Resumption of direct peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders is barely under way and the New York Times already shapes its news coverage to favor the Palestinian side.
Look no farther than the top-of-the-page headline on the article in the Sept. 3 edition, "Settlements In West Bank Are Clouding Peace Talks."
That's almost word for word what Nabil Shaath, a top aide to Mahmoud Abbas, had to say after the first Netanyahu-Abbas negotiating session: "The cloud is still there," he told reporters, according to the Times.. "The Israelis gave absolutely no hopeful signs that they will continue the moratorium (on construction in West Bank setlements) And in our point of view, that is the litmus test for the Israelis."
And evidently that's also the point of view and litmus test for the Times' warped news coverage. Reporters Mark Landler and Helene Cooper follow the Palestinian line at the top of their article by putting the onus for keeping the talks going squarely on Prime Minister Netnayahu -- "The one issue that could sink these talks in three weeks: whether Netanyahu will extend a moratorium on the construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank."
This of course, is exactly the way the Palestinians want to shape the news to suit their interests -- to hold the talks hostage to a one-sided Israeli concession right at the start.
But fair, even-handed journalism would have required that the Times reporters immediately couple Abbas's walkout threat with the Israeli position, which is that settlements are a final-status issue and will be on the negotiating table -- but not in isolation from other issues that matter greatly to the Israeli side. Fair, even-handed journalism also would have required the Times to note that the Obama administration has insisted all along that the direct talks proceed without pre-conditions, which accords more with Netanyahu's views.
But neither the headline nor the article offers Times readers an equable picture of the start of direct negotiations.
As in any negotiations, each side starts off with demands totally unacceptable to the other side. So at this juncture, fair reporting requires a no-favors-to-either-side perspective -- a stance sadly missing from the Times' account.
While the Palestinian side gets top play, the Israeli side is relegated to a spot far down in the article, in fact after it jumps to another page. Only then, when many readers already may have turned to other articles, does the Times deign to report that, in view of the killings this week of four Israelis by Hamas in the West Bank, Netanyahu declared that security will be at the top of his agenda.
This sadly doesn't rate a headline, but instead gets back-of-the-bus treatment by the New York Times. One could easily argue that Hamas's terrorist attacks on Israelis in the West Bank two days in a row just before the start of negotiations bode worse for the outcome of the talks than whether Israel will let a construction freeze end as scheduled on Sept. 26.
The latter issue can be finessed. The shedding of Jewish blood by terrorists committed to Israel's destruction cannot.