Two warring sides have come to an agreement, and according to the Times, it’s all bad news. No good can come of rival Palestinian parties joining hands: It’s bad for Israel and thus bad in the eyes of the United States.
This is the narrow, blinkered view of Middle East affairs that appears in the Times under the headline “Palestinian Rivals Announce Unity Pact, Drawing U.S. and Israeli Rebuke.” The story by Jodi Rudoren and Michael R. Gordon says little about the deal itself, an agreement forged in Gaza between the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Hamas that aims to heal a seven-year rift.
The story opens not with details of the agreement but with the Israeli reaction, which was to immediately cancel a negotiating session with the Palestinians. The official line is that as long as Hamas is involved, Israel will refuse to take part. After announcing the cancellation, the article then devotes 14 more paragraphs to expressions of alarm and condemnation on the part of U.S. and Israeli analysts before finally letting the parties involved speak for themselves.
But the Times is unable to sustain even this much attention to the Palestinian point of view; it quotes Palestinian commentators for eight paragraphs before it reverts to Israel and the United States, citing more experts and announcing that the Israeli cabinet would meet to “consider next steps.” It gives the last word to one more U.S. analyst expressing concern about the deal.
Readers can do better elsewhere. Reuters, for instance, quotes the reactions of major Arab players in the region, from Qatar and Egypt, who supported the agreement and praised the Hamas prime minister. Nidal Al-Mughrabi and Noah Browning note that “the approval of the two influential Arab states, which have been at loggerheads over the role of the Hamas-linked Muslim Brotherhood, implied the agreement had backing from the region as a whole.”
In the Israeli paper Haaretz, the breaking news story about the deal quotes only Palestinian sources. In one of several Haaretz analyses of the agreement, Barak Ravid states that “Israel’s response once again was negative, broadcast panic, and related any change of the status quo as a threat, rather than an opportunity.”
He goes on to say that the reaction was also “hypocritical” because Netanyahu “has negotiated with Hamas for more time, with more seriousness and with far more good will than with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.” For example, Ravid says, there was the deal to release kidnapped soldier Gilad Shavit and the ceasefire of November 2012.
In the Times story there is no mention of dissenting views like those of Ravid nor comments from Arab states, some of which have worked closely with both the United States and Israel on many issues.
Likewise, nothing is said of a notable fact: that Israel allowed the PLO delegation to enter Gaza, knowing that the purpose was to form a unity government. Even groups with benign agendas often find it difficult to enter the besieged territory.
Earlier this year a group of Christian clerics were turned back and allowed in only after five weeks of effort. And on March 29 Israel refused to let a delegation from the European Union parliament enter via the Erez crossing to discuss humanitarian aid with United Nations officials. An earlier group of EU representatives had been denied entry in October. Israel also refused an entry permit this week to Mustafa Barghouti, one of the Fatah representatives, but later relented and let him enter.
In the Israeli magazine 972 Samer Badawi notes that “it was the Israeli government, which controls Palestinians’ access to Gaza from the West Bank, that had waved Fatah delegates through the Erez crossing a day earlier.” Knowing that Israel has full control of the border and knowing the hysteria surrounding Hamas and Fatah unity, why would Israel do this? Badawi conjectures that it was deliberate, that “the Israeli premier is hell-bent to pin Kerry’s failure on Abbas—even if that means pushing the latter closer to Israel’s sworn enemy, Hamas.”
This is all worth hearing, but Times readers receive no hint of the debates concerning the Palestinian attempt at détente, which are taking place inside Israel and in the Arab world. There is a rich story out there, but in the Times’ view only a narrow portion, the official U.S.-Israeli line, is fit to print.