Roger Cohen Errs on Settlements and Barrier

“[F]acts are hard,” writes New York Times Op-Ed columnist Roger Cohen in the International Herald Tribune today, addressing the possibility (or lack thereof) of Mideast peace (“A Mideast Truce“). Facts are hard for Cohen, who errs on the Oslo Accords and the West Bank security barrier.

Cohen misstates the Oslo Accords’ position regarding settlements, stating: “Both Oslo (1993) and the Road Map (2003) called for settlements to stop . . . .”

Neither the Declaration of Principles nor the Interim Agreement of the Oslo Accords prohibit or restrict the establishment or expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank (or Gaza Strip, now irrelevant). During the DOP negotiations, PLO representatives tried to obtain a clause prohibiting Israel from establishing new settlements. Israel rejected this demand, offering concessions to the Palestinians on other matters. These concessions were accepted by Arafat which is why the Oslo Accords do not bar settlement activity during the interim period.

The fact that the issue of settlements was left to final status negotiations (which never were concluded) has been made clear repeatedly in the news pages of both the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune. As Serge Schmemann, now the editor of the IHT Op-Ed page in which Cohen’s piece appeared today, wrote in the Times back on Oct. 27 1996:

Under the milestone Oslo agreement signed in 1993 between Israel and the Palestinians, the process of disengagement was divided into several stages to last for seven years. Jerusalem was relegated to the last phase, the “final status” talks that are also to tackle other thorny issues — Palestinian refugees, Jewish settlements, security arrangements, borders.

Several other New York Times reporters also noted that the Oslo Accords did not prohibit settlement growth or other settlement activity:

* “Mr. Bush’s approach appears to be to confront immediately two issues that confounded the Oslo peace process: Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which the Oslo agreement had left for later. . . .” (NYT, “Unsettling: The Bush Plan: Put the Toughest Hurdles First,” John Kifner, June 8, 2003).

* “During the 10 years of the Oslo agreement, which did not explicitly address settlements, their population doubled” (NYT, “Path to Mideast peace starts on home fronts,” James Bennet, June 7, 2003).

* “‘We’ve really been stung by this in that past,’ one Palestinian officials said, referring to the growth of settlements after the signing of the Oslo interim accords, which did not explicitly address the matter” (NYT, “Impasse on Mideast ‘road map,'” Bennet, May 21, 2003).

* “Like in Oslo in 1993, however, the Quartet’s road map detours around three roadblocks without removing them: the fate of Jerusalem, the fate of Palestinian refugees, and the fate of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Oslo process gradually gave Palestinians control over enclaves of territory, but it deferred, avoided and ultimately collided with the three big obstacles” (NYT, “On the Path to Peace, the Process Gets in the Way,” David Shipler, May 4, 2003).

* “Both Mr. Barak and Mr. Arafat, in statements and through aides, continued to stake out . . . . limits of what the two sides publicly claim they can accept in any final settlement on Jerusalem, on Jewish settlements, on the return of the Palestinian refugees and on other issues that have been left unresolved in the stuttering process that began with the Oslo agreement in 1993” (NYT, “An Eagerness for New Talks in the Mideast,” John Burns, July 28, 2000).

West Bank Barrier Error

In a separate error, Roger overstates the amount of West Bank land situated between the Green Line and the separation barrier. He states that the barrier “burrows into the West Bank to place major settlements on the Israeli side, effectively annexing over 12 percent of the land.” According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (“West Bank Barrier Route Projections,” July 2009): “The total area between the Barrier and the Green Line is 9.5 % of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and No Man’s Land.”
Related Reading: “Carter, Goldstone and Gaza

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