The U.S. mainstream media coverage of a proposed U.S./Israel/Saudi Arabia deal is bizarre and hard to understand. In the end, though, an ominous pattern is emerging: treat the agreement as more likely than it is, so you can then blame Palestinian stubbornness if — more likely when — it collapses.
Here’s a brief outline of the proposed agreement: The Saudis would get a strong security alliance with the United States, more sophisticated American weapons, and a U.S.-monitored civilian nuclear program. Left unsaid in nearly all accounts is that the whitewashing of Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, would continue, even though U.S. intelligence says he personally ordered the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. Israel would get mutual diplomatic recognition with Saudi Arabia, and — also left unsaid — Benjamin Netanyahu could dramatically divert attention from his usurpation of Israeli (semi) democracy. And all Israel would have to do in return is make vague promises to stop additional “settlements” in the occupied West Bank and end its threats to annex the territory. (This site’s Mitchell Plitnick has a longer dissection of the proposal.)
On July 27, the New York Times started the cheerleading with a two-pronged push: an enthusiastic Thomas Friedman column and then a news analysis that downplayed skepticism. At first, the rest of the mainstream sensibly reported nothing. Then, a full 11 days later, the Wall Street Journal followed with its own breathless scoopwhich said U.S. officials hope for an agreement “within nine-to-12 months.” Right away, Haaretzthe Israeli daily, sent its skeptical Washington, D.C. correspondent, Ben Samuels, to follow up; he reported that the White House “threw cold water” on the Journal’s report.
Another four days passed before National Public Radio piped up. Daniel Estrin didn’t bring up the Palestinians until toward the end of his 11-minute report, when Bader Al-Saif, a Kuwaiti who teaches at Kuwait University, did warn that any agreement would “only be significant if Palestine is front and center.” (Estrin’s report prompted the obvious question: why, given that he’s stationed in Palestine, couldn’t he find an actual Palestinian to interview?)
The Washington Post finally did its own report, which was the least unbalanced of the bunch. The Post noted that “major hurdles remain” ahead for the deal, and it did quote an Israeli official who threatened that “Israel was not prepared to make meaningful concessions on the issue of Palestinian statehood.”
You can turn to Haaretz to see what the U.S. mainstream left out or downplayed. Muhammad Shehada’s headline didn’t mince words:
For the Palestinians, Israeli-Saudi Normalization Would Be Disastrous
Shehada explained that “an Israeli-Saudi deal would destroy the Arab world’s last significant leverage for Palestinian statehood.”
Haaretz reporters also seemed more willing to approach U.S. senators for comment than their American counterparts were, recognizing that any deal would have to be approved by two-thirds of that legislative body. It turns out that “Democratic Senators Chris Van Hollen and Tim Kaine both say the Palestinians must feature prominently in any potential Biden-brokered deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia.”
And another Haaretz commentator pointed out why Benjamin Netanyahu will also hope for a deal:
An agreement of one sort or another with Saudi Arabia . . . would deal a death blow to the Israeli protest movement and the opposition. . . An agreement with Saudi Arabia is the only thing that can save Netanyahu from the catastrophe currently shaking Israel.
No language of this kind is appearing anywhere in the U.S. mainstream reporting.
The mystery here is why the Biden administration (or at least some of its members) is floating this Mideast deal. Is it actually an elaborate charade meant to at least show they tried? Can they really believe that even if this unlikely (and unfair) agreement comes into being that it would convince swing voters? In rust belt Pennsylvania? Suburban Georgia?
No matter. What stands out so far is how misleading the U.S. reporting is — and how Palestinians can once again expect to be wrongly blamed for their intransigence.