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Media Analyses





Wall Street Journal Reporters Award Palestinians Entire West Bank, E. Jerusalem


There is a conflict between the Palestinians and Israel. This, of course, is obvious. Equally clear is that a significant part of the conflict revolves around disputes over the eventual status of Jerusalem and the location of the borders that will separate the two sides. Israel officially views a united Jerusalem as its eternal capital. Palestinians have demanded that the eastern section of the city become the future capital of an independent Palestine. Israel expects that portions of the West Bank will be incorporated within its final borders. Palestinians often claim the entire West Bank. (These two issues are overshadowed by other, more serious problems, not least of which is Hamas’s control of the Gaza Strip, embrace of violence and insistence on Israel’s destruction. But Jerusalem and borders are nonetheless major unsolved issues.)

Consequently, every peace plan accepted by the Israelis, Palestinians and international community calls for negotiations in order to resolve the outstanding disputes on Jerusalem and borders. The 2003 Road Map peace plan envisions, in its third and final phase, a "permanent status resolution ... on borders" and a "negotiated resolution on the status of Jerusalem that takes into account the political and religious concerns of both sides." The 1995 interim agreement of the Oslo Accords noted that "It is understood that [permanent status] negotiations shall cover remaining issues, including" Jerusalem and borders, and that "Nothing in this Agreement shall prejudice or preempt the outcome of the negotiations on the permanent status...." The 1993 Declaration of Principles used almost identical language, including a clause which states that "The two parties agreed that the outcome of the permanent status negotiations should not be prejudiced or preempted by agreements reached for the interim period."

Enter the Wall Street Journal. With little concern for prejudging or preempting the outcome of negotiations, the Journal’s news pages have taken to reporting on these final status issues as if they have already been resolved — in accordance with Palestinian demands.

The West Bank

When reporter Cam Simpson reported on March 28 about Israeli building in the West Bank as a whole, he wrote that "Israel is supposed to freeze all Jewish settlement activity in the Palestinian West Bank ...." But Israel’s settlement activity is not on land that belongs to the Palestinians. It’s on land the Palestinians claim for a future state. And it’s also in large part on land claimed by Israel. In other words, Israel’s settlement activity in the West Bank is, at least to a great degree, on disputed land.
 
Thus, after the Seattle Post-Intelligencer referred in a headline to the West Bank as "Palestinian lands," it subsequently published a correction explaining that "Ownership of many of the West Bank territories now occupied by Palestinians ... is in dispute. A headline on Page One Monday may not have made that clear" (June 12, 2002).

But when the problematic language was brought to the attention of a senior editor at the Wall Street Journal, the editor defended Simpson’s language, asserting that the West Bank was "predominantly Palestinian," and that peace proposals, including the Clinton Parameters, would have turned up to 97 percent of the West Bank into a Palestinian state. In fact, the editor added, Israel has "signed on" to the goal of a Palestinian state in the vast majority of the West Bank, since it committed itself to the Oslo Accords and subsequent agreements. The editor insisted that calling it the "Palestinian West Bank" does not imply every inch of the territory is undisputed, or that every resident is Palestinian — though 92 percent of the residents are Palestinian.

The Oslo Accords, however, said nothing about a Palestinian state; the Road Map was the first internationally-accepted peace plan to call for Palestinian statehood. But the editor’s defense falls short for a number of more substantial reasons. There is a significant difference between describing the West Bank as "predominantly Palestinian," as did the editor, and claiming the territory is "Palestinian," the reporter’s language. The reporter’s description wrongly signals to readers that the Palestinians own, by law or by right, the entire West Bank. The editor’s language, on the other hand, might suggest that a majority of residents of the West Bank are Palestinian, which is true. That is, had the reporter described the West Bank as "predominantly Palestinian" rather than "Palestinian," the passage would have been less misleading.

Still, even use of the phrase "predominantly Palestinian" raises questions. As noted above, the phrase could be understood as describing the Palestinians as the majority population in that region; but it could also be understood as suggesting that a vast majority of West Bank land is mostly inhabited by Palestinians, which is far from the truth. In fact, 98 percent of the Palestinian population live within roughly 40 percent of the West Bank, leaving 60 percent of the West Bank that could be described either as sparsely populated, or even as predominantly Jewish.

The newspaper, then, to avoid being guilty of using a double standard, would have to describe the predominantly Jewish Area C of the West Bank as "Israeli." Even more so, it would have to use the adjective "Israeli" when referring to the so-called seam zone (the area between the security fence and the green line) and to the central and northern Jordan Valley, which are dominated by Israeli Jews.

The editor’s suggestion that the existence of peace plans which would have allotted much of the West Bank to the Palestinians, and Israel’s past willingness to cede West Bank land to the PA, make the region a priori "Palestinian" is also extremely problematic.

Israeli willingness to compromise over disputed land does not make the West Bank inherently or historically Palestinian. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed Israel’s view on this during a May 24th 2006 speech before Congress. He said:

I believed, and to this day still believe, in our people's eternal and historic right to this entire land. ...

Painfully, we the people of Israel have learned to change our perspective. We have to compromise in the name of peace, to give up parts of our promised land in which every hill and valley is saturated with Jewish history and in which our heroes are buried. We have to relinquish part of our dream to leave room for the dream of others, so that all of us can enjoy a better future.

Despite being willing to compromise, and certainly until a compromise is reached, Israel still feels it has a valid claim to the West Bank. Only when both sides reach an agreement, and the agreement is carried out, will a (currently undetermined) portion of the West Bank become officially "Palestinian."

The idea that previous peace proposals justify labeling the West Bank "Palestinian" is flawed in other ways. Recall that the when Wall Street Journal reporter described the West Bank as being Palestinian, he was referring specifically to land on which Israel is expected to freeze settlement activity — "Israel is supposed to freeze all Jewish settlement activity in the Palestinian West Bank," he wrote. But according to the very peace plans the editor cited in defense of calling the land "Palestinian," including the Clinton Parameters, most Israeli settlers — 80 percent of them — live on West Bank land that would be annexed to Israel. Most settlement activity, then, would presumably be on the Israeli West Bank, by the newspaper’s own logic.

This section of the article, moreover, implicitly referred to one Israeli settlement in particular, which makes it even more clear that he should not have described the land as "Palestinian." Here is the full paragraph:

In addition, Israel is supposed to freeze all Jewish settlement activity in the Palestinian West Bank under the peace process. But less than a week after Ms. Rice finished her last mission here this month, [the Israeli political party] Shas took credit for forcing the government to lift a freeze on the expansion of settlements, and promised to push for more Jewish housing in the West Bank.

Although it is not explicitly noted in the story, Shas "forced the government to lift a freeze" on building specifically in the settlement of Givat Ze’ev. As an article in the March 10, 2008 New York Times noted,

[Israeli spokesman Mark] Regev said Israel never intended to halt construction in East Jerusalem or in West Bank settlements like Givat Zeev that are in settlement blocs Israel intends to keep under any future agreement with the Palestinians. ...

"This should not come as a surprise to anyone," Mr. Regev said of the announcement, "not to the Americans and not to the Palestinians either."

The religious Shas Party, a right-leaning coalition partner that has threatened to quit the Olmert government, had demanded an official go-ahead for the construction in Givat Zeev, seeing it as a crucial test of government intentions.

Givat Ze’ev is a so-called "consensus settlement," a community that Israelis in general expect will be annexed to Israel as part of a future deal with the Palestinians. And according to Miguel Moratinos, the European Union’s Special Representative for the Middle East Peace Process during the Taba negotiations, even the Palestinians at one point had agreed to Israeli annexation of this settlement before eventually retracting their agreement. So again, since the reporter was implicitly referring to Givat Ze’ev, a Jewish West Bank community that Israel insists it will keep, that would have become part of Israel under the Clinton Parameters (according to an informal map drawn up by former chief Middle East negotiator Dennis Ross), and that even the Palestinians had initially agreed Israel would annex, then by the newspaper’s own logic the passage should have referred to the settlement activity in the Israeli West Bank rather than the Palestinian West Bank.

In short, there is no rationale for an ostensibly objective news source to refer to the West Bank in general as "the Palestinian West Bank," especially when referring more specifically to Israeli settlement activity, and most especially when implicitly referring to the community of Givat Ze’ev.

Another comment used by the Wall Street Journal editor to defend the partisan language was especially odd. The editor asserted that "Put simply, referring to it as the ‘Palestinian West Bank’ gives our readers instant recognition of why there is controversy...."

Quite the opposite is true. The reference to a "Palestinian West Bank" gives readers the mistaken impression that there is no controversy, and that for no apparent reason Israel is occupying land that supposedly belongs to the Palestinians.

Jerusalem

The "Palestinian West Bank" issue is not the first use of prejudicial language in the news pages of the Journal. A Dec. 19, 2007 report by John McKinnon refers to "Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's unwillingness to stop the construction of Jewish settlements in Jerusalem...."

The Palestinians might see Israeli population centers in eastern Jerusalem as settlements, as might some other countries that wish to promote a certain political position; but the Israelis and others do not regard Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem — including the Jewish Quarter of the Old City and other traditionally-Jewish areas that were evacuated when Jordan conquered and occupied eastern Jerusalem (e.g. Neve Ya’akov) — as settlements. If Wall Street Journal journalists want readers to know that some regard Jewish communities in eastern Jerusalem as settlements, they should report just that. And they should also make clear Israel disputes this characterization. But in choosing the language preferred by one side of the dispute, the Wall Street Journal abandons its obligation to be objective.

Indeed, after the New York Times described the Jerusalem neighborhood of Pisgat Ze'ev as a settlement, the newspaper ran the following correction:

An article on March 28 about pressure on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to retaliate against Palestinians for attacks on Israelis referred imprecisely to Pisgat Zeev, a Jewish neighborhood built in 1984, which was the destination of a bus attacked by a Palestinian suicide bomber. While the Palestinians consider it a settlement, the Israelis say it is part of municipal Jerusalem. (April 2, 2001)

The same applies to the Wall Street Journal's extremely prejudicial reference in its March 14, 2008 edition to "Arab East Jerusalem." Much of Arab world certainly regards this area as Arab, just as some regard Israel itself to be Arab, but it is hardly an objective description of the part of Jerusalem that came under Israeli control in 1967.

As CAMERA has noted in the past, today there is near parity in the Jewish and Arab population of eastern Jerusalem. And the area has a long tradition of Jewish plurality. According to geographer Yehoshua Ben-Arieh, "In the second half of the nineteenth century and at the end of that century, Jews comprised the majority of the population of the Old City ..." (Jerusalem in the Nineteenth Century). Historian Martin Gilbert states that in 1838 there were 6,000 Jews in Jerusalem, compared to 5,000 Muslims and 3,000 Christians (Jerusalem: Rebirth of a City). Encyclopaedia Britannica of 1853 "assessed the Jewish population of Jerusalem in 1844 at 7,120, making them the biggest single religious group in the city." (Terence Prittie, Whose Jerusalem?).

Until about 1860, Jerusalem residents lived almost exclusively within the walls of the Old City, in eastern Jerusalem. There has been a Jewish presence in eastern Jerusalem for thousands of years: the City of David, the ancient Jewish Quarter, the 2000 year old Jewish cemetery on the Mt. of Olives. The Temple Mount and Western Wall, Judaism’s most sacred religious sites, are located in eastern Jerusalem. And more recently, in the early 1900's, institutions such as Hadassah Hospital (Mt. Scopus) and Hebrew University were built in eastern Jerusalem.

A senior editor defended reporter John McKinnon's language by stating only that the using the word "settlement" in reference to Har Homa, a Jerusalem neighborhood built in territory occupied by Jordan between 1948 and 1967, is "accurate," and that the language is "widely used." But the editor gave no explanation at all as to why the newspaper views the language as accurate. Nor did the editor explain who it is that "widely uses" such language or, more importantly, what relevance this has to the newspaper's word choice. There is much partisan language in wide use; but this in no way diminishes the newspaper's obligation to use objective language.

For example, between 1975 and 1991, a United Nations General assembly resolution, sponsored mainly by Arab and Muslim states and passed with the help of Soviet-aligned countries and the so-called Non-Aligned Movement, defined Zionism as a form of racism. And although the resolution was revoked in 1991, this assertion is still in wide use among anti-Israel activists. Despite this, no responsible newspaper, then or now, would refer as fact in the news pages to Zionism as racism. Nor, presumably, would the newspaper look to polls to determine how reporters should refer to immigrants, abortion, the United States or any other government, even if these polls suggest the kind of langauge that is "widely used" by the American or international public.

Readers of a prominent and respected newspaper like the Wall Street Journal expect objective reporting. They expect news articles that do not take sides of a major dispute, but rather explain the differing sides. Indeed, they deserve such reporting. So as long as the newspaper insists on using partisan, prejudicial language to describe the West Bank and Jerusalem, readers have good reason to be alarmed and disappointed.


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