Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Stuck in the Myre

One thing that you can always expect from the New York Times is that anything resembling castigation of Israel from an ostensibly neutral body, or a US official, is blown totally out of proportion. Good example if that today -- a story by Greg Myre with the headline: "Envoy in Mideast Peace Effort Says Israel Is Keeping Too Tight a Lid on Palestinians in Gaza." The envoy being UN special envoy James Wolfensohn.

Wolfensohn, he said, has "criticized Israel for failing to ease restrictions on Palestinian movement into and out of the Gaza Strip, where residents currently face greater difficulties in traveling than before Israel's withdrawal."

The story went on:

"The government of Israel, with its important security concerns, is loath to relinquish control, almost acting as though there has been no withdrawal," Mr. Wolfensohn wrote in a letter dated Oct. 17 and released to news organizations on Monday.

Only problem is that, whether or not this "acting as though there has been no withdrawal" stuff is correct, this is not exactly criticism of Israel. Particularly since that is all that Wolfensohn has to say on the subject! Not in the email and not in the text of his report, which is online here.

As for the email, here is its full text, as quoted in full by Israpundit:

"The Government of Israel, with its important security concerns, is loath to relinquish control, almost acting as though there has been no withdrawal, delaying making difficult decisions and preferring to take difficult matters back into slow-moving subcommittees."

"The Special Envoy was disappointed that none of the key movement issues has been resolved. Without a dramatic improvement in Palestinian movement and access, within appropriate security arrangements for Israel, the economic revival essential to a resolution of the conflict will not be possible."

"Despite an earlier commitment in June to introduce convoys, GOI has not been willing to enter bilateral or trilateral discussions on their implementation,"

"If all of us Palestinians, Israelis, our friends in Egypt and donors miss this opportunity for change, we will regret it for the next decade."

"We do not have the luxury of adopting such a leisurely approach and our Israeli colleagues have promised a greater sense of urgency" after the High Holidays.

"The Israelis have not agreed to accept the EU's generous offer to consider the role of 'a third party'"

"The Israelis cited the need for additional internal consultation,"

That's it for the email.

I'd say that what you have here is whatcha call spin, in accordance with the Sulzberger Indifference Template -- which obligates the Times to not report or underplay statements criticizing Palestinians and to exaggerate official pronouncements critical (or in this case, not critical) of Israel.

Here's more from the text of Wolfensohn's report. Although the Times quoted further from the report, none of the following was deemed fit to print:

1. "In the past several months, the number of checkpoints [on the West Bank] has declined significantly, in part because the separation barrier has rendered them obsolete." The Times couldn't report this for obvious reasons. I mean really, Wolfie, where is the criticism of Israel on the barrier? Get with the program, guy, if you want to get quoted in the Times.

2. Re barriers on the West Bank, Palestinian-Israeli "discussions need quickly to focus on concrete steps to reduce these barriers. Once again there is a need for a creative balance between security and development." Can't be spun as knocking Israel -- so not worth reporting.

3. A UN Agency "is also prepared to manage the removal of any unusable material from the Gaza Strip [demolished settlements]. However, despite original assurances given to the United States by the Government of Egypt that the unusable material could be buried in the Sinai via the private sector, those assurances do not now seem secure in view of further information and further consideration by the Egyptians. The United States Government will work with the Government of Egypt to determine a way forward." Egypt, in other words, reneged -- not worth mentioning.

4. "Several of the issues mentioned above—movement across borders, internal movement in the West Bank, fiscal stabilization, rapid injections of money into the economy—are critical to Palestinian economic health. Currently, the combination of violence, closure and weak internal governance is undermining the chances for any substantive economic recovery. The onus for reversing this situation falls squarely on the two parties; absent serious change in bilateral relations and the ambient policy environment, no amount of donor money will bring about economic recovery." Again, can't be spun to knock Israel. Not worth reporting.

It goes on and on like that. Wolfensohn, apparently, is trying his best to be even-handed--despite -- as UN media trainer Ian Williams has pointed out -- the burden of being a Jew. However, the Times is not satisfied with that. They want him to dump on Israel, and if he won't do the dumping -- why, they'll do it for him!

Just yesterday I reported that the Times's deputy foreign editor has pledged, in an email to a reader, to avoid "simplistic phrasing" in its pieces on the Middle East. Seems that assurance was just a lot of hot air, as I suspected, and that "inaccurate phrasing" and "spin" are OK as well.

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