Thursday, May 05, 2011

NYT's Ethan Bronner: When wishful thinking trumps facts

Ethan Bronner in the New York Times has a scoop!

One day after celebrating a landmark reconciliation accord for Palestinian unity, Khaled Meshal, the Hamas leader, said on Thursday that he was fully committed to working for a two-state solution but declined to swear off violence or agree that a Palestinian state would produce an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
So what were Meshal's exact words?

Here is everything he is quoted as having said on the topic:
"The whole world knows what Hamas thinks and what our principles are. But we are talking now about a common national agenda. The world should deal with what we are working toward now, the national political program.

"[This is] a Palestinian state in the 1967 lines with Jerusalem as its capital, without any settlements or settlers, not an inch of land swaps and respecting the right of return [of millions of Palestinian Arab "refugees" to Israel itself.]"

Asked if a deal honoring those principles would produce an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Mr. Meshal said, “I don’t want to talk about that.”

He added: “When Israel made agreements with Egypt and Jordan, no one conditioned it on how Israel should think. The Arabs and the West didn’t ask Israel what it was thinking deep inside. All Palestinians know that 60 years ago they were living on historic Palestine from the river to the sea. It is no secret.”
Did the words "two-state solution" escape his lips? Did he say he was prepared to recognize Israel under any circumstances? Did he even imply that? No - he actually said that he would continue to encourage violence against Israelis:

“Where there is occupation and settlement, there is a right to resistance. Israel is the aggressor. But resistance is a means, not an end.”

He added that over the coming months, as Hamas and Fatah work out their differences, “we are ready to reach an agreement on how to manage resistance.” He noted that Hamas had entered into cease-fires with Israel in the past and that it was ready to do so in the future. There is one in effect right now. But his broad principle, he said, was this: “If occupation ends, resistance ends. If Israel stops firing, we stop firing.”

Asked if he thought nonviolent resistance was a useful approach for the Palestinians, he replied, “Unfortunately, nonviolence doesn’t work against the Israelis.”
So perhaps Bronner, who has been covering the area for a few years now, assumes that Meshal's statement that Hamas would end violence if the "occupation" ends as somehow accepting a two-state solution?

Only one problem. Hamas considers all of Israel "occupied." And you don't even have to look hard to realize this - just Google for the word "Occupied" in the English-language Qassam.ps website, run by Hamas' Al Qassam Brigades.

Here you see that Israel's "occupation" includes Ashkelon, Lod, Ashdod, Netivot - and all of the land "occupied in 1948."

Is Bronner this ignorant, after reporting about Hamas for years, not to know what their keywords are? Is it really possible that he doesn't know how Hamas has been playing this same semantic game for years, including in the pages of the NYT op-ed section? Has he not ever heard these same Hamas leaders saying, explicitly in Arabic, that their goal is to destroy Israel - and they have never abandoned that goal in any language?

It is a scary thought that an evidently bright guy is this clueless about the subject that is supposed to be his area of expertise by now.

But even worse is that nothing Meshal said can be remotely construed even in English as implying that he would accept Israel's right to exist, the very definition of a two-state solution.

The only possibility is that Bronner, like so many other Westerners, is infected with "wishthinkitis," a disease where what you want to hear overrides what people actually say. Those with wishthinkitis have the aural equivalent of rose-colored glasses, where every word uttered - no matter how vile and bigoted - is turned into sunshine and flowers.

Those suffering from this condition lose all ability to think critically, to look at things objectively, and to report things accurately. It apparently never entered Bronner's mind to ask some simple questions of Meshal:

  •  If you get all of your demands for every inch of the territories, would you then support a peace treaty with Israel?
  •  Do you agree, today, with every word in the Hamas Charter? If not, what specifically do you disagree with?
  • If you do not agree with it, is there any other document that you can point to that describes Hamas' goals and objectives precisely? (Shouldn't be hard because Meshal told Bronner that "the whole world knows what Hamas thinks and what our principles are." Will they be only temporarily subsumed under the PA, or permanently?
  •  Do you still support a single Islamic state stretching from North Africa through the Gulf?
  •  Do you consider Spain to be occupied Muslim land?

These are only some of the real questions that should be asked from someone like Meshal. No matter what he answers, it would be newsworthy - either to Westerners or to his fellow Arabs, or both.

Unfortunately, those with wishthinkitis cannot ask the hard questions, and they cannot follow up double-talk answers with decent followup questions. Because they are so thrilled with what they heard, even if it has no relationship with what was actually said.