Israeli Ambassador's Dishonest Attacks on the <em>Guardian</em> Miss the Point

Ron Prosor's crude attack on our reporting of the Palestine Papers does neither him nor his country a service.
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Anyone who writes or edits stories about Israel and the Palestinians gets used to the extreme reactions they frequently produce. But even by the standards of this combustible issue, the attack on the Guardian mounted by Israel's ambassador to London last week was breathtakingly splenetic.

Writing on this website, Ron Prosor suggested that the paper's coverage of the Palestinian Papers, a trove of previously unseen documents chronicling 10 years of the peace process, left its "affinity for Hamas" beyond doubt. "Never has a British broadsheet so openly served the agenda of Middle Eastern extremism."

The ambassador went on to suggest that one Guardian columnist hankered after "the massacre of athletes at the Munich Olympics, the hijacking of planes or the suicide bombing of civilians in shopping malls and pizza parlors" and concluded by drawing parallels between the Hamas charter and the stance of a paper which has supported Israel's right to exist since long before 1948.

It would be tempting to laugh off Mr. Prosor's bilious onslaught if the charges he made were not so serious. But they are grave and, since Mr. Prosor speaks with the authority of the Israeli state, they demand a response.

The first thing worth pointing out is what the ambassador doesn't say: anything at all about the 15,000 or so words of reporting which the Guardian published based on the documents, which were initially obtained by Al Jazeera and independently authenticated and scrutinised by a Guardian team.

In a series of reports over four days, we revealed how Palestinian negotiators had made dramatic, previously unknown concessions during 2008 negotiations including an offer of "the biggest Yerushalayim in history" that would allow Israel to annex all but one of the settlements in East Jerusalem.

Other documents showed that Palestinian leaders had been prepared to accept the return of as few as 10,000 of the more than 5m Palestinian refugees, a dramatic shift from the PLO's public demand that any family displaced during the 1948 conflict should be allowed to return.

The documents contained fewer revelations about the Israeli side, partly because the positions its representatives struck inside the negotiating room were remarkably close to the ones it declared in public and hence were already known. But they did show, for instance, how former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni proposed that several Arab villages straddling the green line that are now in Israel be redesignated as part of a new Palestinian state.

Since Mr. Prosor does not mention any of these reports, comprising the vast majority of words the Guardian published on the subject, we must assume he does not dispute the accuracy of our reporting.

Instead, his caricature of the Guardian as a media outpost of Hamas is based on a highly tendentious reading of a single op-ed column and a single line of one of two editorials which the paper ran on the Palestine Papers.

Quoting from a commentary by Seumas Milne in which he argued the Palestine Papers revealed "the decay of what in Yasser Arafat's heyday was an authentic national liberation movement" Mr. Prosor suggested the Guardian columnist regarded negotiation as "an affront to the romanticized fetishism of 'resistance.'"

In fact, far from rejecting the idea of negotiation per se, Milne's column argued that the Palestine Papers revealed "not a picture of genuine negotiation and necessary compromise, but of a gross imbalance of power that can't deliver peace, let alone justice."

Perhaps more significant once more, though, was what Mr. Prosor did not mention: that Milne's column was only one of a broad range of comment articles which the Guardian published on the Palestine Papers that ranged from Ha'aretz editor-at-Large Aluf Benn, former CIA officer Robert Grenier, the PLO's Saeb Erekat and Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland all of whom defended the concessions offered by the Palestinian Authority, to, yes, Osama Hamdan of Hamas and Karma Nabulsi of Fatah, who were both highly critical of the PA.

The second exhibit in Mr. Prosor's case against the Guardian was an editorial which suggested Palestinian negotiators emerged from the documents looking "craven and eager to shower their counterparts with compliments." The ambassador suggests that readers would struggle to "notice a substantive difference between the paper's editorial line and the opinion piece by a Hamas spokesman splashed across its pages two days later."

It's a curious claim to make about a newspaper which has long been and continues to be a consistent advocate for a two-state solution -- not quite the Hamas take on things. The same editorial Mr. Prosor quotes from finishes by calling for urgent action, on both sides of the conflict, to save a two state solution. And just 48 hours later the paper ran a second editorial which Mr. Prosor chose to ignore. It concluded: "People should see the Palestine papers as a chance to put the search for a durable two-state solution back on track. Let there be no doubt. A two-state solution remains the only show in town."

One of the most striking aspects of Mr. Prosor's broadside is how out of kilter it is with most reaction to the Palestine Papers in Israel, where the Guardian's reporting was widely followed and debated. Ha'aretz's chief political columnist Akiva Eldar wrote that the Palestine Papers "are much more important than the documents recently released by WikiLeaks." Their significance lay in the fact that "the leaked documents completely discredit the claim that there is 'no peace partner' made by... Ehud Barak, and his boss, Benjamin Netanyahu."

Ron Prosor is a cultured and highly intelligent diplomat, a powerful advocate for Israel and, I'm pleased to say, a frequent contributor to the Guardian. But his crude and dishonest attack on our reporting of the Palestine Papers does neither him nor his country a service.

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