Thursday, May 19, 2011

When in doubt, make stuff up

Minor flaw with the "shocker" hed from the Fair 'n' Balanced Network: It isn't true. It's, um, false. It's made up. It's bogus. If you're wondering why you haven't seen that claim in grownup coverage of today's events, that could have something to do with it.

Here's the relevant bit from today's address (give Fox credit for posting the text, which shows the hed to be an out-and-out lie):

The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.

Or, as Bush Jr. put it in a letter to Ariel Sharon in 2004: "it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final-status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949."  In the context of the 2000 talks, this was called "sand for peace": the idea that Israel would cede some Green Line territory in return for the close-in settlement blocs.

In a column a year after Bush's letter, Zbigniew Brzezinski and William Quandt suggested why Bush's stance was distinctive:

For the first time, an American president had openly sided with the current Israeli view that the passage of time and new realities obviated Israel's obligation to withdraw more or less to the 1967 lines (essentially the same as the 1949 armistice lines) in return for peace, recognition and security.

Still, they say, Bush's letter "is essentially a reaffirmation of the traditional American view that the 1949 armistice lines should be the starting point for any discussion of border changes and that changes in them cannot be one-sided." And that's not
far at all from what Obama told the BBC: "Conditions on the ground have changed," and "both sides" are going to need to make adjustments.

It's always interesting and relevant to see what presidents put into the record about the Middle East, but -- in addition to not openly fabricating stuff -- news organizations need to be reasonably contextual in how they present that information. At Fox, of course, it's just further evidence that Obama is tying on the old keffiyeh and getting ready to sell Israel and Christianity down the river. (As of this writing, the Fox article has nearly 11,500 comments, to which the reader is referred.) The Washington Post's instant experts are fixated on a tweet from Sweden's foreign minister calling the idea of starting with the pre-'67 borders "fundamental," which it is, though it'd be nice to note that it's also not a surprise. The Times too thinks Obama is moving a "subtle ... step closer" to the Palestinian position:

The shift is significant because it means America now explicitly backs the view that new Israeli settlement construction outside those borders would have to be reversed — or compensated for by exchanges of territory — in talks over the formation of a new Palestinian state.


Considering that Bush's plan also called for an end to "settlement activity," it really seems that we need a bit more sense of where the new order stands in relation to the old one. Jazeera makes a reasonable effort to assess what both sides might see as gains from the address. The BBC plays up the broader issue of diplomacy in light of the "Arab Spring," and it puts Obama's warning to the Palestinians -- no haring around at the UN asking for recognition of statehood -- above tea-leaf-reading about how far from the standing position on borders the new statement might be. (Also worth a look are the local perspectives of Ha'aretz and the Jerusalem Post.)

That's about perspective and context, though. It's not about making things up. As always, when you're complaining about journalism, don't mistake Fox for the real thing.

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