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Friday, March 20, 2009

Worse Than a Crime, IT’S BLUNDERING ANALYSIS

By Barry Rubin

The problem, as we see repeatedly, with much media coverage of issues involving Israel is the way the story is defined. There need not be any sense of bias by a reporter. Merely copying what other journalists do or from a specific ideological framework—not because reporters have preconceptions but because they make far less effort than in the past to balance them—leads to a conception of the story that is skewed.

This appears subtly in news stories but very openly in analysis pieces. Consider Steven Gutkin, “Analysis: Mideast peace up to interlocking deals,” March 16, 2009. The lead is innovative but a bit clunky:

“The fate of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become a collection of moving parts that somehow need to come together in a single package: an Israel-Hamas prisoner swap, a truce for Gaza, and new governments on both sides of the firing line that could pursue peace.”

There is an attempt to present the issue as involving a number of aspects. Yet the article mixes two very different things: the situation between Israel and Hamas regarding Gaza, and prospects for a comprehensive peace. In a very real sense, these are not related or, to put it another way, they are inversely related.

The undercover assumption here is that the more peace there is between Israel and Hamas, the more likely a comprehensive peace becomes. In fact, the first would damage the second. The reason why should be obvious: Hamas is against any compromise peace but favors long-term, bloody struggle using terrorism. If Hamas survives as ruler in Gaza, and even more damaging if the Palestinian Authority and Hamas make a coalition, the chances for a comprehensive peace—low enough already—decline to zero. All-out war is guaranteed.

The article next discusses the ups-and-downs of Israel-Hamas negotiations over a prisoner exchange and continues:

“Such a swap could have helped pave the way for a long-term Israel-Hamas truce deal that in turn might have opened the Gaza Strip's blockaded borders to allow for reconstruction after Israel's punishing offensive there.”

This can be summarized as: truce brings open borders brings reconstruction to repair damage caused by Israel.

The words “rockets” or the phrase cross-border attacks do not appear in the article. There is no hint that Hamas aggression is the cause of conflict, nor that the fighting started because Hamas unilaterally rejected the existing truce (which it wasn’t enforcing any way). Equally, there is no mention that the issue is not just opening the borders but what is allowed to go across them, nor that there is some problem with rebuilding things in order to benefit a radical and repressive Islamist regime to keep it in power.

Thus the story is this: Israel attacked and destroyed Gaza, let’s have a truce so it can be rebuilt.

And who do you think that places the blame on?

Then we turn to an equally important—and misexplained—subject:

“Rebuilding Gaza will almost surely also depend on the success of current reconciliation talks in Egypt between Hamas militants and the Western-backed Fatah movement in efforts to reverse the results of a brief 2007 civil war that left rival Palestinian governments in Gaza and the West Bank.”

At least the reporter wrote “Western-backed” rather than moderate, though no hint is given that the civil war was started by Hamas. It was a rather one-sided civil war.

Yet next comes a truly terrible and profoundly misleading sentence:

“Getting Hamas and Fatah to reconcile is also key to the success of U.S.-backed Mideast peace talks, as it's unlikely Israel would sign on to a deal if moderates are in control of just the West Bank while militants rule Gaza. The latest news from Egypt is that the Hamas-Fatah talks are not going well.”

Well, where to begin? While it is true that Israel understandably wants to sign a peace deal only with a united Palestinian side which can deliver on its pledges, putting Hamas and Fatah together will ensure no such deal can ever be signed.

There is no hint in this article of why the word “militants” is used to describe Hamas. A lot of people critique the media for not using the word “terrorists” I don’t agree. Terrorism is a tactic and Hamas uses terrorism yet that does not encompass the organization’s views or goals. I’d prefer to see such phrases as: radical Islamist or determined to wipe Israel off the map or repressive, or even genocidal.

But the implication is not that Hamas would block peace—much less that the Palestinian Authority would—for we are next told:

“The biggest question now is whether Israel would sign a deal under any circumstances. Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu, a political hawk, early Monday initialed a coalition agreement with the ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu Party, increasing the likelihood that Israel's next government will spurn peace talks.”

“The bottom line is that the obstacles to Palestinian unity, open borders for Gaza and a peace deal that would usher in Palestinian statehood seem as formidable as ever.”

Note that there has not been one phrase or sentence to suggest that Hamas or Fatah or the PA are obstacles, only Israel. The Palestinians problem is just that they cannot unite, not that they oppose peace.

By the way, from a purely analytical point of view it should be pointed out that the reason PA-Hamas talks don’t go well is that both want to be in command, while Hamas is not going to give up control of Gaza. There isn’t going to be any Palestinian unity at all. You can bet on it.

And of course both Netanyahu and the Yisrael Beitenu party support a two-state solution.
But that one sentence is so important let me repeat it:

“The bottom line is that the obstacles to Palestinian unity, open borders for Gaza and a peace deal that would usher in Palestinian statehood seem as formidable as ever.”

So this is what is allegedly needed for peace:
  • Palestinian unity (in which Hamas would veto any peace);
  • Open borders for Gaza (which would not only make Hamas rule permanent but would allow in items used for military purposes so Hamas could build up its army).
  • “A peace deal that would usher in Palestinian statehood”

As always, there is no mention of a peace deal that would: end the conflict forever, bring full recognition of Israel, or provide Israel with security structures and guarantees.
This is the standard practice of AP and a lot of the media. What Israel wants in a peace deal is never ever mentioned.

The rest of the article discusses the prisoner exchange using such phrases as “Israel's crushing economic blockade of Gaza” and “bloody Israeli military offensive in Gaza.” No criticism of Hamas; no mention of rockets; no mention of repression and executions of oppositionists in Gaza.

And we are told:

“Hamas is desperate to reopen the area's borders to allow in reconstruction supplies.” This makes Hamas seem humanitarian. But usually those who are desperate are ready to make concessions to get what they need. This is not true in Hamas’s case.

And finally, the ending:

“If Hamas sticks by its refusal to recognize the Jewish state, as seems likely, a new right-wing Israeli government could use that as an excuse to shun a future Palestinian unity government, and perhaps even intensify the blockade of Gaza.”

Let us consider the full implications of this sentence: If Hamas says that it will never recognize Israel, will continue to attack Israel, does continue to attack Israel, teaches children to be terrorists, and has the goal of wiping Israel off the map, this merely gives Israelis of the “right-wing” an “excuse” to be mean to them.

Can people really be writing this kind of drivel, the slightest examination of which shows its absurdity? Can the AP and other news organs sneeringly reject any criticisms and assert that this is fair and balanced and good and accurate coverage?

Yes.

But is this fair, balanced, accurate, and accurate coverage?

No.

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), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books, go to http://www.gloria-center.org

Note: The title paraphrases a statement of the French diplomatist Charles de Talleyrand, “It’s worse than a crime.It’s a blunder!”

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