Thursday 29 September 2011

Something is rotten in Reuters

With the comedy of the UN obsessing over Israel this week, and the Durban III Conference, where the acceptable face of racism will hold sway, it is perhaps appropriate to look at the anti-Israel bias of the biggest international news agency in the world, namely Reuters, which in its own small way helped bring Israel to this unfortunate impasse.

Reuters’ bias has been well documented. It features prolificially on websites such as Honest Reporting and Camera and manifests itself not in isolated circumstances but rather as a continual prejudice, which suggests it is endemic at the institution. As the primary news agency, Reuters coverage of international events is beamed across the world, and their articles feature in a vast number of media outlets. Even when not cited, the line they take influences the coverage of more local news organisations, as is often clear when comparing and contrasting articles.

If Reuters displays a consistent bias on a certain issue it has serious ramifications. Here are examples covering the Egyptian assault on the Israeli Embassy and the Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN.

An article on the 10th September 2011, features a peculiar effort to justify the violence against the Israeli Embassy in Cairo as anger over the treatment of Palestinians:

“Our dignity has been restored,” said Mohi Alaa (24), a protester who was speaking near the site of overnight clashes with police around the building that houses the Israeli embassy. … “We don’t want the Americans’ money,” he said, reflecting a growing readiness among many Egyptians to express anger at Israel and the United States over Israeli treatment of the Palestinians, after decades of pragmatic official relations.
Continuing this theme, the reasons for several states explicitly turning against Israel are whitewashed:
Israel is finding itself increasingly at odds with formerly sympathetic states in the region. It is already embroiled in a feud with Turkey, once the closest of its few Muslim allies, over its treatment of the Palestinians.
Principle blame is placed at the feet of Israel. By suggesting that certain previously “sympathetic” neighbouring states like Egypt have turned away from Israel over the treatment of the Palestinians, Reuters thinly justifies an extreme diplomatic hostility that could have a gravely destabilising impact.

The truth is that Turkey gradually turned away from Europe, which was frustrating their application to the EU. Turkey gradually moved into an alliance with Iran and Syria during the mid-2000’s after Erdogan came to power. These states have a very hard-line anti-Israel policy. Egypt never had anything other than a cold peace with Israel after Sadat was murdered. Mubarak honoured peace agreements but was hardly a “sympathetic” ally, nor was Jordan. Egypt became more explicitly hostile after Mubarak was toppled because the civilian populace is resolutely against peace with Israel. Thus the connection between Palestinian treatment and these former allies distancing themselves from Israel is weak at best.

Another example is two of the first three paragraphs of a report by the same authors on Friday the 23rd — the day of Abbas’ application for recognition of a Palestinian state at the UN:
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas asked the United Nations on Friday to recognize a state for his people, even though Israel still occupies its territory and the United States has vowed to veto the move. […]

His appeal to the council reflects a loss of faith after 20 years of failed peace talks sponsored by the United States, Israel’s main ally, and alarm at relentless Israeli settlement expansion eating into the land Palestinians want for a state.
The question of the land being “occupied” is of course quickly put to rest in the piece even though Article Six of the British Mandate, which is still in effect, permits close settlement. Melodramatic language such as “relentless” is used when most settlement since 1993 has been natural growth. Reuters articles can often sound quite unashamedly like the mouthpiece of Abbas, Fatal/PLO and the Palestinian Authority:
…he [Barack Obama] said only Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, not actions at the United Nations, could bring peace. “I am convinced that there is no short cut to the end of a conflict that has endured for decades,” he declared.

But the notion that more talks in the familiar format can succeed where so many have failed seems implausible.

So Mr Abbas, a moderate politician opposed to violence, sees no alternative but recourse to the United Nations, although Israeli and US politicians have threatened financial reprisals that could cripple his Palestinian Authority.
The authors implicitly blame Israel for the failure of the peace process, and then engage in what can only be mind reading when they judge that Abbas has experienced “a loss of faith” over said process.

By describing Abbas with wording such as “moderate… opposed to violence”, and variants such as “long opposed to violence”, is peculiar as the PA is still openly involved in inciting hatred and violence such as naming a Ramallah square after a terrorist that led an attack killing 37 Israelis on the same day in March that the Fogel family was buried. It can also be said that Abbas promotes terrorism directly, for example when it was discovered in January that a $2,000 payment was made to the family of a deceased terrorist in his name.

In stark contrast Avigdor Lieberman is described as “far-right”, e.g. “Israel’s far-right foreign minister” which seems a little odd since one would think the label “far-right” (fascist by another name) would be better suited for a Holocaust denier like Abbas!

Our lesson in history, Reuters style!

A history section within the above quoted article demonstrates how prejudicial Reuters coverage can be
Two decades after Israel seized the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Middle East war, the Palestine Liberation Organisation effectively reduced its demands to a state on those territories.
Here we have no mention of the fact that three Arab states initiated conflict, which resulted in Israel taking said territory, and neither is there any mention that Israel has returned the vast majority of the land taken in that war such as in the historic peace deal with Egypt. The PLO’s demand for territories is also misrepresented, and given a positive spin. Although Arafat made some positive sounds, ultimately, by repeatedly fudging the issue, they did not amend their charter calling for Israel’s annihilation.

Also notable is the big jump in history from 1967 to 1993! There is no mention of the 1973 war against Israel, which led to the International Oil Crisis, nor the expulsion of the PLO to Lebanon that helped instigate a vicious civil war on a far more deadly scale than any conflict over Israel, the repercussions of which are still being felt today, where Hizbullah effectively rules a state within the State itself.
A 1993 agreement signed by PLO leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin set out a plan for Palestinian self-rule, which was never fully implemented.
Whilst it would of course be impossible to go into a lot of detail in such an article, it fails to mention even briefly why full Palestinian self-rule was never implemented. Palestinian terror attacks actually intensified substantially during the Oslo talks which the PA/PLO had been entrusted to prevent but systematically avoided doing so. Neither did they amend their charter calling for Israel’s annihilation, which was a key requirement in Oslo. Finally Arafat walked away from the 2000 Camp David talks and called the Second Intifada.
Israel has continued to expand settlements in the West Bank, although it dismantled them in the Gaza Strip.
The expansion of settlements only refers to the natural growth of communities. Israel hasn’t recognised a new settlement since the mid 1990’s during the Oslo process. Put in some perspective, settlement territory in the West Bank just constitutes 2% of the land.
Two Palestinian uprisings erupted in 1987 and 2000, but failed to end Israeli occupation or bring statehood closer.
These “uprisings” are justified as attempts to “end Israeli occupation”, presumably in the post June 1967 borders but that view is dubious at best. Moreover these “uprisings” intentionally caused high levels of death amongst Israeli civilians, which surely qualifies as terrorism, whether morally justifiable or not? The use of the word “uprising”, as a substitute for waves of Palestinian terrorism, is a persistent issue at Reuters where even Hamas’ activities are lumped in as part of the effort to gain Palestinian statehood in the West Bank and Gaza, even though Hamas repeatedly call for the full destruction of Israel. To quote Camera:
Contrary to Jukes’ assurances that his news agency’s stories do indicate Hamas’ stated aim of destroying Israel, Reuters articles in fact continue to falsely portray the terrorist group’s campaign of violence as part of an “uprising for statehood.” A recent example:

Israeli security sources said he was chief commander of Hamas militants in the northern West Bank and responsible for the deaths of dozens of Israelis in suicide bombings in a three-year-old Palestinian uprising for statehood. (“Israel Kills Senior Hamas Commander in West Bank” by Nadia Sa’ad, September 5, 2003)
In another example of a highly selective timeline, which seems to be something of a Reuters speciality:
1967 — In what it calls pre-emptive strikes on Arab states, Israeli forces seize rest of British-mandate Palestine, taking West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan and Gaza Strip from Egypt. Israel captures Golan Heights from Syria.
Of course Israel never possessed more than a quarter of the British Mandate, and to make such a claim illustrates either a remarkable dishonesty or a startling ignorance. Furthermore, Israel did not make “pre-emptive strikes on Arab states”. Israel only struck after Egypt committed an effective act of war by pushing UNIFIL peacekeeping troops out of the demilitarised Sinai, mobilising a huge number of troops to Israel’s border, and closing the Straits of Tiran. Note also the implied scepticism by using the words “In what it calls pre-emptive strikes” for what is a clearly a widely acknowledged historical fact!
December 2008 — After years of desultory talking, Abbas quits negotiations when Olmert launches offensive on Hamas-run Gaza.
In actual fact Abbas walked away from the most generous deal yet made by Israel, where Olmert promised effectively 100% of the territory the PA demanded with modest land swaps.

A paragon of balance or slightly less even-handed than Hitler when having a bad hair day?

Reuters goes over and above the noble endeavour of merely reporting the news. Their coverage always adds a substantial component of opinion, which in reality is only fitting in opinion pieces. In an article published last Wednesday, featuring the prejudicial title “Obama tries to derail Palestinian U.N. bid”, and an unrelated picture of an Israeli soldier holding a Palestinian in a headlock, Reuters Mid-East hack Alistair Lyon wrote:
Whatever happens at the United Nations, Palestinians will remain under Israeli occupation and any nominal state would lack recognized borders or real independence and sovereignty.

It is a measure of their desperation that they are pressing on with an initiative that could incur financial retribution from Israel and the United States.
Coverage of the conflict by Reuters can border on an appeal for conflict, as this aimless “will they, won’t they?” piece attests from the 18th of August, leading to the Palestinian statehood bid:
With faith in the peace process non-existent — Abbas himself says talks have hit a dead end — observers have for some time warned of a vacuum that could be filled by turmoil.

Mahmoud al-Aloul, a veteran in the Fatah party led by Abbas, confidently expects widespread protests in support of the U.N. bid. “It is a declaration of a loss of hope,” Aloul told Reuters. “This will lead to a continuous escalation. […]

On the ground, there are few signs of preparation. Headlines in Palestinian papers focus more on protests against the high cost of living and on the uprising in Syria than on any thoughts about Palestinians’ own possible demonstrations in September. […]

At the local Fatah headquarters, Abbas loyalists forecast a large turnout for protests when Abbas asks the United Nations to recognize a Palestinian state. But they could not say what, if anything, was being done to organize that.
Such articles turn the conflict into a spectator sport. Yet again Lieberman is described as “far-right” whilst the article praises the notorious terrorist Marwan Baghouti, who is reputed to have murdered many people, five of which he was convicted in 2004 of killing, including three people murdered at a restaurant in Israel.
Marwan al-Barghouti, a charismatic leader in the last two Intifadas and now jailed for life in Israel, was among the first to call for protests to add popular weight to President Mahmoud Abbas’s bid to secure a U.N. seat for a new state of Palestine.
Reuters also blamed Israel for the Christian migration from the Palestinian territories. Reuters prolific “special correspondent”, Alistair Lyon, opened his article with this show stopping sentence:
Despairing of life under Israeli occupation, many Palestinian Christians are moving abroad, threatening their ancient links to Bethlehem and the land where Jesus was born.
It is well known that Islamic intimidation has resulted in towns like Bethlehem turning from Christian majorities to modest minorities while Israel’s Christian populace is larger than ever.

Reuters, as with other news operations, label all groups that express concern over Islam as “far-right” whether or not they strongly advocate religious freedom, and forcefully reject race-based prejudice. They are strongly linked with Israel and pro-Israeli views, probably as a smear, when put in perspective, the zeitgeist of today involves the genuine far-right aligning itself increasingly with Islam and the left in a spirit of anti-Zionism/Americanism that Reuters never address.

Reuters is not immune to the rushing-to-judgement media phenomenon either. For example, they blamed Israel for a 2010 border ambush by Lebanese troops.

It can be suggested that Reuters attitude toward Judaism is also problematic. For example, Reuters celebrated the work of pro-Palestinian cartoonist Carlos Latuff, who has scraped the barrel in terms of Holocaust themed propaganda. Many of his cartoons celebrate terrorism and often include a good dose of anti-Semitism.

Issues of anti-Semitism that arise with certain favoured individuals are downplayed, for example Hugo Chavez and George Soros oddly is described as a “Holocaust survivor”, when in fact he has acknowledged that he collaborated with the Nazis!

Reuters also give greater emphasis to the Islamic claim over the Temple Mount/Haram than the Jewish equivalent. For example, in an article covering the 2010 Muslim assault on Jews as they prayed at the Western Wall, Reuters described the Temple Mount/Haram as “the third holiest site in Islam in an area that Jews also revere as the site of their biblical Temple.” From that description one would think it was less important to Jews, not significantly more so! Of course Reuters couldn’t resist putting the boot in, even with a savage attack on Jewish worshippers! They glossed over the fact that Palestinians launched an unprovoked religious attack, whilst giving prominence to Abbas’ appeal to prevent Israel from starting a new religious war!

It is especially revealing that in Reuters own opinion pieces the prejudice against Israel reads like it was lifted from an extreme pro-Palestinian website, and in fact Reuters have also been found to promote dedicated anti-Israel websites.

Scandals ahoy!

Reuters has been involved in a number of minor and more notable controversies over anti-Israeli bias.

Last year Reuters cropped photographs of the conflict on the “Mavi Mariner” flotilla ship. In several photographs knives held by the activists were edited out of the pictures published by Reuters whilst the arms held by the Israeli troops were not.

The issue of doctoring photographs also arose during the 2006 Lebanon War, where a photographer called Adnan Hajj crudely photo-shopped images to worsen Israel’s portrayal. The manipulations were only discovered by internet bloggers due to the sheer crudity of the alterations. As a result a top editor was quietly dismissed. Reuters also published an image of a triple duplicated IDF flare which they then termed “missiles”.

In 2006 a Reuters cameraman called Imad Muhammad Intisar Boghnat, was caught participating in the direction of riots in the Arab village of Bil’in where there is violence each Friday after Mosque, that involves so-called pro-Palestinian internationals.

The owner of the Little Green Footballs website was sent a death threat by a Reuters employee who stated “I look forward to the day when you pigs get your throats cut.” The message was probably sent by Inayat Bunglawala, the Media Secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, who has been prone to anti-Semitic outbursts in the past.

In 2009, during the war in Gaza, one of the Reuters own articles addressed the controversy over bias. The article used the old tactic of citing criticism from both sides as an example of how balanced they are, for if they are criticised by both sides they must surely be neutral? However, even in that very report the greatest blame is placed with Israel whilst Hamas is described as largely being on the level in allowing Reuters journalists to report unencumbered. Could this be because Reuters is well known to favour the Palestinian side of the conflict, forming a large element of the critical propaganda war against Israel?

An allergy to the word “terrorist”

Whilst the controversies flare up occasionally, it is the continual day by day bias in Reuters’ reporting which does the most damage to Israel’s reputation.

A highly selective use of terminology is a significant element of the complaints over Reuters’ bias. In particular, the word “terrorist” is always avoided when reporting on the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

After a terrorist attack on Jerusalem in March 2011 an article by Reuters stated:
Police said it was a “terrorist attack” — Israel’s term for a Palestinian strike
Reuters not only refuse to use the word “terrorist”, preferring misleading words like “gunman” and “militant” but it would seem they also pour scorn on the authorities that do, or at least in Israel’s case.

Whilst many seek to obfuscate the words terrorist and terrorism by entering into quasi-philosophical discussions on the meaning of terror, the definition of the word “terrorist” is clear enough. Terrorist activity is the use of or threat of violence in order to coerce for political motives. It is principally aimed at civilian targets and infrastructure. Obviously terror can have other meanings but the political definition is clear and not necessarily prejudicial. When a bomb was placed by a bus stop with the clear intent of targeting civilians, leading to the death of one civilian and also the injury of a large number, it is quite simply perverse in extremis to question its use.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Reuters outrageous policy over terminology was made apparent. To quote a statement:
…in an internal memo reminding our journalists of our policy in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks, a statement was made that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” This wording caused deep offense among members of our staff, our readers and the public at large, many of whom felt this meant Reuters was somehow making a value judgment concerning the attacks.
The extremely callous comment in the memo was clearly a value judgement, regardless of what the statement asserts. It points to an underlying anti-Americanism which is often quite mild but nonetheless common in British and European culture. Readers have noticed this apparent anti-Americanism too which leads to the uncomfortable view that the attacks may have been seen as politically legitimate in some respects by a number of senior staff in Reuters shortly after the shocking images were relayed on television screens around the world.

Another revealing view into the Reuters thought process over word use occurred when CanWest, Canada’s largest newspaper chain, started altering some Reuters content published in their newspapers. The mild terminology Reuters used was replaced with words such as “terrorist”. David Schlesinger, Reuters then Editor-in-Chief, told CanWest to remove the writers’ names to conform to their guidelines for articles that make such changes. Reuters has also asked that CanWest add its name to that of Reuters as the source of revised articles, and to display such information at the end of the articles instead of the top. Alternatively, Reuters suggested that its name not be used at all! To quote the New York Times:
Mr. Schlesinger said he was concerned that changes like those made at CanWest could lead to ”confusion” about what Reuters is reporting and possibly endanger its reporters in volatile areas or situations.

”My goal is to protect our reporters and protect our editorial integrity,” he said.
Schlesinger’s statement amounts to an admission that they tow the line when dealing with extremists.

Journalist Jeff Golderb harshly criticised Reuters anti-Israel/US bias and selective use of terminology:
Those Israelis and their crazy terms! I mean, referring to a fatal bombing of civilians as a “terrorist attack”? Who are they kidding? Everyone knows that a fatal bombing of Israeli civilians should be referred to as a “teachable moment.” Or as a “venting of certain frustrations.” Or as “an understandable reaction to Jewish perfidy.” Or perhaps as “a very special episode of ‘Cheers.’” Anything but “a terrorist attack.” I suppose Reuters will mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11 by referring to the attacks as “an exercise in urban renewal.”
The bottom line is that when Reuters refuses to use common words which accurately describe certain activities (e.g. “terrorist”) on one side of a conflict, whilst using highly prejudicial terms about the opposing side, for example calling the IDF the “Israeli occupation forces”, or IOF as many vehement pro-Palestinians use as a substitute for the IDF, not only harms the truth, it aids militancy and terrorism by subtly legitimising it internationally.

Some conclusions

The many examples listed should illustrate that Reuters, the media empire, is indeed rotten, and to extend the metaphor, perhaps to its very core! This has extremely serious consequences which are ignored most of the time. A major news agency that pumps news out all over the world should be the focus of interest if it is shown to display an intensive politically prejudicial bias over a serious conflict.

Whilst Reuters is the focus in this article, anti-Israeli bias has been apparent in the media generally, for a considerable amount of time. It has become something of a cultural zeitgeist, can be shocking in its extremism and occasionally blows into controversy, such as the intentionally faked death of Muhammad al Durrah for French TV that led to an outbreak of anti-Semitic violence. A few months later, senior BBC journalist Fayad Abu Shamala told a Hamas rally in Gaza that journalists and media institutions are “waging the campaign shoulder-to-shoulder together with the Palestinian people.” He had the misfortune of having his name listed on Hamas’ website, yet for all their apparently lofty journalistic values, the BBC declined to dismiss him!

Yet when these institutions are not sufficiently critical or carry a very rare piece which is supportive of Israel’s position, the cries of bias from pro-Palestinians are indeed loud, e.g. the Amnesty debate entitled “Complicity in Oppression: Does the Media Aid Israel”. An example is the BBC Panorama documentary Death in the Med which was critical of the Gaza Flotilla. This led to protests and charges racism, Islamophobia, and even criticism of its scheduling during the month of Ramadan!

Reuters, and much of the rest of the mainstream media, is doing more than reporting the news. They could be forgiven if they were reporting the news poorly. They could even be forgiven if the bias that manifests itself was merely an unknowing part of a common social prejudice. However, Reuters et al have been criticised strongly for this bias over the years. They have never seriously addressed it. In fact this prejudice is more evident than ever. One can only come to the conclusion that it is quite deliberate.

The issue of towing the line with extremists has been raised as one reason for bias at Reuters. However it would seem the core problem is not moral cowardice. Broadly speaking the media, especially with the increase in advocacy journalism, appears to be attempting to shape our understanding of reality itself with a quantifiably left-wing message which seriously hampers the natural societal discourse on politics. More gravely, with serious conflicts where the stakes are extremely high, this prejudice is being unashamedly directed in a fashion resembling obsessive demonisation toward one party in particular. Over several decades this has had a transformative effect.

The basic rules on journalistic balance should not be thrown out the window on a whenever it is incompatible with one’s own ideology or an inconvenience when dealing with extremists. Whether one is pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian, this should not be acceptable to anyone who cares about fairness and justice. If the Palestinian case against Israel is so strong there should be no need to distort and fabricate.

Ireland got a blast of these demonising forces late last year when the international media portrayed the Irish as starving soup-kitchen dependent leprechauns living in the 19th Century. It wasn’t pleasant but at least it was brief. With the corruption of the most elemental journalistic ethics, which has led to such a damaging precedent with Israel, surely the question should be “who on the media hate list next?”

This article is also available at Crethi Plethi

Monday 19 September 2011

Would UN Palestinian Statehood destroy any chance of an equitable peace?

After recent suggestions that Mahmud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, was wavering over a planned request for the UN to recognise a Palestinian state, he has affirmed that he will go ahead when scheduled to address the UN General Assembly on the 23rd of September. Such a move is expected to cause an environment of intensified strife.

Abbas said he wished to see a Palestinian state recognised on the basis of the 1949 Armistice Lines, which the international media incorrectly labels as the 1967 lines. This would comprise the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and Gaza, occupied by Jordan and Egypt respectively between 1948/9 and 1967. Previously these territories were administered by the Ottoman Empire and latterly the British Mandate.

Although the US is expected to veto the application for full state membership at the UN Security Council, non-member state recognition would probably pass at the UN General Assembly due to the power of the Arab/Islamic (OIC) voting block which typically gets the support of the somewhat leftist third-world Non-Aligned Movement voting bloc that represents a majority of nations within the UN, and has displayed a consistent bias against Israel.

Whether or not recognition of a Palestinian state would be inimical to the peace process, the benefits to the Palestinian cause would be significant. The Palestinian Authority is expected to get a huge majority in the General Assembly and it will appear as a significant diplomatic victory. Recognition will also aid pro-Palestinian groups. Their incessant condemnation of Israel will gain more apparent legitimacy.

UN state recognition, even where no sovereign governing body or borders exist, would allow access to other international bodies, such as the ICC (International Criminal Court), from where the notional State could sue Israel, bringing the common Palestinian lawfare tactic to a new level of intensity.

Although this Palestinian State would only exist on paper, it would still have the capacity to sign treaties with fully fledged nations, which would add to its perceived legitimacy. Many states (e.g. Arab and South American) that already adopt a strong pro-Palestinian line would queue up to offer support. This may in turn pressure the US to give it greater recognition as a full member of the UN over time.

Efforts to dissuade the request for UN state recognition

Generally speaking the path being taken by the Palestinian Authority is seen negatively by the US, the EU and some other interested parties, albeit for differing reasons.

The United States has threatened to cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority if it brings the request to the Security Council but it is unlikely for the US to do so as it would merely reinforce criticism that it display favouritism toward Israel, thus undermining their position as an honest broker in the conflict.

Although the PA have been talking about making this request for almost a year, it does not appear as if the US has attempted to form a strong coalition of allies on the Security Council against the proposal because they appear to be the only member of the Council that has stated it will exercise a veto.

There have been reservations expressed by parties on the Palestinian side too. Both Jordan and Hamas have expressed reservations but the risks to the Palestinian Authority appear to be minimal. One Hamas spokesman said that the result will be “cosmetic, especially when Mahmoud Abbas said his aim is to return to the negotiations with the occupation [i.e. Israel] after all.”

The Quartet on the Middle East, comprising of Russia, the US, EU and UN, are also seeking persuade the PA to stop the statehood bid. Tony Blair, an envoy for the Quartet, stated that they were seeking some sort of mid-way compromise:

The Palestinians are here at the UN now, so the question is … can people find a way that enables the Palestinians to take a significant step forward to statehood at the same time as not ending up in a situation where the UN replaces negotiations?
The European response has been mixed. The President of the European Parliament said the EU does not oppose such a move even if “unilateral declarations or decisions are not the best solution…” German Chancellor Angela Merkel is against recognition of a Palestinian state outside of negotiations, whilst French President Nicolas Sarkozy stated France will recognise a Palestinian state if talks are not established.

The European Union tried to avert conflict at the UN by attempting to renew talks within a short period of time but diplomats stated that the long-standing disagreements over the terms of reference prevented such a move which seems to be is diplomatic speak for Abbas refusing to return to negotiations without a suspension of construction in the settlements and Jerusalem. Since talks would or have failed to get off the ground, the EU also suggested that the Palestinians accept a lesser upgrade to their status at the United Nations. However, without any firm reason to drop the bid for full statehood, which carries richer diplomatic rewards, Abbas is unlikely to accept the offer.

In June France proposed a conference to establish parameters for a resumption of negotiations for similar reasons but was met with disinterest, for which Israel was criticised. However, Nabil Shaath, Fatah’s head of foreign relations, asserted in Lebanon that the PA would not accept the French approach of two states for two peoples.

[The French initiative] reshaped the issue of the “Jewish state” into a formula that is also unacceptable to us — two states for two peoples. They can describe Israel itself as a state for two peoples, but we will be a state for one people. The story of “two states for two peoples” means that there will be a Jewish people over there and a Palestinian people here. We will never accept this…

Dubious legal foundations

Palestine’s status at the UN is currently defined as an “entity” that has observer status with the right to speak at General Assembly meetings, participate in some votes etc.

The Palestinian position is that almost 20 years of occasional talks on statehood have hit a dead end for reasons such as Israel’s refusal to stop settlement construction s in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

However, the path of unilateral action seems to challenge some basic principles of the peace process, including all the internationally accepted frameworks for peace, such as UN Resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973), which advocate agreed solutions of the conflict rather than unilateral actions.

The Oslo Interim Agreement of 1995 (also known as Oslo II), to which both parties signed, prohibits unilateral action by either side. Article XXXI states:

Neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.
The PA is in breach of the agreement by demanding a suspension of settlement construction prior to resuming talks because final status issues are to be discussed directly as stated in Article XXXI. Moreover Israel’s powers in the relevant zone of its jurisdiction (Area C) weren’t limited in this regard according to Alan Baker, who assisted in negotiating and drafting the Oslo Accords:

… the two sides agreed in the 1995 Interim Agreement… on a division of their respective jurisdictions in the West Bank into areas A and B (Palestinian jurisdiction) and area C (Israeli jurisdiction). They defined the respective powers and responsibilities of each side in the areas they control. Israel’s powers and responsibilities in Area C include all aspects regarding its settlements — all this pending the outcome of the Permanent Status negotiations. This division was accepted and agreed upon by the Palestinians…

The main proponent orchestrating the settlement issue over the years has been the Palestinian leadership, which has decided to isolate and take up the issue of settlements as an independent “cause célèbre,” despite the fact that it is among the agreed-upon items to be negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians in the Permanent Status negotiations.
A common Palestinian line justifying the UN bid refers to the “1967 borders” as the just boundaries of their new state, and cite UN Security Council Resolution 242. However, the 1967 borders are in fact the armistice lines that lasted from 1949 to 1967. They were never designated as permanent boundaries by any party. Rather it was an interim cease-fire line to do expressly the opposite as Article 2.2 of the 1949 Jordanian-Israeli agreement attests:

It is also recognized that no provision of this Agreement shall in any way prejudice the rights, claims and positions of either Party hereto in the ultimate peaceful settlement of the Palestine question, the provisions of this Agreement being dictated exclusively by military considerations.
The fact that the Arab parties in the conflict insisted that the 1949 Armistice lines (Green Line) would have no political significance results in it not having the status of being a true international border. It is worthwhile to add that today many countries, for example numerous states in South America, affirm recognition of a Palestinian state on those very lines. In contrast, UN Resolution 242 (1967) recognises the present Israeli lines as borders until such time as a peace deal is achieved. 242 does not call for full withdrawal to the pre-June 1967 borders despite continual claims to the contrary. As Eugene Rostow, one of the authors of the Resolution, pointed out the wording refers to withdrawal not from “all territories” but unspecified territories whilst ensuring Israeli security. Resolutions that sought withdrawal from all territories were repeatedly rejected at the UN.

Lord Caradon, British Ambassador to the UN at the time and the primary author of Resolution 242, along with Arthur J. Goldberg, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN and another contributor to the text, both asserted that Resolution 242 did not demand Israel to return to the 1949 lines. Goldberg stated:

And it can be inferred from the incorporation of the words secure and recognized boundaries that the territorial adjustments to be made by the parties in their peace settlements could encompass less than a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from occupied territories.
Resolution 242 also stated that all states should have “secure and recognised boundaries free from threats or acts of force”, and that only negotiation can establish such boundaries.

The mandate established by the League of Nations made it legal for Jews to settle anywhere in Palestine, which nullifies any issue of illegality over settlements if they are voluntary. Article 80 of the UN does not allow the institution to hand over any territory appertaining to the Mandate unless Israel, being the representative of the Jewish people agrees

Except as may be agreed upon in individual trusteeship agreements, made under Articles 77, 79, and 81, placing each territory under the trusteeship system, and until such agreements have been concluded, nothing in this Chapter shall be construed in or of itself to alter in any manner the rights whatsoever of any states or any peoples or the terms of existing international instruments to which Members of the United Nations may respectively be parties.

Consequently, it seems that the efforts to establish a Palestinian state at the UN may in fact be illegal.

An excellent video by Give Peace A Chance covers legality issues.

Probable effects on the Peace Process

Aside from the occasional often ill-judged initiative, the peace process initiated almost 20 years ago has in essence stalled. Whilst many pro-Palestinians pretend Israel is solely to blame for this problem the reality is different. The real issue is whether or not recognition of a Palestinian state will become an impediment to the rather faint prospect of peace down the road. The answer is a very definite “yes”.

Abbas insisted in his announcement that UN recognition would then enable the Palestinians to return to negotiations with Israel. This view seems quite absurd considering the fact that every Israeli prime minister has had an open door policy toward negotiations almost continually for two decades.

The reality is that UN recognition would give the Palestinians considerably greater power in negotiations, tipping the balance very much in their favour. Abbas more or less said so in as many words himself:

Negotiations, no matter how difficult, will be between one state and another…. But we will have obtained the world’s recognition that our state is occupied and that our land is occupied and not disputed territory, as the Israeli government claims.
Having a recognised state will dramatically reduce any incentive to compromise because Israel’s ability to trade territory in exchange for a peaceful solution will be lost. Discussion of land swaps, which were a big part of the 2000 Camp David talks, and the Olmert-Abbas talks in 2008, will also be out because the territory of this notional Palestinian State will be set in stone more so than before.

The Jerusalem Question

Critically the Palestinians would probably insist on possessing all of East Jerusalem when Arafat had agreed in principle to allowing the Jewish neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem to remain within Israel.

Any talks would also lead to a cast iron demand that the Palestinians possess the Temple Mount or Haram, which was the primary reason for Arafat walking out of Camp David over a shared sovereignty proposal. Al Jazeera and the Guardian had lambasted Abbas for even considering an independent consortium to decide the issue in the Palestine Papers controversy that they mocked up with selective leaks in January of this year to harm and perhaps destroy the PA.

Conceding absolute sovereignty to the Temple Mount and the Wailing Wall would be near impossible for Israel in the aftermath of the 1948-49 war, where the majority Jewish population was expelled from East Jerusalem, their religious sites desecrated and destroyed. Jordan banned Jews from access to East Jerusalem. That of course included the Temple Mount, which is Judaism’s holiest site, and the adjacent Wailing Wall, its last standing remnant. Indeed a few Palestinian commentators have acknowledged abandoning the site would fatally undermine the Zionist movement since Zion/Tzion equals Jerusalem.

Palestinian leaders and academics systematically deny the extraordinary historic connection between Jerusalem and the Jews. In 1967, Israel agreed to allow the Muslim Waqf to manage the Temple Mount area, with a view toward preventing religious conflict, even at the expense of Jews who are banned from worshipping at the Temple Mount itself! The considerable effort to maintain religious tolerance has never been properly recognised, and has not been remotely reciprocated. Conspiracist plots are repeatedly invented claiming that Israel seeks to harm the Al-Aqsa Mosque, as a method of incitement.

The PA has maintained the propaganda campaign that disassociates the Temple Mount from any connection with Judaism, and sources claim they intend to hand over control of the holy site to the OIC (Organisation of Islamic Co-operation).

This unfortunate contempt, which even the supposedly the moderate Palestinian Authority display, cannot give the Israeli authorities any faith that a deal respecting Jewish places of worship would be carried out in good faith by the Palestinians. For example, last month the Palestinian Authority TV channel broadcast a documentary that stated they plan to build a Palestinian residential area in place of the Western Wall Plaza in Jerusalem.

They [Israelis] know for certain that our [Palestinian] roots are deeper than their false history. We, from the balcony of our home, look out over [Islamic] holiness and on sin and filth [image of Jews' praying at the Western Wall] in an area that used to have [Arab] people and homes. We are drawing our new maps. When they [Israelis] disappear from the picture, like a forgotten chapter in the pages of our city’s history, we will build it anew [a residential area]. The Mughrabi Quarter will be built here [on the Western Wall Plaza].
The Palestinian Authority has an intensely disrespectful attitude toward the connection of the Jewish faith to Jerusalem. UN recognition of a Palestinian State on pre-1967 Jordanian lines would make it considerably more difficult for Israel to ensure safety of Jewish sites and possess the right to worship at them. If Islamists like Hamas were to take a greater role, which is entirely possible, agreements would be torn up and the stance of the Palestinians toward these Jewish sites could be intensely destructive.

The effects of state recognition on the right-of-return issue

UN recognition of a Palestinian state would give a greater capacity for moral posturing if and when the PA inevitably walk away from talks since Israel will be unable to offer the so-called “right to return”.

The UNRWA, which administers the Palestinian refugees, is a remarkable institution. It is separate from UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, dedicated to aiding all other refugees in the world. In contrast to the UNHCR, the UNRWA has a uniquely liberal definition of that category, which included short-term migrant workers of which there was a substantial influx prior to Israel’s formation. Remarkably it includes the later generations of the original refugees, which has resulted in some five to six million people today.

Israel’s current population consists of almost 6 million Jews and 1.4 million Arabs. Consequently the right of return, which the PA never gave up on (contrary to Al Jazeera’s claims during the Palestine Papers controversy), would subsume the Jewish identity of the State of Israel, which was the cause of conflict with the Arab Islamic world in the first instance. Thus it is seen as an effort to destroy Israel.

Jordan has made attempts to persuade the Palestinian Authority to abandon UN recognition, based especially on Palestinian interests, by claiming that such a bid carries the risk of damaging the PA’s ability to seek the “right of return,” but with the UN decidedly on the side of the Palestinians, such an eventuality seems relatively unlikely.

Maen Areikat, the PLO emissary to the United States recently stated that a future Palestinian state should be free of Jews which mirrors a commonly held view that a Palestinian state should effctively be judenrein. The irony of this view is indeed stark. Israel absorbed most of the Jews that were expelled from the Arab world. Now it must take in not only the Jewish settlers that won’t be tolerated in a Palestinian state but six million Palestinians as well on top of the existing Arab populace!

The involvement of Hamas

State Recognition will be given to the Palestinian Authority while in a loose partnership with Hamas. This coalition government was formed in May to present a united front. However, Hamas opposes any peaceful resolution, the existence of Israel and advocates the genocide of Jews the world over. At one time there was a sharp contrast between Hamas and Fatah/PLO but this move may over time increase the radicalism within the PA, whilst increasing the creeping international legitimisation of Hamas.

Contrary to what apologists keep asserting, Hamas’ stance with regard to Israel’s existence has not softened. For example, the organisation’s foreign minister, Mahmoud Al-Zahar, asserted a month and a half ago that Hamas would view any Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, or agreement with the Palestinian Authority, as only a ‘first stage’ towards the destruction of Israel in its entirety. Children are also a long-term component in this vision:

At this moment in time, we say to you, first of all: We want Palestine in its entirety – so there will not be any misunderstandings. If our generation is unable to achieve this, the next one will, and we are raising our children on this. Palestine means Palestine in its entirety, and Israel cannot exist in our midst.

Some conclusions

The Palestinian bid for statehood breaks numerous commitments since 1993 with the signing of the Oslo accords. Effectively Abbas is pursuing a Palestinian state without having to pay the heavy price of truly recognising Israel. Ironically enough, a Palestinian people unwilling to accept peace with Israel is the cost of decades of incitement against the state as a recent poll forcefully indicates.

It is likely but not a given that the UN General Assembly resolution will be passed because although many countries speak up for a Palestinian state based on the 1949-67 borders, numerous commentators have been saying it will lead to a great deal of Palestinian violence in the spirit of 2011 Nabka Day.

That combined with the Hamas-Fatah union, which may be a strategic error for Abbas, has given the impression that some members of the UN may be afraid of voting in a resolution that could incur a Third Intifada. Indeed it may not be a coincidence that Abbas stressed that any protests in support of the UN bid should not turn violent which would be embarrassing. It does seem likely that the endeavour will spark more conflict.

Does it really matter if UN state recognition will destroy any chance of a meaningful peace settlement? The reality certainly seems to be that the PA doesn’t seek peace, and as if to reinforce that point, Abbas said there was no alternative options the Palestinians could pursue if the bid for UN recognition ends in failure, unlikely as that will be.

There is indeed a reason that even the moderate PA has continuously denied Israel’s right to exist for example to quote one of many examples from the Al-Hayat Al-Jadida PA Newspaper:

Manal Taha, one of the organizers of the event… [said that Israel's aim is] to threaten the resolve within the occupying entity, which continues through the actions of the authorities in Jaffa, Acre, Haifa, Jerusalem, and other occupied Palestinian cities. … Taha called upon everyone to participate in this activity, whose aim is to energize the connection between the Palestinians of the territories occupied in 1948 and [those in] the territories occupied in 1967.

Another example is a narrator in PA TV broadcast addressing Israelis, and asking them to leave, because Israel has no right to exist:

Where are you [Israelis] from? Where are you from? Where are you from? Of course, you’re from Ukraine; of course, you’re from Germany, from Poland, from Russia, from Ethiopia, the Falasha (pejorative for Ethiopian Jews). Why have you stolen my homeland and taken my place? Please, I ask of you, return to your original homeland, so that I can return to my original homeland. This is my homeland; go back to your homeland!
Israel, the US and other sectors of the international community are opposed to the Palestinian move at the UN. The truth remains that a true Palestinian state can only be created through direct negotiations.

The founding a Palestinian state is not remotely the root issue of the conflict. The idea has been fully accepted by Israel subject to the negotiations process. Peace is the issue and it will only come with a mutual recognition of each party’s conflicting rights. UN recognition would ignore Israel’s concerns over security, and recognition by its long standing opponent as the national home of the Jewish people. Thus this one-sided UN bid will simply snuff out an already extremely fragile movement toward peace.

Ps. Aish offers a humorous account of the UN bid.

This article is also posted on the Crethi Plethi website.

Friday 16 September 2011

Survey: Palestinian Extremism Alive and Well in 2011

With The Palestinian Authority seeking UN recognition of a Palestinian state this month in New York, it is worth reflecting upon whether acceptance will be a move toward peace or would intensify conflict.

One critical factor, too often overlooked in the conflict, is the opinion of Arab-Palestinian people themselves. Two months ago high profile polster and leading US Democratic Party strategist, Stanley Greenberg, conducted a survey in conjunction with the Israel Project and the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion. The poll involved over 1,000 Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza.

Despite spin to the contrary, the Poll actually demonstrates that Palestinian extremism is as intensive as ever. It starkly illustrated that majority opinion amongst ordinary Palestinians on the extermination of the Jews is problematic. 73% of the Palestinians polled agree with Article Seven of Hamas’ Charter calling for the mass genocide of Jews.

… the Hamas has been looking forward to implement Allah’s promise whatever time it might take. The prophet, prayer and peace be upon him, said: The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! there is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him! This will not apply to the Gharqad, which is a Jewish tree.
The survey found that 61% of Palestinians reject the firmly established approach of a two-state solution to peace. Remarkably 92% said Jerusalem should solely be the capital of Palestine, with a mere 3% stating that the city should be the capital shared by both states. There were some positives with 83% saying that job creation should be a high priority of the Palestinian Authority. However, extremism was clearly the order of the day with no less than 62% asserting it was morally right to kidnap IDF soldiers.

Such sentiments will come as no surprise to many that appreciate the complexity of the Middle East, beyond the largely pro-Palestinian line taken by the mainstream international media, and the intensive campaigning which portrays Israel as the aggressor. Polls through the years have demonstrated that the great majority of Palestinians wouldn’t welcome peace. Similarly Hamas was elected in Gaza in 2006 on an explicit mandate of continuing conflict with Israel.

This extremism is linked with the common religious fervour displayed through much of the Islamic world, especially in the Middle East. For example, a Pew poll some months ago showed that 84% of Egyptians advocated death for leaving the Islamic faith, a remarkable view in what is supposedly one of the more moderate Islamic nations. There were similar results in Jordan (Palestine). To many Muslims Israel’s very existence is objectionable partly due to Dar al-Islam (House of Islam), a notion central to the faith.

This unique trait of Palestinian/Arabic culture is displayed all too clearly in disturbing material taken from Palestinian sources. Below are examples that demonstrate the religious dimension of the conflict.

A clip taken from The Palestinian Authority TV channel featuring Palestinians advocating the murder of Jews, very much redolent of the Hamas Charter.

A Friday Sermon at Gaza Mosque — “They are all liars, they are the ones who must be butchered and killed…”

Excerpts from a sermon delivered by Ahmad Bahr, acting speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, which aired on Sudan TV in 2007. “Oh Allah, Count their numbers, and kill them to the very last one… defeat the Jews and the Americans.

This sort of material is far from unknown. There is a large amount of similar content on the web. It is no secret that Palestinian incitement to hatred against Israel, and Jews generally, is a defining feature of their culture. It is commonly cited as a response to those doggedly supporting the Palestinians. And yet such genocidal hate mongering is continually ignored by the international media and world leaders.

A predominant feature of the pro-Palestinian movement in the last decade has been to advocate for a one-state solution where Muslim Palestinians will make a majority of the populace. This is not terribly far from the stance terrorist organisations like Hamas adopt in seeking a one-state solution involving the abolition of Israel as a Jewish state. It is clear that the pro-Palestinian movement including the BDS boycott campaign has done at least as much to delegitimise Israel as Hamas but in a shorter timeframe. It would seem that many Palestinians have learnt this lesson, which explains why only 45% said they subscribed to the Hamas charter’s statement that the only solution to the Palestinian problem is jihad.

Perhaps related is the finding that 65% of Palestinians preferred talks to violence. An article about the Poll by the Guardian highlighted that two-thirds of Palestinians favoured talking over violence. However, before celebrating the imminent possibility of peace, it must be noted that 66% stated that a two-state solution should only be an interim solution followed with a single Palestinian state, echoing Arafat’s dishonest “two-stage” approach to the peace process. Such views are clearly a recipe for further conflict rather than peace.

It is no coincidence that elsewhere in the media the poll was reported with a startlingly dishonest slant. Such coverage, which ignores the results suggesting extremism, is a reflection of broad media coverage, which shies away from negative portrayals of the Palestinians even if it makes for a better news story. It perpetuates the pro-Palestinian myth that Israel is exclusively to blame for a lack of peace. Coverage on pro-Palestinian websites also whitewashed the poll findings.

Interestingly Israel welcomed the statistic that demonstrated Palestinians preferred talks to violence which on the face of it is bizarre since the survey also found that 61% of Palestinians reject a two-state solution. It’s telling that they welcomed one statistical finding that only sounds positive when stripped of context perhaps because any faint suggestion Palestinian fantaticism may be on the decrease is welcome news.

During the same month that the Poll was taken, Nabil Shaath, one of the most senior politicians in the Palestinian Authority, asserted in an interview on the Lebanese ABN TV station that the PA will never accept a two-state solution to the Conflict:
The recognition of a [Palestinian] state is basically a bilateral action, which receives the blessing of the UN. This act, however, will make many things possible in the future. Eventually, we will be able to sign bilateral agreements with states, and this will enable us to exert pressure on Israel. […] The story of “two states for two peoples” means that there will be a Jewish people over there and a Palestinian people here. We will never accept this…
This is one of many examples of unguarded talk from the supposedly moderate Palestinian Authority as a cursory look at Palwatch and Memri will attest.

It is clear the vast Western support base for the Palestinian cause is in actual fact facilitating a continued state of strife, where no pressure whatsoever is brought to bear on the Palestinians to make any meaningful concessions for peace. The genocidal character of the incitement and the celebration of terrorism is excused, ignored, and often justified.

It can be concluded that neither the apparently moderate Palestinian leaders, nor most of the Palestinian people themselves, seek a meaningful peace with Israel, nor do many of their supporters. There is an ugly truth behind the findings of the Poll, and in the present situation where the prospect of peace is more distant than ever, the UN recognition of a Palestinian state would be an unmitigated disaster.

Also published at Crethi Plethi