One week of Israeli-Palestinian conflict bias-balancing: Conclusions

Day 7: Conclusions

I have spent the past week reading and analysing newspapers from Israel and Palestine to try to make sense of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. By balancing the biases from news media, we can get a good picture of what is going on, what the people think and why things are the way they are.

One unspoken job of the newspapers is to give its readers reasons why they are right. If you believe Palestinians should not have their own state, you read the papers that not only agree with you but give you well-reasoned arguments as to why yours is the only logical position to take on the issue. Thus, when you read other newspapers that say Palestinians deserve sovereignty, you can denounce them dextrously. The newspapers I read, particularly Haaretz, the Jerusalem Post, the Palestine Chronicle, the Alternative Information Centre and Arutz Sheva were very good at telling their readers how to think and why.

All newspapers are biased, though some more obviously than others. It is hard to tell which are the right-wing papers and which are left-wing, as the basic positions are the same. The divisions would be more accurately described as into doves and hawks. I didn’t find as many doves as I expected. I know there are peace activists among Israelis and Palestinians but there is just so much anger that they are clearly fighting an uphill battle. Others, meanwhile, claim to want peace, but since there could never be peace while the other exists, they must be held down or eliminated.

My take on the two-state solution

The biggest issue at play in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is, in my opinion, independence for Palestinians. There are other issues too but they would all be solved if this one was. For example, the right of return of Palestinian refugees. If there was a Palestinian state, it would be able to accommodate them. So the two-state solution is the solution. But it is still a long way off.

Netanyahu’s ideas on a Palestinian state are that, since it is a dangerous tiger, it should have its teeth, claws and one eye removed. Having nominally endorsed the idea of a Palestinian state, he can say he is on the side of the US. However, he has shown his hawkish side is the one he will follow. A Palestinian state must agree to recognise Israel as a Jewish state; a demilitarised Palestinian state; no control over Jerusalem; and Jewish West Bank settlements will keep growing. He made this proposal because he knew Palestinians would reject and get angry at it, making his government look like the peacemakers whose olive branch was rejected by the unreasonable Arabs. He started his speech by saying “Peace has always been our people’s most ardent desire.” What he meant was, Peace for Jews is our desire. If others need to be repressed or killed to secure it, fine.

That said, there is no reason to believe the two-state ideal is dead, as some Palestinian journalists have claimed. Netanyahu will not be in power forever. The Barack administration will keep up the pressure. Jimmy Carter’s point of view is valuable as well. But a viable Palestinian state does, nonetheless, seem a distant prospect.

The Israeli press spends too much time writing about why everything Israel does is right, and why everyone who disagrees with anything it does is wrong. If the newspapers reflect and reinforce public opinion, Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter are hated in some circles of Israeli society. These are the peacemakers. How can Israelis claim they want peace if they shoot the peacemakers? And how can they find solutions if everything is the fault of Arab terrorists?

Israelis in general also need to get over the idea that theirs is the only legitimate claim to the land of Israel. Was there nobody there before the Aliyah? Why do Jews but not Arabs deserve a nation state? There is no reason that Jews, Muslims and Christians, Jains, Daoists, dogs and monkeys cannot all live in harmony in Israel. All it requires is accepting that our group is no better than theirs.

How should Palestinian leaders proceed? Being far less powerful than the Israeli state, Palestinian leaders might be better to commit to non-violent resistance and creative solutions. I know, I know, in the face of aggression, one wants to be aggressive. I can understand the Intifada and the radical groups and the anger and bitterness of the Palestinians. But violence by Palestinians has two major consequences. First, it means retaliation, and if the blockade of and war in Gaza were any guide, violence is just not worth it. The Israeli Defence Forces should have made that clear. Second, it means less international sympathy for the people committing violence. If the Palestinians can play the peaceful yet oppressed minority, they could garner the support needed for recognition of their plight, and the world would put enough pressure on Israel to give them their own state. Or perhaps that is already the case and the result is not statehood but the status quo. Perhaps everyone needs to work harder to achieve peace.

The media can play the role of the hawk, by presenting narrow views and arguments that never compromise, or it can play the role of the dove, by presenting a variety of viewpoints, each one reasonable, from people of all ideologies in the conflict. Too many play the hawk. More critical thinking, more balanced biases, and more recognition of the legitimate claims of the other are the only way to achieve peace.

One week reading Israeli and Palestinian newspaper bias

Day 6

Today we will start by looking at an Israeli paper, then a Palestinian one, then one that claims neutrality.

Yedioth Ahronoth

Wikipedia calls Yedioth Ahronoth (“latest news” in Hebrew) the most widely circulated paper in Israel since the 1970s. It gives right- and left-wing commentary, though it is seen as more of a tabloid than a newspaper.

The big news today is Netanyahu’s speech at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. He will be laying his policies out plain, they say. They also say he will give his support to the idea of a Palestinian state, but that it must be a demilitarised state. How a demilitarised state could keep its independence I do not know. The leader writes of this and shows photographs of protestors. In one, some women are holding signs saying “NO settlements/apartheid wall/Gaza siege”, and in another photo, counterpoint to the first, people are waving Israeli flags and holding a banner in Hebrew that I can’t read, but which the article reliably informs me reads “Barack Hussein Obama – an anti-Semite and hater of Jews”.

The next headline reads “Iran reformists: annul vote”. “Ahmadinejad rivals Mousavi, Karroubi say they will file an appeal to annul ‘illegitimate’ results of nationwide election”. Well, if you like. I doubt it would do anything. In the Israeli press, the assumption is that the Iranian election was rigged and fraudulent. I wonder if it really was. An op-ed embed in this story asks “The beginning of the end? Young Iranians may topple Ayatollah regime in wake of elections fiasco.” It should have been titled “Wishful thinking? Israelis hope young Iranians will topple the Ayatollah”.

You see, if all you read is Israeli newspapers, you will probably just presume the vote was fraudulent, along with the fact that Iran is about to declare nuclear war on Israel. So you could have trouble seeing that it is possible Ahmadinejad won the popular vote, or that the ruling clerics might be popular. There is certainly some evidence of violence and vote rigging. Do they mean the Iranian election should have gone to second-choice Mousavi? Are enough Iranians going to be angry enough with the result that they will take down the government?

The next headline down in Yedioth Ahronoth is about Jimmy Carter. Despite the protest we read about yesterday, he met with the town council of Gush Etzion, a Jewish settlement in the West Bank. The local council says it changed Mr Carter’s perceptions. A seemingly carefully selected group was brought into council leader Shaul Goldstein’s house to meet with Carter. The group included two religious leaders, two women who had lost family members to terrorists, and a pair of newlyweds who said that, if there were limits to the natural growth of settlements, they could not raise a family in Gush Etzion.

A link in this article leads to the report on Noam Shalit giving a letter to the former US president for his son Gilad. Unlike Haaretz, the Yedioth Ahronoth website does not have a timer counting the number of seconds Gilad Shalit has been kidnapped. It does, however, have the exact number of days, 1083, printed in the article.

Arab Media Internet Network

At first glance, AMIN is structured like the Palestine Chronicle: journalists write new articles every day or so and submit them to the newspaper. As a result, the links to all the old articles are down the sides of the page. There seem to be many more articles in Arabic than in English. According to Google Translate, this site does not translate from English to Arabic or vice versa. Here is a selection of the articles in Arabic. (Bear in mind that Google Translate is imperfect and it is not always possible to capture the shades of meaning of other languages.)

Is the establishment of a Palestinian state in the interest of Palestinians?

Palestinians pin their hopes on others

Suffering of prisoners and the suffering of 40 years of occupation

Exposing racism in the Israeli police and security forces

An Israeli ministerial committee ratifies a law against commemorating the Nakba

The Arabic headlines seem slightly more angry than the English ones. Here are some of them.

Will the Netanyahu government make progress toward peace?

Obama’s song and dance in Cairo

Oslo redux: Fool’s gold in Israel/Palestine

While I will not translate the full Arabic articles, the English articles are nonetheless pro-Palestinian. But they are well-written and full of insightful analysis. The article on if the Netanyahu government’s progress on peace, for instance, discusses why it may, though gives six reasons why it probably will not. Popular, hawkish governments are sometimes the ones who make real progress toward real solutions. This journalist, Elias Tuma, a professor emeritus at the University of California, recalls how similar leaders such as Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin have surprisd us by signing lasting peace treaties. Being a strong leader, says Tuma categorically, “Natanyahu is capable of reaching and signing a peace agreement with Palestinians.” Then he gives six reasons why he might not.

First, Avigdor Lieberman, Foreign Minister and Deputy PM, submitted a bill to the Knesset banning commemoration of the Nakba. Second, Lieberman’s party submitted a bill demanding that Israeli Arabs recognise Israel as a Jewish, Zionist and democratic state. Third, the same party demands that Israeli Arabs serve in the military or another civic institution. Failure to do either of the last two results in loss of citizenship. Fourth, another party in the ruling coalition submitted a bill to declare that Jordan is Palestine. In other words, the Palestinians can leave Israel and go there. (I read about this idea elsewhere. It is really stupid. They might as well have declared that Russia is Israel.) It is not just cracks that support this bill: its supporters include three cabinet ministers. Fifth, Netanyahu has not accepted the two-state solution yet. Well, actually he has, but this article came two days before his speech where he said he accepted it. Sixth, Netanyahu insists on continuing construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Well, actually he said that new settlements would not be allowed, but natural growth of existing settlements (which are numerous) would be allowed. History will bear out the accuracy of this analysis. I think Elias Tuma is right.

Many of the articles are out of date, speculating on what Netanyahu (or even Barack) will say in his speech. This past weekend was something of a game changer because of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech and the election in Iran, so they are not so relevant anymore. One final note of interest on this site: there are a number of books in Arabic, written by Palestinians about Israel. If I could read Arabic, I would love to delve that much deeper into the experiences of Palestinians by reading them.

Bitter Lemons

Bitterlemons.org (subtitle: Palestinian-Israeli crossfire) is a project, financially supported by the European Union, to present Israeli and Palestinian viewpoints on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and peace process. It “maintains complete organizational and institutional symmetry between its Palestinian and Israeli components.”

Bitter Lemons offers a long list of links to such pertinent documents as Security Council resolutions; International Court of Justice decisions; the Athens Plan, a 2005 initiative calling for Israel to disengage from Gaza and the Northern West Bank; statements by political leaders; and other agreements and plans dating back to the founding of Israel.

I also appreciate that you can very easily access back editions all the way to 2001; and each weekly edition addresses a different topic. Some of the most recent are Obama’s Cairo speech; In the aftermath of Pope Benedict’s visit; and West Bank-Israel security issues. Many of the same contributors write in each edition. This week’s is Netanyahu’s speech on the peace process.

“A Palestinian View”: Ghassan Khatib calls Netanyahu’s speech “a failed public relations exercise” that “catered to the right-wing constituency that put him in the position he is in.” (An English transcript of his speech can be found here.) After taking apart Netanyahu’s “farcical” concept of a Palestinian state, Khatib says that the entity Netanyahu describes is not a state at all. I agree wholeheartedly, and will explain why tomorrow. Khatib continues by saying that the speech is a threat to peace, and that the American administration must clean up the mess. He also acknowledges the radicalisation of Palestinian opinion, and that this speech will not help that either. Mr Khatib is a former minister of the Palestinian Authority.

“An Israeli View”: Responding to pressure from Washington, the Israeli prime minister and his advisors thought of the best way they could address US government demands and throw them out at the same time: “give everyone–the US administration, his coalition, the Palestinians–a little of what they want. Confuse them, too. But also do something dramatic to satisfy the Americans.” He avoided confronting the real issues, and is “steeped in Revisionist ideology”. His coalition, meanwhile, will hold.

“A Palestinian View” (I do not really like the whole identity thing but I suppose it is relevant): Mr Netanyahu’s speech was “the death of hopes for peace and a Palestinian state.” Is that not a little premature and pessimistic? Anyway, the writer, a professor at Al-Quds University, goes on. He speaks of the PM’s invocation of Abraham when he said that the West Bank, like the rest of Israel, is Jewish and Israeli and whatever else makes it ours because it is the land of Abraham. But, says the writer, Abraham is a prophet of the Christians and the Muslims too. Are they not all his children? This article gets bitter. Though of course the Israelis, especially the government, should understand Palestinian viewpoints, the ones this writer mentions are the kind that Netanyahu’s base would reject out of hand. It therefore speaks less to Israelis in a position to do something and more to the already bitter. This man should aim his lemons higher.

“An Israeli View”: This final article, also bitter, blames the Palestinians for repudiating Mr Netanyahu’s acceptance of a Palestinian state. Moreover, “[h]ad they accepted Netanyahu’s offer, I have no doubt that there would have emerged in Israel an unprecedented consensus favoring a Palestinian state.” But that is like saying, if you offer me a bowl of rice off your banquet table, I should accept it graciously; and if not, I do not deserve it. This writer, a columnist for Haaretz, said that “they repeatedly reject Israel’s generous offers”. So it’s all their fault.

I very much enjoyed reading Bitter Lemons, because even what I do not agree with, I appreciate as a well-reasoned perspective. I can conclude that, as far as I have read, they do indeed uphold their position in the centre of the road. Tomorrow, I will draw conclusions from my week reading Israeli and Palestinian newspaper bias.