MEDIA WATCH: Despite odds, US encouraged to keep pushing for Mideast peace

The "road map," the latest strategy devised to achieve a lasting peace between the Palestinians and Israelis, was issued April 30, following the Palestinian cabinet's confirmation of Mahmoud Abbas (also known as Abu Mazen) as the new prime minister. The plan provides for a two-state solution by 2005, and it was drafted by a group of parties that's come to be known as "the quartet" - the US, the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations.

The "road map," the latest strategy devised to achieve a lasting peace between the Palestinians and Israelis, was issued April 30, following the Palestinian cabinet's confirmation of Mahmoud Abbas (also known as Abu Mazen) as the new prime minister. The plan provides for a two-state solution by 2005, and it was drafted by a group of parties that's come to be known as "the quartet" - the US, the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations.

Media Watch analyzed editorial and op-ed commentary in US newspapers regarding the road map in the month since the plan was unveiled. While those four weeks saw a roller coaster of highs and lows in terms of the prospects for peace, including suicide bombings, retaliatory strikes and summit meetings, the media often encouraged President Bush and the US government to stay involved in the peace process. Typical of what newspapers published was USA Today's editorial (May 1): "Surviving the treacherous highway [outlined by the road map] requires the US to nudge both parties along." Other articles presented the challenge as fundamental to the war on terrorism and Bush's vision of democratic reform in the Middle East. As an indication of the media's support of the plan, there were also frequent calls for both parties to comply with the first stage of the road map: arguing for the Palestinians to crack down on terrorism while urging the Israelis to dismantle their settlements in the West Bank. Of these two items, the coverage called more often for the Palestinians to do their part than for the Israelis to do theirs. Despite viewing the road map as a worthwhile goal, the media was realistic about its chances for success. Nearly half of the analyzed coverage acknowledged that the road map either faces slim odds for success or is already doomed to fail. In the president's home state, the Houston Chronicle (May 21) wrote, "The recently released road map already is seen as dead on arrival, in large part because of the upswing in violence," referring to a wave of Palestinian attacks that followed its unveiling. It was these very attacks that the media was referring to when they published articles arguing that the terrorists should not be allowed to veto the peace process. The Los Angeles Times (May 20) ran a headline on one of its editorials that read, "Don't Let the Bombers Win." Another frequently cited reason that the road map might fail were allegations that Yasser Arafat still wields too much power behind the scenes, in spite of Abbas' ascension to prime minister. Coverage routinely depicted Arafat as having ties to terrorists, being corrupt and not interested in peace. Finally, a number of media reports covered Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's initial objections to certain provisions at later stages, but the US was called upon to stand firm and continue applying pressure to both Sharon and Abbas to accept the road map without any alterations. The road map was also praised for being deliberately vague on details, providing just a framework of stages toward an eventual peace. The consensus among editorial writers and columnists is that the road map is a worthwhile goal and that the US and President Bush must be actively involved. The media has opined that even an effort with the odds so stacked against it is worth a try.
  • Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be found at www.carma.com.

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