The blurring of ‘professional’ journalism with political advocacy was on full display recently in a “serious” journal known as the Financial Times - the British equivalent of the U.S.-based Wall Street Journal, which largely focuses on international business and economic news. The April 3 report by David Gardner descends to hyperbole in the very strap line of the story by employing a trope – suggesting that Israel controls the United States – often used by those who claim a decidedly more extremist political pedigree.
In the second paragraph of the report, Gardner attempts to explain the reason for the current impasse in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians:
The ostensible new roadblock concerns prisoners. Mahmoud Abbas, president of the interim Palestinian Authority, came back to the negotiating table even though Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, refused yet again to freeze settlement building, thus allowing Israel to continue eating up the shrinking territory over which the Palestinians are negotiating to eventually build their state.
It’s important to remember that Abbas previously refused to talk to Netanyahu about peace for the first nine months of a ten-month settlement freeze instituted by the Israeli prime minister in November 2009. Additionally, as almost all new ‘settlement’ construction in recent years has taken place within existing settlement boundaries, it’s extraordinarly misleading to characterize such construction as “eating up the shrinking territory”.
Mr Abbas, seen by admirers as a moderate and by critics as a quisling, has abjured radical siren calls for resistance in favour of a negotiated solution. He has nothing to show his people. He looks weak and discredited.
First, “radical siren calls for resistance” is of course a euphemism for violent attacks against Israeli civilians – and Gardner seems to be suggesting that mere absence of an organized intifada suggests that the Palestinian leader is somehow a moderate. (Quisling, by the way, is a term used to demonize political leaders who betray their own country by aiding an ‘invading enemy’, referring to Vidkun Quisling, the pro-Nazi Norwegian leader.)
Then, Gardner proceeds to completely mischaracterize the reason for the impasse.
To offset this, Israel was persuaded to release 104 Palestinian long-term prisoners. The Netanyahu government’s refusal to hand over the last batch on the due date precipitated the current crisis. In retaliation, Mr Abbas this week signed articles of accession to 15 multilateral treaties, investing Palestine with some of the international attributes of a state – which he had promised the US to defer while negotiations continued
This is flatly untrue. The prisoner release was always meant to serve as an incentive to keep Palestinians talking. The crisis began when Abbas refused to commit to extending the April 29 deadline, even after the last round of prisoners were to be released. However, a tentative deal, brokered by the US, was reportedly agreed to by both parties to keep the talks going through 2015 – which included the release of the final 26 prisoners along with an additional 400 other prisoners, as well as a curb on settlement construction in the West Bank.
The Israeli government was reportedly only hours away from agreeing to the terms of the deal to extend talks when Abbas announced the move to join 15 international conventions and treaties – in violation of his agreement when talks began to avoid such unilateral steps – thus effectively sabotaging the agreement.
Gardner’s claim that “Abbas this week signed articles of accession to 15 multilateral treaties” in “retaliation” for Netanyahu’s “refusal to hand over the last batch” of prisoners represents an egregious distortion of the sequence of events. Netanyahu’s government temporarily delayed the release of the 26 prisoners in order to first get a commitment from the Palestinians to continue the peace talks past the April 29 deadline. If Abbas hadn’t initiated his unilateral move, the 26 prisoners were almost certainly going to be released.
The prisoners in question were supposed to have been released 20 years ago as part of the Oslo accords, at the high water mark for hopes that these two peoples could close a deal on sharing the Holy Land. They were not.
This is not true. The pre-Oslo prisoners are all convicted of murder, attempted murder or being an accessory to murder and there was no provision of the Oslo Accords requiring their release. Israel only agreed to free 4,000 Palestinian prisoners (women, administrative detainees and minors, as well as elderly and sick prisoners), and stated quite clearly that they would not release “prisoners who killed Israeli citizens or were deemed likely to become involved in future acts of violence”.
Here’s the text of the relevant agreement from 1995, as published on an official Palestinian website:
Then, to demonstrate Israel’s “pattern of the US consistently over-rewarding a recalcitrant ally, as well as being snubbed by Israel for its pains”, Gardner makes the following claim:
In 2009, for example, it was Mr Obama who blinked when Mr Netanyahu simply refused to halt colonisation of Palestinian land. Instead, in 2010, the US president offered Israel the Jordan Valley – a big chunk of the occupied West Bank that is not his to give – in return for a short pause in settlement building. Mr Netanyahu, in any event, refused.
Again, this is a complete fabrication.
Nobody disputes that, at Obama’s urging in 2009, Israel agreed to a 10-month construction freeze on new homes in the West Bank. The curb in construction can be demonstrated by housing statistics for the year in question. It’s possible Gardner is referring to an incentive offered by Obama to Netanyahu to extend the 10-month freeze by another 2 months in exchange for the President’s support, in principle, to Israel retaining some sort of military presence in the Jordan Valley in the context of a final peace deal, but to write that Obama “offered Israel the Jordan Valley”, which implies that ‘settlements’ in that area would be retained by Israel, is highly misleading.
Then, following a passage which repeats the “Israeli tail wagging the US dog” claim from the strap line, Gardner adds:
Far from pushing Israel to roll back the occupation enough to enable Palestinians to build a viable state on the occupied West Bank and Gaza, with Arab East Jerusalem as its capital, it looks as though the US is planning to hand Israel almost all the settlement blocs, about three-quarters of East Jerusalem, and the Jordan Valley
First, Gaza isn’t on the table as there is a political division between Hamas and Fatah, the former (which controls the strip) refuses to agree to negotiation or recognize Israel under any circumstances. Second, the US isn’t handing Israel anything, as responsibility for an agreement rests in the hands of both parties. Additionally, as negotiations haven’t even come close to concluding, it’s impossible to know for sure what the final map would look like. And, again, the US isn’t offering Israel the Jordan Valley.
In addition, the Palestinians are being pressed to recognise Israel as a Jewish state – rather than, as they have long since done, recognise the state of Israel and its right to exist. Agreement to that could compromise a negotiated deal on the future of nearly 5m Palestinian refugees, prejudice the position of that fifth of the population of Israel proper that is Palestinian Arab by origin, as well as require Palestinians to repudiate their history.
By arguing that the demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people (a requirement by Israeli leaders going back to Sharon) “could compromise a negotiated deal on the future of nearly 5m Palestinian refugees” (a number corresponding to the number of Palestinians recognized by UNRWA as “refugees”, not the number of actual refugees, which is closer to 30,000) he’s implicitly endorsing the unlimited right of return, a concept which will Israel will never agree to as it is a thinly veiled way to achieve a one-state solution.
Naturally, Gardner doesn’t mention that Abbas – during his recent meeting with Obama – not only refused to compromise on the ‘right of return’ and mutual recognition, but also reportedly refused to commit to an ‘end of conflict’ proviso, “under which a peace deal would represent the termination of any further Palestinian demands of Israel”.
Gardner ends by warning Israel that failing to compromise with the Palestinians “will chip away at Israel’s hard-won legitimacy”, but it is such intellectually dishonest pro-Palestinian propaganda parading as journalism which chips away at the veneer of his professional credibility.