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Sunday, December 04, 2011

Abbas has no strategy - and another type of media bias

A rare wire-service article critical of Mahmoud Abbas, from AFP:

The Palestinian bid for membership of the United Nations, launched amid fanfare in September, has hit a dead end and left the major powers wondering if president Mahmud Abbas has a strategy.

The Palestinian leadership shows no sign of calling for a vote on the application for full membership at the UN Security Council and after getting acceptance by UNESCO there has been no followup to other international agencies.

Abbas told the UN General Assembly how the bid for international recognition of a Palestinian state was born out of frustration at what he considers Israel's deliberate blocking of the peace process.

But many experts call the campaign a failure.

"They did not get the ... votes at the Security Council and so I think that bid basically has failed," said David Makovsky, director of the peace process project at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank.

The Palestinians had to get nine votes from the 15 Security Council members, but too many said they would abstain or oppose the bid. Even if they had succeeded, the United States had made it clear it would veto the bid.

The Palestinians may be holding back because they do not want to further risk their relations with President Barack Obama's administration, Makovsky told AFP.

Philip Wilcox, a scholar with the Middle East Institute and former US diplomat with special responsibility for Middle East affairs, also called the Palestinian a "failure" -- for now.

"I don't think they will ask for a vote unless they are sure to get nine votes," Wilcox said.

The Security Council's new members committee could not agree on a united recommendation on the Palestinian application and for the past month the Council has been waiting for a sign from the Palestinian leadership on their next move.

Abbas could also decide to seek a super-observer status at the UN General Assembly where a majority is virtually guaranteed but the prize would have much less status than full membership.

Palestinian diplomats at the United Nations say they are waiting for instructions from Ramallah. Western envoys at the UN say they have been told not to take any action until Abbas decides.

"We are really not sure what the Palestinian strategy is and whether they have one," one senior Western diplomat said.

Vitaly Churkin, Russian envoy to the UN and president of the Security Council for December, indicated that he too is in the dark, when asked at a press conference on Friday.
It is a good article, showing a side of the PA that we rarely see.

And that is the problem.

Even though this article was released by AFP last night, I found it only at two news sites: Asia One and Univision. (I only noticed it at all because it was mentioned prominently in Jordan's Al Ghad in Arabic, where the readers presictably rated it "bad.")

Wire services send out articles to their client newspapers and other media. The editors at the media outlets decide whether to include these stories in their collection of articles or not.

This article is nearly invisible on news sites that choose hundreds of other articles a day from AFP.

The reason? It seems to be because it contradicts the prevailing narrative of an ascendant Palestinian Authority with its inevitable march towards statehood and respectability.

Journalists are lazy. They have a pack mentality that all but ensures that original reporting and analysis is suppressed in favor of following easy-to-understand snapshot narratives.

But even more lazy are editors. When given a chance to show an alternative to the ever-present memes, they will very often choose to ignore it. It is too hard to explain, it might bring in complaints, it contradicts the other narratives that they so lovingly embrace. Who needs the headaches?

Abbas bet his people on statehood. He lost. He has no Plan B. But the media which has portrayed him as a moderate, pragmatic hero cannot bear to explain to their readers that they were wrong and that Abbas is more interested in stunts than negotiations and compromise.


Only when events occur that they cannot ignore will editors start to accept a new narrative. But it has to be easy to understand, with a clear hero and a clear villain, or else they fear their readers will run away. Short of an Abbas sex scandal, it is easier to just let the statehood story die, and keep the image of a peaceful and moderate Abbas pristine for the next time he butts heads with the intransigent, hardline Israeli leader.