NY Times: Nathan Thrall’s Ode to Palestinian Violence

The New York Times devoted the front page of its Sunday Review section to a 2000-word opinion piece by Nathan Thrall that condones Palestinian violence and terrorism as an effective means to chase Israel out of the West Bank. In the process, the article twists the facts and makes incoherent, internally contradictory arguments.

In Thrall’s cartoonish view, Israel is an unstoppable, land-greedy monster, guilty of “subjugating” Palestinians whose only shortcoming, the author suggests, is not being violent enough, whether because they are too weak or too willing to cooperate and compromise with Israel.

Justifying Anti-Israel Violence

It is hard to miss Thrall’s repeated references to anti-Israel violence — and the subtext of those references. He notes that the threat of Palestinian violence has failed because Israel “has repeatedly demonstrated that it can endure and outlast whatever bursts of resistance the divided and exhausted Palestinians can muster.” This apparent disappointment is underscored by Thrall’s use of the euphemism “bursts of resistance” to describe Palestinian violence which, in actuality, includes the brutal slaughter and maiming of men, women, children, and infants in shopping malls, city buses, pizza shops, and in the street.

Thrall’s dismay is also apparent when he impugns American payments to the Palestinians as an example of “unconditional support for Israel” because, he claims, the Palestinian Authority (PA) receives the money “on condition that it continues preventing attacks and protests against Israeli settlements.” Of course, there is no American prohibition on “protests” against Israeli settlements. That is simply a fabrication. What is true is that since fiscal year 2015, US aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) was reduced by the amount paid by the PA to convicted terrorists or their families for the acts of terror they committed. The real question is why, exactly, would Thrall take issue at all with the prevention of violent attacks?

But take issue he does, lamenting that the “Palestinians themselves have done much to support the status quo,” and specifically naming “The myth upheld by leaders of the Palestinian government … that cooperating with Israel’s occupation — which, in fact, makes the occupation less costly, more invisible to Israelis and easier to sustain — will somehow bring it to an end.”

What type of cooperation does Thrall have in mind? “Close security cooperation,” he quickly makes clear.

And why wouldn’t security cooperation between the two sides be good? Because cooperation helps reduce attacks, and Thrall sees benefits to the killing of Israelis, as he makes clear over several paragraphs. “It was Palestinian pressure, including mass demonstrations and violence, that precipitated every Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian territory,” he claims.

The author points to the violence of the first intifada, particularly in 1993, as prompting the Oslo agreements for Palestinian self-autonomy. This a deceptive half-truth of the type that conceals more than it reveals. Israelis were no strangers to anti-Jewish violence, and the fatalities of the first intifada were far from unprecedented. In every prior decade of Israeli existence there had been brutal months that saw as many, if not more, Israelis fall victim to deadly terror attacks as during the early 1990’s. If violence leads to withdrawals, as Thrall wants readers to believe, why then were there no withdrawals in the 1970’s? In that decade, there were more terror attacks by Palestinian perpetrators which claimed far more Israeli lives than did the violence of the first intifada.

Moreover, Thrall’s crude and simplistic theory — that killing Israelis secures land for Palestinians — ignores the broader explanation of why the Oslo negotiations happened when they did. As The New York Times reported in 1993,

Israel and the P.L.O. both badly wanted their meetings to succeed, each for its own reasons.

The P.L.O. was in disarray. Mr. Arafat was scrambling to hold onto power, the organization’s once-fat bank accounts were drying up, in large measure because of its own political miscalculations, and its loyalists were losing ground fast in the occupied territories to Islamic militants gathered under the banner of Hamas. Mr. Arafat needed a deal that would leave no doubt he was still on top.

The Israelis were also eager. They had lost faith in the negotiations stumbling along in Washington with Palestinians from the territories who, it became painfully clear, could not deliver the goods.

By putting violence on a pedestal, as he does in his article, Thrall conceals the fact that it was the post-Oslo increase in Palestinian violence — marked by indiscriminate, large-scale suicide bombings following Israel’s territorial concessions — that brought about the collapse of the agreements. These attacks, a violation of the signed peace accords, ultimately alienated Israelis, dissuading them from additional concessions.

Thrall uses similar deceptions when he alleges that rocket attacks from Gaza “increased sevenfold in the year before Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced Israel would evacuate.” Parenthetically dismissing what he disparages as “Israel’s talking point,” namely that “the army pulled out and got rockets,” Thrall pretends to contradict it, saying that, “in fact, it was already getting rockets before it pulled out.”

In actuality, Sharon first floated the idea of a Gaza withdrawal at the end of 2003, and further developed the plan in 2004. Yes, “Israel was getting rockets” but how many? According to Israeli statistics, the number of rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza increased only about 25 percent between 2002 and 2003, and didn’t quite double between 2003 and 2004. Other credible statistics likewise fail to show any “sevenfold” year-over-year increase in rocket fire in the years Thrall references. What the statistics do show, though, is an enormous increase in rocket attacks from Gaza after Israel withdrew from the territory. Israel’s “talking point” is an empirical fact.

Again and again, violence is portrayed almost as an ideal — if only the Palestinians could muster more of it. Alas, the Palestinians “remain too weak politically and militarily” to force Israel to withdraw unconditionally from territories it acquired in the 1967 war, the author drily notes at the end of hi
s piece.

The Big Lie: Concealing Israel’s Offers

Thrall’s enchantment with the idea of violence as a way to advance Palestinian demands impels him to conceal key historical facts. “As bloodshed diminished,” Thrall claims, “Israel’s sense of urgency about the Palestinian problem dissipated.” For this reason, “no serious proposals for unilateral withdrawal were made again [after 2005], until the level of violence in the West Bank and Jerusalem escalated in late 2015.”

By limiting his reference to only “unilateral” withdrawal, Thrall is (again) being disingenuous. Israel offered to withdraw from virtually the entire West Bank during negotiations in 2008, while there was relatively little violence to speak of. It is the Palestinians who walked away from that offer.

His deceptive half-truth is part and parcel of a much broader canard: that Israel is disinterested in reaching an accommodation with the Palestinians. This theme appears again and again throughout the piece. Thrall writes of “Israeli indifference” and supposed unwillingness to make “concessions required to end Israel’s occupation.” Israel must be “steered” from its “preferred option of perpetuating [the occupation],” he insists.

He twists the facts to suggest that Palestinians, in their weakness, have made all the concessions, while Israel has not, writing:

In the last quarter-century of intermittent American-led negotiations, the powerlessness of the Palestinians has led to still further concessions. The P.L.O. has accepted that Israel would annex settlement blocs, consented to give up large parts of East Jerusalem, acknowledged that any agreement on the return of Palestinian refugees will satisfy Israel’s demographic concerns and agreed to various limitations on the military capabilities and sovereignty of a future state of Palestine.”

During that time, Palestinians were never presented with what Israel offered every neighboring country: full withdrawal from occupied territory. Egypt obtained sovereignty over the last inch of sand in Sinai. Jordan established peace based on the former international boundary, recovering 147 square miles. Syria received a 1998 proposal from Prime Minister Netanyahu (on which he subsequently backtracked) for a total evacuation from the Golan Heights. And Lebanon achieved a withdrawal to the United Nations-defined border without granting Israel recognition, peace or even a cease-fire agreement.

This is clear historical revisionism. Israel repeatedly offered the Palestinians territory and statehood, and the Palestinians repeatedly rejected such offers. In 1947, Palestinians were offered and rejected a state, because they did not want a Jewish state in their midst. In 1967, the Palestinians and the Arab world responded to talk of a peace deal and Israeli territorial concessions at a meeting in Khartoum with the infamous three no’s: no to negotiations, no to peace, no to recognition of Israel. In 2000 at Camp David, Prime Minister Barak was willing to make vast territorial concessions to the Palestinians in exchange for peace. Palestinian president Yasir Arafat, though, rejected the peace deal, returned home, and launched a new terror campaign against Israeli civilians. And, as mentioned above, Olmert’s 2008 peace offer was also rejected by the Palestinians.

Thrall ignores these offers, instead trying to deceive readers by saying Palestinians were never presented with the precise type of offers other neighboring countries received from Israel. In fact, they were presented with a similar offer of land for peace. If the nature of the offers was different, it is only because negotiations with sovereign countries like Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon are inherently different than negotiations over contested, unallocated West Bank land, to which Israel has historic and legal claim.1 There has never been Palestinian sovereignty over the contested territory.
So Thrall says there was thought of a “unilateral” withdrawal, but conceals that at the time there were active negotiations between the sides about a withdrawal. And he says Israel never offered the Palestinians a withdrawal to the “international boundary,” but conceals that, in the case of the West Bank, there is no international boundary. The point is to obfuscate the reality that Israel has repeatedly agreed to withdraw from most of the West Bank in exchange for peace. Such are the word-games of someone who hopes to deceive rather than inform.

In order to maintain his fiction about Palestinians making all the concession and Israel making none, moreover, Thrall must be inconsistent in his treatment of sources. Thus, in a striking inconsistency, he writes of an array of PLO concessions, based on its stated positions during Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Among these, he includes Palestinian acceptance of Israel’s annexation of settlement blocs and parts of East Jerusalem. But during those same negotiations, Israel made clear that it was willing to part with almost the entire West Bank and accept a Palestinian state — a fact that Thrall devotes his entire article to contradicting. So while the author accepts Palestinian assurances made during negotiations as unchallenged truth, he ignores Israeli concessions made during negotiations as if they never happened.

Twisting the Facts

Many other historical fallacies appear in the article, including:

* Thrall’s assertion that “The only real fallout from continued occupation are major increases in American financing of it, with Israel now receiving more military assistance from the United States than the rest of the world does combined.”

According to a Washington Post analysis of US foreign aid, military aid to Israel constitutes under a third of America’s military assistance to foreign countries. The U.S., for example, spends $12 billion on Foreign Military Financing, the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund, the Coalition Support Fund, the Iraq Train and Equip Fund, and the Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund. Military aid to Israel accounts for $3.8 billion of that amount.

Contrary to Thrall’s claim, moreover, that money does not amount to “American financing of [the occupation].” It is used to supply Israel with weaponry for defending itself against violence and threats of violence from adversaries including Iran, Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas, and others. It also funds research and development projects related to missile defense and other critical technologies. In both cases the United States benefits enormously from these funds. In the former case, most of the funding for weapons must be used to purchase American-manufactured weapons, providing steady revenue to American defense corporations. In the latter case, Israel is at the forefront in the development of missile defense systems, drones and avionics. The United States collaborates on this technology development and has access to Israeli inventions.

* Thrall’s claim that “official Israeli and Palestinian population statistics indicate that Jews have been a minority in the territory Israel controls fo
r several years now, and with no repercussions”

According to the latest Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, there are 6.45 million Jewish Israeli citizens, and another 2.18 non-Jews (including Israeli citizens and Jerusalem residents). According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, there are 2.935 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem, which means that those in Jerusalem may have been counted both by the Israeli bureau and the Palestinian one. Jews, then, are a clear majority in the territory it controls.

* Thrall’s claim that a “one-state solution” has “not been endorsed by a single Palestinian faction.”
In fact, a number of Palestinian factions call for a single Palestinian state, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Palestinian Liberation Front, and others.

Thrall’s shoddy, unsubstantiated screed against Israel rests on the fabrication of facts and the concealing of verifiable information that does not support his antagonistic views. Most disturbing, however, is that the piece amounts to a morally repugnant justification of the violence that has shattered so many families.

It’s hard to imagine The New York Times proudly featuring a similar piece that clinically discusses the supposed positives of killing teens at a Manchester concert hall, running down pedestrians on a London street, or bombing a black church in the American south. That type of dehumanizing treatment is reserved for the murder of Israeli Jews.

It is not news that journalistic standards of fact-checking, corroboration and careful editing have gone by the wayside at The New York Times. But in publishing this particular opinion piece, and more than that, boosting it to the size of a full-length feature article and amplifying it by running it on the front page of the weekend’s Sunday Review section, the newspaper has crossed another line.
1. Regarding Israel’s historical and legal claims to this territory, the Supreme Council of the Principal Allied Powers officially recognized Palestine as a mandated state for the Jewish people at the 1920 San Remo Conference. The San Remo Resolution of April 25, 1920 served as the basis for the future administration of Palestine which would henceforth be recognized as the Jewish National Home, as envisioned by the Balfour Declaration. The resulting 1922 Palestine Mandate, which incorporated the resolution into its preamble, confirmed Jewish historical and national rights and converted the Balfour Declaration from a statement of British foreign policy to binding international law. According to Article 6 of the Mandate, “close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands not required for public use” was to be encouraged. Article 80 of the U.N. Charter preserved this Jewish right to settlement by specifying that nothing in the U.N. Charter’s chapter on the administration of Mandate territory shall be construed ” to alter in any manner” the rights of people and the terms of “existing international instruments.” Eugene Rostow, a legal scholar who served as U.S. under-secretary of state under the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson, explained that “the Jewish right of settlement in the area is equivalent in every way to the right of the existing Palestinian population to live there.”

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