Foreign Affairs Magazine, ‘Palestinian Land,’ and the Press

A veteran U.S. diplomat has simultaneously rewritten history and, if accidentally, forsworn the need for negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. Writing in Foreign Affairs magazine, Martin Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to both Egypt and Israel, used terminology that is both inaccurate and misleading.

Indyk’s May 26, 2020 op-ed, “Israel’s New Government is a Many-Headed Hydra,” discusses obstacles that the new Israeli government might encounter. Indyk views as a positive the fact that current Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu struck a deal with his rival, Benny Gantz, allowing the latter to serve as Defense Minister for 18 months before the two swap posts. The former Clinton and Obama administration official asserts that Gantz’s influence will result in “pragmatism” that “will be critically important when it comes to annexation, the only policy issue that was written into the Netanyahu-Gantz governing agreement [emphasis added].”

Indyk adds: “Netanyahu insisted that after July 1, he have the right to bring to the cabinet his campaign commitment to annex the Jordan Valley and all 131 of the West Bank settlements, constituting some 30 percent of Palestinian territory [emphasis added].”

But both “annexation” and “Palestinian territory” are misleading.

As Eugene Kontorovich, a professor of constitutional and international law at George Mason University, has observed: “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) counts as belonging to a “foreign sovereign country.”

Regrettably, Indyk is far from the only person to incorrectly use the phrase “annexation” when discussing the situation—numerous news outlets and political figures, U.S., Israeli and otherwise have done so, as well. Nevertheless, the terminology is incorrect.

The term “annexation” may suggest, if implicitly, that the land in question belongs to a foreign country, but Indyk’s decision to use the phrase “Palestinian territory” to describe that area is blatantly incorrect.

A sovereign Palestinian Arab state has never existed. Rather, the status of the territory is, at best, disputed. This, of course, is the reason for the negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians—negotiations which Indyk has long advocated and which Palestinians have long rejected. By claiming that the land is “Palestinian territory,” Indyk is prejudging an outcome, effectively saying that negotiations aren’t necessary as the land already belongs to Palestinian Arabs.

Indeed, if the West Bank were simply Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory, specifically territory belonging to another sovereign state and acquired by aggression, then Israel would be required to withdraw and no negotiations would have been necessary. But since Israel is the obligatory military occupational authority, having won the territory from Jordan in a war of self-defense in 1967, and competing claims remain unresolved, the West Bank is, at best, land that Palestinians want for a future state—and land at least some of which many Israelis claim for Israel.

Israel captured the West Bank in 1967 from the Kingdom of Jordan, which had occupied the territory since its 1948-49 war with Israel. Prior to 1948, the area, like Israel, was administered by the United Kingdom. The land itself wasn’t even referred to as “the West Bank” until Jordan seized it during the 1948 War; before that it was commonly referred to as Judea and Samaria.

In fact, a 1957 map in the New York Times, as well as a May 17, 1970 dispatch from that paper (“Time Stands Still in an Israeli-Occupied Town”), among elsewhere, claim that the West Bank belonged to Jordan—despite the fact that only the U.K. recognized the Hashemite Kingdom’s post-1948 occupation of that territory. It is easy, it seems, for news outlets and pundits to grant Arab sovereignty over the land, but Jewish claims are too hard to swallow.

There is, however, a basis for such claims. In fact, as CAMERA has documented (see, for example “The West Bank—Jewish Territory Under International Law,” July 1, 2014), Israel has a foundation for asserting sovereignty over the area. Further, 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 Treaty and the 1924 Anglo-American Convention also enshrined Jewish territorial claims into international law. Three quarters of that land originally intended for the Palestine Mandate, the “East Bank,” went to the establishment of the state of Transjordan, today’s Jordan, in 1921.

In the 1990s, when Israeli and Palestinian leaders signed the Oslo peace agreements, the sides agreed that the status of the West Bank would be decided in negotiations between the sides, and today its rightful and ultimate disposition remains in contention.

Thus, the West Bank areas under discussion are disputed and their ultimate disposition has yet to be decided. Unfortunately, this hasn’t stopped other news outlets from describing them as “Palestinian territories.” The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post, among others, have used the terminology, but all have—at CAMERA’s urging—issued corrections. As recently as May 16, 2020, CAMERA prompted the Wall Street Journal to issue a correction, noting:

“A Trump administration Israeli-Palestinian peace plan would allow Israel to annex parts of the occupied West Bank. In some editions Thursday, a caption with a Page One photo incorrectly referred to those parts of the West Bank as Palestinian territory. Under the Olso accords, sovereignty over the West Bank is disputed, pending a final peace settlement.”

Regrettably, as of this writing, Foreign Affairs has declined to respond to CAMERA’s request for a correction. The publication describes itself as “the leading magazine for in-depth analysis of U.S. foreign policy” throughout the world, including the Middle East. And numerous leading officials and world leaders have published influential essays in its pages. Accurate and precise information is essential to worthwhile policy debates. By carelessly using the terms “annexation” and “Palestinian land,” the esteemed magazine is making such debates—already heated—that much harder.