Mainstream media published hundreds of articles on the Palestinian Authority’s UN statehood bid from the point coverage began in earnest in the summer to the day of Abbas’ historic speech in the UN. Despite the dozens of headlines that pronounced the planned actions and opinions of “Palestinians,” few articles mentioned that Mahmoud Abbas is not a popularly elected leader, nor that elections have been indefinitely postponed. It’s ironic that such headlines almost always centered around the desires, opinions and agency of only one Palestinian—Mahmoud Abbas.
The New York Times, for example, published dozens of articles on the issue during this period, but only one presented opinions from within the West Bank. It appeared less than a week before Abbas’ announced request would take place at the UN [it should be noted that a recent poll finds 84% support from Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza].
The article, however, stayed away from issues of legitimacy, neither noting nor asking its interlocutors about the legitimacy of the Abbas government. Not surprisingly, this was balanced out by an article about paranoid, antagonistic, and heavily armed Israeli settlers a few days later. The article, typical of the work of Ethan Bronner, casts the universally-accepted fact of the illegality of the settlements as a matter of “geopolitics”, and thus positions the putative statehood as an issue that affects indigenous Palestinians and Israelis equally. The Washington Post was alone in publishing a story on Gazans and the UN bid a few days before Abbas arrived in New York [Rana Baker provides this roundtable discussion by young Gazans in her EI blog].
The wide spectrum of Palestinian civil society voices, academics and policy analysts was also largely absent from coverage in media of record. While there were at least a half-dozen op-eds in the The New York Times on the subject of the UN bid, none featured opinions from Palestine-based organizations, or from organizations representing the Palestinian Diaspora. The Times’ editorial board seemed to think that one Palestinian voice, that of Abbas, was enough, along with a member of the Saudi Royal family.
It wasn’t that alternate voices from Palestine were hard to find, even for the Ramallah-centric Western press. Mustafa Barghouti, the leading opposition party leader in the West Bank, was part of a town hall meeting of independent political parties in Beit Jala in mid-September that attracted various high-profile Palestinian leaders and pundits—the event seemed uninteresting to the area desks of mainstream media. This is in keeping with the almost total media blackout on independent political parties in Palestine that has existed since the dawn of the Oslo process. Al Haq, a near-legendary legal advocacy organization is based in Ramallah and had argued the case of Palestinian nationality before the International Criminal Court a year earlier, but it was nowhere to be found in articles or opinion pages of media of record—despite the fact that the organization wrote a legal opinion on the UN bid [you can also find them on Twitter].
Israeli-friendly experts were welcome, as always: The New York Times consulted the AIPAC-affiliated Washington Institute on Near East Policy and then the former AIPAC head, Martin Indyk, in an impressive feat of overkill in the same article. The increasingly paranoid Benny Morris got a turn in Newsweek [September 19, 2011], complaining that the bid was only a symptom of the vast new existential threat that Israel faced, including the “major problem” of Israel’s “Arab minority”. The Washington Post even had an op-ed from a former state department official, who used the platform to sadistically imagine all sorts of punishments the US could visit on the Palestinian people if the UN bid went ahead.
The disinterest in Palestinian voices makes perfect sense when viewed through the prism of the US-managed peace process. The Palestinian Authority, after all, does not exist to represent Palestinians. Rather, it’s a fait acompli that the Palestinian Authority is a junior partner in the US and Israeli plan for creating a final Israeli map that includes the desirable portions of the West Bank and Gaza. When searching for opinions about any Palestinian Authority act, the opinion of the Palestinian people, its advocates and its civil society are of little consequence to reporters.