AQABA, JORDAN—In an agreement that marks a key first step in the Mideast news-piece process, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and new Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas pledged to share a two-state Israeli and Palestinian headline Monday.
"This pact shows that Palestinians and Israelis can and will commit to sharing the column-inch space devoted to the Middle East region," said New York Times executive editor Joseph Lelyveld, who mediated the Jordan summit. "Given the state of affairs in the area, I am confident that we will see more headlines uniting these two countries in the future."
Under the terms of the agreement, Palestinians and Israelis will commit to "sharing together, side by side, a real and substantive presence" in the global foreign-disaster-based news media. The shared-headline commitment extends to news about massacres throughout Israel and the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip territories, and covers both the destruction of Palestinian homes by Israeli air-to-surface rocket attacks and the killing of Israeli women and children in suicide-bombing campaigns by Palestinian extremists.
Although foreign correspondents said they regarded the agreement as a step forward, they stressed that it is only the beginning.
"From the 1979 Broadcast-News-Coverage Accord between Egypt and Israel to the 1989 Summit On Font Point-Size Minimums with the PLO, we have all heard this sort of thing before," said reporter Jeffrey Douglas-Miles of the London Times. "Can a successful end to more than 50 years of bloody conflict over headline domination be achieved in a single day? No. But this development is a positive one. There have been five more deaths in the region since Sunday, all of them newsworthy."
Given the region's history of violent headline-grabbing on both sides, the new agreement's limitations are many.
Historically, negotiations over the wording of joint headlines have been complicated by both groups' insistence on being portrayed as victims. In the latest round of talks, Abbas has okayed depictions of the intifada as an uprising of people oppressed by a modern apartheid state of superior military and economic strength, but will not allow portrayals of all Palestinian dissidents as fundamentalist terrorists.
Similarly, Sharon agreed to allow headline space describing Israel as a lone democratic state fighting to defend itself from constant attack, and will permit descriptions of Jews as victims of millennia of anti-Semitism. Sharon did not agree, however, to be portrayed as a hard-line hawk who repeatedly sabotages attempts at peace by moderates on both sides of the conflict.
No agreement was reached concerning reportage describing either side as unethical, racist, or oppressive.
"We will concede the necessity of a shared Israeli-Palestinian headline accompanied by a photo of civilian parents mourning recently killed children caught in the crossfire," Sharon said. "But no concessions regarding media depiction of Palestinian victimhood will be tolerated unless a commitment to Israeli victimhood is also maintained."
Abbas echoed this stance.
"Portrayals of Israeli victimization in the world media must only continue if equal headline space for the victimization of Arabs can be guaranteed by the press," Abbas said. "If such conditions can be met, headlines about explosions, machine-gunning crowds, religious death-cults that manipulate children into suicide attacks on innocents, economic deprivation, religious discrimination, race-based subjugation, and needless human tragedy can continue to be generated equally by both Israelis and Palestinians well into our children's children's future."
The first proposed shared headline, "Israeli, Palestinian Death Toll Mounts," could appear in newspapers worldwide as early as Thursday.
No agreement was reached involving the peaceable sharing of land.