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Middle East Issues





Politico’s ‘Letter from Israel’ is Marked to the Wrong Address


Politico's “Letter From Israel: Trump Could Be Israel's Worst Nightmare,” by Tel Aviv-based journalist Gregg Carlstrom, misleads readers through omissions. The report—ostensibly about the Jewish state's reaction to the U.S.'s decision to abstain on United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 and the future of U.S.-Israel relations—begins with a false narrative that Israel is to blame for the lack of a Palestinian state.

As CAMERA noted in its backgrounder on the topic, U.N.S.C. Resolution 2334 was passed on Dec. 23, 2016. It asserted that Israeli settlements have “no legal validity” and are a “flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of peace.” The resolution was passed under Chapter 6 of the U.N. Charter and is thus considered advisory; it does not create any binding obligations and its passage does not make settlements “illegal (“Res. 2334: Game Changer or Not?” Dec. 24, 2016).”

However, the resolution could embolden efforts to delegitimize Israel; falsely blaming the Jewish state for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the lack of peace. Yet, it has been Palestinian leaders who have rejected statehood and embraced terror.

On December 28, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry gave an extremely long speech at the State Department justifying the unusual decision to abstain on the resolution. Kerry, largely ignoring Palestinian leaders' embrace of terror and rejection of peace, spent the majority of his speech haranguing Israel and asserting several false claims (“Did Secretary Kerry Get His Facts Straight?” CAMERA, Dec. 28, 2016).

The dispatch from Politico, unfortunately, chose to take Kerry's narrative as gospel—repeating the Secretary's factual errors and omissions and adding some of its own.

The foggiest idea from Foggy Bottom

Kerry asserted that the decision to abstain on Resolution 2334 was not a break from existing U.S. policy. Carlstrom, attributing Israeli officials anger over the resolution to “domestic politics,” agrees with Kerry. Claims to the contrary were, he said, “untrue.”

“There was nothing new in Friday's decision,” Carlstrom posited. “The U.N., like much of the world, has spent half a century condemning the settlements.”

However, this flippant assertion masks the truth. For starters, it's more accurate to write that the U.N. has spent half a century condemning Israel—for just about anything, including Jewish communities in the West Bank. Indeed, the U.N.'s anti-Israel animus is well known—it was even acknowledged in an underreported Dec. 16, 2016 speech by its outgoing Secretary General Ban Ki Moon (“Where's the Coverage? U.N. Head Admits Anti-Israel Bias,” CAMERA, Dec. 20, 2016). For example, in 2016 alone the U.N. General Assembly passed 20 resolutions targeting Israel. Major human rights violators, such as Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Syria—the latter engaged in a wholesale slaughter of its own people—received no more than one resolution each during that same time frame.

Moreover, Carlstrom's claim that the speech contained nothing new is simply untrue.

As The Washington Post noted, UNSC 2334 had this key section, as its first operative paragraph:

“Reaffirms that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace (“Fact-checking John Kerry's speech on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Jan. 3, 2017).”

Moreover, as The Post's Glenn Kessler highlighted, “For many Israelis, the reference to East Jerusalem as occupied Palestinian territory was especially galling, since it contains the Western Wall, the closest site that Jews can pray to the site of the destroyed ancient temples and is said to part of a retaining wall of the structure of the Second Temple…. Also problematic for supporters of Israel is the reference to 1967, since the original land-for-peace UNSC resolution (242) purposely did not mention specific lines or even Jerusalem, according to the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations at the time. (Arab states and Russia had sought such language in 242, which the U.S. rejected.)”

Additionally, although Kerry cited UNSC Res. 1515 and 605 as precedents, as CAMERA's Alex Safian has noted, the former called only for a temporary freeze on settlements and the latter said nothing at all about their alleged illegality. Kerry, Safian judged, was “being less than accurate.” So was Politico.

Distorted history

Carlstrom , failing to report Palestinian rejectionism, attributes the lack of peace and a Palestinian state to a “rightward shift” in Israel's politics. “Israel,” he says, “is not the same country in the 1970s.” With the “conservative Likud…solidly in power for much of the past four decades, the peace process is no longer a major political issue.” This is a distortion of history—one that ignores the rejected offers of statehood by Palestinian leaders. Or how Palestinian leaders' decision to embrace terror instead of peace may have affected the willingness of Israelis of all political stripes to believe that Palestinians want a state alongside a Jewish one.

When, for the first time in history, Palestinian Arabs were granted limited self-sovereignty over some areas as part of the 1993 Oslo process it was done by Israel in exchange for Palestinian promises—soon broken—to recognize the Jewish state, resolve outstanding issues in bilateral negotiations and cease and desist incitement and terrorism. Indeed, contrary to Carlstrom's assertions, the last several decades have seen numerous Israeli offers—under governments led by Likud and otherwise.

Further parroting the Secretary, Politico neglected to mention the numerous U.S. and Israeli offers for a “two-state solution” in exchange for peace with and recognition of the Jewish state. Palestinian leaders rejected—without so much as a counteroffer—such opportunities in 2000 at Camp David, 2001 at Taba and 2008 after the Annapolis Conference, among other instances. In a Nov. 17, 2015 interview with Israel's Channel 10, Palestinian leaders Mahmoud Abbas, admitted that he rejected the 2008 offer “out of hand.”

In his first term as Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu implemented a series of withdrawals from the West Bank, including the 1997 withdrawal from much of Hebron. Additional withdrawals occurred under as part of the 1998 Wye Accords that he negotiated along with U.S. and Palestinian representatives. As CAMERA's Tamar Sternthal has noted, during his first term, “Netanyahu tripled the amount of West Bank land under full Palestinian control (2“Rivera, the Self-Described Zionist, Fools No One,” April 12, 2010).” Further planned withdrawals were halted in the wake of ongoing Palestinian terrorist attacks and refusals to negotiate in good faith.

About that settlement growth

More recently, as a December 30 Washington Post editorial noted, the growth of Jewish communities in the West Bank has slowed with a growth rate of “about 3 percent per annum, the product of a restraint for which Mr. Netanyahu received no White House credit.” The Post pointed out that that slowed growth—all over the last eight years when Netanyahu was serving his second term—“means that the Jewish population outside Israel2's West Bank fence may have decreased as a percentage of the overall population even as Mr. Obama and Mr. Kerry have made it the focal point of U.S. policy (“On Israel, we're right back where Obama started”).”

What is more, Palestinian leaders also rejected Kerry's 2014 proposal to restart negotiations, as well as a March 9, 2016 offer for statehood presented by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. On April 4 2016, Netanyahu's office took to Twitter, tweeting “I heard President Abbas [Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority] say that if I invite him to meet, he'll come. So I'm inviting him. I've cleared my schedule.” The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), also led by Abbas, responded with: “Negotiate what exactly? (“Israeli, Palestinian leaders bicker over peace on Twitter, Times of Israel, April 6, 2016)”

At the time, Politico did not report these incidents. Carlstrom fails to note them as well. Instead, he claims, “The prime minister [Netanyahu] has done little to advance the peace process (though the Palestinians, plagued by incessant infighting, certainly share some of the blame).”

This is risible. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas—who Carlstrom devotes a single sentence to in a more than 3,700-word article—exercises authoritarian control over three entities: the Palestinian Authority, the PLO, and the Fatah movement that dominates both. Abbas, elected to single four-year term, is approaching his twelfth-year in power, having steadily expanded his iron grip. His government has imprisoned Palestinians for infractions as small as critical Facebook posts. Contrary to Carlstrom's apologetics for and infantilizing of Palestinian leadership, Abbas could have accepted any of the offers for statehood or opportunities for negotiations noted above.

Editorializing instead of reporting

Carlstrom , citing a December 2016 survey by the left-leaning Brookings Institution, asserted that the Obama administration's decision to abstain on UNSC Res. 2334 would be of little political cost: “For all the outrage in Israel, Obama's vote at the U.N.—though symbolic—was actually aligned with the views of his constituents.” Yet, the journalist failed to mention that several prominent Democrats have criticized the U.N. vote. As Business Insider reported in a December 23 report entitled “U.N. Israel vote leads Dems to blast Obama”:

“Leading Democrats from both houses called out the U.N. as an inappropriate venue for rejuvenating the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. They objected to the Obama administration's departure from what they view as decades of established US policy of vetoing UN resolutions regarding Israeli settlements.”

Incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Eliot Engel, a Democrat from New York and the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee were among those who offered criticized the administrations2' decision.

Despite Politico's narrative of an increasingly isolated Israel rapidly losing American support, a Feb. 2016 Gallup poll noted, “Americans' views toward Israel remain firmly positive.” Sixty-two percent of Americans said their views were more in sympathy with Israelis, whereas 15% claimed to favor the Palestinians.

Elsewhere, Carlstrom forfeits any semblance of impartiality, resorting to editorializing. American Jews, he claims, are finding “it more and more difficult to support a religious, right wing government that they perceive to be supporting Israeli racism and endless occupation.”

If such perceptions exist of Israel, they could perhaps be attributed to a narrative advanced by some media outlets and journalists. In Israel, Arabs sit on the Supreme Court, have their own political party and enjoy greater standards of living and political expression than anywhere else in the Middle East. The article advances a narrative in which the Palestinian Authority—which governs an area that is Judenrein (empty of Jews) —are not full-fledged participants, but hapless victims, deprived of independent agency and responsibility. Politico's latest missive does its best to advance that narrative.

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