In the context of the long Guardian history of anti-Israel venom, the following passage in a piece by their Jerusalem correspondent Oliver Holmes is hardly among the most egregious examples. Yet, it’s an apt illustration of one of their consistent patterns of bias: myopic coverage that focuses almost entirely on Israel whilst erasing Palestinians.
The article “Donald Trump’s peace conference will fail, Palestinian say”, May 20, notes Palestinians’ rejection of the US sponsored “Peace to Prosperity” workshop to be held in Bahrain next month, and includes the following background:
Expectations for a successful agreement are low. The Palestinians, citing Trump’s pro-Israel bias, have pre-emptively rejected US mediation and it is not clear if a delegation will attend. Meanwhile, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, has expressed open disdain for peace efforts and categorically ruled out a Palestinian state.
First, whilst it’s at least arguable that Netanyanu has effectively ruled out a Palestinian state, the claim by Holmes that he has expressed “open disdain for peace efforts” is extremely misleading. Though Netanyahu was a long critic of the Oslo Peace Process, his skepticism didn’t prevent him, during his first stint as prime minister, from agreeing to significant Oslo-related territorial withdrawals – The Wye River Memorandum and the Hebron Protocols.
Further, during the Obama Administration, Netanyahu not only consistently agreed to engage in US sponsored talks without preconditions, but also implemented an unprecedented 10 month settlement freeze to induce Mahmoud Abbas to come to the table. Despite this Israeli concession, Abbas still refused to participate in talks for the first nine months of the 10 month freeze, “leaving virtually no time for substantive progress before the freeze expired”.
When US peace efforts resumed several years later, after John Kerry became Secretary of State, Abbas again demanded preconditions before he agreed to talks – the release of over 100 pre-Oslo prisoners – all of whom were convicted of violent terror offences. Though Netanyahu agreed to this Palestinian demand, talks broke down in 2014.
However, even prior to Netanyahu becoming prime minister, Abbas had shown “open disdain” for the peace process in rejecting a comprehensive offer by Ehud Olmert that would have given the Palestinians almost everything they wanted: a contiguous state in almost all of the West Bank, 100% of Gaza and a capital in east Jerusalem.
Would a Palestinian president truly committed to the peace process reject a deal described as the most generous offer the Palestinians could ever hope for? And, would such a ‘pro-peace’ Palestinian president, in subsequent negotiations, require pre-conditions merely to agree to begin talks?
But, of course, Guardian readers wouldn’t even consider such questions, because their Jerusalem correspondent completely ignores Abbas’s role in scuttling peace talks – a ten year history of inflexibility and rejectionism that helps place in proper context their current refusal to participate in US sponsored talks. In his year and half covering the region, Holmes has continued in the long Guardian tradition of erasing Palestinians and their decisions from the story – consistent with a broader pattern of denying Palestinians agency (the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices) that’s normally assigned to adults.
Fair coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict doesn’t merely require more balanced and objective treatment of Israel, but a commitment to taking Palestinians seriously and treating them as more than merely victims.
Here are some questions serious reporters assigned to the region would explore:
- What are the moral beliefs and political ideologies that guide Palestinian society and the decisions of their leaders?
- How have the decisions of Palestinians and their leaders – going back to 1947 – contributed to their current predicament?
- What changes do Palestinians and their leaders need to make to produce different social, economic and political outcomes?
We’re not at all optimistic that the Guardian will head our advice and begin viewing Palestinian decisions as an important factor in analysing the conflict, in part because the ideology the media group is institutionally wedded to demands a narrative in which Palestinians exist solely as passive victims of Israel, the only party that matters.
Until hard left media outlets like the Guardian begin to critically examine their own deeply embedded ideological biases when reporting on the region, we can hardly expect coverage which even minimally examines the impact of Palestinian choices on the ongoing conflict.
- Walter Russell Mead proposes a new path to Israeli-Palestinian peace (UK Media Watch)
- Palestinians rejected statehood three times (CAMERA)
- Hamas again given platform on the BBC’s Hardtalk (BBC Watch)