Thursday, August 6, 2009

AP Coverage of Fatah Congress: Fatah As Peaceniks

By Barry Rubin

Just for the record, consider the AP’s coverage of the Fatah Congress.

--No mention of the cheers for terrorists who murdered Israelis but were present at the meeting.
--Downplaying of refusal to drop or really downgrade armed struggle.
--Emphasis on change where there really isn’t any.
--Failure to mention the lack of effort against corruption.
--Deletion of any discussion of the unwillingness to bring in new leadership.
--Portrayal of Fatah's "peace plan" as reasonable when it isn't.
--Nothing on the continued dominance of the movement by hardliners.
--Downplaying of the fact that this isn’t an exercise in democracy but a meeting stacked by the leader.
--Portrayal of Fatah as the good guys compared to the two villains, Israel and Hamas.

It is no exaggeration to say that these articles read like Fatah press released.

Mohammed Daraghmeh in, “Fatah drafts new peace plan to address new Middle East,” fails to tell us what is new about the peace plan. It’s true that he mentions in one sentence, “Their failure to lead the Palestinians to statehood, along with Fatah's corruption-tainted image, has left the party demoralized.” But that’s it. New York Times coverage was similar.

Some extracts to give you a flavor of the AP story:

“moderate Fatah party marginalizes the once central theme of "armed struggle" against Israel…a thorough rewrite of the 1989 program…Yet Fatah remains the West's only hope on the Palestinian side for a Mideast peace deal….The program also says the movement's goal is a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and east Jerusalem, territories Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast War….

“The proposed platform rejects Netanyahu's demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Abbas has said it is up to Israel how it wants to define itself. Palestinians fear such a recognition would mean dropping a demand for the "right of return" of Palestinians displaced after the 1948 Mideast war over Israel's creation. The Fatah program calls for a fair solution for the refugees and insists on the refugees' right of return, as well as compensation.…”

Since the word “fair” is not in quotation marks, the article endorses the right of several million Palestinians to go and live in Israel as fair. As almost always,

The reporter does add that, “in Israel, there is broad opposition to absorbing large numbers of refugees, for fear such an influx would threaten the Jewish nature of the state.”

But then he does something against historical journalistic norms, but common nowadays—he inserts his own opinion:

“Still, the Fatah position would not necessarily prevent a peace deal; creative compromises have been floated in previous peace talks.”

Really? Like what? In effect what he’s saying is: Fatah’s position does seem extreme but no worries it can be worked out, rather than: Fatah’s position is a deal-breaker. So what seems an idle remark is really an apologia to prove that Fatah is moderate.

The article continues:

“In Fatah's 1989 platform, a call to `armed struggle’ against Israel played a central role. That idea is pushed to the sidelines in the new draft, without being dropped altogether - a likely nod to Fatah's hard-line wing. Authors of the draft suggested that the party also must remain competitive with the populist appeal of the Islamic militant Hamas, which focuses on armed resistance.”

There are two falsehoods in this paragraph. First, armed struggle is not pushed to the sidelines. It is said—which has been Fatah’s position for more than a decade—that if it isn’t happy with the diplomatic process it will take up arms. The fact that it did so during a five-year period ended not so long ago is not mentioned.

Second, this is not just a nod to some left-wing but is the position of the Fatah mainstream.

Then there’s Karin Laub’s August 5 piece…well the headline says it all: “Abbas urges Palestinians to seek peace.”

Note how she positions Abbas and Fatah: “Abbas hopes formal endorsement of his policies by Fatah will strengthen his hand against his Islamic militant Hamas rivals and Israel's hard-line prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.”

So there’s moderate Fatah and then the two radical forces: Israel and Hamas.

She continues:

"`Armed struggle’" against Israel, once a central Fatah tenet, was not formally dropped, but emphasis shifted to negotiations and civil disobedience.”

This is technically true but misleading. The platform says: we’ll try negotiations but whenever we want we will return to armed struggle.

At least the article points out, but only at the very end:

“Only about one-fourth of the Fatah delegates were elected by the rank and file, while the rest were picked by Abbas and a small committee.”

Seems like the fact that 75 percent of the delegates were hand-picked by Abbas should have gotten into the article’s lead.

Laub mentions that Hamas tried to restrict delegates from coming but not that Israel facilitated their entry, even though a number were wanted terrorists. This presumably is omitted since that fact makes Israel look good rather than repressive.

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