By Eric Rozenman and Myron Kaplan
Journalists are as good as their sources. When it comes to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, a prized source for many Western reporters is Saeb Erekat.
Unfortunately, the Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator is a serial prevaricator.
A fairly recent example came on Al Jazeera America’s Consider This program hosted by Antonio Mora.
Erekat told Mora, who did not question the claim, that Israel “never left” the West Bank and now wants to destroy the P.A. so it “could resume as the occupying power.”
In reality, as part of the 1990s “Oslo peace process,” Israel turned over large parts of the West Bank, containing more than 90 percent of the Arab population, to P.A. administration. Only after numerous Palestinian terrorist attacks during the Second Intifada, including frequent suicide bombings originating from towns its troops had vacated, was Israel forced to reoccupy West Bank population centers.
Viewers could not tell from Al Jazeera America’s Erekat interview, but Israel when possible works with P.A. security forces to suppress Hamas, al-Qaida and other terrorist groups in the West Bank that seek to destroy the authority first, Israel second.
Erekat raised a big warning flag over his own credibility in 2002 when he told Cable News Network, of an Israeli massacre in Jenin with at least 500 dead. Eventually, Palestinian officials themselves put the figure at 56. Nearly all of them were combatants, killed in house-to-house fighting in which Israel lost 23 soldiers.
In 2005, Erekat asserted to Agence France-Presse that the Israeli-Palestinian “road map” promoted by the United States, Russia, United Nations and European Union committed Israel to, among other things, releasing Palestinian prisoners. In fact, the Quartet’s diplomatic initiative did not mention prisoners.
Last year, Erekat fabricated on a grand scale. In early April, he declared, “Hamas is a Palestinian movement, is not and never will be a terrorist organization.” In May he called it “a political, not a terrorist movement.”
Apparently there’s another Hamas (Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement), unrelated to the one designated by the United States, Israel, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and other countries as a terrorist organization. Or, perhaps Erekat does not consider the group’s murder of hundreds of Israeli non-combatants (not to mention scores of members of Erekat’s own Fatah organization) and its indiscriminate firing of thousands of mortars and rockets at Israel as terrorism.
Maybe in the alternate universe where the P.A.’s chief negotiator presides as a credible news source it’s Israel that commits terrorism. Last summer, he asserted that all 66 Palestinian “victims” slain by Israeli forces between the resumption of talks in August, 2013 and their collapse in June 2014 “were killed in cold blood.”
A check of 43, not 66, names posted by B’Tselem, a pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli government group, revealed 34 members of Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades or other terrorist factions. Seven of the remaining nine were killed either in riots, approaching an Israeli military position at the Gaza Strip fence or in a gunfight. But in Erekat-land, Israeli terrorism did them in and the negotiations as well.
He spent the first weeks of 2014, including on Jan. 31 in Munich, peddling the historical fantasy that today’s Palestinian Arabs descend from ancient Canaanites and therefore predate Israelites in the Holy Land by thousands of years. In fact, the non-Arab Canaanites had faded into history long before Babylonia destroyed the Philistines (themselves not Middle Eastern but rather an Aegean Sea people) at the end of seventh century B.C.E. and exiled the Israelites a few decades later.
Which returns us to Erekat on Al Jazeera America. He charged that “12,000 Palestinians were killed or wounded” in last summer’s war between Israel and Hamas and its allies in the Gaza Strip, perhaps hoping viewers would remember “12,000 Palestinians killed ….”
In fact, approximately 2,100 died, of whom roughly half were combatants. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress that Israel had gone out of its way to avoid civilian casualties.
But Al Jazeera America’s Mora failed to challenge Erekat or even prod him toward precision. In that, he mirrored many in the Western media who undermine their own credibility by granting believability to Saeb Erekat.
Eric Rozenman is Washington director of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. Myron Kaplan is CAMERA’s senior television analyst.