Scare Headlines on Israel
The Jan. 30 headlines in the New York Times and the Washington Post must have left readers to conclude that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's governing coalition could fall apart at any moment and, with it, further peace negotiations.
"Tension Builds in Israeli Coalition at a Critical Juncture in Peace Talks," reads the headline in the Times. The Post weighs in with "In Israel, peace-deal worries fuel spat."
William Booth, the Post's Jerusalem correspondent, leads off his article with a "nasty little war of words" between Netanyahu and one of his ministers that "exposed the deep anxiety permeating Israeli politics over the prospect of peace with the Palestinians," a crisis that "threatened to break up Netanyahu's ruling coalition." Pretty scary stuff.
Not to be outdone, Jodi Rudoren, the Times' Jerusalem bureau chief, weighs in with a report of "open hostility" between Bibi and a cabinet minister "threatening to reshape Israel's governing coalition at a critical juncture of the American-brokered peace talks with the Palestinians." Pouring it on, Rudoren goes on to warn that political dynamics in Israel have become a "fatal obstacle to any peace deal" what with "cracks in the coalition."
What, pray tell, is going on?
Well, earlier in the week, Netanyahu indicated that under a two-state solution, West Bank settlers might be given the option of remaining in "Palestine" instead of being forced to relocate.
Bibi's suggestion drew fire from Naftali Bennett, a fiery right-wing minister, who warned against leaving any Israelis under Palestinian rule. Several members of Netanyahu's own Likud party also voiced strong opposition.
But the crisis didn't last long. Forty-eight hours at most. Bennett said he was sorry that some of his more incendiary remarks offended the prime minister. And this was taken as sufficient contrition.
As Booth himself acknowledges, two paragraphs below his Armageddon forecast, it really was no more than "rough-and-tumble Israeli politics as usual." In fact, Booth lowers the temperature even more in the final paragraph of his piece -- with "crisis over." At the Times, Rudoren concedes that Netanyahu has ample room to reshape his coalition with new partners should Bennett leave the coalition. Bennett, however, shows no inclination to defect.
So, a tempest in a teapot. But the scary headlines, of course, tell a different, doom-and-gloom tale. Still, there's an important lesson to be drawn from this warped kind of coverage. Whatever coalition tensions there may be in Israel's fractious politics, they pale in comparison to the tensions and fierce divisions in Palestinian politics between Abbas's Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas's iron-fisted rule in Gaza.
Yet, where are the New York Times and Washington Post articles about deep splits on the Palestinian side that clearly threaten the peace process far more than a short-lived political "crisis" in Israel? Why do Booth and Rudoren avert their eyes from this real obstacle to achieving a lasting two-state solution?