BOB GARFIELD: This is On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield. BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone, and I'm here to reassure you it’s not just you. FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: Israeli and Palestinian leaders return to Washington once again in search of common ground. FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: It’s taken months of pushing by Washington to get these two sides back together. FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: No president has been able to resolve thorny issues like how to divide Jerusalem, claimed by both sides as their capital, millions of Palestinian refugees demanding the right of return, Israeli settlements and final borders between Israel and - BROOKE GLADSTONE: I'm guessing a lot of us, as we've consumed this week’s coverage of the peace talks that begin Wednesday in Washington between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas are experiencing a certain sense of déjà vu.
For at least the last 15 years, reporting on the peace talks between Israel and Palestine has followed a familiar template as characterizations, metaphors and verb phrases are recycled every time talks are resuscitated or pulled back from the brink or put on life support or – well, you get the idea.
Put this altogether and any reader could be forgiven for thinking it would probably be just fine to skip over the latest installment of this never-ending story.
JJ Goldberg, senior columnist for the Jewish weekly newspaper The Forward, has covered Palestine and Israel for years, and he maintains that this round of talks is worthy of your attention. It’s a rich picture, though he concedes that bringing new perspectives to peace talks is easier said than done. JJ GOLDBERG: It’s almost like one of these word games where you slip in – it’s like Mad Libs: the hard line Israeli leader, the Palestinian movement, comma, which is fighting for Palestinian statehood. Because we're in a hurry and because we don't have much room, we fit in the templates and they lull us to sleep. It looks like the same story.
And if there’s an element that’s different, you could miss it. It could be left out. Frequently the reporter will find something that looks so different that they want to go with it and the editor says, that sounds bizarre. [BROOKE LAUGHS] I don't want that there because it doesn't sound right. BROOKE GLADSTONE: So let's unpack some of those. There seems to be a general trope in the American press that Israel tends to be portrayed as intransigent. The Palestinian leadership tends to be portrayed as corrupt or incompetent. Do you think that’s a fair evocation of the kind of characterizations we've seen over a decade and a half or two? JJ GOLDBERG: You do see that. And frequently the public story that the leaders put out to their own public is more extreme than what they're actually aiming for. Occasionally an Ariel Sharon will come forward and show you a face that you never saw.
He didn't go through some magical transformation. He had been a pragmatist all along, although his tactics were extremely brutal. His strategicals were more pragmatic. So when he said, okay, we're pulling out -
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Pulling out of Gaza. JJ GOLDBERG: - yes – people were shocked because that side of him had been ignored. Netanyahu, what gets ignored is he’s pliable. Some people refer to him as one of these vinyl sofas, that he looks like the last person who sat on him.
Mahmoud Abbas is portrayed as weak, unstable, he could fall any minute. The guy has been number two or number one in Fatah since the 60s. That’s not a weak person. That’s a person who knows how to survive. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Which brings us to some of the more durable metaphors of this entire peace process, verbs like “reviving,” “drowning,” “last breath of the peace process.” One great description we found was, it’s a roller coaster where the cars are secured to the track but they go up and down and up and down. Do you see progress here or are the media right to characterize this as a perpetual roller coaster? JJ GOLDBERG: I would say the common belief in the region is that it can't be perpetual because the prospect of a peaceful two-state solution is running out of time. BROOKE GLADSTONE: That’s another constant trope over the last 15 years – now or never, against the odds, the stakes have never been higher, and so forth. JJ GOLDBERG: It’s a little bit like global warming. They put it off, they put it off. Sometime in the middle of this century or the beginning of the 22nd century we're going to see heats rise and bizarre weather. And now it’s 2010 and we're seeing it already. Time was running out. Boom, it ran out. And that’s approaching in Israeli and Palestine in hard numbers in the demographics of it. BROOKE GLADSTONE: So this time, time has really run out. JJ GOLDBERG: Within 20 years at most, I would say, in the area now under Israeli control. If there isn't a partition into two states, Jews will be a minority and it will either be a bi-national state and the end of Zionism, or an apartheid state and the end of democracy, so that there is no time left to reach this agreement.
From the Palestinian point of view, they want a separate state, the majority, because it will be another 100 years of violence, even if they do become the majority, before they achieve a single unitary Palestinian state. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Why? JJ GOLDBERG: The assumption is that Israelis will fight. There’s a growing percentage of the Israeli population, and a rapidly growing percentage, that is extremely religious, that is Messianic about the land. And a growing percentage of the army, of the officer corps, is made up of settlers and their allies.
This concerns the general staff. They're worried. There was a secret report out two years ago – what happens when the army becomes a tool that will no longer agree to enforce an evacuation?
There’s one more thing we overlooked. The Palestinians have been going through a gradual process of moderation since 1974 because each step, such as setting up a Palestinian state temporarily on areas liberated, such as opening a diplomatic front alongside the armed struggle, each one has been dismissed by the Israeli side as being a meaningless change. We didn't notice the evolution toward acceptance of Israel. BROOKE GLADSTONE: It often feels like a reader could sit out a couple of rounds of peace talks over the course of a decade, dip in again, like a soap opera when the characters never develop or change. JJ GOLDBERG: That’s a temptation. And perhaps this whole phenomenon of media saturation has reached us all where we can't take it any more. We didn't focus on the changes in the climate and the environment, and now we're surprised that disasters are already happening.
We haven't paid enough attention to the tectonic changes under the surface in the Middle East conflict, so now it’s hard to see this as different from all the others. The actions look the same but the scenery and the stage have changed so much that the outcome could be different. BROOKE GLADSTONE: If there was one thing that you could change about the pattern of narrative for these peace talk stories year after year after year, what would it be? JJ GOLDBERG: I suppose first I would have every story accompanied by a box with a timeline that shows different stages of negotiation and how they differed from each other, perhaps a graph that shows how the two sides have moved over the last 20 years. BROOKE GLADSTONE: They've moved? JJ GOLDBERG: Well, the Palestinians in 1970 were saying, no recognition, no peace, no coexistence, and now they're saying, we want statehood. The Israelis in ’67 said, we're holding the territories. We will trade them in return for peace. Now they're saying, we're entitled to a share of this, or to all of it.
There are profound changes that have happened in the last 10 years, and there’s no time to tell them all - the Arab League Initiative that would recognize Israeli in return for Palestinian statehood, the rise of Iran, which gives the Sunni Arab states, the coast states, a sense of common cause with Israel. Let's make this thing go away so that we can work together against the Iranian Shiite threat. These things are changes.
So there is an evolution. There are straight lines that travel. Well, they're bumpy lines. They are like a roller coast, but they get somewhere. BROOKE GLADSTONE: So with that graph, we wouldn't fall into the pattern of thinking it is always as it ever was and ever shall be. JJ GOLDBERG: That’s exactly right. If we could see the past, not in a long story, the sort that I [LAUGHS] like to tell, but in charts and graphs, then you can see how does this fit into it?
There’s also the question of when the sides state their positions, what do they really think? People here don't know, because it’s not said in English, how dovish the Israeli military is, how much they think Israel would be better off without the territories. They don't know that. The narrative is, oh, the Israeli Army, they're pushing Israel.
The same thing with the Palestinians. People haven't realized how strongly the pressure has been in Fatah for an agreement with Israel for the past 20 years, 20-something years. BROOKE GLADSTONE: So another revolutionary change in reporting this story might be simply to translate. JJ GOLDBERG: One would be to translate. A second one would be to get away from the idea that an alternative view is somebody in Birkenstocks who’s calling for peace. The alternative in Israel is not the peace movement or people with placards. It’s the military versus the political.
The alternative in the Arab world isn't necessarily Islamism versus secular revolution but pragmatism, middle-class desire for peace, families, on both sides. We don't see that. We hear the politicians yelling at their people and trying to get reelected. BROOKE GLADSTONE: JJ, thank you so much. JJ GOLDBERG: You’re welcome. Thank you very much. BROOKE GLADSTONE: JJ Goldberg is the senior columnist for the weekly newspaper The Forward and its website, The Jewish Daily Forward.
"Iedereen is Overal"
by by Ongezond