This week, Newt Gingrich did what many Middle East observers have tried in vain to achieve: he widened the parameters of the debate on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Gingrich stated:
“Remember, there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire. We have invented the Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs and are historically part of the Arab people, and they had the chance to go many places.”
For much of the media, coverage of the conflict goes back as far as 1967 and revolves around the narrative of Israeli-Palestinian territorial disputes. Yet over the weekend, words such as “Ottoman Empire” were trending on twitter, sparking interest in the early twentieth century history of the Middle East, when the conflict indeed began to simmer.
While the merit of Gingrich’s statements are being hotly debated, the coverage of his controversial statements is interesting for an altogether different reason: the intense media attention to his controversial statements exposes an often-used media double standard which follows this principle: Controversial statements surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are worthy of intense coverage if they are pro-Israel; Controversial, even egregious, statements made by Palestinian leaders are not newsworthy.
The problem of Palestinian incitement against Israel, and the offensive statements they engender, is real and clearly articulated in the Palestinian Authority’s obligations under the Road Map and the Oslo Accords: Stopping this abhorrent practice is a condition for statehood.
For it is a fact that Palestinian leaders have been making offensive, untruthful and shocking statements for years not just in Arabic, but in plain English as well. Take, for example, Abbas’ recent statements that not a single Israeli would be allowed to live in a future Palestine, making it Judenrein. Abbas also repeatedly rejects the idea of Israel as a Jewish state. Considering the possibility that NATO forces might be brought in to monitor a settlement, Abbas stated: “I will not accept the presence of Jews in these forces.” According to Abbas, Palestinian terrorists are “freedom fighters and holy warriors”. Thus, he proudly cuts ribbons at ceremonies inaugurating public squares and schools named after terrorists.
Yet when Hanan Ashrawi and Saeb Erekat this weekend said respectively that he was “incapable of holding public office” and it was “the lowest point anyone can reach”, they meant Gingrich, not Abbas. The hypocrisy of these statements went unnoticed because Controversial Statements Made By Palestinian Leaders Go Un-Scrutinized.
The controversial issue raised by Gingrich is not whether the Palestinians are historically indistinct from the Arab people. Instead, it is: When will the media report the egregious statements issuing from the Palestinian leadership? As long as these are ignored, one cannot hope to get a balanced view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.