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Analysis

BICOM Focus: The Palestine Papers – Analysis or Agenda? An independent assessment of the Guardians’ coverage of the ‘Palestine Papers’

The latest BICOM Focus is a close examination of the Guardian’s coverage of the ‘Palestine Papers’, a cache of more than 1,600 documents from the PLO’s Negotiation Support Unit leaked to Al Jazeera and the Guardian.

This paper addresses some of the Guardian‘s most prominent distortions. The analysis is largely of the coverage in the Guardian, and is drawn from the papers themselves. However, BICOM has spoken to senior Palestinian and Israeli experts with direct experience of the events described.

Summary

  • Our close analysis of the published ‘Palestine Papers’ leads to very different conclusions to those drawn by Al Jazeera and the Guardian. This paper addresses some of their most prominent distortions. The analysis is principally of the coverage in the Guardian, and is drawn from the papers themselves. However, where relevant, BICOM has spoken to senior Palestinian and Israeli experts with direct experience of the events described.
  • The ‘Palestine Papers’ provide a fascinating, if partial, insight of the closed door negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Equally striking, however, is the degree to which both Al Jazeera and the Guardian have pursued an aggressive line in interpreting the documents in order to cast Israeli and especially Palestinian negotiators in a negative light.
  • The evidence in fact indicates a detailed and serious negotiating process, not an irresponsible one. The documents differ so starkly from the claims made about them that it perhaps raises serious questions about journalistic integrity. In trying to make a case that the Palestinians were subservient and the Israelis uncompromising, the Guardianrepeatedly misrepresents the documents themselves, for example:
    • Mistakenly claiming that the Palestinians conceded on recognising Israel as a Jewish state, when the documents and historical record show a hardening of the Palestinian position on the on the issue;
    • Characterising the Palestinian territorial offer, including on Jerusalem, as a far reaching concession, and Israel’s response as dismissal ‘out of hand’, when in fact the Palestinian offer was not as far reaching as presented and the Israeli side showed willingness to engage;
    • Apparently misreading sources to argue that the Palestinians accepted an Israeli offer for the return of 10,000 refugees, when the available evidence seems to indicate the Palestinians were demanding an initial number of 150,000 subject to renewal, and pursuing other refugee claims relating to compensation and Israeli responsibility.
    • Linking apparently unrelated quotes from Tzipi Livni to inaccurately characterise the Israeli position as favouring ‘transfer’, on an occasion when the issue was humanitarian and territorial issues relating to villages bisected by the Green Line.
  • To back up their story of Palestinian subservience, the Guardian also overlooks numerous examples of the Palestinians standing firm, such as their refusal to countenance Israeli annexation of Ma’ale Adumim and other large settlement blocs.
  • Apart from misrepresenting the documents, the Guardian focuses their attention selectively, in particular by failing to give sufficient weight to the Olmert proposal of 31 August 2008 and other examples which belie the story of Israeli stonewalling.
  • The Guardian also present as new, many positions which have long been part of the negotiating process, failing to refer to the well documented historical context.
  • BICOM’s discussions with former Palestinian and Israeli negotiators provide an insight into the real character of the negotiations which are vital for correctly interpreting these documents. According to BICOM’s sources, these records do not include many of the most significant meetings that took place, which happened in one-on-one, or two-on-two meetings. The reporting of the Guardian also fails to take any account of the gamesmanship and tactics involved in complex negotiations of this kind.
  • Some in the Guardian appear to have a perception of what the basis of an agreement should be which is out of touch with the reality of where an agreement can actually reached. They seem outraged by concessions long regarded as necessary for a two-state solution. Seen in its proper context, the evidence here does not sustain the case the Palestinian were ‘weak’ and ‘craven’. The real picture is a complex one, of both sides showing some flexibility in certain key areas, whilst standing firm on other issues where they feel they cannot compromise.
  • In attempting to taint Palestinian and Israeli negotiators, the journalists involved have instead caused damage to the credibility of their own reporting.

 

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