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US Media Promotes False Narrative of Kerry Peace Proposal

avatar by Karen Bekker

Former US Secretary of State John Kerry (left) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Former US Secretary of State John Kerry (left) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

On February 19, Haaretz reported that anonymous Obama administration sources claimed that in 2016, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu participated in a secret summit at which Secretary of State John Kerry presented a regional peace initiative.

Haaretz included a detailed account of the supposedly secret discussions among Netanyahu, Kerry, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Jordanian King Abdullah II. According to Haaretz, “Netanyahu did not accept Kerry’s proposal and said he would have difficulty getting it approved by his governing coalition.”

The story was picked up by the Associated Press, which published an article that was run by outlets such as the Washington PostCBSStars and Stripes and US News.

The CBS headline read, “Israeli leader turned down secret peace initiative, ex-officials say.” The Post headline read, “Ex-officials: Israeli leader spurned secret peace offer” — despite the fact that there was never any actual offer made.

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Similarly, Reuters reported that the initiative “ultimately fizzled out … after Netanyahu withdrew his initial support, pointing to opposition within his right-wing government.”

But was this an accurate representation of what happened?

According to Reuters, a statement from el-Sisi’s office called the Haaretz report “incorrect.” Yet in its subsequent coverage, the AP selectively quoted el-Sisi’s statement, and failed to mention that he had called the Haaretz report incorrect.

The AP also buried another important point: that the initiative was met with ambivalence by the Arab states. They quoted one Kerry aide who said, “The Arab partners also showed varying degrees of enthusiasm, with the Palestinians most concerned about concessions forced on them.”

Following the initial reports, former US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro tweeted about the attempted regional peace summit:

The Palestinians were the most unenthusiastic party, fearing they would be bypassed & pressured to accept terms they deemed unacceptable…. all parties – Arab, Israeli, Palestinian – contributed to the failure by their unwillingness 2 take certain risks.

In addition, an Israeli government source claimed that the summit failed because the US insisted on terms that were untenable for Israel. The Times of Israel reported:

The administration of former US president Barack Obama ruined the chance for a regional peace deal to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict last year by trying to impose its terms for the accord, a senior Israeli official reportedly said late Tuesday.

The Israeli official’s account is consistent with Haaretz’s assertion that two different plans were proposed at the summit — one by Kerry and one by Netanyahu.

That aspect of the story, however, was predictably downplayed in the original Haaretz article, coming towards the end of a long report and receiving no mention in the title or the lede (though Haaretz did provide details of what Netanyahu proposed in a subsequent report).

This fact was similarly downplayed by the AP and Reuters, creating a false narrative that Netanyahu was the sole obstacle to peace. And when additional details came to light from Ambassador Shapiro and Israeli officials, they were ignored by the American press.

The American press ran with the original Haaretz story, even though it was based on anonymous sources, because it contained a compelling anti-Israel narrative. American media outlets then published stories about Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog’s reaction to the report — in which he criticized Netanyahu. But the comments from the US Ambassador that vindicated Netanyahu received no coverage.

When the various accounts of Kerry’s peace initiative are pieced together, and when previously downplayed details are highlighted, what emerges is a very different picture from the one originally painted by Haaretz. But American media outlets chose to continue to promote the false narrative that Israel was to blame for the failure of the summit — and for the lack of peace in the region.

This is a case study in selective reporting and misleading headlines — the problems that we at CAMERA respond to regularly, and which skew the US public’s perception of the Mideast conflict.

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