CAMERA Op-Ed:The Washington Post’s Amnesia on Israel and ‘Annexation’

“History,” the late historian Bernard Lewis wrote, “is the collective memory and if we think of the social body in terms of the human body, no history means amnesia and distorted history means neurosis.” When it comes to its coverage of Israel, the Washington Post is very sick indeed. A June 16, 2020 column entitled “For Israel, annexation is saying the quiet part out loud” provides the means for diagnosis.

In a 997-word dispatch, the Post’s World Views columnist, Ishaan Tharoor, engages in heavy-handed historical revisionism, omitting key facts and details about Israel, Palestinians, international law and the so-called “peace process.” Tharoor darkly warns, “Israeli authorities may cross the geopolitical Rubicon” as “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu still appears bent on beginning the annexation of territory in the West Bank.”

But Tharoor’s terminology is inaccurate. As the renowned international law scholar Eugene Kontorovich has noted: “Annexation in international law specifically means taking the territory of a foreign sovereign country.” And neither the Jordan Valley nor the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) belongs to a “foreign sovereign country.”

Elsewhere, Tharoor refers to the land in question as “Palestinian territories.” But this is also inaccurate. No sovereign Palestinian Arab state has ever existed. Indeed, as The Wall Street Journal, among others, noted in a May 16, 2020 correction that was prompted by the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA): “Under the Oslo accords, sovereignty over the West Bank is disputed, pending a final peace settlement.”

No final peace settlement has occurred, as Palestinian Arab leaders have rejected numerous U.S. and Israeli offers for statehood in exchange for peace, in 2000 at Camp David, 2001 at Taba and 2008 after the Annapolis Conference, among other instances. More recently, the Palestinian Authority (PA), which rules the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), has rejected U.S. proposals to restart negotiations in 2014, 2016 and 2019.

As part of the 1990s Oslo peace process, Israel withdrew from much of the West Bank and supported — indeed, helped fund — the creation of the PA, the first instance of limited Palestinian Arab self-government in history. In exchange, Palestinian leaders promised to refrain from supporting terrorism, to recognize Israel’s right to exist and engage in bilateral negotiations— promises that they soon broke. The PA has refused U.S. and Israeli demands to end its “pay-to-slay” program, which pays salaries to those who attack and murder Jews. Many of the murderers are memorialized as “martyrs” with streets and sports teams named after them. And the PA’s official media routinely denies Israel’s right to exist, referring to all of the Jewish state as “Palestine.”

Indeed, on June 16, 2020—the same day that Tharoor’s column appeared—two important, but overlooked, stories broke. AFP reported that PA President Abbas ordered his security services to destroy documents that, the news agency speculated, might give Israelis proof of the Authority’s support for terror. Meanwhile, the Times of Israel reported that the European Union canceled a grant to a Palestinian nonprofit, the Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Rights and Residency, which had “refused to sign a so-called anti-terrorism clause that would obligate it to ensure that none of the funding goes to members of terrorist organizations.” The Post failed to report either of these developments.

But curiously, in a nearly 1,000-word article warning that “annexation” could doom the chance for a Palestinian Arab state—creating a “a Palestinian Bantustan, an archipelago of disconnected islands of territory”—Tharoor completely omits the real reason for the lack of a Palestinian state: Palestinian rejectionism and support for terrorism.

Regrettably, this is par for the course for Tharoor. As CAMERA has highlighted, the World Views columnist has authored no fewer than three dozen articles on the Jewish state, nearly all of them blaming Israel for the lack of a Palestinian state. Not once has he so much as hinted at the culpability of Palestinian leadership.

Instead, Tharoor resorts again to old habits, warning that with “annexation” the “specter of entrenched apartheid looms.” This is not the first time that Tharoor has used the apartheid canard. For example, in a Sept. 17, 2019 column, the Washington Post columnist warned of a “shadow of apartheid” in Israel’s upcoming elections. Instead, that election witnessed record turnout from Israeli Arabs—disproving Tharoor’s entire thesis less than forty-eight hours after it was published.

Indeed, more Arabs vote in Israel than in the neighboring PA, which hasn’t held elections in more than a decade. Jews are forbidden—under penalty of death—to rent or own land in areas ruled by the PA. That is actual apartheid. But it’s not what Tharoor—who has previously labeled terror supporter Issa Amaro a “Palestinian Gandhi”—wants to write about.

Tharoor’s claim that Israel applying sovereignty to parts of the West Bank and the Jordan Valley violates “international law” is also incorrect. The League of Nations Palestine Mandate, adopted later by the United Nations, calls for “close Jewish settlement on the land” west of the Jordan River in Article 6. The U.N. Charter, Chapter XII, Article 80, upholds the Mandate’s provisions. The 1920 San Remo Resolution and the 1924 Anglo-American Convention also enshrined Jewish territorial claims into international law.

“We live in a time,” Bernard Lewis observed, “where great energies are being devoted to the falsification of history.” Regrettably, that falsification often starts with what the late Post publisher Philip Graham called “the first rough draft of history”—journalism.

(Note: A slightly different version of this article appeared as an op-ed in JNS on June 19, 2020)