Reporting at odds with text

By The Bicom team, February 3, 2011
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VIn order to advance their particular story, Al Jazeera and the Guardian have had to misread or misrepresent significant portions of the text, omit other key sections, and demonstrate virtually no appreciation for the history of the negotiations.

In its report of January 25 the Guardian claimed that "Palestinian negotiators privately accepted Israel's demand that it define itself as a Jewish state." The article states that in a meeting in November 2007, for which they do not provide a reference, Saeb Erekat told Tzipi Livni: "If you want to call your state the Jewish state of Israel you can call it what you want."

They then quote a minute from an internal meeting in June 2009 in which Erekat says: "This is a non-issue. I dare the Israelis to write to the UN and change their name to the 'Great Eternal Historic State of Israel.' This is their issue, not mine."

The Guardian claims that this indicates private acceptance of Israel's demand, contradicting their public opposition on the issue. The paper depicts this as another example of Palestinian weakness and concession in the face of Israeli intransigence.

The Guardian report is at odds with the text. Nothing indicates that the Palestinians accepted Israel's demand that they recognise the Jewish character of Israel. Erekat is simply echoing a well known Palestinian position, repeated publicly by President Abbas, that from the Palestinian perspective Israel can call itself what it wants but should not expect Palestinians to simply recognise its Jewish character. This is an example of the Palestinian consistency, rather than of weakness.

The Guardian reported on January 23 that Israel "spurned" an offer presented by the Palestinian side regarding Jerusalem. They report on a document detailing a Palestinian border proposal dated May 4 2008. The Guardian presents this as a momentous Palestinian concession on Jerusalem, stressing in particular the fact that Saeb Erekat said, "It is no secret that… we are offering you the biggest Yerushalayim [the Hebrew word for Jerusalem] in history." The Guardian claims that the Palestinians "proposed that Israel annex all Jewish settlements in Jerusalem except Har Homa (Jabal Abu Ghneim)". Their report and annotation of the paper describe Tzipi Livni "dismissing the offer out of hand."

The editorial line of the Guardian has been to use this example as evidence of "craven" Palestinian concessions and Israeli stone-walling. The documents themselves tell a very different story.

Read in detail and in context, they suggest neither groundbreaking Palestinian concessions nor Israeli intransigence. They reveal instead a delicate, serious and ongoing effort to bridge gaps on territory in order to advance a two-state deal.

The Palestinian proposal on Jerusalem, while significant, was far from revolutionary. The principle that the Arab areas of Jerusalem would be part of Palestine and the Jewish ones part of Israel, has been part of the negotiations since they were presented in the Clinton Parameters in December 2000.

Overall the Palestinians' territorial proposal was, if anything, a tougher position than some may have expected. Rather than Palestinian concession and Israeli rejection, the document gives a partial picture of a midpoint in an ongoing discussion, which started before this meeting and continued afterwards.

Tzipi Livni does not "reject this offer out of hand" as the Guardian claims. She suggests "the experts sit together and discuss the gaps and differences between the two maps." Rather than showing inflexibility, Livni tells the Palestinians, "we have a reason to continue," and later adds, "The question is how to be creative."

In attempting to taint Palestinian and Israeli negotiators, the journalists involved have instead caused damage to the credibility of their own reporting.

Last updated: 4:18pm, February 7 2011