is responsible for the impasse and hopelessness, that Israel’s leaders are the hardliners, and that Abbas is a would-be peacemaker who has “given up hope of independence through negotiations after two decades of failed attempts.” That last quote, though, comes not from proud partisans of the Palestinian cause, but from the AP authors, who claim awareness of, and the authority to enlighten readers about, Abbas’s deepest hopes and disappointments.
But, of course, even AP journalists are not omniscient, and do not know what Mahmoud Abbas feels or “hopes.” Like Netanyahu, Abbas is a politician, and for that matter one deeply involved in an information war. He has advisors, even entire departments, to help him shape talking points and positions in support of Palestinian goals.
What AP journalists do know, on the other hand, is that despite attempts by Palestinian leaders to cast themselves as being without agency, and thus without responsibility for the current state of affairs, Abbas was offered a peace deal and statehood by former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, but did not take advantage of that offer. Abbas’s own responsibility for Palestinian statelessness was ignored by authors, while his purported feelings — his talking point about giving up hope — were relayed as fact.
AP reporters should be aware, too, that Israeli Jews appear to have lost hope. According to a poll released yesterday, 71 percent believe that Palestinian terror against Jews would continue even with the conclusion of a peace agreement. This may be related to the view, held by 61 percent of Israeli Jews, that the current Palestinian violence is not spontaneous, but rather arose with the involvement of the Palestinian leadership.
The Israeli view that Palestinian violence is encouraged from above apparently isn’t part of the preferred narrative. Although clearly germane to the topics discussed in the article, it wasn’t mentioned by the authors. On the other hand, the allegation by a partisan NGO — “rights activists,” according to the Associated Press — that Israel is responsible for the death of Palestinian attackers because of a purported “‘shoot-to-kill’ atmosphere in Israel, fueled by incendiary comments by leading Israeli politicians and security officials,” is part of the preferred narrative. That view appears prominently at the start of the piece.
Those inciting to violence are driven by hatred of Israelis and opposition to the existence of the state of Israel, and spread their message over social media networks to Palestinian youth, argue Israeli government officials, who rarely mention that Palestinians have been living under Israeli rule for a half-century.
s easy explanation, as the AP reports state. So reporters should try their best to explain, but while still doing the hard work required of professional journalists, which includes remaining even-handed and reporting impartially.