No Bleed, No Lead

“I sure could use a little good news today”

Anne Murray, “A Little Good News,” 1983

Perhaps the most scarce items in the news world today are positive, or even modestly hopeful, items. Local newscasts are more often than not opening with the words, “Police are investigating …” the latest homicides, car chases, officer-involved shootings or officers being targeted themselves. 

On the national and international scene, the news is perhaps even more depressing: increasing numbers of Americans and other Westerners being arrested on suspicion of trying to join groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda, or to provide financial or arms support for them. Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is stuck in a stalemate that thus far has allowed Russia to keep Crimea. Even while efforts are made to finalize a nuclear deal with Iran, that nation and its proxies are increasingly gaining ground in places like Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

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In view of the above list of distressing and negative news — which we ignore at our own peril — there was a slight glimmer of hope reported by Isabel Kershner in Sunday’s edition of The New York Times, headlined, “Israel and Palestinians Reach Tax Deal.” The very fact that Israel and the Palestinians reportedly have reached any kind of deal is the first encouraging sign in months that the two sides are attempting to resolve divisive issues. 

Kershner quotes unnamed officials who indicate that Israel and the Palestinian Authority have reached an agreement to resolve a monthslong dispute over the transfer of tax revenues Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinians.

An Israeli statement indicates that the government agreed to transfer roughly $470 million collected over the past four months, with deductions to cover Palestinian debts to Israeli utility companies. The deducted amounts became a point of contention between the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Palestinian Authority, led by its president, Mahmoud Abbas. 

Israel’s suspension of the payments resulted from its objection to the Palestinian Authority’s effort to become a member of the International Criminal Court, which was ultimately accomplished April 1. Kershner reports that the withholding of the utility reimbursement had caused a “severe economic crisis,” with the PA being able to pay its tens of thousands of employees only partial salaries. 

Both sides claimed resolution of the issue over the weekend, but with differences between the Israeli and Palestinian spins on the agreement. Israeli authorities said that atypically large amounts would be deducted from the tax money collected from December to February but that deductions for the following months would return to normal levels. Abbas reported that the full amount of the tax revenue would be released.

Most important, both sides appear to have agreed to a mechanism for resolution of issues, pursuant to a report by Wafa, the Palestinian news agency. It quoted Abbas as saying a joint Palestinian-Israeli committee would review the debts.

Abbas previously had warned that his inability to pay PA employees could cause his government to collapse altogether, leaving Israel with the unacceptable alternative of resuming total and direct control of the West Bank-based PA areas. The resolution appears to enable Abbas to pay PA public employees their entire April wages.

Also positive is a statement by Nickolay Mladenov, the United Nations special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, who welcomed the agreement and called it “an important step in the right direction for both sides.”

It is too bad — and a reflection on how good news gets buried — that the story about the agreement, even though only a baby step toward reconciliation, was buried on Page 15 of the Sunday International section of the Times (we should note the St. Louis Post-Dispatch gave the story better play). Now that the Israeli elections are over and a new government is being formed, and while relative calm has prevailed between Israel and the Palestinians as the rest of the Middle East is embroiled in chaos, perhaps this story belonged on Page One.

In a world torn by violence and pain, even a seemingly small step away from belligerency and toward peaceful relations must be warmly welcomed with the hope that it leads to similarly encouraging agreements in the near future.