The Telegraph published an article on Dec. 9th by their Middle East correspondent Raf Sanchez on Palestinian reaction to US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Though Sanchez is typically fairer than most in covering the region, in this piece he follows the narrative path of least resistance, takes Palestinian leaders’ words at face value and virtually ignores alternative views or facts which contradict the story’s underlying assumptions.
The piece (“Trump’s decision on Jerusalem shatters the old Palestinian guard”) begins thusly:
For more than 20 years, Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian’s chief peace negotiator, has chased the dream of a two-state solution and the hope of an independent Palestinian state.
He followed it to the White House under four different US presidents, haggled over it in secret and public negotiations with hard faced Israeli negotiators, and defended it against sceptical Palestinians on the streets of Jericho.
But in the minutes after Donald Trump’s announcement that the US was recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Mr Erekat stood in front of the television cameras and concluded that his dream of two decades was finally dead.
“Unfortunately, President Trump just destroyed any possibility of two states,” he said in a quivering voice.
First, the entire premise of the article, and Saeb Erekat’s response, is false.
As we’ve outlined recently, the US decision to recognise Jerusalem does not negatively impact the peace process. For starters, the White House statement, which merely acknowledges the reality that Jerusalem is in fact Israel’s capital, makes clear that the US is “not taking a position” on “specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem”. This means that their new policy does not preclude potential Palestinian sovereignty over east Jerusalem. Further, the US embassy, when its built, will almost certainly be located in west Jerusalem.
Moreover, Sanchez’s glowing portrait of Erekat and his “dreams” obfuscates Erekat’s role as chief negotiator during two Palestinian rejections of Israeli peace offers (in 2001 and 2008), concrete offers of statehood with contiguous territory that included east Jerusalem as their capital. This vital context is erased.
The US decision on Jerusalem has shattered Mr Erekat and other members of the Palestinian leadership’s old guard, leaving them reeling and uncertain of where to try to lead their people next…A generation of heavyset, elderly men in suits – led by their 82-year-old president Mahmoud Abbas – had for years set the idea of a two-state solution as their north star.
They ignored calls for violence from the street and rejected plans to promote a South Africa-style international boycott against Israel. They clung to the belief that if they cooperated with the US and stayed at the negotiating table then one day the Americans would pressure Israel into allowing a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital.
And then, in a speech of just 11 minutes, Donald Trump snatched that belief from them.
Sanchez’s claim that Abbas, Erekat and others within the PA leadership have “ignored calls for violence from the street”, as we noted recently on these pages, is just not true. Abbas and his officials have repeatedly glorified Palestinian terrorists, while praising ‘martyrdom’ as the highest Palestinian aspiration. Abbas also has, over the years, repeatedly encouraged terror, telling Palestinians that violence “in defense of al-Aqsa” is justified.
And, while the PA may not have actively promoted a “South-African style international boycott of Israel”, they have, whilst claiming to desire peace and co-existence, continually engaged in state sponsored incitement and antisemitism, as well as an orchestrated campaign of “lawfare” – the use of international law and international bodies to delegitimise and isolate the Jewish state.
Also, notably absent from Sanchez’s report is any real assessment on the political views of Palestinians. His article includes passages which leave the impression that most Palestinians are pro-peace, and frustrated with lack of progress towards two-states, yet never provides any evidence to back it up.
Typical is this passage in the article:
The lack of any real progress in negotiations during his 12 years in power has left Mr Abbas deeply unpopular. An opinion poll from September found that 67 per cent of Palestinians want him to resign.
However, reputable polls have also shown that a strong majority of Palestinians not only support violence, but believe the goal of the Palestinian movement “should be to work toward reclaiming all of historic Palestine, from the river to the sea”, while only a minority expressed their belief that the goal should be a two state solution.
Has Sanchez even considered that Abbas’s unpopularity may stem from his failure to deliver the former goal, not his failure to deliver the latter?
Sanchez’s unwillingness to push back against the echo chamber on the new US position, including his breathtaking credulousness in the face of Erekat’s maudlin lamentations over the ‘death’ of two states, evokes the astute observation of former AP Jerusalem correspondent Matti Friedman about media coverage of the region:
If you follow mainstream coverage, you will find nearly no real analysis of Palestinian society or ideologies…or investigation of Palestinian government. Palestinians are not taken seriously as agents of their own fate. The West has decided that Palestinians should want a state alongside Israel, so that opinion is attributed to them as fact, though anyone who has spent time with actual Palestinians understands that things are (understandably, in my opinion) more complicated. Who they are and what they want is not important: The story mandates that they exist as passive victims…
The story of the US President’s decision to recognize Jerusalem mandated that it be framed as a “death knell” to the peace process, one that shatters the decades long two-state dreams of Palestinians and their leaders, and that’s exactly what Raf Sanchez delivered.