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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Robert Novak's self-delusions

Robert Novak's latest column is another prime example of what can happen when one's personal opinions and wishes interfere with the truth.

I don't think that Novak is stupid, but the self-delusion in this column is emblematic of all that is wrong with well-meaning people who are starving for "peace" - no matter how illusory. (I would tend to believe that it is related to egomania as well - to my mind, the credibility of a commentator is inversely proportional to how much he injects himself in the story. Much like Thomas Friedman and Bill O'Reilly.)

In this column, Novak tells of his difficulties in finding someone from Hamas to interview. Then he somewhat dishonestly mentions:
I arrived in Jerusalem again April 3, two weeks after Hamas brought the more moderate opposition Fatah party into a new National Unity government. The Los Angeles Times had just run a remarkable op-ed column by political independent Salam Fayyad, finance minister in the new government who lived in Washington for 20 years, served as a World Bank official and is well respected in the West. He wrote that the Palestine Liberation Organization's 1993 acceptance of Israel and disavowal of violence is "a crystal-clear and binding agreement" that "no Palestinian government has the authority to revoke." He added that the unity government's platform "explicitly" pledges to honor all PLO commitments.

Over dinner in a Ramallah restaurant April 4, Fayyad told me he offered his column simultaneously to several major American newspapers to get this story out quickly. But do his Hamas colleagues accept his reasoning? Fayyad made clear he was not flying solo.
Note that Fayyad is not a Hamas member. He doesn't mention any specifics about who in Hamas might agree to a peaceful solution. Novak does mention that he is an "independent" but a cursory reading of this episode, right next to his description of how hard it was to find someone from Hamas, implies that Fayyad is representing Hamas in some way.
Just before my trip ended, the Palestinian Authority at long last put me in touch with an official who was no low-level bureaucrat. Nasser al-Shaer was deputy prime minister in the all-Hamas regime last Aug. 19 when he was seized in an Israeli raid on his home in Ramallah and held for a month without charges or evidence.

In his ministry office April 7, he looked nothing like the shirt-sleeved, tie-less Shaer photographed when he was released last Sept. 27. Holder of a doctorate from England's University of Manchester, he was dressed in a stylish suit. More telling than his appearance was what he said.

When I asked whether Hamas agreed with Fayyad's formulation, Shaer said it did not matter: "We are talking about the government, not groups." He said Hamas was no more relevant to Palestinian policy than the views of extremist anti-Palestinian Israeli Cabinet member Avigdor Lieberman are to Israeli policy. Unexpectedly, Shaer expressed dismay that "previous attempts at peace were ruined by suicide bombers. Now, we look forward to a sustained peace."

While avoiding Israel-bashing, Shaer conjectured: "I don't think the Israeli government wants a two-state solution. Without pressure from the president of the United States, nothing is going to happen."
Novak exhibits a complete and utter lack of cynicism for Shaer's semi-peaceful words. He finally found his Hamas spokesman and any facts that disagree with this man's assertions do not even rate a mention.

Comparing Hamas, the ruling partner in the coalition, with Lieberman is intellectually dishonest.
Not mentioning Hamas' charter, its repeated description of its purpose as the destruction of Israel, it clear support for terror attacks is equally dishonest.

It is especially ironic that he approvingly quotes Shaer's "I don't think the Israeli government wants a two-state solution" and doesn't deign to mention that Hamas explicitlydoesnt' want a two-state solution. One would expect a reporter to ask at least a couple of basic questions: how can Shaer be a Hamas member and then disavow himself from Hamas' very raison d'etre? Is this not similar to the PLO's historic two-faced positions where they say one thing to gullible Western journalists and diplomats and the complete opposite to their own people? Is Shaer not afraid to saythese things publicly when Hamas has a habit of making dissenter's lives a bit uncomfortable?

Novak does none of this. His personal agenda and narrative has been confirmed by a single member of Hamas in English and that's all the evidence he needs to push it as fact, and blame the Bush administration for not talking to these reasonable sounding people.