PROFESSOR OF RELIGIOUS STUDIES
UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO AT BOULDER
MISLEADING MEDIA STORY MAY DOOM MIDDLE EAST ROADMAP
If you read a roadmap carefully, you can usually tell what’s around the next bend in the road. To predict what comes next in Israeli-Palestinian relations, you need a roadmap and the latest news. But it all depends on where you get your news.
If you get all your news from mass circulation media
If your news comes from more diverse sources, you know
the situation is more complicated. You
know that there is serious doubt whether any Palestinian leaders can prevent
all violent attacks against Israelis.
You know that
In this broader news context, things around the next
bend look somewhat different. The
choices that Palestinians make may not matter very much. Some Palestinians will surely continue to
resist the roadmap, since it envisions a limited kind of freedom for the
Palestinians on a limited amount of their own land. Whatever other Palestinians say or do, this rejectionist minority will continue to be righteously
indignant. The more the Palestinian
leaders repress the rejectionists (which is what the
roadmap requires, according to
The next step along this road is tragically
predictable. Sharon and his government
will “discover” that the new Palestinian prime minister,
Mahmoud Abas, is no
different from Yasir Arafat. All the labels pinned on Arafat will be
transferred to Abas:
“supporter of terrorism,” “no partner for peace,” “failed leader,”
and—that most damning word of all in today’s political
If your news comes only from the mainstream media, this will sound perfectly plausible. After all, isn’t Palestinian terrorism the main roadblock to peace? What’s a peace-loving Israeli government to do? That’s the way our mass media, and the Israeli government, tell the story.
Again, if you have a broader news context, you know that Palestinian violence does not simply appear out of nowhere. It is not an inevitable fact, rooted in some supposedly ahistorical Palestinian hatred of Jews. Palestinian violence is just one half of a circle of violence. The other half is perpetrated by uniformed Israelis, carrying out their government’s orders. If you ignore that other half, as our news media so often do, you fundamentally misunderstand the problem.
In the end, the success or failure of the roadmap
depends on how we talk about it. If our
discourse is framed by the premise that Palestinian violence is the primary
problem, the roadmap does not have a chance.
As long as
Sharon and his government surely understand this
simple fact. They will use the roadmap’s
failure as justification for even harsher occupation policies. Extreme right-wing views will become more
popular— like the idea of moving all Palestinians to
If we want language that matches reality and may lead to peace, we will recognize that Palestinian and Israeli violence forms a single circle, each feeding the other. We will demand that both sides scale back their violence simultaneously.
Unless those things happen, Israelis must expect more
attacks and more fear. If their own
government will not take these steps, they should pay attention to the more
skeptical among their media analysts, who say that the
I hope these skeptics are not right. But if the
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