As Peter Hart of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting notes, “WikiLeaks document dumps are largely what media want to make of them,” and the major U.S. newspapers have so far played up the WikiLeaks revelations about Iran and various Israeli and Arab officials’ alarm over Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.
The headlines on two New York Times articles read: “Around the World, Distress Over Iran,” and “Iran Is Fortified With North Korean Aid.” The Washington Post, whose overall coverage of the classified diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks has been lacking, has a piece titled, “Netanyahu says WikiLeaks cables show Arab states share Israeli concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.”
But that’s not all the latest documents from WikiLeaks show about politics in the Middle East. Other leaked cables that have so far been ignored by mainstream media concern Israel’s perception of the Palestinian Authority (PA)–perceptions that undermine the conventional narrative on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and relations.
The conventional narrative, which closely follows establishment discourse on Israel-Palestine, is that Israel and the Palestinians are engaged or have been engaged in “peace talks” with the goal of bringing about a Palestinian state in the near future. The Palestinian Authority and Israel are in conflict with each other over issues such as building settlements in the West Bank. While these talks go on, the West Bank is enjoying an unprecedented period of economic prosperity and a stable governing entity that can bring about a Palestinian state. Articles about this diplomatic tango dominate U.S. media coverage of the region because that’s what elites in the U.S., Israel and Palestine are engaged in (see, for example, here, here, and here from the New York Times). In sum, mainstream media coverage is much more about the “process” than the “peace” when it comes to discussing the so-called “peace process.”
If media would report on them, the diplomatic discussions that have been revealed by WikiLeaks add much needed context to understanding the relationship between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
You wouldn’t know it from reading major U.S. papers, but the Palestinian Authority essentially functions as a subcontractor for the Israeli occupation, and WikiLeaks confirms this fact further. For instance, the PA’s security forces have been used to drive Hamas, the Islamist movement that was democratically elected in 2006 and controls the Gaza Strip, underground, as Hamas opposes (violently in some cases) engaging Israel in “peace talks.” In the immediate run-up to PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s direct talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the PA cracked down harshly on Palestinian dissidents who opposed the resumption of negotiations with Israel.
From a number of WikiLeaks documents, we learn that Israel is quite happy with the PA, though worried about its long-term political viability, and even attempted to coordinate the brutal 2008-09 assault on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip with the PA.
In one cable from 2009, Amos Gilad, an Israeli defense ministry official, is quoted as saying “that Israeli-PA security and economic cooperation in the West Bank continues to improve as Jenin and Nablus flourish, and described Palestinian security forces as the ‘good guys.’” Another cable from 2007 quotes Netanyahu as candidly saying that the “entire Palestinian economy [is] based on graft and patronage,” which runs contrary to the rosy descriptions of the West Bank economy Americans routinely hear from the likes of Thomas Friedman.
But don’t expect media to report on this. It would prove that “peace talks” and the diplomatic tango that accompanies them, which is all the media reports on, is a facade.