Thursday, August 1, 2013

One-sided Coverage of Peace Talks

by Leo Rennert

As the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations get under way, it's becoming clear that the New York Times and the Washington Post are shaping their coverage to reflect a pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel agenda. The burden to make concessions falls on Israel's back, while Palestinian obstacles go unreported. 

Take for example a July 31 New York Times article by Michael Gordon ("Kerry Says Goal Is Mideast Peace Deal Within 9 Months" page A3). 

After citing Secretary of State John Kerry's sendoff remarks to the negotiators, Gordon weighs in with his own take -- "American officials said they expected Israel to take steps soon to improve the atmosphere for negotiations" by relaxing security regulations in the West Bank. And with regard to settlement construction, Gordon reports that "American officials made clear that they were hoping for, but not counting on, Israeli restraint." 

Nowhere in the article is Gordon able to find any unidentified American officials who just might point out that the Palestinians also are expected to take steps to improve the atmosphere. Nowhere does Gordon opine that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas might also be expected to show "restraint" -- like halting glorification of terrorist killers. Or still clinging to a one-state solution that would eliminate the Jewish state. Or that Hamas's separate rule of Gaza might complicate the job of the negotiators. 

In Gordon's view, it's only Israel which needs to show restraint, improve the atmosphere and make concessions. 

The Washington Post coverage of the peace talks is no better, if you're looking for evenhanded, unbiased coverage. In its July 31 edition, the paper runs an article by Anne Gearan, which also reflects a pro-Palestinian twist ("Mideast peace negotiations resume -- Kerry cites ambitious goal of independent Palestinian state" page A5). 

According to Gearan, "final status" issues that must be resolved in the negotiations include "borders of a future Palestinian state, whether to establish a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem, and the claims of Palestinians and their descendants to homes they left in what is now Israel." 

While summing up Palestinian priorities in the negotiations, Gearan omits one other critically important "final issue" -- concrete steps to guarantee Israel's security under a two-state solution. Israel insists that a Palestinian state must be demilitarized and that it will be able to mount a security presence in the Jordan Valley to protect its eastern flank. That's just as important to Israel as statehood for the Palestinians, but somehow gets lost in the Post. 

In Gearan's view, only Palestinian demands require attention. 

Here's another pro-Palestinian spin in her article. Recalling failed negotiations in 2008, she writes that "Israel and the Palestinians came within sight of a deal before talks collapsed." That hardly tells the tale. The talks didn't just collapse of their own weight. 

What really happened in 2008 is that then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered the Palestinians a state encompassing all of Gaza, 94 percent of the West Bank, plus a West Bank-Gaza tunnel connector so as to create an undivided "Palestine," plus division of Jerusalem so as to assign all Arab neighborhoods to a Palestinian state. Olmert's plan also would have placed all historic Muslim, Christian and Jewish sacred sites in Jerusalem under an international consortium consisting of Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. Just think: Israel was willing to cede sovereignty over Temple Mount and the Western Wall -- Judaism's holiest shrines. Why keep it a secret? 

And still, this wasn't enough. Abbas aborted the negotiations by walking away from Olmert's generous offer. That's how the talks collapsed. Yet, there's no hint of Abbas's rejectionism in Gearan's piece. 

Instead, she chooses to emphasize the "increasingly thorny challenge posed by the growth of Jewish settlements in the West Bank."

No mention that settlements posed no obstacles when Israel concluded its peace treaty with Egypt and abandoned all Jewish settlements in Sinai. And again when then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon abandoned all Jewish settlements in Gaza, hoping (wrongly) that this one-sided gesture might bear fruit. Instead, it became a terrorist launching pad for rocket barrages against southern Israel. 

Real history and fair, evenhanded journalism are indeed rare commodities in the Washington Post and the New York Times.

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


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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