NYT Set Up Obama's Speech by Pitting 'Unyielding' Netanyahu vs. 'Reasonable' Palestinians

May 20th, 2011 12:00 PM

President Obama’s much-hyped speech Thursday on the Middle East called for a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians and endorsing Israel’s pre-1967 borders as the starting point for the negotiations. The New York Times’s lead story Thursday morning by Helene Cooper and Ethan Bronner, "Focus On Obama As Tensions Soar Across Mideast," set the table by sharpening the focus on Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s "unyielding" recalcitrance as the main "stumbling blocks" to negotiations.

Mr. Obama, who is set to address Americans -- and, more significantly, Muslims around the world -- from the State Department on Thursday morning, may yet have something surprising up his sleeve. One administration official said that there remained debate about whether Mr. Obama would formally endorse Israel’s pre-1967 borders as the starting point for negotiations over a Palestinian state, a move that would send an oratorical signal that the United States expected Israel to make concessions.

Times reporting from Jerusalem is often hostile toward the conservative security-conscious Netanyahu, while whitewashing the terrorist origin of the Palestinian militants of Hamas, and there were traces of that on Thursday’s report from Washington.

Mr. Netanyahu, aides say, is planning to tell Mr. Obama that Israel wants to keep a military presence along the Jordan River and sovereignty over Jerusalem and the settlement blocs -- three major stumbling blocks for the Palestinians -- but that it would be willing to negotiate away the rest of the West Bank, more territory than Mr. Netanyahu has been willing to specify in the past. He has one condition -- the Palestinian government cannot include Hamas. Mr. Netanyahu knows that the Palestinians will find this condition unacceptable, particularly since Fatah, the main Palestinian movement, just signed a unity pact with Hamas. But since the United States labels Hamas as terrorists, Mr. Netanyahu is betting that he will appear more forthcoming than ever.

Is Hamas merely "labeled" terrorist, or is it undeniably a terrorist group? An ad from the Anti-Defamation League in Thursday’s Times notes Hamas "uses classic anti-Semitism to justify the elimination of Israel," pointing to the Hamas Charter, which reads in part: "There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad."

As usual, the Times portrayed Israel and Netanyahu as the "unyielding" force that must change its attitude, while claiming "diplomatic momentum" was on the side of the Palestinians (as if the functionally anti-Israel United Nations has played no role in that).

Diplomatic momentum has been with the Palestinians for several years, with their leadership and requests viewed as reasonable and Mr. Netanyahu as unyielding. Some in Israel believe now is the time to seize the moment with a bold initiative, but they are not in power. "The coming days are a final chance to stop or at least to slow Israel’s diplomatic decline," Dov Weissglas, who was bureau chief for Ariel Sharon when he was prime minister, wrote in Wednesday’s Yediot Aharonot newspaper. He wants a more far-reaching offer from Mr. Netanyahu that would give up East Jerusalem and not require that Israel keep soldiers along the Jordan.

The Times conflated the recent Arab spring with the historical Muslim animus toward Israel:

Many, including some within the Obama administration, think the talks with Hamas need not be a deal breaker and could even be useful over the long run. Finally, the upheavals in the Arab world are turning the mood ever more against Israel, making American and European leaders eager to pressure it for concessions.

So far Mr. Obama has not used the moment to push Israel. But Palestinians have been absorbing lessons and audacity from pro-democracy demonstrators across the Arab world. They have learned the value of unarmed mass movements organized on Facebook and other social media.

The Times whitewashed the attempted invasion by Palestinians on three fronts on Sunday as merely an "approach" of Israel’s borders.

Last Sunday, thousands of Palestinians approached Israel’s borders to claim, at least symbolically, their right of return on the anniversary of Israel’s founding. Israeli troops opened fire and more than a dozen people were killed. While the numbers of protesters were relatively small, there are Arabic social media pages calling for such marches to the fences to occur with greater frequency, especially as September approaches and the Palestinian Authority seeks membership in the United Nations. If tens of thousands of Palestinians were to march, Israel would find itself in great difficulty.

Sunday’s lead story accurately noted that hundreds of Palestinians tried "to force their way across" the Lebanese border.