Monday, February 14, 2011

NY Times' Abbas Olmert Peace Plan: Who You Gonna Believe?

Abbas and Olmert. Lovebirds?
Forgive me, but when the NY Times publishes an ‘exclusive’ about the peace process that lays the blame for an impasse on Israel, I tend to be skeptical. In general, as good practice, it's important to read around a great big claim -- see what others have to say about it. This usually lets you in on what ideological framework produced the claim as well as who benefits most from it. The NY Times, through its commentators -- Roger Cohen, Thomas Friedman, Nicolas Kristof, Robert (The Lede) Mackay -- and editorials, consistently places the onus on Israel when things go wrong. The Times therefore jumped at the opportunity to publish a story that rewrites the story to suit that viewpoint.

As Sol Stern lays it out about how Bernard Avishai's purported scoop is actually old news reframed, the Times, "...put its weight behind pieces of copycat journalism that, by coincidence, happen to fortify its own editorial position on which party is most responsible for the Israel-Palestinian impasse and how best to resolve it.”

The gist of the Avishai's article is: Abbas and Olmert came so close to achieving a breakthrough that it would have required only some American intervention to close the tiny gap existing between the two sides. Furthermore, the reason nothing came of the talks is that Olmert was embroiled in his own legal problems, Israel was on the verge of starting the Gaza War and, finally, Netanyahu became Prime Minister upon Olmert's resignation. All those good feelings and understandings got dropped. By Israel. Heretofore, when the story was told, it was Abbas who said no.

Why the copycat claims? As one of the early journalists -- Petra Marquardt-Bigman -- reporting on the Abbas/Olmert talks put it in the comments section to Stern’s article:

“Indeed, as far as "news" are concerned, Avishai is in the recycling business, because major details about Olmert's offer (and the Palestinian rejection of it) have been published already in summer 2008. I wrote a related piece in the Guardian, based on (Aluf Benn's) Haaretz reports.

I think Haaretz eventually published all the details, including a map, and Olmert also gave several media interviews; the most detailed was one he gave to an Australian paper during a visit there.

“However, I would argue that there is one interesting aspect to Avishai's NYT magazine piece: while Abbas declared in spring 2009 to the WaPo's Jackson Diehl that the gaps had been much too wide, he now seems to be telling the opposite to Avishai. On the other hand, Abbas and Erekat just recently reacted to the publication of the so-called "Palestine Papers" by Al Jazeera and The Guardian by insisting that it would be totally wrong to accuse them of any willingness to compromise...”
So who stands to benefit from Avishai's scoop? 
Numero Uno: Abbas and the PA, who were assaulted recently by the Palestine Papers, are desperate to save face and, as we can see from current news reports, are scrambling to re-invent themselves as a democracy. 
NumberTwo: Olmert himself. As Stern puts it: "Thus, contrary to the Times' assertion that Olmert has revealed exclusive new information to Avishai, it is abundantly clear that the former Israeli prime minister, widely despised at home and desperate to remain relevant, started blabbing about his negotiations with Abbas over a year and a half ago to anybody who would listen."
Third: The Times, and other publications that adopted the 'Israel is the only thing standing in the way of peace.' And of course, Avishai himself who's frustration with Israel has led him to wish for an Obama imposed solution. I have written about him in the past. A big believer in economic and technological solutions he is not a delegitimzer, but is often blinded by, in my opinion, preposterous Palestinian propaganda.

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