We are approaching an important fork in the road map, with back-to-back meetings scheduled with President Bush in Washington: Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday and Ariel Sharon next Tuesday.
Here is a comprehensive review of 4 major diplomatic/security concerns, and the media's treatment of these issues.
1) Crackdown On Terror
The text of the road map calls on Palestinian leadership "to arrest, disrupt, and restrain individuals and groups conducting and planning violent attacks on Israelis anywhere."
Yet speaking in Cairo on Tuesday, Abbas rejected this most basic tenet. Abbas said that "Cracking down on Hamas, Jihad and the Palestinian organizations is not an option at all."
Associated Press, however, creates an opposite impression with this July 20 headline: "Palestinians Outlaw Violent Groups." You have to read the article to find out that the PA merely recycled a 1998 law that outlaws violence and corruption.
Meanwhile London's Independent reported: "Details are emerging of how, in an effort to shore up the splits in Fatah and the Al-Aqsa Brigades, Abu Mazen's government has been paying militant leaders to honour the ceasefire. A Palestinian minister admitted that payments had been made, but did not confirm rumours that one leader received as much as $10,000 (£6,300)."
This report, buried in the fifth paragraph of the Independent article, appeared nowhere else in major world media. PA payments to terrorist leaders violate both the text and the spirit of the road map's call for the dismantling of terror groups. Isn't that newsworthy?
2) Arafat's Involvement
A fundamental component of the road map is the replacement of Arafat as Palestinian leader. Arafat, however, continues to play a decisive role. The Jerusalem Times, a Palestinian weekly, reported (July 17) that Arafat and Abbas "settled their differences" with a deal that allowed Arafat to retain control over the two most essential portfolios: negotiations with Israel, and head of the PA security committee.
Arafat is now directly undermining the peace process, to the point of supplying financial and political support to armed groups that reject the current cease-fire. In a front-page expose, the Boston Globe (July 23) quotes the Palestinian governor of Jenin, Haider Irsheid, who was recently kidnapped and beaten by Arafat's thugs:
"Arafat knows of and supports the continuing payments to the militant groups despite their rejection of the cease-fire. The governor said Fatah is making the payments in numerous places in the West Bank, even as internal Palestinian reforms and US pressure have begun to choke off previous sources of funding for the paramilitary groups.
"Abdel Fattah al Hamayel, who is a Fatah leader and a Palestinian Authority minister without portfolio, confirmed that Fatah is providing money to the Brigades."
As well, Arafat continues to incite Palestinians to violence. Last week, the Jerusalem Post reported that Arafat called on Palestinian children to follow the "martyrdom" example of Fares Odeh, a 13-year-old boy from Gaza who has been immortalized posthumously by a photograph showing him throwing stones at an IDF tank.
3) Terror Attacks
While there has been a reduction in terror attacks against Israelis since the intra-Palestinian "truce," they are continuing at a rate that no other country would find acceptable. And yet, the media has virtually ignored this latest spate of attacks:
An Israeli cyclist was stabbed in Jerusalem on Wednesday (July 23); he was rushed to Hadassah Hospital with the knife still lodged in his back. On Sunday (July 20), a 64-year-old Jerusalem man was stabbed in the city's upscale Yemin Moshe neighborhood. Two suicide bombers, members of Islamic Jihad, were caught on Thursday (July 24) en route to perpetrate attacks. An Israeli soldier, Oleg Shaichat, remains missing, thought to have been kidnapped in the manner that an Israeli taxi driver was kidnapped last week. (Meanwhile, Hizbullah shelling continues on northern Israel, injuring two civilians, one seriously.)
A Palestinian Authority report, issued prior to the recent stabbings, documents 26 separate terror incidents since Palestinian factions announced their cease-fire. In the month of June, terror accounted for 31 Israeli deaths and 179 wounded. The report cites four suicide bombings, mortar fire, anti-tank rocket fire, shots fired at IDF patrols, and last week's stabbing in Tel Aviv which killed a 24-year-old Israeli – an attack claimed by Arafat's Martyrs' Brigades.
4) Prisoner Release
Many Western media are continuing to report (wrongly) that prisoner releases are a condition of the road map. As was frequently the case during the "Oslo years," lazy (or biased) journalists have not bothered to read the text of Israeli-Palestinian agreements about which they report. Instead they have simply swallowed lines from Palestinian spokespersons as if they were fact. Reporters have thus left readers with the impression that Israel has not fulfilled agreements and is responsible for delaying peace initiatives.
Following recent criticism, however, some media have started to correctly report that Palestinian demands for a large-scale prisoner release is not a condition of the road map. Others (notably the Washington Post, Reuters and AFP) have not.
The Washington Post continued to mislead readers (which, of course, include many politicians in Washington). In the report, "Mideast Parties Now Look to U.S. Sharon-Abbas Meeting Stalls Over 'Road Map'" (July 21), John Ward Anderson writes: "The peace plan, known as the road map, has stalled over several key issues – notably... Palestinian demands for... the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails. "
Reuters' July 21 report by Dan Williams implies that prisoner releases are a central to the road map: "Israel agreed to free hundreds more Palestinian prisoners Sunday, disappointing Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas's hopes for a full amnesty but keeping a U.S.-backed peace 'road map' in motion."
AFP (Agence France Presse), the world's third biggest news agency, also implied (July 21) that prisoner releases are a condition of the road map: "...Abbas was referring to the US-backed international roadmap for peace which outlines steps both sides must take toward creating by 2005 a Palestinian state that lives peacefully alongside Israel. Abbas, who is also known as Abu Mazen, refused to budge on the release of prisoners."
ASSOCIATED PRESS, by contrast, is now reporting this point correctly (July 21): "The release of prisoners is not spelled out as an Israeli obligation in the so-called 'road map' peace plan, but Palestinian security chief Mohammed Dahlan said the releases are 'at the top of our agenda'."
Remarkably, Israel remains flexible and accommodating on this issue, voluntarily agreeing to release hundreds of Palestinians from Israeli detention as a goodwill gesture.
Now let's get this all straight:
Abbas is paying the terrorists not to attack; Arafat is paying them to attack. Either way, terrorists are making a lot of money.
The road map obligates the Palestinians to crack down on terrorists; instead, the Palestinians are demanding their release.
As the prime minister travels to Washington, we wonder: Is something wrong here?