- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 1, 2006

Palestinian pact

The Washington Post and New York Times had identical headlines on the lead story of their Wednesday editions: “Israeli troops move into Gaza.” Ours was very different: “Abbas, Hamas strike a deal.”

All three newspapers had essentially the same information in their articles; the headlines reflected different decisions about how to organize and package that information on a day that saw two major developments in an ongoing story.

One development was military. Responding to the seizure of a soldier by militants affiliated with the Hamas-led Palestinian government, the Israelis had massed troops and armor along the Gaza border throughout Tuesday and then began moving into the territory during the night — Tuesday evening Washington time.

The other development was political. After weeks of negotiations, Hamas and the Fatah party led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had agreed on a joint program that called for a Palestinian state on lands held before the 1967 Middle East war. In effect, Hamas was for the first time accepting a two-state solution in which the Palestinians would co-exist with Israel.

I asked our Middle East reporter Joshua Mitnick early in the day whether he thought the two elements could reasonably be combined into one story. He said they could because he believed it was precisely the military pressure from the Israelis that had driven the Palestinian factions to complete their deal.

We told him to go ahead on that basis and his story ran Wednesday with this lead: “Under mounting pressure to release a kidnapped Israeli soldier held in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh put aside differences in a power-sharing agreement … implicitly recognizing Israel.”

Two paragraphs later, we got into the details of the Israeli military action, saying Israeli planes had attacked two bridges and a power station, knocking out electricity in most of the Gaza Strip.

Late developments

The Post and New York Times adopted the opposite approach, leading with the military action against the bridges and power station and what turns out to have been a fairly minor movement of troops into southern portions of the Gaza Strip.

The Post shifted gears in its fourth paragraph, saying, “The violence overshadowed an agreement earlier in the day by leaders of Hamas … on a unified political agenda [that] would signal a major shift by Hamas’ political leaders, who for the first time would effectively endorse a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The New York Times carried seven paragraphs of the military action before it got to the political development with this: “On Tuesday, as Palestinians tried to block roads with dirt mounds and barbed wire against any Israeli armored assault, their political factions completed a draft agreement aimed at a national unity government that could include an implicit recognition of Israel by Hamas.”

Both stories read as if the papers originally had the political development in the lead but pushed it down because of late developments. In theory, papers try to lead with the most important information in the past 24 hours, but there is always a temptation to go with whatever is newest.

Beyond that, military movements are dramatic, and it no doubt looked at deadline as though the Israelis might have been starting a major invasion of Gaza.

But I like the way we played it. When we look back in future months, the political decision taken by Hamas on Tuesday may turn out to have been a watershed, while the Israeli military action already looks like just one step in a campaign of steadily escalating pressure.

There is another consideration. We understand that a lot of our readers also read The Post and New York Times. We are always happy to have our front page look different from theirs.

David W. Jones is the foreign editor of The Washington Times. His e-mail address is djones@washingtontimes.com.

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