Foreign Policy Magazine’s Water Libel is More Than Half Empty

“The Western Press,” the author and former AP journalist Matti Friedman noted in 2014, “has become less an observer of” the Israel-Islamist conflict “than an actor in it.” Friedman’s observation holds true today. And a recent Foreign Policy magazine article offers an example of how the media can—and does—create stories to fit a preexisting narrative.

In a Feb. 4, 2020 dispatch, Foreign Policy magazine reporter Keith Johnson claims that “one of the many reasons that Palestinian leadership dismissed” the latest U.S. Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal “out of hand” was “that it included a demand for Palestinians to cede the water-rich West Bank and the entire Jordan Valley to Israel.” The subhead of the article blares “one reason the Palestinians swiftly rejected the flawed U.S. peace plan was that it does nothing to address their claims for water rights.” Foreign Policy then proceeded to use this claim—that Palestinians rejected the latest peace plan due, in part, to concerns about water issues—to write an entire article which asserted that “access to water has for decades been at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

But there’s a problem: it doesn’t appear that a single leader of the Palestinian Authority (PA), the entity that rules the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), has cited water as a reason for rejecting the plan. Ditto for the Central Committee of Fatah, the movement that dominates the PA. In his numerous comments about the proposal, PA President Mahmoud Abbas hasn’t ever cited water as his reason for opposing the plan.

Indeed, CAMERA was unable to find any statements by leading Fatah, PA or Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leaders—that is, those who were in a position to accept or refuse the proposal—that cited water as a reason for their rejection. As The Jerusalem Post reported, PA President Abbas has even threatened to sue any entity “involved in the implementation of the Trump peace plan”—but water wasn’t cited by the PA as a motivating factor.

Contravening standard journalistic practice, the Foreign Policy article itself names no Palestinian leader as saying as much, nor provides a link or citation showing that “water rights” was a reason for Palestinian leaders rejecting the proposal. And when CAMERA contacted Johnson asking which Palestinian leader cited water as a reason for rejecting the plan, he declined to respond.

In fact, as CAMERA detailed in a July 31, 2018 Washington Examiner op-ed, the PA launched a campaign to oppose the plan nearly two years ago—long before its details were even formulated, much less announced.  At the time, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) and Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), both organizations that monitor and translate Arab media, noted that Fatah and PA officials were publishing and distributing posters proclaiming, among other things, “Palestine is not for sale” and “The Deal of the Century will not thwart the will of Palestine.” Both before its terms were announced and afterwards, PLO “Peace negotiator” Saeb Erekat made numerous appearances before Western media highlighting his opposition to the proposal. Water wasn’t cited as a concern, much less a reason, for their opposition.

Indeed, Palestinian leaders have rejected numerous U.S. and Israeli proposals for Palestinian statehood in exchange for peace, most recently in 2000 at Camp David, 2001 at Taba and 2008 after the Annapolis Conference. In 2014 and 2016, the U.S. proposed—and Israel accepted—offers to restart negotiations based on the 2008 offer, which would have included more than 90% of the West Bank for a Palestinian state with its capital in eastern Jerusalem. Palestinian leaders also rejected these proposals.

As CAMERA has highlighted, Palestinian Arab leaders have refused opportunities for statehood going back to the 1930s. In 1947, they rejected a U.N. proposal that would have given them something that has never existed: a Palestinian Arab state with self-government. In not one instance was water cited as a chief concern.

In fact, Palestinian leaders have been remarkably clear about why they have refused numerous offers for statehood, variously made by the British, the U.N., the U.S., and Israel: they consider all of Israel to be “Palestine.” According to their ideology—one that is shared by Hamas, the U.S.-designated terror group that rules the Gaza Strip—any land that was once ruled by Muslims can’t be given away. As Hamas’s charter states: “The land of Palestine is an Islamic waqf consecrated for future Moslem generations until Judgment Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up.”

Indeed, on Jan. 5, 2018, Mahmoud al-Habbash, a top adviser to PA President Abbas, declared on official PA TV: “Palestine, that includes within it Jerusalem, is waqf (i.e., an inalienable religious endowment in Islamic law) land [and] it is forbidden by Shari’ah law to relinquish it or ease the transfer of ownership of it to enemies, because it is part of the Islamic public property. Granting ownership over Islamic territory or part of it to enemies is invalid and constitutes treason.”

As PMW has documented, official Palestinian media routinely refers to all of Israel as “Palestine” and maps printed and used by the PA, PLO and Fatah show all of the Jewish state as “Palestine.” As Jonathan Tobin documented in a Nov. 3, 2015 Commentary magazine article, Abbas, like his predecessor Yasser Arafat, has said on numerous occasions that he considers all of Israel to “illegally occupied” land. Further, numerous polls of Palestinian public opinion show that this is a majority view.

Foreign Policy, of course, completely omits this pertinent history, failing to cite, much less quote, any leading Palestinian official. Instead, to buttress its claims, the magazine cites Erika Weinthal, “an expert on water politics and conflict at Duke University.” Unsurprisingly, Foreign Policy fails to disclose that Weinthal has opposed efforts to fight campus antisemitism emanating from the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, which singles out the Jewish state for opprobrium. As CAMERA has documented, BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti has stated that BDS’s goal is the destruction of the Jewish nation of Israel. Congressional testimony has also highlighted BDS’s links to terrorist groups like the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and Hamas has said they “salute and support” the movement.

Foreign Policy also omits key details about Israel and water. Noting that “many media reports have portrayed Israel as a profligate user of water,” CAMERA’ s Alex Safian has conducted extensive research on Israeli water issues debunking precisely the type of claims made in the magazine’s article. Among other things, Safian noted:

“Under Oslo 2 (Interim Agreement, Sept. 1995), significant responsibility over water was transferred to the Palestinian Authority, including the right to drill wells at agreed sites. As part of the accords (Annex 3, Article 40), the two sides resolved that in the near-term Palestinians would receive an additional 28.6 MCM per year, of which the PA was obligated to supply 67 percent. While Israel has supplied its share of additional water to the Palestinians, the PA has largely failed to do its part.”

As The Times of Israel reported on July 13, 2017, Israel and the PA even reached a “landmark water deal for West Bank and Gaza.”  At the time, the head of the Palestinian Water Authority, Mazen Ghuneim, welcomed the deal. Reporting Ghuneim’s comments, TOI wrote: “Water is primarily a humanitarian issue, he added, stressing that the deal struck this week has no bearing whatsoever on the overall Israeli-Palestinian peace process [emphasis added].”

It doesn’t get much clearer than that.