Post Script to ‘Palestine Papers’: Guardian grossly misrepresented so-called Palestinian “concessions”

The renowned Israeli journalist Ben-Dror Yemini of Ma’ariv has an interesting post on his blog which can be filed under the category ‘post script to the ‘Palestine Papers’. It speaks for itself, so allow me merely to translate (from the original Hebrew) the relevant portions.

“The terror attack in Jerusalem, like the firing of the rockets from the (Gaza) Strip, returns us to the firm ground of reality. This is a reality in which there are growing signs of a compromise between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. The events of the past two weeks clarify that the Palestinian front is returning to its old defining characteristics.”

“For a moment we lived with the illusion that something was happening, and maybe in the other direction. As recently as this last January, Al Jazeera and The Guardian came out with loud pronouncements concerning the most meaningful step in Palestinian history: the relinquishment of the right of return. The change, I then wrote, was most welcome. Except that this was a short-lived illusion. This is not merely due to the reality of rockets upon Ashkelon and Ashdod, the massacre in Itamar and the terror attack in Jerusalem. The story runs deeper.”

“New research by an American Christian organisation (not evangelist) examined all the 1,700 leaked papers; something which your faithful servant, despite his will, did not manage to do. The conclusion of the research is the exact opposite; that not only did the Palestinians not agree to any compromise on this subject [right of return], but they fooled everyone. False declarations of a moderateness, which I wish were true, are still far away. And so all those who found the Palestinian compromise troubling, from the Guardian to Gideon Levy (who claimed that the papers proved that the Palestinians had ‘sold their soul to the devil’), from Hamas to Al Jazeera – can all calm down. The Palestinians did not really give up.”

“But maybe yes? Surely it cannot be that the Guardian would publish a giant headline declaring that “Palestinians agreed that only 10,000 refugees could return to Israel”. This is, after all, a serious newspaper. In the same article, on the newspaper’s website, there appears a link to the Palestinian document which supposedly indicates the compromise. Just like the links on this blog. Except that following the link does not lead to any document which indicates Palestinian compromise. Nothing. I thought this must be a mistake. Mistakes are, after all, human. On this blog too there were broken links, readers complained, and the mistakes were mended. Except that it has been months since the publication. One could assume that someone pointed out to the Guardian that something was wrong. Surely I cannot be the first.”

“Caution prompted me to approach Ian Black, the Guardian’s Middle East editor. Not only does his name appear upon the specific article, but also on many reprimands of Israel in wake of the leaked papers. Even if he is not pro-Israel, Black is considered a serious journalist. He is far removed from the venomous hostility of Robert Fisk of the Independent or Gideon Levy of Ha’aretz. I asked Black: where does your amazing headline about only 10,000 refugees come from? I sent him the research which claims otherwise. I hoped that he would provide me with some proof. After all, if the information published is correct, we are talking about a historic turn-around. Black chose not to respond. I went to the trouble of looking myself and well, there is a document in which Erekat claims that the Palestinians agreed to 15,000 refugees per year, over a period of ten years, to return to Israel. There are two problems with this document. Firstly, the document is directed at the Europeans, when Netanyahu was already in power, in order to present the Palestinians as moderates.  And secondly, the document contains a land mine which deals with a renewable right. And thirdly, in all the documents, at the relevant time during the negotiations, it is made clear in no uncertain terms that the right of return is a personal right ‘which is not subject to any negotiation whatsoever’, and in other documents the Palestinians even try to define the ‘absorption ability’ of Israel in a scientific manner, reaching a number of 1,016,511 refugees. Some display of moderateness.”

“The central character in the story is Erekat. He tricks everyone and becomes, wondrously, the moderate man. And so the Guardian, in another headline, which supposedly proves the previous one, announces another dramatic about-turn. Once more I approached the source and once more it turned out not to have been. ‘Palestinian negotiators accept  Jewish state, papers reveal’. So where does the headline come from? Well, Erekat told Livni exactly what Abu Mazen claimed when he wanted to explain why he would not accept the demand: ‘define yourselves as you wish’. Between this play on words and the recognition of Israel as the Jewish State – the road is very long. But we can rely on the Guardian. It is obliged to present the Palestinians as moderates in order to be able to present the Israelis as intransigent.”

….

“So how and why was it possible to invent for us one of the biggest scams of the diplomatic [peace] process? Well, Al Jazeera’s aim was to embarrass the Palestinian Authority. At the Guardian the aim was to embarrass Israel. All in order to claim that the papers reveal the depth of Palestinian  concessions which were rejected by Israel’. The scam worked, and not only Ha’aretz joined in; I too was persuaded that we were talking about signs of change.”

“A Palestinian about-face, if it really did happen, would be worthy of all praise. There is no about-face and it is a pity that there isn’t. There is a scam and that is worthy of exposure.”

Ben Dror Yemini is an experienced political journalist and by no means a naive man, but like a considerable number of Israelis he is perhaps guilty of doing what many of us, particularly on the Left of the political map, have been doing to some extent for several years – projecting our own hopes and aspirations onto others and grasping at every straw which seems to hint that a new dawn is just around the corner. That is perhaps natural after so many years of conflict, so much bloodshed and despair, but it does not absolve us from the responsibility of proper examination of the catalysts of our raised hopes, or their source.

As for his realisation of the extent of the role played by the Guardian in the ‘Palestine Papers’ affair, and the motivations behind that – well, better late than never.

To paraphrase the British television advert for a well-known chain of opticians: ‘should have gone to CiF Watch’.

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