“Balance” in The Times: A Smokescreen for Israeli Control

Ali Abunimah in the Electronic Intifada has caught The New York Times distorting its own reported facts. Although the newspaper said yesterday that former Secretary of State James Baker once challenged both Israelis and Palestinians to “get serious about peace,” the words he spoke 24 years ago were directed solely at the Israelis.

EI includes a video and the original Times reporting about the June 1990 incident, which took place at a meeting of the House Foreign Affairs committee. This evidence shows that yesterday’s page one story had it wrong, and Abunimah goes on to say that the newspaper appeared “to be rewriting history to make it seem more ‘balanced.’”

It is true that the Times pulls out all stops to appear “balanced.” The article by Mark Landler and Michael Gordon (“U.S. To Reassess Status of Talks On Middle East”) and an inside page analysis of the peace process by Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren (“A Peace Process in Which Process Has Come to Outweigh Peace”) mutually take pains to show how “both sides” are at fault for the present crisis in the talks.

“Like Mr. Baker,” the front page story states, “Mr. Kerry is dealing with two parties that know what the outlines of a peace accord would look like but are paralyzed by intransigence.” Both stories are full of “on one hand” and “on the other hand” balancing acts, and this in itself is a distortion of the reality.

The peace process is anything but the meeting of two equal parties, but readers would not know this from the information provided here. Nowhere does either story acknowledge that Palestinians are living under military occupation nor that Israel is the occupier and acting in defiance of international law when it builds its separation wall, confiscates Palestinian land and water, demolishes homes and suppresses peaceful protests with deadly force.

The Times stories may be in response to a recent prodding by the paper’s public editor, Margaret Sullivan, who sided with readers when they complained that a story last Wednesday (“Abbas Takes Defiant Step, And Mideast Talks Falter”) inaccurately placed blame for the crisis solely on Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian prime minister.

But it is also true that the focus on “balance” serves the Israelis well. It gives the impression that they are facing a foe equal in strength to their own. In fact, Israel holds nearly all the cards in this game: It is fortified with the latest weapons, including nuclear arms; it has U.S. support in weaponry, funding and diplomacy; it controls all the borders, and its security forces enter areas under nominal Palestinian control at will.

An honest analysis of the talks would take a hard look at the U.S. role in the conflict, at the “special relationship with Israel,” where the United States has consistently blocked Palestinian efforts at the United Nations and vetoed proposals from the world community that would hold Israel to account under international law.

All this indicates that the United States is nothing like a neutral broker in the negotiations, but Rudoren merely notes that Palestinians are advocating “multilateral talks modeled on those employed with Iran and Syria.” She gives no context to their demand and no voice to their sense of betrayal.

When Abbas signed requests for membership in international treaties last week, he was exercising the only leverage available to Palestinians—their appeal to law and humanitarian consensus. Israel and the United States, on the other hand, reacted with threats to cut off funding to the Palestinian Authority, cancellation of the last prisoner exchange, and “a list of possible punitive measures,” leading, no doubt, to more daily miseries for Palestinians under occupation.

Yet the Times would have us believe that the problem is simply one of getting two sides to agree. Landler and Gordon quote a U.S. official who says, “Insofar as we find fault here, it is in the inability of either side to make tough decisions.”

Somehow the Times has forgotten its earlier story where Abbas announced that he could agree to an Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley for three years. In the same way it apparently “forgot” to whom Secretary Baker’s comments were aimed—at Israel alone.

It takes selective memory to twist the peace talk narrative into a semblance of “balance,” but the Times has done it once again, all to the benefit of Israel and its expansionist claims on the land of Palestine.

Barbara Erickson

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