Media misstate Palestinian ‘statehood’ dodge

Click photo to download. Caption: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 26, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard.

By Eric Rozenman/JNS.org

News coverage of the Palestinian Authority’s “statehood” bid errs in ways strangely similar to failures during this summer’s Israel-Hamas war.

Compare coverage of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s renewed bid to seek international recognition of a country called “Palestine” with last summer’s reporting of Palestinian casualties in the Gaza Strip during the Israel-Hamas fighting. 

Journalists report stenographically Abbas’s demands that the U.N. Security Council adopt a resolution, with force of international law, requiring Israel to evacuate the West Bank to its “1967 border” within two or three years. The resolution would certify international acceptance of a new state of Palestine there, the Gaza Strip, and eastern Jerusalem.

Media note official U.S. opposition to Sweden’s on-off recognition of “Palestine,” but fail to report that two Security Council resolutions outlining the means and requirements of Arab-Israeli peace already exist. U.N. Security Council resolutions 242 (adopted in 1967 after the Six-Day War) and 338 (passed after the 1973 Yom Kippur War) call for, among other things, negotiations to resolve Arab-Israel conflicts and “secure and recognized boundaries” for Israel and Arab countries party to the conflicts.

Resolution 242’s authors recognized, as they made clear at the time and subsequently, that Israel’s pre-1967 frontiers—the 1949 armistice line with Jordan regarding the West Bank (until then often known as Judea and Samaria), and 1950 armistice line with Egypt concerning Gaza—were neither recognized nor secure.

The Palestinian Authority exists in no small measure because then Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat agreed in a 1993 letter to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to end anti-Israel terrorism and resolve all outstanding issues through negotiations. The 1995 Israeli-Palestinian interim agreement takes resolutions 242 and 338 as reference points. These documents underlie the “peace process” between the two parties.

In chronically failing to provide this background when reporting Abbas’s attempted end-run around the relevant Security Council resolutions and PA commitments to reaching an agreement through direct negotiations with Israel, media feed coverage through the filter of Palestinian grievances. They thereby load all responsibility onto Israel.

Coverage of the on-off intention of Sweden’s new government to join a few others in recognition of “Palestine” so far has failed to note that it too would contradict international statutes. The 1933 Montevideo Convention on Rights and Duties of States requires countries to have, among other things, a permanent population, a defined territory, a unitary government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other states. The 1991 Arbitration Commission of the Conference on Yugoslavia, dealing with the fragmentation of that country, reaffirmed these qualifications. 

Periodically announced “unity governments” notwithstanding, the bi-polar Palestinian Authority does not qualify. It is split between administration by the Fatah movement on the West Bank and Hamas control of the Gaza Strip; has no jurisdiction in any part of Jerusalem; and lacks territory defined by a negotiated agreement with Israel. 

Insistence by Abbas et. al. that there is a “Palestine” to be recognized contradicts the Montevideo Convention and Yugoslavia Arbitration Commission. It also violates the 1993 Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles and 1995 interim agreement. 

Press omissions in this regard recall those during Operation Protective Edge. Then media reported, for example, that according to officials in the Gaza Strip, a majority of Palestinian Arab fatalities were civilians, often “mostly civilians.” Journalists rarely added that those casualty figures came primarily from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry, or that the Interior Ministry, also Hamas-controlled, had urged Gazans to describe all fatalities as “innocent civilians.” 

When reporters occasionally added that Israeli sources disputed those numbers, they virtually never said why. Context—a traditional journalism value—would have called for reporting Israel Defense Forces estimates that nearly half the Palestinian fatalities were gunmen from Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad or other terrorist groups. It could have noted analyses, like that of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), which indicated more than 50 percent were males between 17 and 39—prime combat age.

Media also might have pointed out that a U.N. estimate two years ago of non-combatant casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq involving U.S. and coalition forces ranged from 3:1 to 4:1, respectively.

But no. As former Associated Press reporter Matti Friedman wrote, journalists widely conceive the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a morality play in which evil Israel oppresses innocent “Palestine.” News to the contrary—including bloody anti-Jewish incitement not just by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, but also by Palestinian Authority agencies in the West Bank, and ceaseless Palestinian terrorist attacks or attempted attacks—barely counts. 

Maybe media failures to report Abbas’s statehood bid in context validate Friedman’s premise. It appears to confirm that Palestinian violations of international agreements, especially when they undermine Israeli positions, simply don’t qualify as news.

Eric Rozenman

Eric Rozenman is Washington director of CAMERA, the 65,000-member, Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.

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Posted on October 6, 2014 and filed under Israel, Opinion, Analysis.