September Daze: The Washington Post’s Peculiar Israeli-Palestinian Commentary


The Washington Posts skewed sense of what’s newsworthy about Israel and Jews, displayed just before and after Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, also afflicted the newspaper’s commentary pages. The Post ran four Op-Ed columns by outside contributors between September 2 and 7. One was from a chronic Israel basher, two by Palestinian apologists of selective veracity, and one that, being factual and experience-based was essentially pro-Israel. (CAMERA has documented The Post’s Op-Ed page tilt before, including “Study: On Nation’s Op-Ed Pages, Israel’s Voice is Stilled,” Feb. 5, 2008.)

A string of falsehoods

The most dishonest of the three anti-Israel and/or pro-Palestinian outside commentaries was George Bisharat’s “A true one-state solution” (September 3). Bisharat, an obsessive anti-Israel Op-Ed writer, is a law professor at the University of California’s Hastings College of Law in San Francisco when he isn’t posturing at the Institute for Palestinian Studies. In The Post he again presents a series of falsehoods as facts. Among them:

* “More than 35 laws” discriminate against “Palestinian citizens of Israel.”

There are no “Palestinian citizens” of Israel. There are Jewish, Arab (Muslim, Christian and Druze), Circassian and other Israeli citizens of Israel. Aside from the fact that military service is voluntary, not mandatory, for Israeli Arabs, all Israelis enjoy equal civil rights. Israel’s supreme court includes an Arab justice, 12 of the 120 members of parliament are Arabs, Arabs serve in the cabinet, diplomatic corps and hold senior ranks in the military. Some years ago an Israeli Arab was Miss Israel.

* “A de facto one-state reality has emerged with Israel effectively ruling virtually all of the former Palestine.” Except during British Mandatory Palestine (1920 – 1948) there was no “former Palestine,” no country or province by that name. Jordan, created by Great Britain in 1921, rules 77 percent of former mandatory Palestine, Israel about 16 percent.

Aside from Israeli security roadblocks and occasional, targeted counter-terrorism operations, most of the West Bank Arab population is effectively administered by the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority and all of it in the Gaza Strip by the Iranian-supported Hamas.

* “By settling roughly 500,000 Jews in East Jerusalem and the West Bank,” Israel has been “eliminating the land base for a viable Palestinian state.”

Since Israel reunified Jerusalem as a result of the 1967 Six-Day War, the Arab population has grown faster than the Jewish sector. In 2005, Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip. Its security barrier puts 9.5 percent of the West Bank on the Israeli side; post-’67 Jewish communities comprise much less. At Camp David in 2000, Taba in 2001, and after the 2007 Annapolis summit, the Palestinian leadership rejected statehood on more than 95 percent of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in exchange for peace with Israel.

* “Palestinian refugees have lived in exile for 62 years, their right to return to their homes denied, while Jews from anywhere can freely immigrate to Israel.”

There is no “right to return” for Palestinian Arab refugees. All Arab states voted against U.N General Assembly Resolution 194 (1948) because it did not require the return of Arab refugees from what became Israel after the 1948-’49 War of Independence. Neither did General Assembly resolutions 393 and 394 (1950) or 513 (1952), all of which concerned themselves with the war’s aftermath. These resolutions did suggest either repatriation when practicable, under conditions of Arab-Israeli peace, or reintegration of Arab refugees by resettlement in neighboring Arab states.

* “A state based on principles of equality and inclusion would be more morally compelling than two states based on narrow ethnic nationalism.”

Twenty-one states — 22 if Israeli-Palestinian negotiations lead to a West Bank/Gaza Strip country — define themselves as Arab, are generally Muslim and sometimes invoke Islam or the Koran as the foundation of their law. They include often persecuted non-Arab and/or non-Muslim Berber, Copt or other Christian, and Kurdish minorities. The “narrow ethnic nationalism” of the Jewish state, the region’s one Western-style democracy — to which nearly three-quarters of the 815,000 Jewish refugees from Arab states fled in the 1940s and ’50s — is the closest thing in the Middle East to an egalitarian “multiethnic society” Bisharat pretends to envision in place of Israel.

Bisharat’s goal, as his dishonest attempts to link Israel to “Jim Crow laws and South African apartheid” make clear, (including, prior to his Post appearance, in USA Today on June 4, rebutted by CAMERA’s June 18 letter) is to promote the “Zionism-is-racism” canard. If The Washington Post had fact-checked his submission, it never would have been published.

Reasonable sounding unreliability

Bisharat’s screed was preceded by Hussein Agha and Robert Malley’s “At Mideast peace talks, a lopsided table”. More measured in tone, this September 2 Op-Ed was no more reliable.

Malley is a former mid-level Clinton administration White House staffer on Arab-Israeli affairs who’s argued that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was right to reject the 2000 Israeli-U.S. offer at Camp David of a West Bank and Gaza Strip state in exchange for peace with Israel. Agha, a faculty member at Oxford University, has been a Palestinian Arab advocate for decades. They claim that “staggering asymmetries between the two sides could seriously imperil the talks,” but falsely describe or evasively allude to them. For example:

* “Palestinians have no robust central authority.” Why not? Because Arafat’s thuggish Fatah kleptocracy and repeated subversion of the Oslo “peace process” by mixing talks and terrorism prevented its development? Because the weakness of his successor, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, obstructs both reform of Fatah and suppression of Hamas, the Iranian-backed Islamic Resistance Movement that rules the Gaza Strip? Agha and Malley don’t say. But their implication is that Israel, which “controls all material assets,” should somehow compensate the Palestinian Arabs for their own failures.

* “Abbas is being dragged there [to the current U.S.-mediated Isareli-Palestinian talks] without any of his preconditions having been met.” Yes, and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu welcomed talks even though Palestinian leadership so far rejects his insistence that it recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

In true negotiations, each party begins with opening positions, understanding that it may, through good-faith discussion, end by compromising. This most Arab countries and the Palestinian leadership have refused to accept. Otherwise the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli and 1994 Israeli-Jordanian peace treaties would not be exceptions. Perhaps Abbas had to be “dragged” to direct talks with Israel by the United States, and repeatedly threatens to walk out, because compromise is not his intention? Agha and Malley don’t say.

* “Because Israelis have a suitable alternative, they lack a sense of urgency [in reaching an agreement]. The Pales tinians, by contrast have limited options and desperately need an agreement,” the writers claim. They assert that “neither Israel’s mounting isolation nor its considerable reliance on U.S. assistance has jeopardized its ability to make autonomous choices.” Should negotiations fail, “the status quo, though sub-optimal, presents no imminent danger to Israel” .

In fact, Israel’s “mounting isolation” threatens it diplomatically and economically, may contribute to relatively high emigration rates by Israeli Jews, and strengthens Palestinian intransigence over negotiating a comprise settlement. It’s the Palestinian Arabs who, simply by avoiding peace with Israel, can instigate further international condemnation and isolation of the Jewish state. Palestinian leadership has chosen the “sub-optimal status quo” for the people it claims to represent since it rejected partition in 1947, supported terrorism and war until 1993, and undermined the peace commitments it made then. Its optimal strategy has been to play the victim, resist peace and watch pressure on Israel grow.

Exception to the rule

A day after it published Bisharat’s piece, The Post ran the one pro-Israel — or better, non anti-Israel — outside commentary for this period. “Three errors that threaten Mideast talks,” by Elliott Abrams, appeared on the paper’s September 4 Op-Ed page — a Saturday, typically the edition with the smallest circulation of the week.

Abrams, a deputy national security adviser to President George W. Bush and now a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, warns the Obama administration to avoid actions that would disrupt U.S. mediation. These, he asserts, include intruding in a way that transforms direct, bilateral talks into a trilateral affair, and seeking a “framework” agreement within the president one-year deadline. “All this cannot possibly happen,” Abrams says, “until a final-status agreement is signed and implemented. Asking the parties to announce their ‘fundamental compromises’ on the core issues when a final-status agreement is years away is asking them to commit political suicide.” Read here

Arab-Israeli revisionism

As if to strengthen its pro-Palestinian or anti-Israeli tilt, The Post Op-Ed page countered Abrams’ piece with “Palestine’s inevitable independence; Even if peace talks fail, a state must be formed,” by Daoud Kuttab, on September 7. Kuttab, journalist, predictable voice of Palestinian “moderation” and frequent guest of Post Op-Ed pages, offers a revisionist history of Palestinian-Israeli talks.

* He claims that “history is a witness to the lack of Palestinian accomplishments in incremental negotiations.” Actually, the history of Oslo-era Israeli-Palestinian talks bears witness to repeated Palestinian agreement to end anti-Israel terrorism, end anti-Israeli incitement, and resolve outstanding issues through negotiations — and repeated violations of those primary commitments. Kuttab acknowledges that “the Palestine Liberation Organization long pursued a dual strategy of military resistance [terrorism] and politics ….” but won’t say that this duplicity destroyed the considerable Palestinian economic progress of the early Oslo period.

* Kuttab claims that “… today’s Palestinian leaders have clearly opposed any form of violence.” He mentions neither Hamas, which rules that half of the Palestinian Arab population that lives in the Gaza Strip, nor the numerous statements by PA leaders in the West Bank to the effect that anti-Israel violence is not wrong but simply inopportune. And he refers misleadingly to the “international divestment campaign,” simply as non-violent rather than as part of PA-supported effort to delegitimize the Jewish state.

* Kuttab, continuing his transparent attempt at anti-Israel judo, claims “Palestinians have good reason to be skeptical about Israel’s sincerity when it comes to peace. Chief among them: Israel’s heavy-handedness in Gaza and its continued violations of international law by building Jewish-only buildings in occupied Jerusalem and the West Bank.” Read here.
Except that Israel is not heavy-handed in Gaza, Hamas is. It has both imposed increasingly strict Islamist rule on residents and resumed anti-Israel terrorism. Israeli actions regarding the Strip have included the 2008 – 2009 “Operation Cast Lead,” with its generally successful efforts to limit non-combatant casualties, and a blockade that always permitted large-scale humanitarian assistance and is increasingly flexible.

Israeli construction in the disputed West Bank and in Jerusalem is, regardless of wide-spread political opinion, legal under relevant international law, particularly the League of Nations Palestine Mandate, article 6; the U.N. Charter, article 80; and, by implication, U.N. Security Council Resolution 242.

Editorial on target

It’s not that the staff of the editorial pages doesn’t know better. The September 8 lead editorial, “The Hamas murders: How can Palestinian extremists be stopped from disrupting peace negotiations?” noted correctly that “violence by Hamas in the West Bank serves to underscore one of the central Israeli concerns about a peace settlement: that under Palestinian rule the West Bank could become another base for attacks on Israel, as Gaza is.”

The editors opined that “Abbas has been convincing in his renunciation of violence and in his opposition to Hamas. He has promised repeatedly to fight terrorism. But if the talks are to succeed, it is essential that he match intentions with actions.”

Why isn’t the factual accuracy and analytical logic shown in The Post editorial required of its pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel outside Op-Ed contributors? It’s an old question, and still unanswered.

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