Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Mideast Media Sampler 07/30/2013: Does Kerry Know Palestinians Were Supposed To Reject Terrorism 20 Years Ago?

by David Gerstman, contributing blogger at Legal Insurrection

John Kerry rejects a basic premise of the peace process

The past two days has seen the reporting on the beginning of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

First there was the reporting on the Israeli concession that made the talks possible. The New York Times reported Netanyahu agree to free 104 Prisoners:
An Israeli government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said many of those who remained in Israeli jails, like the 104 now chosen for early release, had been involved in particularly gruesome acts.

“The goal here is to augment the political dialogue with confidence-building measures,” the official said, adding that the cabinet was expected to approve the release. In moves meant to appease the more right-wing elements in the government, the cabinet is also expected to discuss legislation for a referendum on any peace deal and to set up a special ministerial committee to deal with the negotiations.

But the prisoner issue is the one that has inflamed passions on both sides. Palestinians view these long-serving prisoners, convicted before the signing of the Oslo peace accords in 1993, as political prisoners whose release is long overdue.
The Washington Post reported Peace talks set to begin after Israel agrees to free 104 Palestinian prisoners:
The list of prisoners who may be released in coming days includes militants who threw firebombs, in one case at a bus carrying children; stabbed and shot civilians, including women, elderly Jews and suspected Palestinian collaborators; and ambushed and killed border guards, police officers, security agents and soldiers. All of them have been in prison for at least two decades; some were serving life sentences.

The Israeli public views these prisoners as terrorists who have blood on their hands. Palestinians see them as freedom fighters struggling to reclaim their homeland and oust the occupiers. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his leadership refused to return to the negotiating table without their release.

Regardless of whether it is a grudging gesture of goodwill, diplomatic blackmail or something in between, Netanyahu’s move is a major concession to Kerry and the Palestinians.
The Washington Post, at least acknowledged that this was a major concession on Netanyahu's part, but the troubling aspect in both cases is the parallelism that each sets up. In the New York Times, the language is "inflamed passions on both sides." In the Washington Post it is "Israeli public views / Palestinians see" equation. Only in describing something in the Middle East would two such different viewpoints be place side by side. No doubt that most Americans would have their "passions inflamed" by the early release of brutal murderers. Most Americans would "view" people who tried to kill a busload of children as a terrorist. These are views that need not be qualified. Similarly most Americans would find it appalling that anyone would excuse or celebrate such barbarity. This reporting isn't designed simply to tell a story, but to excuse the glorification of terrorist by the Palestinians. If that behavior isn't excused, the peace talks make no sense. How could one side trust the other, when the latter celebrates the killing of the former's citizens?

The fact that Mahmoud Abbas recently eulogized a mass murderer as a "pure soul" or that the Palestinian Authority celebrated 61 acts of terror only underscores this point. These two media outlets instead of reporting the news, are excusing the behavior on one side.

As the talks started, the New York Times reported Talks Begin on Mideast to Doubts on All Sides
In recent weeks, Mr. Kerry and his aides have outlined several basic arguments for why his efforts might bear fruit. Perhaps the most important one, which Mr. Kerry advanced almost the moment he was picked for the State Department post, is that the United States does not have the luxury of staying on the sidelines.

With the Palestinians poised to take their claim for statehood to the International Criminal Court and United Nations bodies, American officials say the two sides were facing a downward spiral in which the Israelis would respond by cutting off financing to the Palestinian territories and European nations might curtail their investment in Israel, further isolating the Israelis.

Another argument Mr. Kerry has used is that diplomatic progress would foster as much as $4 billion in private sector investment in the Palestinian economy, a portion of which would take effect in the near term. 
Kerry's reasoning makes no sense, of course. All he's saying is that the reason talks might be successful is because he insisted on having them. What he doesn't explain is why wouldn't he, as America's top diplomat, tell the Palestinians that the only reason their governing body is not considered a terrorist organization is because twenty years ago its leader rejected terror and committed to bilateral negotiations, and that since they are eschewing negotiations for international pressure he can no longer support their quest for statehood? This rebuke would be matched with an end to aid to the Palestinian Authority and no diplomatic support for their efforts. The United States would also seek to urge others, especially in the European Union to withdraw their support from the Palestinian Authority until the PA returned to negotiations. Instead the United States is staying on the sidelines, pressuring Israel to negotiate with a partner it knows is rejecting the foundations of the peace process - bilateral negotiations - it claims to support. [emphasis added]

John Kerry with Abbas
John Kerry with Abbas -- Maybe Kerry could remind Abbas that key to Oslo was
Palestinians rejecting terrorism. Credit: Wiki Commons

In the Washington Post the issue is framed like this As talks begin, Jewish settlements loom as challenge.
“The Israelis talk about peace, but on the land they act otherwise. We want peace, but the settlements are taking the land. This is an enormous problem,” said Youssef Abu Maria, a spokesman for the Popular Movement, a Palestinian group that is protesting Israeli occupation with its own encampments. ...

The United Nations and many governments consider Israeli settlements built in the West Bank illegal under international law because they are built on occupied lands. The Israeli government disagrees.

While the number of settlers has climbed steadily over the last five years, they remain controversial in Israel. A May Pew Research poll of Israeli Jews found that 35 percent said continued Jewish settlement building “hurts security,” while 31 percent said it “helps security” and 27 percent said it “makes no difference.”
The article is set up to present the issue of settlements as an obstacle to peace without even examining if the claim is accurate, rather than a dubious definition applied uniquely to Israel in accordance with the highly selective Palestinian interpretation of the term.

And that is the problem, not just with this latest iteration of the peace process but how it's reported too. The process is almost exclusively described through the Palestinian narrative. Anything that falls short of Palestinian demands is Israel not doing enough for peace. For example here's Ben Birnbaum in the New Republic:
Perhaps no words have been the source of so much mutual misunderstanding as the Palestinian “right of return.” To Israelis, it spells nothing less than the demographic annihilation of the Jewish state; to many Palestinians, for whom the refugees are at the core of their national identity, it doubtless means the same thing. But behind closed doors, the position of Palestinian negotiators has been far more nuanced. They wanted refugees to be compensated monetarily for suffering and lost property and to be given four choices about where to live: their current host countries in the Arab world, third-party countries, the new Palestinian state, and Israel. Israel, whose citizen population is already one-fifth Arab, has publicly rejected this fourth option, though both Barak and Olmert agreed to absorb a symbolic number of refugees under the guise of a family-reunification program. Their proposals fell far short of Palestinian needs. Olmert offered to take in 5,000 over the course of five years (though was reportedly prepared to quintuple the offer). Abbas balked at the offer. “I can’t tell four million Palestinians that only 5,000 of them can go home,” he told Condoleezza Rice, according to her memoir No Higher Honor. In official proposals, meanwhile, the Palestinians asked for 150,000 refugees over ten years. But as I reported in my March story, Abbas signaled to Rice that he could accept a compromise in the 40-60,000 range (60,000 additional Palestinians would change the Arab share of Israel’s population from 20.6 percent to 21.2 percent).
Somehow, in this telling, the unreasonable Palestinian "right of return" is really nuanced. For someone who demands that no Israeli be in his territory after peace is concluded is the height of chutzpah for him to demand that Israel accept some number of Palestinians. And it's just as outrageous for journalists to pretend that there's anything reasonable about the demand. And if the Palestinians are compromising on the right of return what serious compromise will Israel make? Why, according to Birnbaum, it's Jerusalem. For a phony compromise on the right of return Israel must cede some portion of Judaism's holiest city.

Do either of these articles on the start of talks note that it is Abbas who rejected a deal with Ehud Olmert in 2008? Does either acknowledge that it is Abbas who, except for a week, had refused to negotiation with Israel since 2009? Does either account that he refused to negotiate with Netanyahu even though Netanyahu acceded to American demands for a settlement freeze in 2010? (The Washington Post acknowledges the freeze, but not that Abbas didn't try to negotiate until the freeze was nearly over and then stopped when Netanyahu didn't extend the freeze.)

Seth Mandel critiques John Kerry's precondition demands on Israel. Barry Rubin notes that by validating the Palestinian efforts to internationalize the conflict, the administration reversed twenty years of precedent.

Elder of Ziyon identifies 22 "elephants in the room" regarding these negotiations, but let's just focus on the first
Elephant 1: Hamas controls Gaza

Every peace plan includes Gaza in a Palestinian Arab state, and none of them has any provision on how to handle the fact that Gaza is a terrorist haven, in much worse shape since Israel uprooted the settlements there, controlled by a terrorist group that is consistently and wholeheartedly against Israel's existence. Peace is impossible with this elephant, so it is easier to pretend it isn't there. (See also Elephant 11.)
Let's say Israel satisfies every single (ever changing) demand of the Palestinian Authority and its many cheerleaders, Israel still won't have peace.

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