Monday, July 16, 2012

With Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Unresolved, Washington Post Blames Obama and Bibi, not Abbas

by Leo Rennert

The Washington Post runs an extraordinarily lengthy Sunday article -- top of the front page and three full inside pages -- that attempts to explain President Obama's failure to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after more than three years of intensive diplomacy ("Evolution of a President - Where Obama failed on Middle East - Despite leader's attempt at new approach, Israelis and Palestinians found no peace" by Scott Wilson, July 15).

As a former Jerusalem correspondent who injected his dispatches with pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel bias, Wilson proceeds in similar vein in sketching the history of multiple peacemaking efforts since Obama assumed power. He doesn't spare Obama and he certainly doesn't spare Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, but he lowers the bar to the point of exoneration in dealing with Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinians.

Wilson's point of departure is that only the Palestinians are an aggrieved party and thus the only ones whose demands are justified and whose shortcomings are excused.

The conflict, he writes, is "haunted by the perceived injustice of a Palestinian land lost in war" - his take on Israel's War of Independence in 1948. His formulation falsely suggests that, pre-1948, the land already belonged to the Palestinians -- a gross historical fabrication. Legally, the land was allocated for a Jewish national home by the League of Nations and then by the United Nations in a partition plan that Israel embraced and the Arabs rejected.

When Israel leads a counter-terrorism offensive in Gaza in the winter of 2008-9, it's aimed against "armed Palestinian groups" -- an exculpatory euphemism for Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups. Wilson, however, is less genteel in his use of terminology when he alludes to the Irgun, a Jewish underground group which battled British authorities pre-1948, as a "paramilitary movement classified as a terrorist group."

In Wilson's view, there are no Palestinian terrorists, only Jewish ones.

When it comes to the West Bank, Wilson predictably jettisons neutral terminology for toxic anti-Israel semantics -- referring to Jewish settlements "in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem." Or again as "land occupied by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war."

Of course, East Jerusalem and lands in the West Bank are not "occupied" -- a term that falsely suggests they belong to someone else. Objectively, they are "disputed" land awaiting determinations of sovereignty in an eventual peace settlement. The last sovereign ruler of East Jerusalem and the West Bank was the Ottoman Empire, which vanished at the end of World War I. There is no basis in history or law for Wilson to pre-judge and allocate these lands to the Palestinians.

In dealing with Netanyahu, Wilson gives no quarter. When Bibi breaks precedent and endorses an independent Palestinian state, Wilson immediately brushes it aside because "it contained so many caveats that Palestinians dismissed it as an empty gesture."

Ditto when Bibi, under Obama pressure, takes an unprecedented step of imposing a 10-month settlement construction freeze in the West Bank to lure Abbas to the negotiating table, he gets no kudos from Wilson, who faults the Israeli leader for not extending the freeze to East Jerusalem, "prompting Abbas to call the freeze meaningless."

Bibi can do no right; Abbas can do no wrong.

The settlement freeze expires "and with it the direct talks." As if Abbas is always entitled to more and more unilateral sweeteners to come to the negotiating table. Never does Wilson entertain the thought that perhaps both parties should resume talks without pre-conditions on either side.

In Washington journalese parlance, there are plenty of tick-tock vignettes about Obama's missteps in pressing for one-sided Israeli concessions and the often sharp conflicts between his top advisers, George Mitchell and Dennis Ross.

There are even some nuggets that can provide ammunition to the Romney camp when Wilson documents Obama's animus against Bibi's Likud Party and, with costly hubris, thinks he can succeed where his predecessors failed when it comes to ending the conflict by putting daylight between himself and Israel so as to gain credibility in the Arab world. A strategy that alienated many Israelis and for which Obama never got any credit in the Muslim world.

In sum, some interesting behind-the-scenes insights, but all colored with gobs of sympathy for the Palestinians, holding only Bibi and Obama accountable.

Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers


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