Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). You can read more of Barry Rubin's posts at Rubin Reports.
By Barry Rubin
"Avtalyon would say: Scholars, be careful with your words. For you may be exiled to a place inhabited by evil elements who will distort your words to achieve their bad goals. Those who come after you will then drink of these evil waters and be destroyed...." Pirkei Avot, Chapter One, Paragraph 11.
Do you really believe that suddenly, for no apparent reason, and no big Israeli concession the Palestinian negotiators tossed away their demand for a "Right of Return" for millions of Palestinians and accepted a mere 100,000 being let into Israel? And if you don't believe it, how can you think that these papers are authentic?
Do you believe that this could have happened without the U.S. government knowing about it? And if so why didn't it factor into U.S. policy at all? Indeed, anyone who understands Israeli politics would comprehend that if given such an offer Olmert and Livni--desperate to survive politically--would have made a deal.
Only someone who believes that Israel has no interest in peace--which is what the Guardian and al-Jazira think--could conceive that these leaders would just walk away after the PA made an offer that was light years' better than anything ever hinted at before. Only those who demonize Israel could believe that Livni was advocating expelling Arab citizens of Israel as if she were no different from Meir Kahane.
Do you not realize that this is a disaster for hopes of peace since no Palestinian negotiator in future would dare to offer any concession at all? And that's even if more radical forces don't sweep away those held responsible for "treason."?
In its defense the Guardian published an article by Jonathan Freedland entitled, "The Palestine papers have broken a taboo. Now the arguments for peace can be open. The papers show how much ground Palestinian negotiators were willing to concede. This isn't craven. It's admirable."
You might admire it but how many Palestinians are admiring it? And doesn't it matter more what they think about their own leadership? Does Hamas admire it? Does the Fatah leadership admire it? And of course, most of them will believe that this is what happened. I don't.
Don't justify this by saying it helps advance peace. It doesn't. Quite the opposite.
Incidentally, the Guardian offers neither evidence for its claims nor a response to specific issues raised about problems with the text. This makes me even more suspicious
The situation demands satire:
From those wonderful people who brought you the “Palestine Papers!”:
Coming soon to a credulous, irresponsible, and/or malicious newspaper near you!
The Cold War Papers: Revealing that Stalin desperately wanted peace and offered to give up control of all the Eastern Europe countries but Roosevelt and Churchill refused. (Actually, the Guardian editors probably believe this one!)
The Iran Papers: Revealing that Iran was eager to give up its nuclear weapons project but the Obama Administration refused because it wanted an excuse to go to war with Iran, take over the country, and steal its oil. (Hm, they might believe that one also.)
The Bush Papers: "And then the president said, 'Hey! Let's pretend that Iraq is a threat so we can invade them and steal all their oil!' Then Tony Blair responded, `Right, master! Whatever you say!" (Oh, no doubt they believe that one.)
The Obama Papers: "And then the president said, 'Hey! Let's seize control of the car and health industries so we can institute socialism and Death Panels!" (Okay, they don't believe that one.)
OK, Funny, I hope. But this latest example of madness should teach a lesson. Not only the acceptance of obviously false claims but then actually making it worse than the original by “creating” new Palestinian “concessions” and slanders against Israel.
Here's how a friend of mine summed up the recent period:
1) Reporters accepting as fact that a woman died of tear gas inhalation despite there being no recorded cases of such an occurrence ever happening.
2) Treating the Mavi Marmara incident as Israel said/Turkey said despite video evidence supporting Israel's version. (Not to mention a hostile witness supporting Israel's version.)
3) Taking the Palestine Papers at face value despite the fact that they came from Al Jazeera, despite past Palestinian statements to the contrary. Despite, I might add, the fact that they include alleged statements like when the Israelis say they are going to return the Golan Heights to Syria, the Palestinians reply that they will compensate Israel with more concessions.
How can one not believe that by these standards, if properly presented in modern terms, much of the media would accept as genuine the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (Gaza’s government does), the claim that Jews grind up children to make Passover matzos or organ transplants (the Saudis and Sweden’s biggest newspaper do), that the Holocaust never happened (Iran), or that Israel doesn’t want peace and is responsible for all the Middle East’s problems (Oops! The Guardian, much of the New York Times, and the Fairfax newspapers in Australia, among many others, say that).
This debacle should be the last straw. Unfortunately, it won’t be.
Here's how I would explain this issue:
1. Most of the routine material comes from actual documents but not the "interesting" parts that everyone is talking about.
2. That still does not mean that these documents accurately reflect what happened since they are the version of PA officials
3. On a number of specific points and on all the points being publicized the claims made are so ridculous that these documents must have been altered. The texts read almost like a satire themselves in which someone set out to write a narrative in which the PA gave everything and got nothing in return. Indeed, the picture is so exaggerated that it should be obvious these claims are phony. But of course that assumes that people were going to use logic and know something about the issues.
There are about twenty reasons to believe this is essentially a hoax. Here's one: Do you really believe that after demanding a "Right of Return" for all Palestinians over decades as the most passionately held position, the PA leaders would give it up in exchange for only 100,000 being allowed in and get absolutely nothing in return for that concession?
4. In addition, the Guardian and al-Jazira often distort what is in the documents to exaggerate it even more. Some of the specifics are really absurd like the legalistic-minded Tsipi Livni saying she is against international law and even saying she planned to expel Palestinians from Israel after an agreement.
5. Yet almost all of the media uncritically quote these distortions.
6. Some even add new items that were neither in the documents nor in the original coverage. The most notorious example is the claim that the PA recognized Israel as a Jewish state.
This, for example, is a case study showing how Tzipi Livni’s words are twisted in a way that nobody who didn’t read the original would know.
In other words, Islamist (al-Jazira) and radical pro-Islamist (Guardian) writers are being taken by the rest of the media as the definers of reality.
The Guardian has now defended itself by ridiculing the idea that this is a hoax or a forgery. Let me be clear: I have no doubt that real documents of the PA were purloined, but the text of these includes such nonsensical material that it looks as if the "editors" overdid it.
Finally, the statement of Nabil Shaath. As always, the Guardian's claims don't stand up to close inspection. He did say in passing they were authentic but gave no reason for this claim nor sign that he had read them. Shaath also was not involved in the talks during the time when the most sensationalist material supposedly happened. So he doesn't actually know. Moreover, he made remarks that seem to imply that he doesn't accept the idea that huge concessions were made at all. In other words he denies the content that is the subject of so much controversy.
From the coverage in other publications one can see that few journalists are actually reading the documents and none are seriously analyzing them. I don't think I've seen a single reference in the mass media (but I'm happy to be corrected) showing the contradictions and inconsistencies involved in these papers.
Does this matter? The moderate Dutch newspaper Trouw, for example, says that the papers--whose authenticity with the additional Guardian and al-Jazira "improvements: it accepts completely--proves Israel is to blame for the absence of peace and thus European states should pressure Israel. Multiply this by scores of media outlets and, no doubt, politicians.
And if anything the madness is accelerating. As Christians are being driven out of the Muslim world, homosexuals are threatened with death, women are treated as property, and hate is incited there every day, the Los Angeles Times chooses to publish a long article on, well let's quote from it:
"Israeli intolerance shows up on Internet, in Knesset, on the street....Racism, homophobia and religious discrimination seem to be more prevalent, taking the form of threats and even a government motion."
I could answer this but why bother? I'd suggest that racism and homophobia, along with intolerance in general, are less present in Israel than in any European country or the United States. I repeat: there is no sense expecting fairness from a long list of media outlets and reporters any more.
Nor is that the fault with Israeli hasbara. I once heard the great journalist Eric Severaid say that nothing can protect one from a journalist who's determined to distort your views or character.
If people in academic or journalism won't listen, or report, what you have to say, how can anyone do a better job of getting them to understand the situation and report on it accurately? We are often dealing with willing participants in a propaganda campaign for whom professional ethics has no meaning.
Here is a brief biography of the Guardian editor who co-authored the Palestine Papers articles:
Seumas Milne, who is the co-author of the scoop, and is likely to have been the conduit for the leaks is an interesting character. He is a Wykhamist, via Balliol, Oxford. Prior to joining the Guardian, he worked for "Straight Left", which was the newspaper of the hard line, pro-USSR, "Tankie" faction in the Communist Party of Great Britain. These were the guys who applauded the suppression of bourgeois nationalist backsliding in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. If you want a taste of Milne's current politics, try googling his articles in the Guardian along with the words "Iraq" and "resistance". You'll see pretty clearly where his sympathies lie.
Milne was appointed Comment Editor of the Guardian just prior to September 11. In its wake, he filled the Guardian comment pages with op eds by Hamas officials and spokesmen, and their British and Middle Eastern supporters. On one occasion, they even had an op-ed by Al Faqih, Osama Bin Laden's man in Britain.
Milne also wrote articles basically calling Fatah a bunch of Israeli stooges and puppets. He knows very well what he is doing.
And that is his purpose here. Smearing Israel is a plus but destroying the current leadership of the PA and bringing Hamas to power is his main goal. This is the man, along with the Islamist-dominated al-Jazira whose reportage is now being taken at its word by the world media. Talk about ease in manipulating and fooling the world! This could be a new record.
Note also that the Goldstone Commission consistently based its conclusions on claims by Hamas, a group that publicly announces its goal of commiting genocide against Israel's Jews.
As a Muslim friend who has seen this happen in his own country on various issues puts it, "Words mean nothing to these people... as long as they get them the desired outcome. The end justifies the means. Period."
Nor have I seen a single person in the mainstream media pointing out how disastrous this affair is for any chance of peace. Even if they were willing to make real concessions in the past--which I doubt--no PA official will ever do so in future. Granted, peace was unlikely any way but this makes the chances for a negotiated agreement pretty dead for a whole generation.
The most likely source of the material is increasingly appearing to be disgruntled hardline staffers in the PA's Negotiations Support Unit who quit, rather than some foreign, Hamas, or factional conspiracy.
But the real problem is the insanity of our current era. We live at a time when the UN's chief "expert" on the Israel-Palestine issue, the fanatical Israel-hater Prof. Richard Falk, can claim that by saying that the U.S. government is staging a cover-up on what really happened on September 11. And that's the Obama Administration he's talking about! This is the man whose condemnations of Israel help determine the direction of UN reports.
Many people now understand that regarding Israel and a host of other issues we are simply not dealing with professors who have any care for logic and journalists who are interested in facts. Others don't.
Here's a story a reader sent me today:
"[A person I know] gets almost all his news from CNN. So today he gave the important news that he received from CNN that the "Palestinians said they were willing to give up most of Jerusalem for peace." I tried to explain to him that the story was completely false. He just gave me a blank stare back. His mind could not comprehend how such an authority as Wolf Blitzer and CNN could report something as fact but that is in fact completely false.
"Do you ever just want to scream? I do. What can we do? What can the average person do? Does it have any effect at all if we write to the media, expressing our outrage. Does the truth matter if the official truth is all that people believe?"
Do I ever want to scream? What do you think! Does it have any effect when we complain to the media? No.
Does the truth matter if the official truth is all that people believe? Well, that's different. Roughly two-thirds of the American people do not accept what the media tells them on this issue. In fact, support for Israel in the United States went up during the Gaza flotilla crisis. Every day, more people are waking up. New sources of information are expanding.
A lot of average people have common sense. A lot of government officials (not enough, for sure), have to deal with reality and sooner or later see through the illusions. Polls on media credibility show it to be quite low. Student sit through indoctrinating classes and don't accept what they are told.
Basically, we have to wait it out. Meanwhile, we need to tell the truth, educate as many people as possible, help build an alternate elite to replace and repair the diseased segments of society.
Rabbi Tarfon said "It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task, but neither are you free to abstain from it." Pirkei Avot, Chapter 2, Paragraph 16.
Or here is the Enlightenment version of that principle from Edmund Burke: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."
Technorati Tag: Palileaks and Palestine Papers and Hamas and Operation Cast Lead.