Hostility towards Israel makes strange bedfellows. Earlier this year, The Guardian, a newspaper that considers itself progressive and liberal, teamed up with al-Jazeera, a media network owned by Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the absolute ruler of Qatar, who wouldn’t be the first person you''d think of when considering liberalism and progressive principles.
These two unlikely partners joined forces to achieve what eventually became the emasculation of the Palestinian negotiators. They did so by jointly leaking some 1,600 files, which they named the Palestine Papers,and which deal with the internal and informal discussions from the Israel-Palestinian peace negotiations.
The files, much of which were provided to al-Jazeera by a disgruntled former Palestinian advisor, Ziyad Clot (who authored a book called “There Will be no Palestinian State”), included personal notes and papers obtained in an act of theft (or as the British media watchdog Ofcom glibly described it, “a privacy infringement”) from the offices of Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat.
The sensationalistic publication of the papers extended over a period of weeks, even months, and sparked many responses, some condemning the exposé, and some lauding the scoop as a feat that brought the truth out into the open. And in all this media frenzy, Israel, for once, watched from the sidelines.
Despite Ziyad Clot’s self-serving justifications and explanations (“I believed I had a duty to inform the public”), the main objective in publishing the papers was obviously to derail the negotiations that Clot believed were too concessionary. In his mind, as in the mind of the editors of The Guardian (and apparently of al-Jazeera too), the Palestinian negotiators had gone too far and had given up vital Palestinian interests. So the best way to put an end to this line of negotiations was to either emasculate the negotiators or bring them back into line with the hardliners. And what better way to achieve both than by making their private notes public.
Similar to many Palestinians, Erekat responded angrily, branding the account of the negotiations a combination of “lies, fabrications and half truths”, while another senior negotiator, Ahmed Qureia, stated that "many parts of the documents were fabricated, as part of the incitement against the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian leadership". After al-Jazeera aired a four-part indictment based on the Papers, Erekat submitted a formal complaint to Ofcom.
In his complaint, Erekat maintained that the al-Jazeera series was unbalanced, it purposefully omitted important contextual information, and presented excerpts out of context. That the network dramatized informal papers, taking liberties with voice intonations, dramatic use of music, and purposefully negative character portrayals. That he was not given adequate time to prepare a response, and that on being asked for his response he was mislead as to the subject of the discussion he was invited to attend, in contrast to the other participants.
In conclusion Erekat added that the theft of the papers and the subsequent al-Jazeera program “had damaged the opportunity to reach a negotiated agreement in the Middle East and had done a disservice to the Palestinian people.”
Erekat’s goal was obviously to have Ofcom impose punitive measure on al-Jazeera.
Now Britain’s record for fair journalism is far from spotless. In one exmaple, it’s press regulatory commission rejected a complaint from Israel regarding a Der Sturmer-style cartoon in The Independent, in which Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is depicted with a “vote Likud” sign over his genitals, while he butchers and eats a Palestinian child and asks: "What''s wrong? Have you never seen a politician kissing a child before?"
In rejecting the complaint, the commission incredulously explained that while it recognized that the illustration offended some readers, the reactions published in the newspaper following the cartoon''s publication showed there were readers and political commentators who did not view it as an expression of a blood libel. These were the commission’s main arguments, and it would be difficult to make them sound more hollow if they tried.
Any discussion of British Middle East media prejudice wouldn’t be complete without mention of the BBC (affectionately called ‘Auntie’ by the Brits). A legal battle has been waging for several years now trying to get Auntie to disclose her secret internal report on bias in her Middle East reporting. So far the battle has been unsuccessful – the BBC is resisting tooth and nail, and it is unlikely that that is because the report is so favorable to the BBC.
So, in a society that protects is biases, what chance did Erekat have? None, as it turns out. Just recently, in a lengthy 19-page decision, and to much applause from the anti-concessionary camp, Ofcom rejected Erekat’s compalint against al-Jazeera of unfair treatment and unwarranted infringement of privacy in the making and broadcast of their program. Apparently, the al-Jazeera level of journalism is fine for Britain.
Predictably, al-Jazeera was ecstatic, and Clayton Swisher, their Palestine Papers specialist, opines in The Guardian that the Ofcom’s vindication of al-Jazeera’s Palestine Papers is perhaps “the best contribution to the [Middle East] region in some time”.
Well if that’s true, then we, in the Middle East, should feel fortunate that we have Clayton and his network to poke about our private informal notes and sift through our waste paper baskets. But it’s not true. It is mostly the hardest of the hardliners who actually feel that way. Those striving for peace on both sides of the Palestinian-Israel divide, despite their differences, do not at all see the Emir of Qatar’s network or his partners at The Guardian as the “best contributors” to the Middle East. Quite the opposite. Whatever the chances for peace may have been before these two bedfellows got together, they are substantially lower now.
The “Palestinian papers” and Ofcom’s vindication of al-Jazeera, reminds me of the story of a woman who went to a rabbi to ask if her chicken was kosher. “The chicken was slaughtered and cleaned according to the kosher dietary laws,” she told the rabbi, “but I then forgot it out in the sun for an hour. Tell me rabbi, is the chicken still kosher?”
The rabbi thought for a few moments. “Yes, the chicken is kosher.” he replied.
“It stinks, but it’s kosher.”