Omissions Distort Washington Post’s ‘Palestinian U.N. Statehood Showdown’

Omission of basic information left The Washington Post’s “Israel, Palestinians prepare for showdown at U.N. on statehood resolution” (Dec. 16, 2014 print edition) incomplete, even one-sided. Flaws in the article, by Carol Morello, Post diplomatic correspondent and William Booth, Jerusalem bureau chief, include:

* Reporting that “two decades of peace talks that have failed to bring statehood” have made “Palestinian leadership frustrated.”

In fact, half the Palestinian leadership—and perhaps the more popular half, some polls suggest, the Hamas regime ruling the Gaza Strip—rejects negotiations aimed at a “two-state solution” resulting in a West Bank, Gaza Strip and eastern Jerusalem “Palestine” and Israel as the Jewish state. Hamas’ charter makes clear that frustration for the U.S.-designated terrorist organization more likely issues from the continued existence of Israel and the Jewish people.

The other leadership half, the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority administering the West Bank, has participated in intermittent talks but refused two-state offers in 2000, 2001 and 2008. In 2010, under U.S. pressure, it made a pro forma return to discussions in the last month of a 10-month Israeli settlement freeze only to insist again that its demands must be agreed to as outcomes.

None of that essential background appears in The Post’s dispatch. But it can be found, for example in “Palestinians Statehood Three Times, Claim Frustration—with Israel,” a CAMERA Backgrounder from Sept. 22, 2011. Should The Post provide such relevant information, readers might reasonably conclude that perhaps Israeli leadership should feel frustrated by Palestinian rejectionism.

The article refers without qualification to “the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory ….” The Post sometimes refers to eastern Jerusalem’s status as “disputed,” as it does to Kashmir, divided between and contested by India and Pakistan. The newspaper likewise frequently terms the West Bank territory Palestinian leaders “want as part of a future state.” Those are accurate, and the former also applies to the West Bank.

Post word choice in “Israel, Palestinians prepare for showdown” does not remind readers that Israel is the legal, mandatory military occupational authority in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) as a result of wars of self-defense; that this is disputed (not Palestinian) territory over which no internationally recognized sovereignty has applied since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire nearly a century ago; and U.N. Security Council resolutions outlining the means of resolving the occupation and the area’s disputed status already exist.

* The paper repeats the “Palestinian frustration” mantra, reporting “facts on the ground have fueled Palestinian frustrations” because “the settler population in the West Bank has more than doubled in the 21 years since Israel and the Palestinians started their negotiations, rising to more than 350,000 settlers.”

Omissions obscure cause and effect

Without the omitted context noted above, this unattributed assertion implies a mistaken cause-and-effect. In the Oslo process, begun in 1993, the Palestinian side made several major commitments—including dismantling its terrorist infrastructure, ending anti-Israel incitement and educating its public for peace with Israel and resolving all outstanding issues through direct negotiations. Assuming those pledges, among others, would be fulfilled, the Oslo process envisioned “final status talks” for 1998. Yet anti-Israel terrorism and intensified incitement accompanied the process almost from the beginning

Israel did not commit to, nor did the Palestinian side insist in 1993, on a settlement halt. One could report, more accurately and informatively, that the growth in the number of Jews living in the West Bank has occurred “in the 21 years during which the Palestinian side has failed to fulfill obligations the negotiations were premised on and during which it has rejected repeatedly two-state proposals that would have placed the West Bank under its control and determined the status of Jewish communities there.”

Meanwhile, growth of the West Bank’s Arab population and related legal and illegal building goes unmentioned as “facts on the ground.” Yet, both sides undertook not to act unilaterally in ways that would predetermine the status of the disputed territories.

* The Post notes that “both the United States and Israel say Palestinian statehood cannot be declared unilaterally or forced through U.N. resolutions but must be negotiated with Israel, whose troops still patrol most of the West Bank.” But it fails to inform readers why Washington and Jerusalem say that, or why Israeli troops still patrol most of the West Bank.

a) U.N. Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973) govern Arab-Israeli peacemaking and underlie subsequent international and Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic initiatives, including the 21-year-old Oslo process to which the article refers. They require compromise by all parties, including implicitly over territory and over a “just settlement of the refugee problem” (including the 800,000-plus Jewish refugees from Arab lands as well as the estimated 420,000 – 650,000 Arab refugees from what became Israel), and call for, among other things, “secure and recognized boundaries” that Israel inside the pre-’67 lines lacked.

Absent this essential information, readers of “Israel, Palestinians prepare for showdown at U.N. on statehood resolution” are unlikely to recognize the Palestinian leadership’s current Security Council maneuver for what it is—an attempted nullification of resolutions 242 and 338 and escape hatch from required compromises on major issues including boundaries and refugees.

b) Why do Israeli “troops still patrol most of the West Bank”? Because the first time they withdrew as part of the “peace process” the murders of more than 1,000 Israelis in the second intifada followed. This necessitated the return in force of the IDF in 2002. Israeli troops still patrol much of the West Bank because unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005 didn’t bring either state-building in “Palestine” or peace. Because without them Hamas might expel the Fatah-led PA, as occurred in the Strip. Because the spread of Islamic extremism that’s resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Arabs in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen and elsewhere in the region threatens Jordan and might reach Tel Aviv and Jerusalem via the West Bank. Other Post articles suggest as much weekly if not daily. But as it lacks specific Israeli-Palestinian context, The Post’s report here also fails to place Israeli-Palestinian affairs in context of the surrounding Middle East.

These omissions allow, intentionally or not, readers to infer that the Palestinian description of the PA’s anticipated Security Council bid for statehood recognition—“a ‘last
door’ to a peaceful compromise on the conflict”—is reasonable and accurate. But that description misleads. The Palestinian “statehood” bid via the United Nations attempts to supplant negotiations for a mutually acceptable agreement on a two-state solution. If successful it would impose on Israel several Palestinian conditions practically ensuring continuation of the conflict.

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