Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Shamelessness of the New York Times

I suppose one can never be surprised at the disingenuous coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the New York Times in general, and that by Ethan Bronner and Isabel Kershner in particular.  Still, today's lead story--lead story, mind you--on the apparent political reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas baldly asserts that "The Fatah-led Palestinian Authority has negotiated for a two-state solution with Israel, whereas Hamas says Israel has no right to exist and continues to fire rockets at Israeli towns."

       First, the implied suggestion that Hamas, out of the blue, fires rockets at Israeli towns, apparently for no other reason than to deny Israel's right to exist, is the usual distortion of a much more complex and even murky situation.  By contrast, here's how the military correspondents of Haaretz covered the story:

March 23, 2011

"A small war is starting along Gaza border," by Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff

"Israeli communities near the border are receiving a daily dose of mortars and rockets, and the Israel Air Force has been attacking Gaza. What began as a local escalation is steadily transforming into a broader conflict that the sides will apparently have difficulty stopping....The current tensions began exactly a week ago when Israel launched an air attack on a Hamas base in the ruins of the settlement of Netzarim, killing two Hamas men. That attack came in response to a Qassam fired from Gaza that landed in an open area. Hamas then responded with a barrage of 50 mortars on communities south of the Gaza Strip. But on Monday evening Israel launched a series of air attacks in which a number of Hamas militants were wounded." (emphasis added)


Subsequent Haaretz news stories suggested that many of the rockets may have been fired by Islamic Jihad, not Hamas--and while Hamas has tight control over Gaza, it is not absolute--in the past Islamic Jihad has defied Hamas policies.

But far worse is the statement that "Hamas says Israel has no right to exist."  At best, that is a child's version of reality; at worst, it amounts to a deliberate distortion of a far more complex, or if you prefer, ambiguous situation.  Actually, what I really believe is that it amounts to a lie, since there can be no doubt that Bronner and Kershner know that "Hamas says" much more than "Israel has no right to exist."

If I may cite myself, here's what I have written on the issue, in the context of discussing what alternatives Israel had to its "Cast Lead" attack on Gaza at the end of 2008.

"The best way for Israel to have ended the rocket attacks would have been to negotiate a political settlement with Hamas. The record leaves no doubt that Israel made no attempt at such negotiations before it attacked Gaza, despite a number of indications that Hamas was becoming increasingly amenable to a reasonable political settlement.

Well before the Israeli attack, there were reasons to believe that Hamas might be about to follow in the footsteps of Yasir Arafat’s PLO, as well as of many other radical movements that became much more moderate when they had countries to run. To be sure, prior to the Israeli attack on Gaza, there were no guarantees that Hamas would duplicate the evolution of the PLO, for it had not repudiated its anti-Semitic founding ideology and 1988 charter, which explicitly states that it is a religious obligation to eliminate Israel and the Jews from the Islamic holy land. Nonetheless, there had been a number of indications that Hamas was moving towards a pragmatic, if reluctant, acceptance of the realities of Israeli power and was becoming increasingly amenable to a de facto if not de jure two-state political settlement.

* In January 2006 Hamas published its official platform for the upcoming Palestinian parliamentary election; it included no language calling for the destruction of Israel and the creation of an Islamic state in all of Palestine..... Shortly after Hamas won the election Ismael Haniyeh, the new Gazan prime minister, sent a written message to George Bush, offering a truce for many years in exchange for a compromise political settlement; the Bush administration did not reply to this and additional overtures.

*Soon afterwards, Hamas began to go public with its new position. For example, in May 2006 Haniyeh told Haaretz that the Hamas government would agree to a long-term truce with Israel if it withdrew to the 1967 lines, and a few months later he told an American scholar that “We have no problem with a sovereign Palestinian state over all of our lands within the 1967 borders, living in calm.” In the same year, Khaled Meshal, one of the most militant Hamas leaders, said that Hamas could not oppose the unified Arab stance, expressed in an Arab League summit conference, which offered Israel full recognition and normalized relations in exchange for a full Israel withdrawal from the occupied territories and a solution to the refugee problem.

*Of particular importance was a May 2006 joint statement of senior Hamas and Fatah members who were imprisoned in Israel. The prestigious “Prisoner’s Declaration” went much further than the earlier Hamas overtures: abandoning the previous ambiguities, it called for the establishment of a Palestinian state “in all the lands occupied in 1967,” and reserved the use of armed resistance only in those territories.

*In yet another significant indication that Hamas was moving towards the moderate position of Abbas’s Palestinian Authority government in the West Bank, in March 2007 Hamas and the PA formed a national unity government to negotiate with Israel; Hamas officials stated at the time that they agreed that Abbas should play the leading role in any negotiations.

*Throughout 2008 Hamas’ political position continued to evolve, including that of its hardliners. In particular, in April 2008 Meshal publicly announced his support of a ten-year truce if Israel withdrew to the 1967 borders.

Israel and its U.S. ally ignored all these overtures or contemptuously termed them “tricks.” It is undeniable that prior to the Israeli attack the Hamas position still contained ambiguities and inconsistencies. Yet, well before the Israeli attack on Gaza, the general direction was clear, and in historic terms the evolution had been rapid, as indeed was acknowledged by some former high-level Israeli government officials. For example, in late 2006 Yossi Alpher, a former deputy head of the Mossad and a pillar of the Israeli establishment, wrote: “Hamas’ conditions for a long-term hudna or ceasefire…are almost too good to be true. Refugees and right of return and Jerusalem can wait for some other process; Hamas will suffice with the 1967 borders, more or less, and in return will guarantee peace and quiet for ten, 25 or 30 years of good neighborly relations and confidence-building.”

Ami Ayalon, the former head of the Shin Bet, and Ephraim Halevy, the former head of Mossad and the national security adviser in Ariel Sharon’s 2002-03 government, also argued strongly for negotiations with Hamas. In particular, shortly before the Israeli attack Halevy argued that Hamas militants “have recognized…[their] ideological goal is not attainable and will not be in the foreseeable future.” Instead, “they are ready and willing to see the establishment of a Palestinian state in the temporary borders of 1967…[and] they know that the moment a Palestinian state is established with their cooperation, they will be obligated to change the rules of the game: they will have to adopt a path that could lead them far from their original ideological goals.” Halevy concluded, dryly, that “Israel, for reasons of its own, did not want to turn the ceasefire into the start of a diplomatic process with Hamas.”

Since Cast Lead, there is no evidence that Hamas has abandoned its probable pragmatic willingness to settle for a two-state settlement, though it can scarcely be expected to announce it daily, faced with the utter rejectionism of Netanyahu and the no-bottom political cowardice/fatuity (choose your own characterization) of the Obama administration.


fuster said...

quoting yourself is fine, but few people agree with you that negotiating with Hamas was the best way to end the rocket attacks because few people believe that Hamas was then open to direct negotiation and a written and unambiguous agreement with Israel on terms that would be mutually satisfactory.

had Hamas been willing to directly negotiate, the expired six-month truce might have worked better than it did.

Jerome Slater said...

That "few people agree with me" is a non-sequitur. I presented the facts of Hamas's position--if you can't challenge the facts, whether you "agree" with them or not is irrelevant.

fuster said...

you're not presenting facts as much as you are offering an interpretation of Hamas intentions. what facts are there that support the contention that Hamas would sit with the Israelis and reach a clear deal.

all the facts say otherwise. they said often that they would not engage in direct negotiations and as far as I know, they still have not.

as I said, the truce that expired was a result of indirect negotiation and unclear terms.

your statement about the "best way" would be arguable, but it's hard to hold it out as any way because it was only a very remote possibility.

CK MacLeod said...

What any of us can really say with certainty about any of the participants and their positions is minimal.

So I think JS is right that the NYT oversimplified. Language more precise than they used in the 20th paragraph summary should at least have acknowledged the elments of "complexity" in Hamas' public diplomacy.

On the other hand, I think fuster's right that Hamas has at most introduced elements of ambiguity in its stated and re-stated fundamental commitments. You might even call it "possible ambiguity," of exactly the sort that those suspicious of Hamas intentions can easily interpret as intended for the gullible. (In ONE-STATE, TWO-STATE, Benny Morris also refers to "child"-ish naivete, but he attributes it to the people taking JS's position regarding what Hamas is after and capable of, and why it's as strong as it is.) Anything further on Hamas's part would upset major elements of their own political-military coalition - which of course extends well beyond the OT. You think Iran views Hamas' positioning the same way some Western liberals do? A clear abandonment of maximal aims would also put Hamas even more directly in conflict with independent extremists.

I'm sure you both remember the hoops that Arafat had to leap through on revising the PLO charter and staying the magic words, and you're also probably aware that he didn't find it very difficult when it suited his purposes to re-ambiguate or even fully retreat, at least rhetorically and in key respects symbolically, from recognition. You can take the position that he and later Abbas were fully justified - in some moral sense if not necessarily a practical one - to reject or fail to counter meaningfully the Barak-Clinton or Olmert deals, but that still leaves you with uncertainty even about what the PA really would be ready to deliver even if Hamas decided to defer to them completely, much less about what the PA would ever have been able to deliver in reality, or about what a unified Palestinian movement would be able to accept.

I'm not saying I'm totally hopeless about this new development breaking the logjam. I've often thought the Israelis should have given a lot more thought to negotiating on the basis of a Hudna, and let Hamas dream whatever it wants about someday re-capturing "every inch" of Palestine for the Umma.

Jerome Slater said...

"I've often thought the Israelis should have given a lot more thought to negotiating on the basis of a Hudna, and let Hamas dream whatever it wants about someday re-capturing "every inch" of Palestine for the Umma."

Exactly right. Nobody needs to speculate about what Hamas would or wouldn't do, if they were put to the test: the point is that they have repeatedly signaled they were not committed to the charter nonsense and were interested in some kind of deal--only to be met by Israeli and American stonewalling.

I happen to think that if the Israelis were prepared to negotiate with Hamas that an acceptable settlement could be reached, for the signs of Hamas pragmatism are strong, even though not unambiguously so.

So, put them to the test. The idea that you shouldn't negotiate with terrorists is particularly enraging when it comes from Israel, for all the obvious reasons.

fuster said...

---The idea that you shouldn't negotiate with terrorists is particularly enraging---

that's not the problem and shouldn't be enraging. it's just a simple untruth. the Israelis negotiate with Hamas.
when they engaged in the indirect negotiation with Hamas that set up the six-month ceasefire. they thought that they had, as part of that deal, set up further negotiation that would result in the release of Shalit.

since finding out that they hadn't they're still trading proposals for a prisoner swap with Hamas, still indirectly.

the choice for indirect, rather than face-to-face, negotiation might not be Israel's.

Jerome Slater said...

Oh, come on, fuster: You're just playing with words, and obscuring the important point. Those who decry Israel's refusal to negotiate with Hamas are referring to its refusal to engage in political negotiations to see if a settlement is possible. Even as we speak Netanyahu is proclaiming that it may no longer be possible for Israel even to negotiate with Abbas, let alone Hamas, if Hamas becomes part of the Palestinian government.

If Netanyahu doesn't convince you that the Israelis refuse to negotiate--meaningfully, and on the major issues--then it is hard to see what would.

fuster said...

Jerome, much as Bibi and his cabinet turns my stomache, where the heck do you get off saying that the he, rather than Hamas, is the one refusing to negotiate?

what is it that you see as up for negotiation betweenIsrael and Hamas?
what is it upon which they can agree and allow themselves to settle in comfort as neighbors?

no matter how you read tea leaves about the "maturation" of Hamas as an organization now, I still don't see what you can point to as their pragmatic position.
how have they changed from 2008 when they called on Israel to unilaterally return to 67 borders and accept the right of return....without negotiation...and in return offer a 50 year truce that would not commit the next generation to acceptance of Israel or peace with Israel?

Sylvia said...

jerome Slater.
Jerome Slater
I have lived with Hamas rockets for the past 10 years. I know hamas. I have read anything Hamas put out, I listen to their radio in Arabic, and they make absolutely no mistery of their ideology and position, they have always been very consistent.
The problem with your article is that there is just too much to challenge. A little more research on your part would have helped weed out at least the obvious to allow to concentrate on the more complex elements.

The NY wording may not seem right to you, but it is correct. And if you read Issacharov carefully, he is not saying anything different.

Jerome Slater said...

This comment by Sylvia is why so many are in despair over the inability of Israelis like her to engage in elementary observation, reasoning, and moral thought. She's lived with Hamas rockets for the past 10 years, but is incapable of connecting it with the Israeli occupation and repression of the Palestinians in general, and Gaza in particular.

And when I point out the verifiable facts of Hamas positions that imply a willingness to negotiate, she doesn't challenge these facts--she just ignores them.

And when I point out that two former heads of Shin Bet and Hamas argue that Hamas can and should be negotiated with, she ignores that as well.

No need to engage with facts or with authoritative positions that differ from hers-- she "knows Hamas."

Sylvia said...

No, it is you, sitting at a computer thousands of miles away, who "knows" Hamas.

'the inability of Israelis like her"
incapable of connecting"
And you know me too already.

I suggest you start reading what Hamas has to say. That eurocentrism will get you nowhere.