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Mahmoud Abbas twists the truth, as the Washington press corps idly looks on

Stephanie Gutmann  |
     On Wednesday Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas stood before the Washington press corps and the president of the United States, and blatantly twisted the truth. Nobody called him on it.
The president had been talking about peace in the Middle East in his usual triangulating way. “Both sides,” he intoned, “have to create… a climate… that means on the Israeli side, curbing settlement activity… on the Palestinian side — and I was very frank with President Abbas that we have to continue to make more progress on both security as well as incitement issues.”

By saying “incitement”, Obama used the long-standing abbreviation for Palestinian Authority initiatives designed to incite the Palestinian population against Israel using violent imagery and appeals to fear. This includes content on its state-run television channel, in its newspapers, in children’s textbooks, and government projects such as official ceremonies held to honour Palestinians who conduct suicide bombings in Israel.

By telling Abbas to “continue to make progress” Obama was handling Abbas with the softest of kid gloves, but apparently the Palestinian president couldn’t take even this very gentle criticism , because when it was time for him to address the press he delivered this blast of defensive rhetoric: “And I say in front of you, Mr President, that we have nothing to do with incitement against Israel, and we’re not doing that.”

Now, it does not take a Middle East scholar to note that this is completely untrue. The NGO Palestinian Media Watch monitors the PA’s television channel and its newspaper, Al Hayat, Al Jadeeda. It has made up a report of what it found in the months of May and June, during the so-called “proximity talks” while the state department assured the world the PA was “taking steps” to soften its tone. And the amount of incitement to hatred and violence that was published, broadcast, or encouraged by the PA during the months of May and June alone is breathtaking.
The PMW report is filled with examples. For a sample, one can go to the online version of the report and view a clip from PA TV which features zombie-eyed girls of about eight years of age, singing a song, a tribute to a suicide-bomber-aiding aunt, with lyrics that go as follows:

What am I doing here while my enemy is on my ancestors’ land?
I want to defend, I want to fight,
I want to carry a machine gun and a rifle.
You might also note that during this past week, the very week that Abbas stood on stage with Obama, something called the Palestinian Third Culture and Education Festival was held in the West Bank capital city of Ramallah with dancers holding rifles aloft, while singing a song that included the lyrics, “There is no force in the world that can remove the weapon from my hand.”
Of all the ineptness in the briefing room that day, I am most disgusted with that of the Washington press corps. It is their job is to know about abrogations of contract on both sides, and even — is this too much to ask? — to care enough to ask a tough question.
But none of the reporters used their question time to challenge Abbas. All the Reuters reporter wanted to know about was the likelihood that Obama would “take a tougher line with Israel over the Gaza aid flotilla raid … and [deliver] outright condemnation of Israel’s actions”.