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US Media See Through Smokescreen of Optimism

US optimism on Middle East talks is a smokescreen for Arab opposition to recognizing Israel, according to the tone of reporters’ comments.
By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
First Publish: 8/4/2009, 12:18 PM / Last Update: 8/4/2009, 12:58 PM

Journalists covering the U.S. State Department are increasingly becoming frustrated over officials’ comments reporting “progress” in attempts to renew Israeli-Palestinian Authority talks despite opposition in the Arab world.

State Department spokesmen for years have been trying to show optimism despite widening gaps in positions between Israel and the PA. The PA bargaining power has been strengthened by U.S. President Barack Obama’s insistence that Israel freeze all building for Jews in eastern Jerusalem, as well as in Judea and Samaria.

In the daily State Dept. briefing on Monday, one reporter asked spokesman Philip J. Crowley, “You described earlier the conversation between the Secretary and the Jordanian Foreign Minister as excellent…. And yet, for the second time in three days, you’ve had an Arab foreign minister come out and basically say, ‘No way, we’re not going to do anything that Mitchell or you or whoever has asked us to do.’ How can you say that there’s progress being made and that Mitchell is close to getting the two sides back to the table?"

Crowley replied with a standard answer: “I think that we are working hard to put ourselves in position for negotiations to begin. I think we are saying that there’s still work to do and... even as we have experienced some progress.”

Before the reporter could continue questioning, Crowley then added, “You had strong statements by both the foreign minister of Jordan and the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, first of all supporting the reengagement of the United States in this process, supporting the efforts to begin a negotiation…..

“We have reason for optimism… I think you have two strong reaffirmations of the importance of this effort, the critical role played by the United States, the willingness of countries to step up and take meaningful steps towards normalization.”

A journalist challenged Crowley, saying, “No, I’m sorry. You did not have a reaffirmation of countries taking meaningful steps towards normalization; you had the exact opposite…. Were you listening to the same comments?”

Crowley insisted, “You have two strong affirmations that the elements of the Arab Peace Initiative, the discussions that George Mitchell, the Secretary, at times the President, had. This is precisely the right course. We are not there yet. “

The issue of negotiations and President Obama’s demand for a building freeze for Jews has become an almost daily topic at government  briefings. The journalists, who generally accept the government’s expressions of optimism, have increasingly been critical of the Obama administration for, in effect, becoming a proxy for the PA in negotiations with Israel.