In a June 6, 2003 broadcast riddled with factual errors and misrepresentations, PBS’s “NOW with Bill Moyers” spotlighted Israeli settlements, their role in the ongoing conflict, and their possible funding via fungible American taxpayer dollars to Israel. Initially, Moyers was unresponsive to CAMERA’s repeated efforts to elicit a correction. And when he finally did a segment on viewers’ mail on June 27, Moyers wrongly paraphrased CAMERA’s criticisms, seriously misrepresenting the organization’s objections.
Factual Errors in the Original Report
Correspondent Bob Abeshouse incorrectly reported:
The American-backed plan called for a freeze on the growth of settlements and their eventual removal to make way for a Palestinian state. (emphasis added).
In fact, the road map does not call for the “eventual removal” of settlements. Phase I of the plan says:
+ GOI [Government of Israel] dismantles settlement outposts erected since March 2001.
+ Consistent with the Mitchell Report, GOI freezes all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements).
Thus, while the plan calls for the dismantling of certain “settlements outposts” and a freeze on settlement growth, there is no mention of “eventual removal” of settlements. Furthermore, Phase III notes that settlements are a topic yet to be resolved. It states:
+ Second International Conference: Convened by Quartet, in consultation with the parties, at beginning of 2004 to endorse agreement reached on an independent Palestinian state with provisional borders and formally to launch a process with active, sustained, and operational support of the Quartet, leading to a final, permanent status resolution in 2005, including on borders, Jerusalem, refugees, settlements . . . (emphasis added)
If the plan called for the “eventual removal” of settlements, as Abeshouse claimed, why would Phase III specify that the parties engage in negotiations “leading to a final, permanent status resolution”? The Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal have both printed corrections making clear that the “road map” does not require Israel to remove all settlements (May 3 and May 21, respectively).
Second, Abeshouse similarly distorted the contents of the earlier Oslo Accords, stating:
The accords promised a Palestinian state in return for Israeli security. The signers envisioned a slowing of settlement growth and the removal of settlements. . .
Actually, the accords made no such promise regarding a Palestinian state. The “road map” is the first Palestinian-Israeli accord which calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state. Likewise, the Oslo Accords themselves said nothing about the “slowing of settlement growth and the removal of settlements,” so it is highly deceptive for Abeshouse to claim that the signers “envisioned” these steps.
Abeshouse’s description of extreme anti-Israel activist Jeff Halper was also misleading. The reporter described Halper as “an anthropologist and peace activist who believes Israel should get out of the occupied territories. He was born in Minnesota but has lived in Israel for 30 years and is an Israeli citizen.”
Halper, the co-ordinator of a fringe group called the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, advocates the end of Israel as a Jewish state (March 2000 appeal, “House Demolitions: The Way Towards a Just and Viable Peace?”) Moreover, the so-called “peace activist” has defended the actions of suicide bombers. He has been quoted as saying: “If Palestinians end their terrorism, they’re lost” because no one will pay attention to their cause. “If they don’t resist, Israel is not going to end the occupation.” (Washington Jewish Week, Oct. 10, 2002). In a report about a topic as sensitive as Israeli settlements, why would PBS give a platform to a speaker who not only opposes Israel’s presence in the “occupied territories,” but who questions the right of a Jewish state to exist at all?
Halper’s view that Israel has no place in the Middle East is a position widely shared by Israel’s enemies in the region. This rejectionism, which many say is “at the heart of the feud” between Arabs and Israelis, is barely mentioned in the June 6 broadcast, and when it is, it is at the very end as an aside.
Instead, in the introduction, Moyers alleged that it is solely the West Bank that is at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:
This postage stamp of land is at the heart of the feud between Israelis and Palestinians, Semitic cousins who can’t stand each other, but can’t let each other alone.
In a broadcast investigating the settlements and their role in the ongoing conflict, why was there no questioning whether an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza would end the conflict? After all, Israel offered a full withdrawal from Gaza, an almost 100 percent withdrawal from the West Bank, and compensation in the form of land from Israel proper during the Camp David/Taba talks. But, Yasir Arafat rejected the offer, without even tabling a counter-proposal. If the “core of the conflict” were simply the West Bank, the dispute could have been resolved years ago. The broadcast included an interview with Ehud Barak but omitted reference to his offer to remove and/or consolidate many settlements, an offer Arafat rejected. Why did Abeshouse fail to present such crucial information?
Abeshouse also inflated the settlements’ role in the ongoing dispute, particularly in reference to the “road map.” He stated:
. . . now the settlements are at the center of the debate over what’s known as the road map.
While this statement reflects Palestinian sentiment, Israelis have a different take on the situation. Israelis view Palestinian terrorism as the center of the debate over the “road map.” In particular, Israelis take issue with Prime Minister Abbas’ refusal to dismantle terrorist groups, opting instead to negotiate with them despite the fact that the “road map” explicitly requires that they be dismantled. Phase I of the plan states:
Rebuilt and refocused Palestinian Authority security apparatus begins sustained, targeted, and effective operations aimed at confronting all those engaged in terror and dismantlement of terrorist capabilities and infrastructure. This includes commencing confiscation of illegal weapons and consolidation of security authority, free of association with terror and corruption.
An objective report would have noted that Palestinians view settlements as the center of the debate, while Israelis see ongoing terrorism as the core dispute.
Likewise, now that “Now with Bill Moyers” has investigated U.S. aid to Israel and its impact on Israeli settlements, when will the program address American dollars to Palestinian NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and its fungibility with respect to terrorism? When will the program probe the use of fungible dollars to promote genocidal propaganda on official Palestinian television, and by PA-appointed clergymen?
Update: June 27, 2003 Moyers Misrepresents CAMERA’s Comments
On the June 27 segment on viewers’ mail, Moyers seriously misrepresented CAMERA’s comments concerning the “road map” and Israeli settlement growth. He stated:
We had a long letter from Tamar Sternthal of Boston. She says it was incorrect of us to report that the American plan for peace, the road map, calls for a freeze on the growth of the settlements and their eventual removal to make way for a Palestinian state. She says it was quote “highly deceptive” of us to claim that the signers of the 1993 Oslo Accords envisioned those same steps. And she says it was incorrect again to say that the Oslo Accords promised a Palestinian state in return for Israeli security. How to interpret the Oslo Accords and the road map is, of course, a matter of great debate.
CAMERA’s original June 17 communication to Moyers about the June 6 Abeshouse report stated the diametric opposite of what Moyers claimed it said. It actually stated:
Thus, while the plan calls for the dismantling of certain “settlement outposts” and a freeze on settlement growth, there is no mention of “eventual removal” of settlements.
That is, CAMERA had agreed with Abeshouse’s report that the “road map” called for a settlement freeze. Instead, Moyers claimed on national television that CAMERA had contested that fact. (Actually, he never acknowledged on air that the criticism came from CAMERA, referring only to “Tamar Sternthal of Boston.”)
Finally, Moyers dismisses the criticism concerning his misrepresentation of the terms of the “road map” and the Oslo Accords by claiming that their interpretation is “a matter of great debate.” What is not a matter of debate is that there are written documents spelling out the requirements of each side. And neither the Oslo Accords in the past nor the “road map” in 2003 stipulate Israel’s “removal of settlements.” Moyers does his viewers a disservice by suggesting otherwise.