Historical Amnesia at the Financial Times

Public perception of the Arab-Israeli conflict is shaped by competing narratives. The Arabist narrative dismisses the compelling story of Jews as an indigenous people returning to their homeland, instead casting Israel as a foreign implant occupying Arab land. It employs the terminology of Western imperialism in order to reverse the historical roles of aggressor and victim.  Vivid examples of the Arabist account frequent the opinion columns and editorials of the Financial Times of LondonExaminations by media monitoring groups CAMERA and Just Journalism revealed its commentary pieces to be heavily weighted against Israel. The paper’s bias also seeps into its news coverage. An April 12, 2010 analysis piece about current tensions between the United States and Israel by correspondents Tobias Buck and Daniel Dombey provides an instructive example.
In U.S. and Israel: An unsettled allianceBuck and Dombey present Israel’s claim to east Jerusalem as resting only on the  fact that it occupies the area now. They leave no doubt it rightfully belongs to the Palestinian Arabs. Describing the controversy over a planned Jewish neighborhood in Ramat Shlomo, Buck  and Dombey state,

To most Israelis, it is no more than a suburb of Jerusalem. To the rest of the world, however, it is an illegal Jewish settlement built on occupied Palestinian land. That is why a plan, revealed last month, to build an additional 1,600 homes there for settlers sparked a global outcry, as well as a crisis in US-Israeli relations yet to be resolved.

The premise that eastern Jerusalem belongs to the Palestinian Arabs deserves scrutiny.
Jerusalem Before 1967
Buck and Dombey’s depiction of east  Jerusalem as Arab territory illegally occupied by Israel ignores all that preceded Israel’s capture of the area in June, 1967.  First, they neglect to inform their readers that the Arab rule preceding Israeli control was also a military occupation imposed by the invading Jordanian army in 1948. Only Pakistan recognized Jordanian rule over eastern Jerusalem as legitimate.
Prior to the Jordanian occupation, Jerusalem was not a divided city.  A significant Jewish population resided in the eastern portion of the city where there were also numerous Jewish institutions, such as Hebrew University and Hadassah hospital. After taking control of eastern Jerusalem, Jordanian forces expelled Jewish residents of the Old City who had not already fled or been killed in the fighting. The property of the expelled Jews was seized and their houses of worship largely destroyed by the Jordanians.
The Financial Times Incorrectly Ascribes the British Policy on East Jerusalem to that of America
Buck and Dombey incorrectly equate American policy with that of much of the international community when they assert,
Along with the wider international community, every US administration for more than 40 years has held that Israel is an occupying power in East Jerusalem and the West Bank; the lands conquered, along with the Gaza Strip, during the 1967 war between Israel and its neighbours.

As a result, Washington regards all Israeli settlements on these territories as illegal. East Jerusalem, however, is particularly sensitive: the Palestinians want it as the capital of a future independent state; the Israeli government, in contrast, is committed to maintaining all of the city as the “undivided capital” of the Jewish state.

The legality of Israeli settlements in general and east Jerusalem in particular has been argued by numerous eminent legal scholars  (Also see Commentary magazine, Dec. 2009, “The Illegal-Settlements Myth“). Buck and Dombey’s assertion that Washington regards all Israeli settlements as illegal is false.  
After the 1967 war, in which Israel took control of the territories after rebuffing a Jordanian attack, American and British diplomats at the U.N. Security Council drafted Resolution 242. The framers, including Lord Caradon of Britain and senior American officials, Eugene Rostow and Arthur Goldberg, designated these territories along with the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip and Golan Heights as disputed.  The resolution was careful ly worded so as to not require Israel to turnover all the land it had acquired during the war.  The resolution’s framers clarified this point several times over the years when attempts were made to reinterpret the resolution as requiring Israel to vacate all of the territory. Justice Goldberg told the New York Times in 1980,

Resolution 242 in no way refers to Jerusalem, and this omission was deliberate. I wanted to make clear that Jerusalem was a discrete matter, not linked to the West Bank.

In a number of speeches at the U.N. in 1967, I repeatedly stated that the armistice lines fixed after 1948 were intended to be temporary. This, of course, was particularly true of Jerusalem. At no time in these many speeches did I refer to East Jerusalem as occupied territory.

American policy since 1967 has for the most part been consistent with U.N. Resolution 242. While the current American administration has increased pressure on Israel to curtail further settlement development, this stance is based on the steps it believes are necessary to restart the peace process. It is not a legal position. Opinions differ over how the Johnson and Nixon administrations characterized Israeli settlement in its newly acquired territories, and the Carter administration did define such activity as illegal, but the Reagan administration rejected that position. Contrary to Buck and Dombey’s portrayal, American policy up to this point has supported a negotiated settlement which would include some land swaps. Former President George Bush stated this principle clearly in his letter to then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Bush wrote,
In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion.
The Arab states, for their part, rejected  any peace agreement with Israel  issuing their famous three no’s: no recognition, no peace and no negotiations with Israel. Instead, the Arabs and their supporters in the West campaigned to revise the history of the conflict and reshape the image of Israel. A key feature of this effort has been to revise the terminology in order to transform the Western perception of a two-sided dispute to one of Israel as an illegal occupier.
Legitimizing the Ethnic Cleansing of Jews in 1948
Since 1967, Jews have returned to eastern Jerusalem. Buck and Dombey label all the 180,000 current Jewish residents of eastern Jerusalem as settlers, a term that conjures up the image of British colonialists occupying foreign lands. This distorted image obscures the reality that most of these Jews are residents of urban neighborhoods in Israel’s capital city within walking distance of the Israeli parliament. In some cases, Jews are returning to reclaim property that was taken from them by force in 1948 and given to Palestinian Arabs.  All are lumped together in Buck’s account.
By describing planned Israeli construction in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood of Jerusalem as an “illegal settlement” on occupied Palestinian land, Buck and Dombey side with the Arabs in denying Jews’ the right to reside there. In doing so, they implicitly endorse the ethnic cleansing of east Jerusalem’s Jewish residents sixty two years ago. 
Despite producing a wide-ranging piece on recent tension between the United States and Israel, Tobias Buck and Daniel Dombey’s analysis suffers from an uncritical acceptance of the historically flawed Arabist narrative. Their repetitive invocations of Western imperalist terminology are symptomatic of an account undermined by historical amnesia, particularly as it relates to east Jerusalem. By ignoring the Jews’ expulsion from east Jerusalem in 1948 and the absence of recognized Arab sovereignty, let alone Palestinian sovereignty, prior to 1967, their account is misleading. That some Israeli governments have indicated a willingness to compromise on the status of east Jerusalem, does not discharge Buck and Dombey or the Financial Times of responsibility to provide an historically complete and accurate account.

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