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Middle East Issues





State Department Stenography via The Washington Post


Secretary of State John Kerry delivered “a strongly worded speech” at Washington, D.C.'s Brookings Institution, The Washington Post reported. He warned Israelis of “the heightened risk [of] chaos, lawlessness and desperation” if they let Palestinian Authority rule on the West Bank collapse.

Kerry called on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas “to make ‘hard choices' for the good of their people.” The secretary “criticized the authority and Abbas, its elected president, for anti-Israeli rhetoric” (“Kerry warns of ‘chaos' if Palestinian Authority collapses,” Dec. 6, 2015).

Stenographic-like coverage of formal speeches by senior officials is a necessary starting point. But it's hardly sufficient, especially for controversial issues with deep roots. Context—a traditional journalism standard—must not be left behind, as it was too often in this Post article.

“But while saying that ‘I understand why Israelis feel besieged,' Kerry directed most of his cautions toward Israel,” The Post's Karen DeYoung continued. The secretary said Palestinian terrorist attacks “must stop. Yes. But Palestinian hopes are … being dashed” by “continuing settlement growth” that “raises honest questions about Israel's long-term intentions.”

Kerry “pledged continued U.S. support,” saying progress was “mostly” but not exclusively up to Netanyahu and Abbas. He inveighed against unnamed Israeli cabinet members who reportedly believe Jerusalem should abandon pursuit of a two-state solution and have argued that the PA's collapse “could serve Israeli interests,” The Post told readers.

A “one-state solution” might evolve, undermining Israel's “character as a Jewish and democratic state, when from the [Jordan] river to the [Mediterranean] Sea, there would not even be a Jewish majority?” Kerry warned. The PA, The Post added, “has come under repeated political, economic and security challenges from its own people over the years, including a split with Hamas” ruling the Gaza Strip. “At the same time, Israel has accused the authority of failing to prevent acts of terrorism, has expanded its military presence in Palestinian areas and has allowed the growth of Jewish settlements on territory originally intended to be part of a Palestinian state [emphases added in all cases above]”.

Stenography is not journalism

The American Society of Newspaper Editors asserts, “good faith with the reader is the foundation of good journalism. Every effort must be made to assure that the news content is accurate, free from bias and in context, and that all sides are presented fairly” (Article IV, “Canons of Journalism,” 1922 revised and renamed “Statement of Principles,” 1975, current as of Dec. 7, 2015).

When it comes to context, by what standard is Abbas' the PA's “elected president”? His term, won in 2005, expired in 2009. No subsequent election has been held. The United States and Israel may find it useful diplomatically to treat Abbas as an elected president, but journalistically, The Post ought to call attention to his expired mandate.

The “anti-Israeli rhetoric” the newspaper says Kerry criticized the PA and Abbas for is a bit more than rhetoric. The libel that “al-Aqsa mosque is under attack,” used periodically by Palestinian Arab and Islamic leaders since the 1920s to incite murderous anti-Jewish violence, was revived and has been recirculated by the PA, from Abbas down, since August (“Incitement over Temple Mount Leads to Palestinian Violence, Again,” CAMERA, September 16. As a result, 19 Israelis and more than 100 Arabs were dead as of December 8.

The Post notes Kerry's “yes, but” on anti-Israeli Palestinian terrorism. Implicit but erroneous context turns up. “Yes, it [anti-Israel terrorism] ‘must stop,' but the bigger problem is ‘continuing settlement growth'.” In fact, Jewish communities on the West Bank have grown very little under either Netanyahu or his immediate predecessor, Ehud Olmert. Virtually no new Israeli villages and towns have been authorized or land annexed to existing ones. Some building has continued inside settlements to accommodate population—but not territorial—growth.

Israel's security fence encompasses seven to eight percent of the West Bank; settlements, including built-up areas and undeveloped land, approximately five percent. If Kerry meant expanded and new Jewish neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem—occupied by Jordan from 1948 to 1967—The Post should have added that the Arab population of Israel's capital has grown faster than the Jewish sector since reunification. Was the secretary of state saying, or the newspaper implying, that more Arabs can live in Jerusalem, east and west, but Jews must be confined to the western part of the city? The article was not clear.

What “raises honest questions” about long-term Palestinian intentions is incessant PA and PA-related anti-Israeli, anti-Jewish propaganda. It denies Jewish history in and rights to the land. It incites murder. And PA officials glorify it. (See, for just a recent example, “Abbas' Fatah honors ‘heroic' killer of '11 Zionists,'” Palestinian Media Watch, December 4).

On ‘two-state, one-state' half focused

The Post reports Kerry fears support is fading among Israelis for a “two-state solution.” The paper does not remind readers that such backing—high among Israelis in the years following the start of the 1993 Oslo process—appears never to have been more than minimal among Palestinian Arabs (see “Real Poll of Palestinian Housewives, et. al. Passes Washington Post Columnist,” CAMERA, November 9). That Palestinian leadership rejected U.S.-Israeli and Israeli-only offers of a “two-state solution” in exchange for Arab-Israeli peace in 2000, 2001 and 2008—and refused to negotiate with Israel under Kerry's 2014 “framework” approach goes absent without leave in this article. (See, for example, “Stop giving Palestinians a pass,” by Amb. Dennis Ross, New York Times, Jan. 1, 2015.)

Kerry's warning against the potential loss of Israel's Jewish majority in a “one-state” future may be based on incorrect figures that substantially overestimated the base Palestinian Arab population and growth rates. See “Voodoo Demographics,” by Roberta Seid, Michael L. Wise and Bennett Zimmerman, Azure, Summer, 2006. Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute and Apoorva Shah noted a “remarkable” decline in fertility rates across Muslim-majority countries and territories in “Fertility Decline in the Muslim World,” Policy Review, June-July, 2012.

There may be reasons to warn of a single country west of the Jordan River with a relatively small Jewish majority and large Arab minority. However, demographic extrapolation might not be among them. Regardless, The Post's reiteration of Kerry's belief does not hint at contradictory trends.

The newspaper refers without qualification to “Jewish settlements on territory originally intended to be part of a Palestinian state”. However, the only such territory west of the Jordan River (Jordan, with a Palestinian Arab majority east of the river, comprises 77 percent of the territory originally intended for the League of Nations' Palestine Mandate) was the Arab state proposed in the 1947 U.N. General Assembly partition plan.

Arab countries and Palestinian Arab leaders rejected partition of the remaining Mandate, west of the river, into two states. In 1948, Palestinian Jews accepted partition and successfully defended their new country, Israel, against Arab invasion—which rendered the partition plan moot.

U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, adopted after the 1967 Six-Day War; Resolution 338, passed after the 1973 Yom Kippur War; Palestinian autonomy provisions of the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty; 1993 and 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Oslo process agreements; the 2003 international “road map”—none of these defined “territory originally intended to be part of a Palestinian state.” They all anticipated direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to resolve outstanding differences and reach a compromise peace.

The Post article says as much earlier in the article, noting that under Oslo the Palestinian Authority was to administer “portions” of the West Bank and Gaza Strip until a negotiated agreement determined territory to be part of a new Palestinian state. So contrary to the paper's later assertion of “territory originally intended” to be part of “Palestine,” there was no such area. The size and borders of a possible second Arab state in what was British Mandatory Palestine remain to be negotiated'.

Ignoring Netanyahu at same forum

Netanyahu spoke by video relay to the Brookings' conference after Kerry. Among the points he made in contrast to the secretary of state were these:

“People have long said that the core of this conflict is the acquisition of territories by Israel in the 1967 War. That's an issue that needs to be addressed in any peace process, as is the question of settlements, but it's not the core of the conflict. In Gaza, nothing changed. In fact, instead of getting peace, we gave territory and got 15,000 rockets on our heads. We took out all the settlements; we disinterred people from their graves; and did we get peace? No. We got the worst terror possible….

“And so people are naturally saying, look, if we want a solution vis--vis the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria, in the West Bank, how can we ensure that this doesn't happen again? Well, in order for us to ensure that it doesn't happen again, we have to address the root cause of the problem.

“Why has this conflict not been resolved for a hundred years? Why has it not been resolved after successive Israeli prime ministers, six in fact after the Oslo Agreement, have offered to make peace, have offered the Palestinians the possibility of building a state next to Israel—it's because the Palestinians have not yet been willing to cross that conceptual bridge, that emotional bridge, of giving up the dream not of a state next to Israel, but a state instead of Israel.” (“PM Netanyahu's Remarks to the Saban Forum,” Prime Minister's Office, December 6.)
 
The Post's December 7 print edition did not mention Netanyahu's address. Neither, apparently, did most other major U.S. news outlets.
 
It might help if the paper's reporters and editors read their own work more closely. In “Kerry: Syrian opposition unlikely to join peace talks unless Assad departs” (December 5 print edition), reporter Carol Morello quoted Kerry as saying, in context of diplomatic efforts to end the Syrian civil wars, “It will be exceedingly difficult to cooperate without some indication or confidence [among anti-government rebels] that in fact there is a resolution in sight.” More complete, balanced Post coverage would note the obvious: This applies too for Israelis mindful of incitement by Palestinian leaders and widespread opposition among Palestinian Arabs to a two-state solution and peace.

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