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November 12, 2020 7:06 am

The Media Fails to Give Full Picture in Erekat Obituaries

avatar by Emanuel Miller


Palestinian Authority (PA) chief negotiator Saeb Erekat looks on during a news conference, following a meeting with foreign diplomats, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Jan. 30, 2019. Photo: Reuters / Mohamad Torokman.

Imagine you were a journalist tasked with writing up an obituary for a man who, while ostensibly negotiating for peace, was also engaged in undermining the prospects for peacefully arriving at a fair resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. You would make sure to mention that, right?

Apparently not if you’re one of the writers or editors working for CNN, Reuters, or the Associated Press.

Three of the biggest heavyweights in the media world all described the passing of Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat in glowing terms, and not one of them found space to mention his checkered history. In doing so, these outlets have effectively rewritten history, uniformly casting Erekat as dedicated to the cause of peace and a “champion of dialogue” who “tirelessly argued for a negotiated two-state solution.”

By contrast, Saeb Erekat had a long history of poisoning the conversation about Israelis and Palestinians with misleading statements and even outright lies, pushing both sides further from reconciliation. But the media reports about his death routinely skipped over these inconvenient details, instead portraying him as a loyal and respected negotiator for peace.

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The Palestinian Authority (PA) Martyrs’ Fund exists for the purpose of paying a monthly cash stipend to the families of Palestinians killed, injured, or imprisoned for involvement in attacking, assisting in attacking, or planning to attack Israelis; or for other types of politically-motivated violence, including riots, “demonstrations,” and rock-throwing. This scheme serves to incentivize terrorism against Israeli civilians and soldiers alike, encouraging Palestinians to attack Jews, equipped with the knowledge that doing so will land their families a sizeable income for life.

In fact, in his role as the Secretary General of the Executive Committee of the PLO, Erekat was responsible for the $400 million dollar per year fund, rewarding terror and brutal violence, including the killer of American tourist Taylor Force, who was visiting Israel in 2016 when a Palestinian stabbed him to death.

As a result, two years later,  an act named after Force was passed by the US Congress in order to preclude American economic aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) until it ceases paying stipends through the Martyr’s Fund. But rather than halting the policy, Erekat instead condemned America. Earlier this year, he railed against “the continuous American incitement against President Mahmoud Abbas and members of the Palestinian leadership.”

At the height of the Second Intifada, when Palestinian suicide bombers were repeatedly striking Israeli buses, cafes, busy streets, and hotels, Israel was forced to launch a military operation to stop the wave of deadly attacks. The city of Jenin had become a central base for terrorism mounted by several organizations, including Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, and Hamas. When Israeli forces launched an operation in the city, Erekat quickly appeared on television networks around the world, claiming that Israel had committed a massacre, saying “523 were killed.”

In reality, according to Human Rights Watch, hardly a pro-Israel source, 52 Palestinians were killed, of which at least 27 were combatants. The IDF said that 48 out of 53 killed were terrorists. Either way, the claim that hundreds were massacred was a bare-faced lie. But the Palestinian propaganda was then picked up by Amnesty International and others, which then give it a veneer of credibility, getting the false claim even more press coverage.

And that wasn’t all: When Israel announced it would be burying the bodies of terrorists, Erekat opportunistically accused Israel of “war crimes” and covering up the killing of civilians, saying, “They want to hide their crimes, the bodies of the little children and women.”

But none of this is mentioned in any of the obituaries by CNN, Reuters, or the Associated Press.

Additionally, Sky News transformed Erekat into a genuine moderate, describing him as “calling for dialogue and compromise.” CNN’s opening sentence called him a “veteran Palestinian negotiator,” while the AP’s obituary began by calling him a “veteran peace negotiator.” Those descriptions set the tone for a pattern in which Erekat is portrayed as committed to the peace process that was supposed to deliver a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

That tells only part of the story.

The aforementioned media outlets failed to note that Erekat, as the chief Palestinian negotiator, was very much part of the dynamic that led to the failure of peace talks. Repeatedly, the Palestinians proved themselves determined to refuse any meaningful compromise, thus stymieing the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state. Significantly, the Palestinian leadership turned down generous offers for statehood in 2000 at Camp David, as well as at Taba in 2001, and at Annapolis in 2008. The Palestinians also rejected efforts in 2014 and 2016 to revive negotiations. Under Erekat’s leadership. the Palestinians time and again rejected reasonable offers on the table — but his obituaries fail to note this ongoing failure.

In his support of terrorism through the Martyrs Fund, demonization of Israel by incessantly taking to the media to mischaracterize Israel’s acts of self-defense as escalations, and in spreading barefaced lies about a massacre that never was, Erekat cannot simply be portrayed as a “Palestinian negotiator,” much less one purely dedicated to peace. These too were defining aspects of his career, and the public deserves to be able to make their own judgment of him, with full and accurate information.

Erekat was a media darling, and these omissions mean readers were not provided with the full picture. Erekat might well have advocated for a two-state solution, but he was not simply a man committed to peace negotiations. He also propagated anti-Israel smears through a compliant media. And for all this to be excluded by so many leading news outlets is both negligent and likely indicative of an underlying bias.

Emanuel Miller writes for HonestReporting, where this article first appeared.

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