June 7, 2009
Obama criticizes NY Times coverage of his Israeli-Palestinian agenda
Something strange is going on between the President of the United States and the newspaper that sets the agenda for the liberal media.
On June 5, President Obama, at a joint news conference with German Chancellor Merkel in Dresden, said the following:
"You know, a lot of attention has been given to my statement that the Israelis need to stop settlement construction."What's been interesting is that less attention has been focused on the insistence on my part that the Palestinian and the Arab states have to take very concrete actions."When it comes to the Palestinians, we know what they're supposed to be doing. They have to continue to make progress on security in the West Bank."They have to deal with incitement issues. There's still a tendency, even within -- among Palestinians who say they are interested in peace with Israel, to engage in statements that are -- that incite a hatred of Israel or are not constructive to the peace process. Now I think, to his credit, President Abbas has made progress on this issue -- but not enough."We still have not seen a firm commitment from the Palestinian Authority that they can control some of the border areas that Israel is going to be very concerned about if there were to be a two-state solution. There are still problems of corruption and mismanagement with the Authority that have to be addressed."So there are going to be a whole set of things having to do with the Palestinians' ability to govern effectively and maintain security. And if they're not solved, Israelis are going to have trouble moving forward."And the Arab states, what I'd like to see is indicators that they are willing, if Israel makes tough commitments, to also make some hard choices that will allow for an opening of commerce, diplomatic exchanges between Israel and its neighbors."
Now, it takes little guesswork to figure out who Obama had in mind when he complained that insufficient attention has been paid to his insistence that "very concrete actions" are needed on the part of the Palestinians and Arab states. If the shoe fits -- and it certainly does -- the New York Times is Exhibit One.
Because when Obama spoke in Dresden, the Times was out with coverage of his Cairo speech in its June 5 editions. That coverage focused exclusively on Obama's criticism of Israeli settlements and was totally silent about his stress that Palestinians and Arab states have corresponding obligations under the road map, including an end to terrorism and an end to anti-Israel incitement. The Times also omitted any Obama mention of the need for better, corruption-free governance on the part of the Palestinian Authority.
Obama gets the Times every morning and the Times prides itself on the fact that it sets the news agenda for many other media. So when the president publicly airs his chagrin at deficient coverage of his road map prescriptions for ALL players -- not just Israel -- it's clear to whom he's principally referring. He didn't have to single out the Times by name, just as he didn't have to single out Ahmadinejad by name when he excoriated Holocaust deniers. In each case, the culprit is self-evident.
The Times did no better in coverage of Obama's Mideast agenda in its June 6 editions -- after Obama conveyed his complaints about media coverage.
In a date-line Dresden article by Jeff Zeleny and Michael Kulish, they reprise the Times' principal focus on settlements by alluding in the 4th paragraph to Obama's "forceful opposition to expanding existing settlements on the West Bank." Not only is this one-sided Israel-bashing, but it also hits the wrong target. Obama's quarrel with Israel is not about "expanding existing settlements." Netanyahu and his predecessor already have frozen existing settlements within their boundaries. The dispute is over a far smaller issue -- whether Israel should or shout not build additional homes within existing settlements.
In the 5th paragraph, the article then reports that Obama is asking Israel and the Palestinians to "make difficult compromises," but still says nothing about what exactly Obama wants Palestinians to do, even though he spelled it out in extensive detail in his Dresden remarks.
Not until the 6th paragraph -- two paragraphs down from Obama's "forceful opposition" to settlements -- is there, a brief cursory reference to Obama saying that Palestinians need to "get serious about creating a security environment that is required for Israelis to feel confident."
And that's the sum total of the Times' treatment of what Obama regards as critically essential confidence-building moves by the Palestinian and Arab sides. No mention in the Times' June 6 editions about Obama pressing Abbas to put an end to anti-Israel incitement. No mention that Obama said that the PA remains beset by "corruption and mismanagement" No mention of Obama's admonition that, if Abbas fails to take all these steps, "Israelis are going to have trouble moving forward."
What Obama is trying to convey -- and the Times refuses to report -- is that all the players -- Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab states -- have to move simultaneously and concurrently under the 2003 Bush road map.
The Times usually believes Obama. Why not in this instance?
Compounding the Times' skewed coverage is a companion analysis piece by Jerusalem bureau chief Ethan Bronner in the June 6 editions, headlined "Obama Pins Mideast Hope on Limiting Settlements." The headline says it all: The onus is entirely on Israel's back -- the opposite of what Obama has just said in Dresden and what he said the day before in Cairo.
Ignoring Obama's own words, Bronner quotes unidentified "American officials" as saying that "by getting Israel to freeze settlement building, they can then press Saudi Arabia and other Arab states to offer Israel concession like low-level trade and tourism."
Thus, Bronner uses unidentified American officials to allege that Obama wants Israel to move first, all by its own lonesome self, with concessions, so he can later on lobby the Saudis to reciprocate -- the very opposite of what the president himself has been trying to convey for the last two days by calling on all parties to move concurrently, as the road map requires. Obama is lobbying the Saudis now to be forthcoming, without waiting for resolution of the settlement dispute.
To buttress his false thesis, Bronner relies first and foremost on Yossi Beilin, former head of Israel's ultra-left, peace-at-any-price Meretz party, and on an analyst of the far-left Haaretz newspaper. Reliance on such experts naturally produces a result in keeping with Bronner's and the Times' own agenda -- notwithstanding Obama's please to the Times and other media to please finally get it straight.
The Times has a well-established record of accepting Obama statements at face value. Why not in this instance?