When Peace Almost Broke Out: A Washington Post Mirage

The Washington Post’s foreign desk—though not the Op-Ed pages—apparently believes peace almost broke out between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs in 2008. In the July 31, 2013 print edition, The Post reported erroneously that “Israel and the Palestinians came within sight of a deal before talks collapsed” five years earlier (“Mideast peace negotiations resume,” July 31).
That echoed the paper’s claim five weeks earlier that former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert “came close to a [peace] deal in 2008” with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (“Little momentum for Kerry ahead of visit to Israel,” June 25).
The near-peace agreement never happened, CAMERA’s June 26 letter to the editor—considered but not published—pointed out. Olmert himself had confirmed the so-called deal’s mirage-like nature in a Post commentary (“How to Achieve a Lasting Peace; Stop Focusing on the Settlements,” July 17, 2009). Wrote the former prime minister: “I cannot understand why the Palestinian leadership did not accept the far-reaching and unprecedented proposal I offered them.”
In further refutation of The Post’s “came close to a deal” assertion, CAMERA also cited for editors and reporters an interview with The Australian (Nov. 28, 2009), in which Olmert explained what happened in 2008 after he proposed to Abbas a West Bank and Gaza Strip state. Olmert’s offer included land swaps to compensate for the 6.4 percent of the West Bank that Israel would retain, and arrangements on security and refugees—in exchange for peace.
“Abbas promised to return with his advisors the next day.” Instead, the Palestinian team went to Jordan, saying, “let’s make it next week,” according to Olmert. But “I never saw him [Abbas] again.”
The Post’s Jackson Diehl, deputy editorial page editor and columnist, essentially confirmed Olmert’s account of Palestinian rejection in “Abbas’ Waiting Game on Peace with Israel” (May 29, 2009). “In all, Olmert’s peace offer was more generous to the Palestinians than either that of Bush or Bill Clinton; it’s almost impossible to imagine Obama, or any Israeli government, going further,” Diehl wrote.
But “Abbas turned it down. ‘The gaps were wide,’ he said.” “The gaps were wide,” according to the Palestinian leader himself. That is, no deal was close, no near-agreement existed to collapse.
The persistence of false memories
But even after having reality called to its attention, The Post foreign desk misled readers again with its July 31 report that “Israel and the Palestinians came within sight of a deal before talks collapsed” in 2008. A second CAMERA letter, reiterating the facts of Israel’s 2008 proposal and Palestinian rejection, was submitted the same day. It too went unpublished.
However, for whatever reason, The Post’s next reference in print to the “almost peace deal” five years ago was vague and non-declarative, saying current U.S.-mediated Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy possessed “a level of rigor and outside discipline missing from the last major effort at peace, in 2008” (“Mideast Debrief: In Mideast peace talks, a few reasons for optimism,” August 13).
Diplomatic correspondent Anne Gearan wrote all three Post reports.
A cartoon several years ago had a school guidance counselor telling concerned parents that their son was curious, had a lot of energy and a short attention span. “Perhaps a career in the news media,” she advised.
Maybe that helps explain the persistence of The Post’s false memory of when peace almost broke out between Israelis and Palestinian Arabs in 2008. Regardless of facts to the contrary, the paper’s rosy scenario endures.
In a Sept. 16, 2010 article “Netanyahu, Abbas ‘mean business,’ U.S. envoy says,” the paper also had reported the same imaginary event. That time, it did publish CAMERA’s corrective letter to the editor, under the headline “Revisionist Mideast history”.
Wishful thinking, and the revisionism it can lead to, is one thing. News reporting is another. The next time Olmert’s offer to Abbas comes up in a foreign desk dispatch, The Post should get it right.

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