New York Review of Books Stonewalls on Correcting Errors

On Dec. 2, 2004, the New York Review of Books ran an error-filled essay by Henry Siegman (“Sharon and the Future of Palestine”). Despite being alerted to the factual problems, editors have declined to address them. Nor have requests for information about the periodical’s correction policy been answered.

In the essay, Siegman misstated the conclusions of the Sharm El-Sheikh Fact-Finding Committee Report (“Mitchell Commission”) regarding violence which began in September 2000. He claimed the Report blamed “unrestrained growth of settlements” and “above all, the hardships and humiliations experienced by Palestinians” for creating a volatile situation which was sparked by Ariel Sharon’s “calculatedly provocative visit . . . to the Temple Mount.” [emphasis added]

First, the Mitchell Commission report concluded that the Fact-Finding Committee was “provided with no persuasive evidence that the Sharon visit [to the Temple Mount] was anything other than an internal political act.” That is, while claiming to describe the Mitchell Commission’s conclusions, Siegman actually contradicts the Report’s finding that Sharon’s Temple Mount visit was calculated to influence domestic politics, not Palestinian affairs. (Siegman also ignores direct statements by Palestinian officials affirming that Sharon’s visit was not the spark. As reported in the Lebanese daily Al-Safir, for example, Palestinian Communications Minister Imad al Faluji declared: “Whoever thinks that the Intifada broke out because of the despised Sharon’s visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque is wrong. . . . The Intifada was planned in advance, ever since President Arafat’s return from the Camp David negotiations.” [March 3, 2001])

Secondly, the Report doesn’t blame the violence on “settlements” or on “humiliations.”

“Settlements” and “humiliations” are mentioned in a section entitled “the Palestinian perspective” – not as the Report’s stated cause of violence.

And while the Report concluded that Palestinians are upset by settlements and humiliations, it also notes that Israel is upset by Palestinian failures, including “institutionalized anti-Israel, anti-Jewish incitement; the release from detention of terrorists; the failure to control illegal weapons;” and more.

Thus, the Report does not blame the violence on Israeli actions. In fact, the writers of the Report stressed: “We are not a tribunal. We complied with the request that we not determine the guilt or innocence of . . . the parties.”

In addition, Siegman sharply misrepresented Dov Weissglas’ interview with the Israeli daily Ha’aretz. According to Siegman, Weissglas asserted that Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza was intended to “prevent a peace process, to consign Bush’s road map to oblivion, and to preclude the emergence of a Palestinian state of any kind.” None of the above is true.

To the contrary, Weissglas spoke of the need to delay the peace process until a riper moment, to preserve the road map, and to preclude the emergence of a Palestinian terror state.

He recapped the long-established Israeli and American position which states that Israel will negotiate with the Palestinians only when their leadership abandons terror. In line with President Bush’s formula for peace expressed on June 24, 2002, Weisglass explained, Israel insists that “the swamp of terrorism be drained before a political process begins.” Because this abandoning of terror does not seem forthcoming and because the continuation of Palestinian terror has stalled the road map, Weisglass added, a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip is necessary to “preserve” this vision for a peaceful Palestinian state. “The disengagement plan . . . is the bottle of formaldehyde within which you place the president’s formula so that it will be preserved for a very lengthy period.”

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