NY Times 'Roughly' Wrong about Mahmoud Abbas

Sometimes, a single word can make a whole lot of difference. Witness the way Jodi Rudoren, the Jerusalem bureau chief of the New York Times, goes to extra length to fashion a statesmanlike image of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, showing him prepared to show flexibility in hammering out a two-state deal.

In a Jan. 29 article about Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Rudoren reports that, when it comes to borders, Abbas wants to establish a Palestinian state "roughly along the 1967 lines with East Jerusalem at its capital." Her formulation leaves the distinct impression that Abbas might be willing to accept some alterations of the 1967 lines, perhaps land swaps, to make a deal more palatable to Israel. After all, Rudoren has Abbas declaring that he only wants borders "roughly" along the 1967 lines. ("Palestinian Leader Says He Can Accept Israeli Military in West Bank for 3 Years" page A9)

Except, Abbas' pronouncements of unchanging Palestinian territorial demands for statehood don't include "roughly" as a qualifier. That's a little word Rudoren adds to present Abbas and his demands in a more favorable light. Rather than showing flexibility, Abbas actually shows no sign of bending. He remains unyielding.

His most explicit remarks on Palestinian borders can be found in his address to the UN General Assembly on Sept. 26 of last year. In that speech, Abbas declared that he will settle for nothing less than "all of the Palestinian lands occupied in 1967." Not "roughly all" but "all."

And to make his meaning and objective crystal-clear, Abbas reiterated in the same speech that a two-state solution must include "Palestine and Israel on the borders of 4 June, 1967." Not "roughly" on the 1967 lines.

Using the 1967 lines for borders, of course, is something totally unacceptable to Israel. It would mean ceding to a Palestinian state the entire West Bank and all of East Jerusalem, including the "Old City" of Jerusalem, Temple Mount and the Western Wall, Judaism's most sacred shrines. When the 1967 lines actually prevailed during Jordan's 19-year occupation, Jews were barred from praying at the Western Wall -- a repeat prospect not exactly bound to evoke cheers in Israel today.

Rudoren apparently realizes that such Palestinian claims are non-starters, and thus injects that little world "roughly" to make Abbas seem more flexible than he really is. It's a semantic potion -- a bit like Mary Poppins chanting "a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down."

Thus do Rudoren and the Times try to hoodwink readers into believing that Abbas isn't as intransigent as he really is. A single word -- "roughly" -- will do it.

And as far as Rudoren's lead about Abbas's readiness to accept an Israeli military presence in the West Bank for 3 years, that too is ballyhooed as a positive breakthrough. Except, no mention by Rudoren that, in the fourth year of a withdrawal from the West Bank, Israel would be just as vulnerable as it has been since pulling out of Gaza.

Middle East realities unfortunately get short shrift in "news" dispatches of the New York Times.

Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers