31 January 2020 — FAIR
by Joshua Cho
Media coverage of the Israel/Palestine conflict over the years has typically portrayed Palestinians as obstinate and imperious negotiating partners who insist on unreasonable preconditions before reaching an agreement (e.g., US News, 6/20/12; Wall Street Journal, 4/28/13; Jerusalem Post, 7/18/17). When Israel’s preconditions are reported, the precondition that the peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians should be mediated by the US is often omitted.
That the US has never been an honest or impartial broker for resolving the Israel/Palestine conflict has always been obvious, with the Trump administration’s actions only making the US’s bias towards Israel more blatant (Foreign Policy, 9/13/18). However with the release of the Trump administration’s so-called “peace plan” that had no Palestinian involvement—which has been more accurately described as a “hate plan” based on ethnic supremacy and an endorsement of Israel’s settler-colonial project—US media still misleadingly present the US as an honest broker, and presume that the US and Israel have the right to impose ridiculous preconditions before Palestinians are worthy of their own self-determination.
Some major components of this lopsided “peace plan” include trying to legalize illegality by establishing Jerusalem as Israel’s “undivided” capital and denying Palestinians their “right to return” to their homes lost in the 1967 Six-Day War and other conflicts, as well as recognizing the Jordan Valley, along with the majority of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine, as official Israeli territory. Other demands made by the US and Israel include a renunciation of “violence” and the disarming and disbanding of Hamas, despite UN recognition that people have a right to pursue self-determination, including through armed resistance against foreign occupying and colonial powers.
Israel’s ambassador to the UN calls for a “national suicide” that will “transform” the Palestinian people (New York Times, 6/24/19).
Last year, the New York Times exposed the true purpose behind this “peace plan” when it published an op-ed by Israel’s ambassador to the UN, headlined “What’s Wrong With Palestinian Surrender?” In the piece, Danny Danon argued that “national suicide” on the part of the Palestinians is “precisely what is needed for peace,” because “surrender is the recognition that in a contest, staying the course will prove costlier than submission.” This declaration by an Israeli diplomat should have cued reporters that a “peace plan” crafted by the Trump administration in conjunction with Israel would be aimed at ending the possibility of Palestinian statehood rather than advancing its possibility.
Yet the Times’ report (1/28/20) on the “peace plan” claimed that the proposal would “give Israel most of what it has sought over decades of conflict while offering the Palestinians the possibility of a state with limited sovereignty.” What exactly is a state with “limited sovereignty,” and who would they be sharing “sovereignty” with? It’s hard to see how this characterization is anything but another euphemism for legitimizing continued Israeli rule over Palestinians without recognizing their democratic rights—in other words, apartheid.
The Times went on to present Trump’s actions as just another part of the US’s longstanding good-faith efforts to broker a peace deal when it described the plan as
the latest of numerous American efforts to settle the seemingly intractable conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. But it was a sharp turn in the American approach, dropping decades of support for only modest adjustments to Israeli borders drawn in 1967 and discarding the longtime goal of granting the Palestinians a wholly autonomous state.
Why is the Israel/Palestine conflict “seemingly intractable”? Could it be that the US is not actually a neutral partner to these negotiations, as the Times continually refuses to understand (FAIR.org, 5/16/18)? The Times insisted on this obtuse characterization of the Trump administration’s proposal, despite reporting how Israel would be the one determining whether Palestinians are fit to govern themselves:
Still, the plan does far more for Israel than it does for the Palestinians, whose proposed state would not have a standing military and would be required to meet other benchmarks overseen by the Israelis, including a renunciation of violence and the disbandment of militant groups like Hamas, which is based in Gaza…. Under the plan, those Palestinians would find themselves virtually encircled by an expanded Israel and living within convoluted borders reminiscent of a gerrymandered congressional district.
NBC News’ “Trump Mideast Peace Plan Expands Israeli Territory, Offers Path to Palestinian Statehood” (1/28/20) offered little pushback to Trump’s claims that his “long-promised Middle East peace plan that, if implemented, would create a conditional path to statehood for Palestinians while recognizing Israeli sovereignty over a significant portion of the West Bank,” despite mentioning that the plan
raised questions about how much sovereignty a Palestinian state would have under the plan. The proposal envisions it as being surrounded by Israeli territory and not sharing a border with a neighboring Arab country, since Israel would get control of the Jordan Valley, the region that lies on the eastern portion of the West Bank bordering Jordan.
Headlines like Politico’s (1/28/20) went along with Trump’s Orwellian redefinition of “statehood.”
Similarly, Politico’s “Trump Unveils Long-Shot Middle East Peace Plan With Path to Palestinian Statehood” (1/28/20) felt no embarrassment calling the plan a “blueprint for Middle East Peace,” while echoing Trump’s claim that brokering peace for Israel/Palestine is a “feat that has evaded nearly a dozen of his predecessors.” Politico did not question Trump’s claims that his “peace plan” is a “realistic two-state solution” when “the conditions for statehood are met,” evading substantive critiques for complaints about a process that failed to gather “input from the Palestinians.”
The Wall Street Journal (1/28/20) also presented Trump’s plan to legitimize Israel’s apartheid state as a “peace plan,” while wondering if the Palestinians would ever come to the negotiating table, because “accepting this initiative may represent their last hope to salvage a state of their own,” as if there are no alternatives to an apartheid state and a faux “two-state solution” (FAIR.org, 6/1/18). The Journalclaimed that Trump’s plan is special because
for half a century, American presidents have tried to find a path to peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Donald Trump on Tuesday became the 10th president in that long line of futility by unveiling his plan for doing the seemingly impossible.
Yet Trump’s plan isn’t simply more of the same. In fact, it represents a significantly different approach to the uphill climb of seeking peace. Plenty of experts think those differences will make the climb harder—though, as Trump aides point out, more conventional approaches haven’t worked, undermining the argument for simply trying more of the same.
Trump’s plan is a “two-state” solution (Wall Street Journal, 1/28/20) only if you believe that a “state” does not need to be sovereign.
Another Journal report, “Trump’s Mideast Peace Plan Charts Two-State Course for Israelis, Palestinians” (1/28/20), mentioned that the plan would “marshal $50 billion in economic investment over 10 years,” to “double the Palestinian gross domestic product, slash Palestinian unemployment rates now at almost 18% in the West Bank and 52% in Gaza, and cut the Palestinian poverty rate in half,” while omitting the illegal occupation’s role in strangling the economy and how business operating in the settlements contribute to and profit fromland confiscations and labor violations. That might be why the UN found that the Palestinian economy would be twice as large if it weren’t for the occupation. Nor did the Journal explain how the US has used cuts to international programs to punish Palestinians for not accepting lopsided terms of Israel/Palestine negotiations, ever since the Palestinian economy became dependent on international support following the Oslo Accords (Middle East Eye, 6/22/19).
Strikingly absent in these reports is discussion of international law or the legality of Israeli settlements. Including these would indicate that the US and Israel have no right to dictate terms to Palestinians, while Palestinians have a UN-backed right to return. International relations scholar Stephen Zunes (Truthout, 1/29/20) has pointed out how the Trump administration’s annexation plan constitutes several flagrant violations of international law.
Many of these reports make mention of Israel’s only seeming concession, a “four-year freeze” on construction of new Israeli settlements, without mentioning that this “freeze” would only apply to areas where there are no settlements, and areas where Israel has no immediate plans to annex—meaning that Israel isn’t making any concessions. Some observers have pointed out the mapped proposal resembles apartheid South Africa’s bantustans, and Native American reservations, more than an independent state, while others have pointed out how the proposal is basically a giant real estate dealwhere Palestinians would be selling their sovereignty to Israel, and is better described as “terms of surrender” for Palestine rather than a “peace plan.” But such observations are rare in corporate media opinion venues, and even more rarely are allowed to impact news coverage of the plan.
A proposal that legitimates annexation of Palestinian territory (including the crucial Jordan Valley, Palestinians’ “food basket”), a lack of contiguous territorial borders, and the denial of any means for Palestinians to defend themselves against Israel’s disproportionateviolence and occupation, seems more like a proposal to end Palestinian statehood than advance it. Yet there are no boundaries the US and Israel can cross before US media will reject calling the proposal a “peace plan,” or condemn Israel’s practices as an apartheid state, because a “peace plan,” in media discourse, is simply whatever the US is proposing at any given time, while Israel is perpetually nearing apartheid, but never quite getting there (FAIR.org, 4/26/19, 9/30/19).
Featured image: NBC News image (1/28/20) of Donald Trump presenting “peace plan” with Benjamin Netanyahu.