The Washington Post Omits Context and Facts on “Occupation”

The Washington Post is at it again. When it comes to Israel, the newspaper’s “Post Everything” section often seems to omit key facts. An Aug. 5, 2019 op-ed entitled “Why are Democrats Afraid to Say Israel is Occupying the West Bank?” is a case in point. The commentary, by writer Nathan Hersh, a former managing director of Partners for Progressive Israel, leaves out essential information.

Hersh takes to the pages of The Post to highlight what he views as Democrats unwillingness to talk about “Israel’s occupation and West Bank settlement growth.” The writer claims it is a “dangerous mistake” and seeks to link it to the July 22 demolition of “the Palestinian community Wadi Hummus in the village Sur Baher, which was under construction east of the rest of the village and well within Palestinian territory.”

But Hersh omits that “their construction began after 2014, even though a 2011 edict prohibits construction within such a short distance of the” security barrier (“David Friedman Slams Obama Adviser, Ilahn Omar Over Wadi Hummus Tweets,” July 24, 2019, The Jerusalem Post). Indeed, the demolition of “some but not all illegal structures”—12 buildings only some of which were occupied by a total of 15 people—was not only ordered on national security grounds, it only occurred after seven years of legal proceedings and a ruling by Israeli courts.

Put simply: the buildings were built in violation of a court edict ordering them not to be constructed due to their proximity to a security fence, which itself was built to prevent Palestinian terrorist attacks into Israel. Hersh’s commentary notes the latter, but makes no mention of the former. But this isn’t his biggest omission.

In 1,144 words, Hersh blames the entire Israeli right, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the IDF, the Democratic Party and Christian Zionists for the “occupation” of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria). Not once does he note that Palestinian leaders have been given numerous opportunities to end it—and they’ve declined to do so every single time.

The U.S. and Israel offered Palestinian leaders opportunities for statehood in exchange for peace with the Jewish state in 2000 at Camp David, 2001 at Taba and 2008 after the Annapolis Conference, among other instances. Each proposal would have given them something that has never existed: a Palestinian state, to be comprised of the West Bank and other areas. Israeli and U.S. governments of various political stripes, including the Israeli right and the Democratic Party, made the proposals. And in each instance, Palestinian leaders refused the opportunity and failed to even make a counteroffer.

Indeed, if anyone has been on “a mad dash to kill the two-state solution,” as Hersh alleges, it is the Palestinian Authority (PA), the entity that rules the West Bank, which promotes terrorism by paying salaries to those who carry out terror attacks against Israelis. PA leaders, including current President Mahmoud Abbas, have consistently denied Israel’s legitimacy and refused to resolve outstanding disputes in bilateral negotiations—a violation of the Oslo Accords which created the Authority (see, for example “World Media Silent as Mahmoud Abbas—Israel’s ‘Peace Partner’—Undermines Talks,” Dec. 17, 2017, Algemeiner). Along with the bloody Second Intifada (2000-05) in which more than 1,000 Israeli civilians were murdered in Palestinian terrorist attacks following rejected peace offers, this is the reason for not only the construction of security barriers but also skepticism toward the claim that Palestinian leaders want a “two-state solution.”

Nor does Hersh note important historical background about the West Bank, which was commonly known as Judea and Samaria until the last half-century. After Arab leaders rejected the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan and chose to declare war on the fledgling Jewish state, Transjordan occupied the area, renamed it the West Bank, and annexed it—a move recognized only by Pakistan and the U.K. Transjordanian troops desecrated synagogues and Jewish graves and, for nearly twenty years, refused to allow Jews access to their holy sites there. Only after the 1967 Six-Day War, in which Jordan—refusing Israeli pleas to do otherwise—joined Egypt, Syria and Iraq in an attempt to destroy the Jewish state did Israel gain possession of the territory. During the nearly twenty years that it controlled the area, Jordan did not attempt to create a Palestinian state on the land, which, since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, no power has exercised recognized sovereignty over. As the historian Martin Van Creveld noted, “In part, Palestinian acquiescence” during the period of 1948-1967, “was due to the oppressive nature of…Jordanian rule. To make the inhabitants of the West Bank pay taxes, [Jordanian ruler] King Hussein at one point had resorted to bombarding their homes with artillery.”

Indeed, by many metrics conditions actually improved in the time period after Israel seized the land from Jordan in 1967 and before it relinquished most of it to the Palestinian Authority following the Oslo Accords in the 1990s.

As the historian Daniel Gordis documented in his book Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn, “between 1967 and the 1980s…the GDP tripled” in the West Bank and “the number of cars increased tenfold.” Indeed, prior to Israel seizing the land from Jordan in 1967, no universities or institutions of higher learning existed in the West Bank. Not only did Israel create the first universities in the West Bank, but also as the writer Charles Abelsohn has documented, the percentage of children receiving an elementary education increased dramatically (“Without Israel there would have been no university education in the Palestinian Authority areas,” March 27, 2017, Times of Israel).

Elsewhere, Hersh misleadingly claims that “settlements”—Jewish homes in the West Bank—have “accelerated over the past decade.” But as CAMERA has noted, settlements are not rapidly expanding beyond existing boundaries. Most of the population growth there is the result of natural increase — not new arrivals.

Indeed, as The Washington Post itself reported on March 31, 2017, Israel was “set to approve [the] first new settlement in 20 years.” Peace Now — the left-wing anti-settlements organization— inadvertently noted as much a June 2016 op-ed in Haaretz: “In 2015, as in the preceding five years, almost 90 percent of the 15,523 individuals who joined the population of Judea and Samaria were the result of natural population growth [i.e. high birth rates, and not newcomers from other parts of Israel].”

Similarly, in a September 17, 2017 editorial The Post pointed out: “Of the some 600,000 settlers who live outside Israel’s internationally recognized borders, just 94,000 are outside the border-like barrier that Israel built through the West Bank a decade ago. Just 20,000 of those moved in since 2009, when [Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu returned to office; in a sea of 2.9 million Palestinians, they are hardly overwhelming. Last year, 43 percent of the settler population growth was in just two towns that sit astride the Israeli border—and that Abbas himself has proposed for Israeli annexation.”

Indeed, in contrast to Hersh’s narrative of an Israel whose “stated goal” is annexing territory, the Jewish state has shown that it will relinquish territory when it feels that it has a peace partner on the other side. In 1982, Israel withdrew from the Sinai following the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement at Camp David. In the 1990s, Israel began withdrawal from most of the West Bank after the Oslo Accords—a process that was only halted when it became clear that then-PA President Yasser Arafat was helping carry out terror attacks in Israel. And in 2000 and 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from southern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, respectively—withdrawals that only emboldened terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas.

Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank is much more complicated than Hersh’s omission-laden commentary would lead Post readers to believe. And the culprits for its continuation are much easier to find—provided one is willing to give it a clear-eyed assessment.