by Leo Rennert
The Washington Post, in its Feb. 22 edition, carries an article by correspondents William Booth and Anne Gearan, titled "One things missing as talks progress: Gaza - Deal would essentially leave out 1.6 million Palestinians." The basic point of their report is that, while Israel and Mahmoud Abbas's Palestinian Authority are engaged in peace talks, Gaza under Hamas rule is left out, along with 1.6 million Palestinians.
Or as they put it, "[t]he isolated and besieged Palestinian territory called the Gaza Strip is the rarely mentioned elephant in the bargaining room -- a huge obstacle to a permanent settlement of the decades-old conflict." So far, so good, but not nearly good enough. In depicting Gaza's isolation, Booth and Gearan tell Post readers that Hamas is in a weak position and has to govern "under a tight Israeli embargo."
Which brings us to their dispatch's first glaring omission -- failure to mention that it's not just Israel that is keeping Gaza isolated. Egypt is as much a partner in keeping Gaza under a tight siege. Yet there's no mention that Egypt has kept Hamas bottled up by destroying hundreds of smuggling tunnels that provided Gaza a lifeline to the outside world. Contrary to the article, the Gaza embargo is not a two-way affair, but a three-way scenario -- with Israel and Egypt lined up together against Hamas.
On to the article's second glaring omission: its failure to explain why Israel keeps a tight grip on Gaza under Hamas rule. Not once do Booth and Gearan mention that Israel keeps Gaza besieged because it has to defend itself against constant barrages of rockets from Hamas-ruled Gaza toward civilian towns in southern Israel. Nor do Booth and Gearan explain that Hamas still has an arsenal of thousands of missiles. Instead, they portray Hamas as merely "opposed to talks with Israel," which hardly tells the full story. While the Post reporters write in passing that the United States considers Hamas a terrorist organization, there is no suggestion that Hamas ever fired a shot. Nor is there any mention that Hamas is publicly committed to Israel's complete elimination -- which is why Hamas sees no point in negotiating peace with Israel under any circumstances. Hamas wants a one-state solution.
Finally, a third glaring omission -- this one about Abbas. The Booth-Gearan dispatch draws a sharp contrast between Hamas and Abbas -- the former as an obstacle to a comprehensive peace, the latter an enabler of peace negotiations in tandem with Secretary of State John Kerry, who "envisions a deal signed by the moderate leadership in the West Bank" -- i.e., the "moderate" Abbas. While there's no possibility of doing business with Hamas, there is real hope that Kerry can do business with Abbas, according to the article. Put another way, as the headline suggests, there's only "one thing missing" from bringing peacemaking to fruition: Gaza.
For his part, Abbas represents no such problem. This, of course, is bunk. Abbas, in his own more diplomatic way, is as much an obstacle to getting a peace deal as Hamas is. Booth and Gearan totally overlook repeated Abbas assertions that he opposes all major elements of Kerry's evolving "framework" for final peace talks. Abbas vows that he will never agree to accept Israel as a Jewish state -- a basic Kerry demand. In drawing borders, Abbas wants virtually all of East Jerusalem, which encompasses Judaism's holiest shrines, including the Temple Mount and the Western Wall. Abbas insists on the "right of return" to Israel of millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants -- a demographic death sentence for the Jewish state.
Nowhere in the Booth-Gearan piece is there the slightest indication that Abbas is not budging an inch from his maximalist demands. Which is why Kerry is having far more problems with Abbas in getting his peace "framework" in shape than with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Booth and Gearan are invested in Kerry's wishful peacemaking initiative, blinding themselves to Abbas's intransigence. Contrary to their coverage, there are two elephants in the bargaining room -- not only Hamas.
Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau
chief of McClatchy Newspapers.
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