Michael Weiss
The Wall Street Journal (Editorial)
February 1, 2011 - 1:00am

Last week Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera and Britain's Guardian newspaper released a tranche of 1,600 documents that appear to consist of Palestinian negotiators' emails and meeting minutes covering the past 10 years of manic-depressive Arab-Israeli peace negotiations.

The Guardian presented these disclosures in grand tabloid style, claiming in an editorial that they show the Palestinian Authority to be "craven" and "weak" for its willingness to compromise with Israel. The real scandal is not that the Palestinian leadership was willing to consider certain concessions to end the conflict, but that the Guardian would object to those peace overtures in favor of continued intransigence.

Chief among the findings in the "Palestine Papers," as they have come to be called, are that the Palestinians are willing to cede certain neighborhoods in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem to Israel in exchange for compensatory land elsewhere; and that several million Palestinians' so-called "Right of Return" to Israel would be honored symbolically but not actually.

None of these compromises were ever certified by formal agreement on either side, nor did they rise above the level of presuppositions and negotiating starting points. More importantly, the broad outlines of these concessions have been public information since the Camp David summit of 2000, which is where these minutes and emails begin.

But according to Guardian editorial writers, the leaked papers read like "the longest suicide note in history." Although in the final paragraph of its first editorial on the subject, the newspaper perfunctorily expresses its faith in a two-state solution, its spin on these documents over the past week suggests otherwise.

The same editorial instructs us that the only way forward is for the U.S. to recognize the terror organization Hamas, which is sworn to Israel's destruction and incorporates the most primitive anti-Semitism in its founding charter. By presenting the Palestinian Authority's compromises as nothing less than treasonous, the Guardian has helped to undermine Palestinian moderates and bolster the extremists.

Consider also the Guardian's decision on Wednesday to give the newspaper's comment section over to Osama Hamdan, the head of Hamas's international relations department, who has explicitly defended suicide bombings against Israeli civilians. As late as 2007, Mr. Hamdan said the "final goal of the resistance is to wipe this entity [Israel] off the face of the Earth." Last week, he used his column space in the Guardian to affirm his party's aim to "regain the initiative in order to protect our cause and isolate those who have betrayed it." All that was missing here was an explicit call for a third Intifada against Israel or another Palestinian civil war. Is this the Guardian's idea of a viable partner for peace?

Finally, the Guardian deemed worthy of publication a letter to the editor written by University College London professor Ted Honderich, who wrote "the Palestinians have a moral right to their terrorism within historic Palestine against neo-Zionism." Well, it was good of him to avoid euphemisms in suggesting how Hamas might "regain the initiative."

No journalist will dispute the right to publish privileged information. But at a time when the Middle East is on the verge of major upheavals—some of them overdue and potentially democratic as in Egypt and Tunisia, others theocratic and potentially violent as in Lebanon—it is the height of irresponsibility for a major news outlet to frame the contents of privileged information as more explosive than they really are. Not to mention egging on the people who will do the actual exploding.

Mr. Weiss is executive director of Just Journalism, a London-based think tank that monitors how the British media cover Israel and the Middle East.


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