Thursday, October 7, 2010

OBAMA'S LETTER, NETANYAHU'S REJECTION AND THE MEDIA'S NON-RESPONSE


MEDIA LENS: Correcting for the distorted vision of the corporate media

"Obama needs a short renewal of the freeze, and the semblance of continuing Israeli and Palestinian participation in the 'peace process', until the US Congressional elections in November."

semblance |ˈsembləns|nounthe outward appearance or apparent form of something, esp. when the reality is different :she tried to force her thoughts back into some semblance of order.• archaic resemblancesimilarity it bears some semblance to the thing I have in mind.



Obama’s Cave-In To Israel
So, Obama needs it to look as though the peace talks are going somewhere, when in reality the talks have already broken off, to wag in front US voters as his foreign policy "win" before the November elections?

What a cynical, calculated ploy, and what a slap in the face of American voters who understand the timing on these negotiations, even when there was no chance Netanyahu would yield any concessions, was simply to make Obama look good at least on a foreign policy issue (he can forget about his party running on his domestic policy failures, that's for certain!)

Following Israel's capture of the West Bank in 1967, along with other
territories including East Jerusalem, Israel has built and expanded Jewish
settlements on occupied Palestinian land. The settlers enjoy the benefits of
a separate, and far superior, civilian infrastructure to nearby Palestinian
communities, and they are protected at great expense by the Israeli
military. Under international law, the settlements are illegal. But despite
private agreements with the US to rein in growth, Israel has continued the
non-stop expansion of its illegal settlements. While the public stance of
the United States is that it does not recognise "the international
legitimacy" of the settlements, Washington has in practice provided
decades-long support for Israeli policy.
Earlier this week, independent journalist Jonathan Cook reported facts that
blow a hole through the standard deceit that the United States is an "honest
broker" for peace in the Middle East. (Jonathan Cook, 'Obama's Cave-In to
Israel', Counterpunch, 4 October, 2010;
http://www.counterpunch.org/cook10042010.html). As Cook explains, details
were leaked of a letter sent by US President Barack Obama to Benjamin
Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister:

"Obama made a series of extraordinarily generous offers to Israel, many of
them at the expense of the Palestinians, in return for a single minor
concession from Netanyahu: a two-month extension of the partial freeze on
settlement growth."

The previous 10-month freeze on settlement growth in the West Bank, which
has just ended, has not so far been renewed by Israel. This obduracy
threatens to bring the negotiations to an abrupt halt. This was the deadlock
that Obama's letter was supposedly designed to break.

Netanyahu reportedly declined the US offer, while Washington denies that a
letter was ever sent. But according to the Israeli media, US officials in
Washington are "incensed" by Netanyahu's rejection.

As Cook notes, the disclosures were made by an informed source: David
Makovsky, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a close
associate of Dennis Ross, Obama's chief adviser on the Middle East, who is
said to have initiated the offer.

Cook continues:
"In return for a two-month extension of the settlement moratorium, the US
promised to veto any UN Security Council proposal on the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict over the next year, and committed to not seek any further
extensions of the freeze. The future of the settlements would be addressed
only in a final agreement.

"The US would also allow Israel to keep a military presence in the West
Bank's Jordan Valley, even after the creation of a Palestinian state;
continue controlling the borders of the Palestinian territories to prevent
smuggling; provide Israel with enhanced weapons systems, security guarantees
and increase its billions of dollars in annual aid; and create a regional
security pact against Iran."

The Palestinian leadership, observes Cook, is certain to draw three major
conclusions "from this attempt at deal-making over its head."

"The first is that the US president, much like his predecessors, is in no
position to act as an honest broker. His interests in the negotiations
largely coincide with Israel's.

"Obama needs a short renewal of the freeze, and the semblance of continuing
Israeli and Palestinian participation in the 'peace process', until the US
Congressional elections in November."


"The second conclusion -- already strongly suspected by Mahmoud Abbas, the
Palestinian president, and his advisers -- is that Netanyahu, despite his
professed desire to establish a Palestinian state, is being insincere."

Finally:

"The third conclusion for the Palestinians is that no possible combination
of governing parties in Israel is capable of signing an agreement with Abbas
that will not entail significant compromises on the territorial integrity of
a Palestinian state."

There was next to no coverage of these dramatic revelations, and their
implications, in the UK news media. As far as we can determine, the
Independent has remained silent, along with The Times and the bulk of the
national press.

One welcome, although brief, exception appeared last week on the Guardian
website by its Jerusalem-based correspondent Harriet Sherwood. ('Obama
offering Israel incentives to extend freeze on settlement construction, say
reports', guardian.co.uk, 30 September 2010 18.11 BST,
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/sep/30/israel-obama-netanyahu-peace-talks).
Oddly this did not appear in the print edition, as far as we can determine
from searches of the Lexis-Nexis newspaper database.

A fleeting mention did, however, appear in the Guardian on Monday this week
(and the following day in the paper). Stretching his journalistic muscle to
all of 40 words, Guardian assistant editor Simon Tisdall wrote blandly in
his "world briefing":


"Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, is likewise refusing to budge.
He reportedly told US officials that a 60-day extension to the building
moratorium that expired last month, as sought by Obama, would damage his
political credibility and endanger his coalition."
('Obama faces humiliation over Middle East talks', guardian.co.uk, 4 October
2010 16.00 BST;
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2010/oct/04/israel-palestine-peace-collapse)

Note the conformity to the requirements of professional journalism to report
facts, but only superficially and without the context and analysis that
might offend power.

As far as we can see, the only other national UK newspaper to mention the
latest disclosures was the Daily Telegraph which had a printed piece titled
inoffensively - indeed, deceptively - 'Obama tries to keep peace deal on
track'. The earlier online version was more honest: 'Barack Obama "sent
Israel letter outlining assurances on peace talks"'.
(http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/israel/8035425/Barack-Obama-sent-Israel-letter-outlining-assurances-on-peace-talks.html)

As for the BBC, the search function on its news website is notoriously
cumbersome to use; so it has been difficult to verify whether BBC news
online has reported it at all. But an email from Middle East editor Jeremy
Bowen (see below) 
Publish Poststrongly suggests the corporation has yet to mention the 

disclosures about Obama's letter, Netanyahu's rejection of it, and what
these latest developments might mean for a proper understanding of the
Middle East "peace process".


Exchange With BBC Middle East Editor
On October 4, we wrote to Jeremy Bowen, asking whether he was aware of
Obama's letter and Netanyhau's rejection of it. We also referred to Cook's
report, highlighting the main conclusions that could be drawn, as we saw
above: namely, that the US is no "honest broker"; the timing of Obama's
letter with forthcoming US Congressional elections is unlikely to be a
coincidence; and that Netanyahu, and indeed the Israeli leadership as a
whole, is not a sincere negotiating partner.

We concluded in our email to Bowen:

"Were you aware of these disclosures? And do you plan to report them, and
their significance?"

On October 5, Bowen emailed back:

"Yes, I am aware of the American proposals, which have been reported
extensively since David Makovsky put them in the WINEP [Washington Institute
for Near East Policy] site.

"I am in Lebanon working on a radio programme at the moment. I feel sure
that the American offer will be part of my reporting when I am back with the
Israelis and Palestinians."

We replied the following day:

"It is noteworthy that the BBC has seemingly failed to report on President
Obama's letter, especially given the extensive resources at your disposal.
Obama's self-serving offer to the Israelis, and Netanyahu's rejection of it,
is significant for many reasons as reporter Jonathan Cook makes clear in his
piece. The role of the US as 'honest broker', and the cynical realpolitik of
the timing with US Congressional elections in November, are laid bare; as is
Netanyahu's obstructionism and insincerity. The story is all over the
Israeli media.

"There were thus compelling reasons for the BBC to bring these disclosures
in a timely and fully explanatory way to the attention of the public. That
the BBC's Middle East bureau is seemingly unable or unwilling to do so,
regardless of whether you happen to be in Lebanon working on a radio
programme, is grim news indeed.

"By denying the public vital facts that enables us to form a fully rounded
picture of what's going on, you have surely neglected your professional
responsibilities. This matters because ultimately people's lives depend upon
the truth being reported."



SUGGESTED ACTION

The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for
others. If you do write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a
polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Jeremy Bowen, BBC Middle East editor
Email: jeremy.bowen@bbc.co.uk

Please copy to:

Helen Boaden, BBC News editor
Email: helenboaden.complaints@bbc.co.uk

Michael Lyons, BBC Trust chairman
Email: michael.lyons@bbc.co.uk

Please blind copy us in on any exchanges or forward them to us later at:
editor@medialens.org

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