Mahmoud Abbas puts on a propaganda show -- and the NY Times applauds

In its Dec.20 edition, the New York Times features a gushing account of a meeting in Ramallah between Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and some 60 members of Israel's "peace camp" ("Palestinian Leader Has 60 Israelis to Lunch" by Isabel Kershner, page A10).

Kershner's article, splashed over six columns, goes to great lengths to depict the amicable spirit of this cozy get-together -- without casting a critical eye on some of the propaganda whoppers Abbas delivered during lunch.

"Long tables were laid out in the main hall of the Mukata, the presidential compound, and a traditional lunch of lamb and rice was served," Kershner writes.  "Special kosher meals in sealed containers were provided for the Orthodox Jewish delegates."

But when it comes to Abbas's message, as he happily preached to his Israeli choir, Kershner just sops up his remarks at face value -- never mind that any reporter worth his or her professional salt would at least point out their dubious veracity.

"Mr. Abbas outlined the recent history of his inconclusive talks with the previous Israeli government that ended in late 2008," Kershner reports.  "He said that the Palestinians had been prepared to go to Washington in early January 2009 and try to bridge the gaps on border issues, but that Israel had refused because it was in the midst of a three-week military campaign in Gaza."

It was all Israel's fault that the talks collapsed.  There's not another word in Kershner's piece about this ill-fated chapter in Israeli-Palestinian peace-making.  Yet, immediately in response to Abbas's remarks at the lamb-and-rice feast in Ramallah, associates of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the media that Abbas's account was flat untrue.  Olmert had offered Abbas in the fall of 2008 Israel's most generous peace deal ever -- 95 percent of the West Bank, plus land swaps, all of Gaza, a land connector between the two, a division of Jerusalem, and international administration of Jerusalem's holy sites.  According to Olmert's own account, he never got a response from Abbas.  It was Abbas who killed the deal.

Yet, there isn't a scintilla of Olmert's version in Kershner's article -- a gross violation of elementary journalistic standards and the Times' own pledge to give its readers "all the news that's fit to print" -- not just Abbas's version of the truth.

In the same uncritical vein, Kershner sops up Abbas's latest "red line" -- that he will not negotiate with Israel in any form whatsoever without a construction freeze in West Bank settlements and East Jerusalem.  One would think that since Abbas just recalled his potentially promising talks with Olmert that Kershner would point out that Abbas was quite content to enter into extensive negotiations two years ago without any Israeli construction freeze.  Why throw a new hurdle into current peace-making attempts?

But Kershner is not about to dampen the jovial spirit of Abbas's propaganda feast.  After all, as a certified member of the "peace camp" herself, she points out that this was not an occasion to bring up any difficult or inconvenient realities -- "The overall point of Sunday's dialogue was supposed to be less recrimination and more of the possibility of peace based on a two-state solution, which would see the establishment of an independent Palestine alongside Israel," Kershner happily points out.

"Mr. Abbas said that his leadership had ruled out violence and was committed to resolving conflict through peace talks."

Peace at hand, no doubt about it.  After all, you can read it in the New York Times of Dec. 20.
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