Admittedly, there have been few details released about the nascent Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Secretary of State John Kerry’s July 30th briefing with Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat and Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni offered up only carefully calibrated diplomatese.
Nevertheless, The New York Times’ rendition of Kerry’s remarks is a dramatic example of the paper’s penchant for molding stories to advance a political agenda by recasting what was said to highlight its preferred views.
Secretary Kerry, for instance, emphasized certain themes early and often that reverberate in favor of Israel’s deepest aims: end of conflict and end of claims.
Israel wants its adversaries to agree formally to end the siege against the Jewish state. This means the acceptance of Israel within agreed upon borders and the end of strife and violence. It means the relinquishing of further claims on territory, on individual property and on the right of return of millions of Palestinians. Such conditions that unequivocally define an end of conflict with Israel, obviously essential to peace, contradict much of the rhetoric, teachings and political platforms of Palestinian leaders and Palestinian culture.
According to analysts such as Major General Aharon Zeevi (Farkash), previous head of Israeli intelligence, Yasir Arafat could not agree to an “end of conflict,” no matter what concessions Israel made.
Indicative of the Palestinians’ entrenched opposition to ending the conflict was the blunt observation by a Palestinian ambassador to Lebanon, Abdullah Abdullah, in an interview in the Daily Star in September 2011: “When we have a state accepted as a member of the United Nations, this is not the end of the conflict. This is not a solution to the conflict. This is only a new framework that will change the rules of the game.”
Kerry made reference to ending or solving the conflict six times in his brief remarks. After welcoming the respective leaders, his first sentence noted the “new moment of possibility in the pursuit of an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
After several more paragraphs he returned to the theme, saying “…all of the final status issues, the core issues and all other issues are all on the table for negotiation. And they are on the table with one simple goal: a view to ending the conflict, ending the claims.”
Four more times Kerry refers in some guise to ending the conflict. At one point he foresees “not just the absence of conflict but a full and lasting peace with Arab and Muslim nations, an end once and for all to the pernicious attacks on Israel’s legitimacy.”
Only after two mentions of ending the conflict does Kerry turn to the talks’ goal of “two states living side by side in peace and security.” Two further references are made in his remarks to two states. That is, Kerry gave at least twice as much emphasis to the core goal of a genuine peace effort – which is an end to the conflict – than it did to creation of a Palestinian state.
But what got reported in The New York Times by Michael Gordon, in a story focused on the Kerry appearance, was another – and instructive – matter. Gordon’s opening sentence signaled The Times’ bending of reality. Instead of an end of the conflict, the reporter says the “goal would be to work out a comprehensive peace agreement within nine months that would lead to an independent Palestinian state.”
The third sentence repeats the call for statehood.
Only once, more than half way through the 817-word story did Gordon in a single sentence note Kerry’s call for an end of conflict. He inserted the reference as an observation Kerry allegedly “added” – when, in fact, the Secretary of State had made this the primary focus of his remarks.
The reporter steered readers away from Israel’s concerns and toward the Palestinian viewpoint, which emphasizes independent statehood and he did so by, almost literally, redacting the Secretary’s remarks.
And so it was in the remainder of the story. Israel, according to Gordon, is “expected to take steps soon to improve the atmosphere for negotiations.” An anonymous State Department official is quoted as saying there is unlikely to be any restraint in settlement activity.
Though the wish is expressed that “each side” be forthcoming in easing the atmosphere, there is not the slightest reference at all to any expectation of any Palestinian action or any criticism of the Palestinians for doing nothing.
No hint is given that Palestinians might “improve the atmosphere” by removing the various public maps that omit Israel completely or shutting down the incendiary TV programs that call Jews the sons of apes and pigs and urge the destruction of Israel.
The net message of Gordon’s story was the familiar New York Times one, documented in detail in CAMERA’s study of 6 months of Times coverage, that Israel is the cause of the conflict and is responsible to provide the solution. Palestinians are walk-ons in the play and certainly not culpable for anything serious. The essence of the solution lies in creation of a Palestinian state and whether this will mark an end to the conflict is, for The Times, seemingly an incidental matter.