Thousands of Palestinian documents, allegedly offering a behind the scenes look at the Palestinian Authority’s stance on peace negotiations with Israel, have been leaked to Al-Jazeera and The Guardian. As the world’s attention turns towards Egypt, the “Palileaks” story has taken something of a haitus offering us a chance to draw breath and examine some of the media issues that have emerged so far.
The Guardian’s Worldview Challenged
The Palestinian documents, if they are to be believed, paint a picture that the Palestinian leadership was prepared to accept the permanence and legitimacy of a large number of Israeli settlements as well as Jewish neighborhoods in eastern parts of Jerusalem. This would seemingly undermine the notion adopted by large swathes of the media (and many international politicians and non-governmental organizations) that settlements represent the biggest “obstacle to peace”.
For The Guardian, the paper has been shown up to be “more Palestinian than the Palestinians”, consistently adopting a more uncompromising approach than the Palestinian leadership, putting its editorial line more in step with that of Hamas. As Robin Shepherd notes:
In one of its most resentful leader columns for years, the Guardian was nothing short of apoplectic: not so much with Israel, but with a Palestinian leadership which has effectively blown the credibility of the Guardian’s very own mantras on the MidEast straight out of the water. The Palestinian leadership, the paper declaimed, had been shown to be “weak” and “craven”. Their concessions amounted to “surrender of land Palestinians have lived on for centuries”. And, in words that look alarmingly close to the position adopted by Hamas, “The Palestinian Authority may continue as an employer but, as of today, its legitimacy as negotiators will have all but ended on the Palestinian street.” This is sheer spite.
The Palestinian leadership accepts what any reasonable person has been able to accept for decades. The Guardian then slams them as surrender monkeys. The Guardian newspaper is more hardline against Israel than the Palestinian leadership itself.
Melanie Phillips concurs:
Wherever the actual truth of this lies, it seems to me, the Guardian is stuffed. Either it’s right about the content of the documents – in which case its whole analysis of the Middle East has been totally wrong all these years; or in its desire to destroy Israel it has fallen for an epic scam, and those writers who couldn’t contain their eagerness to put the boot into Israel in this morning’s paper are thus revealed to be idiots.
Indeed, The Guardian’s outrage at seemingly “moderate” Palestinian positions continued with the release of documents addressing the apparent willingness of the PA to compromise on the Palestinian “right of return” for refugees.
A Platform for Terrorists
Arguably, the greatest damage to the Palestinian Authority was not caused by the leaking of the documents but by the Palestinian leadership’s inability to adequately prepare its own people for necessary compromises for peace. Nonetheless, The Guardian was still compelled to twist the knife into the PA by giving a platform for Hamas.
Referring to the PA as “stooges and tools for the opression of the Palestinian people”, Hamas head of international relations, Osama Hamdan, published an op-ed in The Guardian accusing the PA of “treason”. He concluded:
As an immediate response to these revelations, we in Hamas have begun a series of communications and meetings with Palestinian factions and prominent personalities to discuss practical measures. It is our responsibility to regain the initiative in order to protect our cause and isolate those who have betrayed it.
Based on Hamas’ previous efforts to “isolate” its enemies, which have involved throwing Fatah activists from the roofs of high buildings, one can draw the appropriate understanding.
While freedom of speech is a value to be upheld, we have long argued that it is irresponsible for media outlets to give platforms for terrorist groups such as Hamas that are proscribed as such in the US, European Union and elsewhere.
As Jewish Chronicle editor Stephen Pollard put it:
Hamas’ practical measures need no elaboration. The Guardian crossed a line this week. It has not practised journalism but rather hardcore political activism, playing with people’s lives.
But this wasn’t the only platform for terror that The Guardian managed to slip in as the letters page also crossed a red line. Referring to the Palestinian leaks, philosophy professor Ted Honderich is given a platform to legitimize and justify Palestinian terror:
They provide a further part of what is now an overwhelming argument for a certain proposition. It is that the Palestinians have a moral right to their terrorism within historic Palestine against neo-Zionism. The latter, neither Zionism nor of course Jewishness, is the taking from the Palestinians of at least their autonomy in the last one-fifth of their historic homeland. Terrorism, as in this case, can as exactly be self-defence, a freedom struggle, martyrdom, the conclusion of an argument based on true humanity, etc.
Following complaints, The Guardian’s readers’ editor addressed the issue:
It is the policy of the Guardian not to publish letters advocating violence against others, but that does not – and should not – preclude a discussion about the nature of terrorism. The letters editor defended the publication of Honderich’s letter on the basis that it was about the way language is used: “What he is questioning is how things are defined – and how they might be defined as something else. It seems to me legitimate to debate (at least, by someone who perhaps has credentials to do so) – he is not advocating suicide bombing, he is questioning how it is regarded by most people in the west, and how it might be seen as something other than terrorism by people in other places and circumstances.”
The readers’ editor concludes by dodging the issue of legitimizing terror:
It is a legitimate area of discussion. But suggesting that a defence may be offered for an argument should not imply it is the attitude or position of the Guardian.
Not content with promoting terrorists and their supporters, The Guardian also published this cartoon on its live blog of Mahmoud Abbas by Brazilian cartoonist Carlos Latuff. As Just Journalism notes, Latuff, notorious for his anti-Israel (and anti-Semitic) images, claimed second prize in the 2006 Iranian International Holocaust Cartoon Competition.
BICOM has produced a detailed assessment of The Guardian’s coverage and addresses some of its most prominent distortions. In summary:
In trying to make a case that the Palestinians were subservient and the Israelis uncompromising, The Guardian repeatedly misrepresents the documents themselves, for example:
- Mistakenly claiming that the Palestinians conceded on recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, when the documents and historical record show a hardening of the Palestinian position on the on the issue;
- Characterizing the Palestinian territorial offer, including on Jerusalem, as a far reaching concession, and Israel’s response as dismissal ‘out of hand’, when in fact the Palestinian offer was not as far reaching as presented and the Israeli side showed willingness to engage;
- Apparently misreading sources to argue that the Palestinians accepted an Israeli offer for the return of 10,000 refugees, when the available evidence seems to indicate the Palestinians were demanding an initial number of 150,000 subject to renewal, and pursuing other refugee claims relating to compensation and Israeli responsibility.
- Linking apparently unrelated quotes from Tzipi Livni to inaccurately characterise the Israeli position as favoring ‘transfer’, on an occasion when the issue was humanitarian and territorial issues relating to villages bisected by the Green Line.
As Stephen Pollard states:
There is nothing, of itself, wrong with the Guardian publishing its scoop; all serious newspapers relish scoops. What is very wrong is the way the paper chose to present its story: the distortions, the bias, the agenda, the spin and the breathtaking arrogance of its handing down instructions to the Palestinians of how they should behave. Make no mistake: the Guardian’s presentation was, as David Landau puts it, “intended to poison the Palestinians against their leaders”. And to poison the world against Israel.
Poisoning the World Against Israel
Indeed, it isn’t only the Palestinian Authority that has been portrayed negatively as a result of the leaked documents. It would be almost impossible to imagine The Guardian not publishing something that could be used to attack Israel. In this case, the documents alleging historic Palestinian compromises (despite most of the issues being openly discussed as far back as the 2000 Camp David summit, the Clinton Parameters and the Geneva Accords) paint Israel as the intransigent party that was unprepared to go the extra mile for peace.
This view, promoted by The Guardian, is certainly selective. The New York Times reports on Ehud Olmert’s memoirs, in which the former Israeli PM claims to have come close to sealing a peace deal two years ago. The NY Times article notes that interviews with Olmert and Abbas, which are to be published in the next few weeks, were recorded only two days before the publication of the Palileaks documents.
While the documents detail little of what Israel offered in return during the Olmert peace negotiations, The Guardian has systematically downplayed or even ignored the latest statements from Olmert – someone who was directly and intimately involved.
But perhaps an Israel desperately seeking peace and prepared to make concessions doesn’t fit with The Guardian’s dominant narrative.
We await the next tranche of documents with interest, albeit with a healthy dose of skepticism.