Much of the international community supports the idea of solving the Israeli-Arab conflict with “two states for two peoples,” a commonly used phrase that refers to a state for the Palestinians alongside a state for the Jews. As President Barack Obama put it in 2011, “The ultimate goal is two states for two people: Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people and the State of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people.”
According to a recent New York Times article, entitled “The Two-State Solution: What It Is and Why It Hasn’t Happened,” the Palestinian Authority government is among those parties that officially support the idea.
What do Palestinian leaders actually say? “Never.” Even the less extreme portion of the divided Palestinian leadership, the West Bank-based government that has accepted the broader idea of a “two-state solution,” hasn’t been shy in rejecting the more specific principle of two states for two peoples. Sure, they consent to two states. But while they insist one of those states must be an Arab and Islamic state of Palestine, they refuse to accept that the other one is a Jewish state.
The New York Times tripped itself up — and led readers astray — by conflating these two distinct ideas, two states and two states for two peoples. Under the heading “What is the two-state solution?” Times journalist Max Fisher defined the two principles as being the same: “The two-state solution would establish an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel — two states for two peoples.” And one paragraph after equating the two, Fisher wrongly conveyed that the Palestinian Authority is officially on board:
most governments and world bodies have set achievement of the two-state solution as official policy, including the United States, the United Nations, the Palestinian Authority and Israel. This goal has been the basis of peace talks for decades.
Again, the conflation of the two principles is a fallacy. Supporting two states doesn’t mean supporting two states for two peoples. The latter is just one possible way of implementing the former. (You can think of it like this: If you own a cat, it doesn’t mean you have a pet lion, even though a lion is one type of cat.)
While it may sound somewhat confusing to those who don’t follow the nuances of the conflict, the distinction between the vague idea of two states, on the one hand, and the internationally backed idea of two states for two peoples, on the other, is neither esoteric nor controversial. French President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2012 clearly underscored this difference when saying,
It is not enough to have two states; there must be two states for two nations. I know very well that there are two ways to destroy Israel: from without and from within. This is why the two-state solution is not enough. We need to have two states for two separate nations. One for the Jewish people and one for the Palestinians.
Palestinian leaders, too, have articulated the difference in clear terms. In 2011, for example, they slammed the French peace initiative because it called on them to recognize the Jewish state. Senior Palestinian official Nabil Shaath told ANB TV in July 2011 that the initiative
reshaped the issue of the ‘Jewish state’ into a formula that is also unacceptable to us — two states for two peoples. They can describe Israel itself as a state for two peoples, but we will be a state for one people. The story of ‘two states for two peoples’ means that there will be a Jewish people over there and a Palestinian people here. We will never accept this — not as part of the French initiative and not as part of the American initiative.
The rejection of two states for two peoples goes all the way to the top of the Palestinian Authority. “I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again,” Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said in 2011. “I will never recognize the Jewishness of the state, or a ‘Jewish state.'”
He later went further, saying not only that he won’t recognize, but won’t even accept, the Jewish state. “The Palestinians won’t recognize the Jewishness of the State of Israel and won’t accept it,” he said. “The Israelis say that if we don’t recognize the Jewishness of Israel there would be no solution. And we say that we won’t recognize or accept the Jewishness of Israel and we have many reasons for this rejection.”
In short, The New York Times clearly erred when conveying to readers that the Palestinian Authority officially accepts two states for two peoples. When challenged, though, editors insisted that there was no mistake, that readers would not be confused by their language, and there would be no correction.
A New York Times advertisement on Twitter promises “fact-based journalism.”
In fact, the Hamas leader in question did not call for, or say anything about, a “two-state solution,” but simply noted that he would accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This was in line with his organization’s previously expressed idea that they’d accept a state in these territories, but without abandoning their larger goal of taking over and eliminating Israel. In short, he called for a Palestinian state that would not be a solution to the conflict, but rather a staging ground from which to continue it.
Why would The New York Times, which promotes itself as the paragon of responsible journalism, insist that the Palestinian Authority accepts two states for two peoples, and why did it previously insist that Hamas accepts a two-state solution, when both of these claims are transparently false? Former Times journalists have noted that the newspaper is guided by a “worldview,” a “narrative,” a “frame,” and a “pre-designated line” that influences news coverage. A former public editor felt the need to remind reporters that the Palestinians are “more than just vict
The misstatement of the Palestinian position on two states for two peoples is perhaps more disturbing than any such omission. By telling readers the Palestinian Authority supports two states for two peoples, The New York Times didn’t just ignore an inconvenient truth. It actually reported the obverse of the truth.