The New York Times and the Peace Process Blame Game

Well folks, April 29th is finally here and you know that must mean two things 1) The deadline for the 9-month US-mediated peace talks convened last summer has arrived and 2) The New York Times has published its definitive write-up of why the talks failed.

The New York Times article, unimaginatively entitled “Arc of a Failed Deal: How Nine Months of Mideast Talks Ended in Disarray” leaves much to be desired. However, if the measure of an article is whether or not it tells you everything you need to know in the lede, well, this one passes the test:

There were late-night video conferences with Secretary of State John Kerry, including one from beneath mosquito netting in an Indonesian hotel. Mr. Kerry met a total of 34 times with President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, and about twice that with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.

Once you get past the lousy attempt at romanticism in the first sentence -the kind of writing that suggest the authors are simply trying too hard – the second tells you more about US-mediation of the peace process and why it perpetually fails than anything else you will read in the rest of the piece. US mediation of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks is about Washington conferring with the Israelis about how to best support their positions.

But the most revealing part of the article is not about what it tells us about Israel, Palestine or Washington but rather what it tells us about the New York Times‘ coverage of the entire issue. As you get to the end of the piece and the chronology that brings us to today, we are treated to this hogwash:

As the March 29 deadline approached for releasing the final prisoners, a lingering problem re-emerged. Mr. Kerry had allowed the Palestinians to believe Arab-Israeli citizens would be among those freed without securing such a commitment from Mr. Netanyahu. The Israelis said no one would be let go unless talks were extended.

Mr. Kerry dangled the prospect of freeing Jonathan J. Pollard, the American convicted of spying for Israel, despite White House reservations. But on April 1, even as Mr. Netanyahu was gathering votes for the new deal, an old tender for 708 apartments in East Jerusalem’s Gilo, was republished. Soon Mr. Abbas was on television signing documents to join the international conventions.

Still they kept talking. Negotiators barely slept for three weeks. Last Tuesday, the latest package was presented at a meeting variously described as “serious,” “positive” and “excellent.”

“We had ups and downs: One day if you would ask me I would tell you it’s going to happen, the next day I would tell you it’s not going to happen,” one Israeli said. That Tuesday, he added, “we felt maybe we are going to make it. They asked, ‘Let’s meet the next day.’ ”

But the next day, Palestine Liberation Organization leaders held hands aloft with those from Hamas. Israel immediately canceled the scheduled negotiating session, and 24 hours later, froze talks indefinitely.

You got that? The Kerry-led peace process, we are told by the authors and an Israeli (no Palestinians), was on the verge of a breakthrough until BAM, the Hamas-PLO deal happened and that’s how the cookie jar crumbled, or, as Secretary Kerry put it about a month ago, POOF.

What parallel universe to Jodi Rudoren and Isabel Kershner live in to see things this way?

One has to wonder whether people living in that parallel universe get the New York Times because if they do, they too would be surprised by this narrative. According to the text above, “last Tuesday” (April 22) there was serious hope for a break through. Well, someone ought to tell Jodi Rudoren and Isabel Kershner about the status of talks that Jodi Rudoren and Isabel Kershner were reporting just last Tuesday.

Here is what Jodi Rudoren was reporting about the status of the talks on April 22:

At the beginning of the Passover holiday last week, an Israeli police commander was fatally shot as he and his family drove to a Seder in a West Bank settlement. The day after his funeral,Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met for several hours trying to reach an agreement to extend American-brokered peace negotiations past the April 29 deadline. The negotiators are expected to reconvene this week, amid renewed threats by Palestinian leaders that they might dissolve the Palestinian Authority, forcing Israel to take responsibility for its residents. 

Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman for the State Department, warned Monday against “that type of extreme step.” Noting that the United States had contributed “millions of dollars” to help build Palestinian institutions, she said a dissolution of the authority “would obviously have very serious implications for our relationship, including our assistance going forward.”

Here is what Isabel Kershner reported about the status of the talks on April 22:

The threat to dissolve the authority was seen by Israeli and Palestinian experts alike as brinkmanship on Mr. Abbas’s part, reflecting both how wide the gulf remains between the Palestinians’ and Israelis’ positions in the negotiations and the difficulty of the last-ditch effort to extend them beyond April 29.

The peace talks, which began last summer, have been on the verge of collapse since late March, when Israel missed a deadline for releasing a fourth group of Palestinian prisoners. The Palestinian side responded by applying to join 15 international treaties and conventions in defiance of Israel.

“Extreme steps”, “serious implications”, “how wide the gulf remains”, “last-ditch effort”, “verge of collapse”, that was the language around April 22nd to describe the state of the process as reported by the same New York Times journalists who now want you to believe – ONE WEEK LATER – that they were actually on the cusp of a breakthrough…..until the Hamas-PLO deal.

The article that was written today was meant to be a definitive one. One that sets a narrative about what transpired and who is to blame. It was not written last night but has been in the works for some time. The New York Times misrepresented reality by bringing this article to conclusion in this way, leaving readers with the impression that if not for this one Palestinian move, things would have worked out quite differently. There is a lot more reported in the piece about this comment or that, this stance or that, this announcement or that, over the 9-month period. But when the reader gets to the end of the chronology, they are lead to believe the blame lies squarely on the Palestinians for the failure.

Frankly, to attempt this sort of thing the New York Times has to take its readers for idiots. Who’s going to notice, they must think? Perhaps people that read your own newspaper and your own reporting by the same reporters reporting this story.

I’ve raised many concerns about bias in the New York Times before, and recently the public editor at the New York Times took up some of them. This is yet another indication of the New York Times and its reporters in Israel carrying water for an Israeli government that simply can not afford to be blamed for the failure of peace talks even though anyone with half a brain can see that’s the case.