NY Times wrongly blames Israel for lack of peace talks with Syria, Palestinians

In its March 27 edition, the New York Times runs a news analysis by Mark Landler about likely impacts from the current wave of anti-government protests in Syria  ("Syria's Chaos A Test for U.S." front page).

Referring to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad's killings of his own people, Landler quotes an anonymous senior U.S. official as concluding that Assad, because of his current brutal tactics, "probably disqualified himself as a peace partner for Israel."   A fair assumption.

But Landler then adds,

"Such a prospect had seemed a long shot in any event -- Prime Minister Benajmin Netanyahu had shown no inclination to talk to Mr. Assad -- but the administration kept working at it, sending its special envoy, George Mitchell, on several visits to Damascus." 

Wrong, as far as Netanyahu's record on peace talks with Syria is concerned. Far from showing "no inclination to talk to Mr. Assad," Netanyahu has repeatedly signaled that he was ready and willing to engage in peace negotiations with Assad.  The real hang-up, which Landler fails to mention, was that Assad would only agree to peace talks if, as a pre-condition for the talks, Israel first agreed to return the Golan to Syria.  In other words, Assad would negotiate with Netanyahu only if he got everything he wanted before even coming to the negotiating table.  So who really has shown "no inclination" for peace talks -- Netanyahu who was consistently ready for talks without pre-conditions, or Assad who first wanted to get the Golan back, effectively making such talks superfluous non-starters?

The New York Times blinds itself to the real obstacle that blocked negotiation: the Syrian leader who wouldn't come to the table unless Israel gave him everything beforehand.  Instead, the Times ends up blaming Netanyahu for Assad's blockage of negotiations. 

In the same edition and in the same vein, the Times again slams the wrong target -- Israel -- when it comes to lack of negotiations between the Jewish state  and the Palestinians.  In an article on Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas' meeting with Hamas officials on attempts at reconciliation between the two rival Palestinian groups, Jerusalem Bureau Chief Ethan Bronner points to stalemated talks between Abbas and Netanyahu, and promptly blames Israel for the breakdown in negotiations ("Palestinians Hold Talks on Reconciliation" page 9, front news section).

"Negotiations (between Israel and the Palestinian Authority) have broken down over Israeli settlement building," Bronner writes.  Just as Landler ignored Assad's deal-breaking pre-conditions for talks, Bronner brushes aside Abbas's own deal-breaking pre-conditions -- namely that Israel unilaterally halt all Jewish construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank as the price for resumption of talks.  Never mind that Abbas negotiated without any such pre-conditions with previous Israeli prime ministers and has brought the peace process to a halt with his imperious demands for one-sided Israeli concessions.  At the Times, when it comes to affixing blame for stymied peace negotiations, Israel predictably ends up as the guilty party.