July 9, 2010, 7:27 AM
Two important statements this week shed a light on the nature of the Palestinian conflict with Israel. Both were barely noted by the media.
On Saturday the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper reported that Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas gave US mediator George Mitchell a letter detailing a number of concessions that he would make towards Israel in a final peace treaty. These included a willingness to accept permanent Israeli sovereignty over the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem's Old City and over the Western Wall. The Al Hayat report received enthusiastic and expansive coverage in the Israeli media and in media outlets throughout the world.
What was barely noted was that just hours after the report hit the airwaves, Abbas's chief negotiator Saeb Erekat categorically denied the story. In an interview with Israel Radio, Saeb Erekat said the story was untrue.
Abbas has been the recipient of adulatory press coverage in Israel over the past several days. Last week he thrilled the Hebrew-language media when he invited Israeli reporters to a sumptuous feast at his Ramallah headquarters. And then the Al Hayat story came out. Lost in the excitement was Abbas's eulogy for arch terrorist Muhammad Daoud Oudeh who died over the weekend. Oudeh was the mastermind of the PLO's massacre of 11 Israeli athletes during the 1972 Munich Olympics. Abbas himself served the operation's paymaster.
As Palestinian Media Watch reported, in a condolence telegram quoted in the Abbas-controlled Al-Hayat al Jadida newspaper, Abbas touted Oudeh as, "a wonderful brother, companion, tough and stubborn, relentless fighter," and described him as "one of the prominent leaders of the Fatah movement."
So while the local and international media pounced on the Al Hayat story as proof that the Palestinians are serious about peace, they failed to mention that their hope was based on a story that the Palestinians themselves deny. So too, in their rush to embrace Abbas, they failed to mention his glorification of an unrepentant mass murderer who commanded the terror squad that massacred Israel's Olympic athletes.
These statements by Palestinian officials the media routinely characterize as moderates, demonstrate how deeply distorted and largely irrelevant the discourse on the Middle East has become. As the "moderate" Palestinians insist they are uninterested in peaceful coexistence and territorial compromise with Israel, news coverage in Israel and throughout the Western world is dominated by other issues. Specifically, discussion of prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians is dominated by an endless discussion of Israel's Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria and Jewish neighborhoods in eastern, southern and northern Jerusalem.
The most egregious recent example of this distortion was a 5,000 word article in Tuesday's New York Times regarding US charitable contributions to these Jewish communities. Titled, "Tax Exempt Funds Aid Settlements in the West Bank," the report was co-authored by five Times reporters. It was the product of weeks of research. And notably, the Times chose to publish it on its front page above the fold on the very day that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu visited the White House.
The Times article is a textbook case of the media's ideologically motivated aggression against Middle East reality. Any way you look at it, it is a premeditated affront to the very notion that the role of a newspaper is to report facts rather manufacture news aimed at shaping perceptions and skewing debate.
The article goes to great lengths to discredit the American citizens who make charitable, tax deductible donations to organizations that provide lawful support to Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria and Jewish neighborhoods in southern, northern and eastern Jerusalem. It paints a sinister picture of such contributions and contributors and accuses them of actively undermining US foreign policy.
The contributors, we are told in the opening lines of the report are the Left's bogeyman -Evangelical Christians and religious Jews. They are unacceptable actors in the Middle East because they both believe that Jewish control of Judea and Samaria is a precursor to the coming of the messiah.
Reacting to the Times' report, on Wednesday Honest Reporting noted that the article appears to be the product of active collusion between the Times and the radical, anti-Zionist, tax exempt Gush Shalom organization. As Honest Reporting relays, in July 2009, Gush Shalom sent out a communiqué to its supporters calling for the initiation of a campaign that, "includes a combination of legal action and public advocacy aimed at denying federal tax exempt (501c3) status to US charities supporting settlement activity."
The Times' article bears all the markings of a political campaign. First, despite the valiant efforts of five Times reporters, the article exposes no illegal activity. At best, its investigation of more than forty organizations that contribute funds to the hated Jewish communities in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria indicated that less than a handful of them are guilty of poor accounting practices.
Assuming that Honest Reporting's eminently reasonable conclusion that the Times report is the product of collaboration between the newspaper and radical anti-Zionist groups is accurate, the report is shockingly hypocritical. By publishing it, the Times is engaging in the precise behavior it argues the organizations it investigated should be punished for purportedly engaging in. To wit, in the service of radical, tax-deductible organizations, the Times seeks to undermine US foreign policy.
For the past four decades, it has been the foreign policy of the United States to maintain a strategic alliance with Israel. The goal of Times'-aligned groups like Gush Shalom is to undermine that alliance by discrediting and criminalizing those who wish to strengthen and maintain it.
The Times' article uses dark language and innuendo to create the impression that there is something treacherous and evil about contributions to Jewish communities and neighborhoods in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem. For instance, the article argues, "The donations to the settler movement stand out [from other charitable contributions that promote US foreign policy goals] because of the centrality of the settlement issue in the current talks and the fact that Washington has consistently refused to allow Israel to spend American government aid in the settlements. Tax breaks for the donations remain largely unchallenged, and unexamined by the American government."
What the Times' fails to acknowledge is that the reason these donations are "largely unchallenged, and unexamined," is because it is the constitutional right of American citizens to contribute to charities that promote policy goals even when those goals - like those of Gush Shalom - are antithetical to US policy as determined by the US government.
The Times' alleges that these communities are illegal. Its authority for this allegation is none other than Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. Erekat opined to the paper, "Settlements violate international law."
The truth is that Israeli communities beyond the 1949 armistice lines are legal. But even if one were to accept the argument that they are unlawful, one would be accepting an argument based on the language of the 4th Geneva Convention from 1949 which prevents occupying powers from transferring their population to the areas under occupation.
There is no possible reading of the convention that would prohibit the voluntary movement of Israelis to Judea, Samaria and post-1967 neighborhoods in Jerusalem. Likewise, there is no possible reading of the convention that would prohibit the provision of financial support to Israelis who voluntarily move to the areas in question.
Yet it is precisely this indisputably lawful, voluntary movement of Jews to these areas - which the Times acknowledges is often done against the wishes of Israel's governments - that the Times' article attacks.
In short, the Times' contention that there is something legally problematic about these donations is preposterous both as it relates to US law and as it relates to international law.
From a journalistic perspective, worse than the Times' decision to engage in precisely the behavior it seeks to criminalize when carried out by its political nemeses on the Christian and Jewish Right, and worse even than the article's false characterization of law, is the article's clear attempt to obfuscate the main problem with land issues in Judea and Samaria. This it does in the interest of manufacturing a false but ideologically sympathetic picture of the situation on the ground.
The Times only gets around to alluding to - and obfuscating -- the real problem with land issues in the 58th paragraph of the article. The Times reports, "Islamic judicial panels have threatened death to Palestinians who sell property in the occupied territories to Jews."
Actually, while this may be true, it is not the problem. The problem is that the second law promulgated by the PA -- just weeks after it was established in 1994 - criminalized all Arab land sales to Jews as a capital crime. Since 1994 scores of Arabs have been killed in both judicial and extrajudicial executions for selling land to Jews.
This open move to hide the fact that since 1994 the PA has dispatched death squads to murder both Palestinians and Israeli Arabs suspected of selling land to Jews is a shocking miscarriage of journalistic standards. Whereas the Times required five reporters to work for weeks to come up with exactly nothing illegal in the operations of US charitable groups that support Jewish communities the Times wishes to destroy, the Times would have needed to invest no resources whatsoever to discover that the PA kills any Arab who sells land to Jews. The PA has made no effort to hide this policy. It is in the public sphere for anyone willing to look at reality.
And that is of course the real issue here. The entire Times' "investigation" of American charitable groups that support Jewish communities and neighborhoods in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem is a blatant attempt by a major newspaper to hide the real issues prolonging the Palestinian conflict with Israel. Those issues - exposed by Abbas's praise for a terrorist mass murderer, Erekat's denial that Abbas has any interest in compromising with Israel, as well as by the PA's policy of killing all Arabs who sell land to Jews - do not serve the Times' purpose of blaming the absence of peace on Israel generally and on the Israeli Right and its supporters in the US in particular.
And so it is that 17 years after the start of the so-called peace process between Israel and the PLO, and ten years after the PLO destroyed that process by launching a terror war against Israel, and four and a half years after the Palestinians elected Hamas to lead them, we are still stuck in a distorted, irrelevant discourse about the Middle East. We are stuck in a rut because politically and ideologically motivated media organs operate hand in glove with radical groups seeking to undermine Israel's national sovereignty and end its alliance with the US.
Together they manufacture news that bear no relation with reality or the true challenges facing those who seek peace in the Middle East. But obviously for the New York Times, that is what makes it fit to print.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.