CAMERA Op-Ed: The Washington Post’s Cognitive Dissonance

(Note: An earlier version of this Op-Ed appeared in The Times of Israel on June 8, 2017)

The Washington Post can’t seem to make up its mind about Jewish homes in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria). The paper—which offers an inordinate amount of coverage on the subject—frequently claims that Israeli “settlements” are “expanding.” However, they’re not—and The Post has even acknowledged as much.

In the last two years alone, The Washington Post has offered literally dozens of reports on settlements, some of which have claimed that the U.S. has been “unable to halt settlement growth” in areas seized by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War initiated by Arab armies. Some of these dispatches, as well as several commentaries, portray this supposed expansion as an “obstacle to peace.” A June 1, 2017 Post Op-Ed by former Newsweek Jerusalem bureau chief Dan Ephron, entitled “When Israelis view 50 years of occupation of Palestine as normal, peace is a foreclosed dream,” is representative.

There are several problems with Ephron’s argument, not the least of which is that the settlements aren’t actually expanding as claimed. 

As the title suggests, Ephron blames the supposed expansion of settlements for the lack of peace between Israel and Palestinian Arabs. Ephron leaves the misleading impression that Jewish communities in the West Bank were expanding externally — beyond their existing boundaries — but, in fact, their territory is not. Rather, most of the growth is the result of natural population increase and not from new arrivals.

Peace Now, the left-wing anti-settlements organization that The Post has cited in the past, inadvertently noted as much in a June 2016 Op-Ed in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz: “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].” 

What is more, the overwhelming amount of growth that has occurred has been in Area C; an area which Palestinian negotiators agreed in the 1990s would be under Israeli control, unlike Palestinian-supervised Area A, or Area B, in which authority is shared. 

Another source that The Washington Post could have cited is The Washington Post itself.

Indeed, in a Dec. 29, 2016 editorial, The Post pointed out that “80 percent” of the growth of the Jewish population in the West Bank “was in areas that Israel would likely annex in any settlement.” Rebuking criticism about settlements from the Obama admin
istration, The Post’s editorial board added:

“In eight years, 20,000 people have been added to communities in territory likely to become part of Palestine—an area where 2.75 million Arabs now live. That growth of about 3 percent per annum, the product of a restraint for which Mr. Netanyahu received no credit, means that the Jewish population outside Israel’s West Bank fence may have decreased as a percentage of the overall population even as Mr. Obama and Mr. Kerry have made it the focal point of U.S. policy [emphasis added].”

Regrettably, both Ephron and The Post’s Jerusalem bureau—while making settlements the frequent focal point of their arguments and reporting—have failed to note these facts. In a particularly noticeable display of cognitive dissonance, the paper published a March 31, 2017 article “Netanyahu to slow down settlement activity in effort to appease Trump”—the day after a Post report entitled “Israel set to approve first new settlement in 20 years. 

Further muddying the waters, Ephron refers to the “Green Line” as “the colloquial term for the pre-1967 border.” However, as The Post itself noted in a Dec. 30, 2016 correction prompted by the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), the Green Line was “established in a 1949 armistice between Israel and her neighbors” and “is not a recognized border and remains a subject for negotiation.”

Ephron claims that Israelis referring to the West Bank as “Judea and Samaria” is evidence of a “trend toward erasing the Green Line and normalizing the settlements.” In fact, the area was historically known as Judea and Samaria and was only renamed the “West Bank” in 1950, after Jordan seized and occupied the land after its unsuccessful attempt to destroy the fledgling Jewish state in the 1948 War. As the blogger Elder of Ziyon has noted, The Post itself didn’t start using the term “West Bank” until the late 1970s.

Elsewhere, Ephron evidences a similarly cavalier attitude towards pertinent facts. In an article that runs more than 6,000 words, he omits mention of the numerous U.S. and Israeli offers for a “two-state solution” in exchange for peace with and recognition of the Jewish state—all of them rejected by Palestinian and Arab leaders.

Such opportunities, from the rejection of the 1937 Peel report and the 1947 U.N. partition plan in pre-state Israel, to the more recent refusals in 2000 at Camp David, 2001 at Taba and 2008 after the Annapolis Conference, occurred under Jewish leaders of various political stripes and ideologies—despite Ephron’s argument that a recent shift in Israeli politics and culture has obstructed peace. And all were met with intransigence, with Palestinian and Arab leaders rejecting them “out of hand,” as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said of the 2008 offer.

Had Palestinian leaders accepted any of these opportunities, the issue of “settlements” would likely be a moot point. Palestinian rejectionism than, and not Jewish homes not being built in parameters outside of Area C, is what has made “peace a foreclosed dream” as Ephron puts it. Had it been otherwise, peace would have existed prior to Israel seizing the disputed territories in the 1967 War. Yet, as that war, and the previous wars against the Jewish state or, for that matter, the anti-Jewish violence in British-ruled Mandate Palestine, illustrate: Palestinian, and often Arab, refusal to accept the legitimacy of the Jewish state and equality with her people, is the root of the conflict.

Indeed, in contrast to Ephron’s narrative of an Israel under the political and cultural sway of “expansionist” Israeli settlers, under current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel—in an unsuccessful effort to “restart talks”—declared a 10-month settlement freeze in November 2009. Ephron omits this, just as he fails to mention Palestinian leaders refusing 2014 and 2016 attempts by the U.S. and Israel to restart negotiations.

Perhaps the false narrative of a conflict rooted in settlements—both advanced and refuted by The Post—is too compelling for the author.

And the cognitive dissonance displayed in the paper that published it raises the question: Does The Washington Post even read The Washington Post?

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