A front-page story in The New York Times this week reported on a recent international meeting about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The story correctly noted that the Paris meeting culminated with a joint declaration reaffirming international support for a two-state solution to the conflict. But when describing the content of that communiqué, reporters falsely claimed that the document called for a “return to the 1967 boundaries between the Israelis and Palestinians” and “the removal of settlements from the West Bank.”
These fabrications come only weeks after the newspaper told readers that the Palestinian Authority accepts the principle of two states for two peoples, when in fact Palestinian leaders say they will “never” accept such a solution.
A Missing Vow
The Jan. 16 article about the meeting of world leaders got off to an unpromising start when, in the first paragraph, it claimed that Donald Trump has “vowed to support Israel no matter what.”
A New York Times advertisement on Twitter promises “fact-based journalism.”
When asked about the provenance of this claim, the newspaper told CAMERA it had no specific vow in mind, but rather was referring to Trump’s “collective positions.” These include his position about a recent UN resolution critical of Israel, his criticism of the Obama administration’s Israel policies, and his comments while campaigning, the newspaper indicated.
But there appear to be no such vows of unconditional support in Trump’s statements about the UN and Obama. While campaigning, Trump did indicate he supported and would back Israel — hardly a novel position among U.S. politicians running for office in a pro-Israel country — but he also said he wanted to be “neutral” on the conflict. We could find no comment resembling a vow to support Israel “no matter what.”
It’s certainly possible that the newspaper’s reporters feel Trump intends to back Israel “no matter what.” But feelings are not facts, and hyperbole is not news.
The “1967 Boundaries”
The fabrications about the Paris conference communiqué are easier to evaluate, since they refer to one specific public document and cannot be attributed to vague “collective positions.” Under the headline “World Leaders Push Israel and Trump to Forge a 2-State Deal” (it’s worth pausing here to note that the communiqué actually calls on “both sides” of the conflict, and not just Israel, to reaffirm support for a two-state solution), the newspaper reported
At the end of Sunday’s meeting, the countries issued a joint communiqué that reaffirmed support for a two-state solution — a Palestinian state existing next to Israel — and a return to the 1967 boundaries between the Israelis and Palestinians, including the removal of Israeli settlements from the West Bank.
There is not a word in the actual communiqué about the “1967 boundaries,” a reference to the Israeli-Jordanian armistice line that held from 1949 until 1967, or about any other boundaries. Nor does it mention the removal of settlements.
The communiqué does say that “a negotiated two-state solution should … fully end the occupation that began in 1967.” But this should not be confused with a demand that Israel withdraw to any particular line.
In fact, diplomatic calls to end the occupation are frequently made alongside statements that there will be changes to the former dividing line. Times journalists reporting on the Arab-Israeli conflict would be expected to know this. In a Jan. 9, 2008 speech, for example, President George W. Bush said “there should be an end to the occupation that began in 1967,” and added that this will “require mutually agreed adjustments to the armistice lines of 1949 to reflect current realities.”
And in a recent address by John Kerry, the secretary of state likewise called for a full end to the occupation and for a withdrawal to something other than the 1967 boundaries. Kerry said that changes to the 1967 lines are “necessary to reflect practical realities on the ground, and mutually agreed equivalent swaps that will ensure that the agreement is fair to both sides.” He further stated, “we understand that in a final status agreement, certain settlements would become part of Israel to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 49 years – we understand that – including the new democratic demographic realities that exist on the ground.”
So again, in the language of diplomacy, a call for a full end to the occupation is demonstrably not the same as a call for withdrawal to the 1967 lines.
Also noteworthy is that the communiqué says a negotiated solution should resolve all permanent status issues on the basis of United Nations Security Council resolution 242. That resolution was carefully and intentionally worded to avoid calling for a withdrawal to the old armistice lines, something the drafters of the resolution insisted should not happen.
The communiqué does not refer to the uprooting of settlements, either. It does call on the parties to “reverse the current negative trends on the ground, including continued acts of violence and ongoing settlement activity.”
But it is clear that “reversing the current negative trend” does not equate to a call to remove settlements. The same passage, after all, urges a reversal to the negative trend of acts of violence. This obviously does not equate to a call to reincarnate victims of terrorism, but rather to decrease or end violence. In the same way, a reversal of settlement trends would refer to a decrease or end to settlement activity.
The calls for an end to settlement building and violence appear together in the second and fifth paragraphs of the Paris communiqué. But while the New York Times article about the meeting repeatedly mentions settlements, including in paragraphs four, five, seven and eight, it doesn’t say a word about violence until paragraph 22, the last paragraph of the piece.
The newspaper’s brazen downplaying of international concerns about violence is enough to raise eyebrows. Its peddling of fabricated facts, and other recent examples of biased language, are dismaying symptoms of journalistic decay.