On Friday, June 8, 2012, The Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed by Maen Rashid Areikat, “The Time for a Palestinian State Is Now,” so replete with falsehoods that it rightly could be called a work of fiction. According to the code of ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists, “Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.” Areikat’s piece completely fails this standard.
From the first sentence virtually to the last, Areikat misrepresents facts, mischaracterizesevents, distorts history, and ignores context. While his column was an opinion piece, The Wall Street Journal nevertheless still has a fact checking obligation.
One of the most egregiously false statements in the article is that, since winning the defensive 1967 Six-Day War, Israel “began a military rule in the occupied territories that only grew more inhumane with each turn of the year.”
Inhumane? In an article in Commentary Magazine written in 2002, historian Efraim Karsh described the reality:
During the 1970’s, the West Bank and Gaza constituted the fourth fastest-growing economy in the world — ahead of such “wonders” as Singapore, Hong Kong, and Korea, and substantially ahead of Israel itself.
Under Israeli rule, the Palestinians also made vast progress in social welfare. Perhaps most significantly, mortality rates in the West Bank and Gaza fell by more than two-thirds between 1970 and 1990, while life expectancy rose from 48 years in 1967 to 72 in 2000 (compared with an average of 68 years for all the countries of the Middle East and North Africa). Israeli medical programs reduced the infant-mortality rate of 60 per 1,000 live births in 1968 to 15 per 1,000 in 2000 (in Iraq the rate is 64, in Egypt 40, in Jordan 23, in Syria 22). And under a systematic program of inoculation, childhood diseases like polio, whooping cough, tetanus, and measles were eradicated.
No less remarkable were advances in the Palestinians’ standard of living. By 1986, 92.8 percent of the population in the West Bank and Gaza had electricity around the clock, as compared to 20.5 percent in 1967; 85 percent had running water in dwellings, as compared to 16 percent in 1967; 83.5 percent had electric or gas ranges for cooking, as compared to 4 percent in 1967; and so on for refrigerators, televisions, and cars.
If, as Areikat claims, the time for a Palestinian state is now, one wonders why the Palestinian Arab leadership refuses to come to the negotiating table. Palestinian refusal to negotiate and propaganda such Areikat’s points in another direction: the Palestinian Authority is more interested in delegitimizing and destroying Israel than in creating a state for its own people. The Wall Street Journal erred in allowing its editorial pages to be abused in furtherance of that aim.
The Nature of the 1967 War
The falsehoods begin with the first sentence, “This week marks the 45th anniversary of the Arab-Israeli War, when Palestinians living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip fell under Israel’s occupation.” Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza strip did not “fall” under Israel’s occupation. Israel was forced to respond to serious threats to its very existence.
Egypt expelled the UN Emergency Force peacekeepers from the Sinai, massed troops on Israel’s border and closed the Straits of Tiran, blockading Israel’s shipping lanes, which President Johnson acknowledged to the New York Times was “illegal and potentially disastrous to the cause of peace.” Indeed, blockading the straits — an international waterway — was a casus belli, an act of war, meaning that even before the shooting started, Egypt had declared war on Israel.
Egypt also signed military pacts with Jordan and Syria, also massing troops on Israel’s border.
Concurrently, Arab leaders were threatening Israel with war, and threats of war are illegal as they are contrary to the UN Charter, Article 2 Section 4:
- “We shall never call for nor accept peace. We shall only accept war. We have resolved to drench this land with your (Israel’s) blood, to oust you as aggressor, to throw you into the sea.” Hafez Assad, then-Syrian Defense Minister, May 24, 1966, who later became Syria’s president. (Martin Gilbert, Atlas of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, Oxford University Press, New York, 1993. pg. 63)
- “Our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel. The Arab people want to fight.” President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, May 27, 1967, nine days before the start of the Six-Day War.
- “The existence of Israel is an error which must be rectified. This is our opportunity to wipe out the ignominy which has been with us since 1948. Our goal is clear – to wipe Israel off the map.” President Abdel Rahman Arefof Iraq, May 31, 1967
The Aftermath of 1967
As a consequence of Israel’s winning this war of self-defense, it ended Jordan’s illegal occupation of the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem and Egypt’s of the Gaza Strip, and became legitimate military occupational authority, like the Allies in Germany after WWII, pending negotiated peace according to U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.
Areikat also claims that Israel’s reaction to its victory was that it “started building settlements on Palestinian lands, and began a military rule in the occupied territories that only grew more inhumane with each turn of the year.”
In truth, Israel was “waiting for a telephone call” from Arab leaders, according to Defense Minister Moshe Dayan. Israel intended to be “unbelievably generous in working out peace terms,” as Foreign Minister Abba Eban put it. In direct talks with Arab countries, “everything is negotiable,” he said.
Unfortunately, Arab leaders never called for peace. To the contrary, from August 29 to September 1, 1967, representatives from thirteen Arab states met in Khartoum, Sudan and declared “the main principles by which the Arab States abide, namely, no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it.” The Khartoum Declaration is widely known as “the three no’s of Khartoum.”
On the Palestinian Arab side, Areikat maintains they “began some earnest introspection, and forged ahead to take charge of their own fate and reclaim their rights with determination and zeal.” While not much “ea rnest introspection” was apparent, they certainly exhibited “determination and zeal” in pioneering modern international terrorism.
The Nature of Palestinian Arab Society
Areikat touts the Palestinian Arabs’ “relentless pursuit of education. “If true, it would make even more troubling a Palestinian Media Watch study that describes current Palestinian Authority textbooks:
Instead of seizing the opportunity to educate future generations to live with Israel in peace, the PA schoolbooks glorify terror and teach their children to hate Israel, vilify Israel’s existence and define the battle with Israel as an uncompromising religious war. Instead of working to minimize the current hate, the new PA curriculum is ingraining it into the next generation’s consciousness, and packaging the war against Israel as existential, mandatory and religious. The new PA schoolbooks are guaranteeing that the next generation will grow up seeing Israel as an illegitimate enemy to be hated, fought, and destroyed, rather than as a neighbor to negotiate with and to ultimately live beside in peace.
Palestinian Arabs are, according to Areikat, “building institutions, preparing for elections, and expanding civil liberties.” Regarding civil liberties, two journalists and one college lecturer in the West Bank were recently arrested for criticizing Palestinian leaders. This is only the latest in a long history of interference with freedom of speech and the press by the PA, whose representative in the United States is Areikat himself. Similarly, freedom of religion is not respected. According to Joseph Puder, founder and executive director of the Interfaith Taskforce for America and Israel:
Christian Palestinians have … had to endure anarchy and lawlessness, widespread corruption in the PA security and police forces, and a xenophobic and intolerant Muslim majority. Lacking protection and subjected to continued abuse including murder, robbery, rape, and physical assault, Christians have begun to emigrate from the Palestinian territories on a massive scale.
The situation in Gaza, under the authority of Hamas, is worse. Political freedom, religious freedom and freedom of association are severely curtailed, women’s rights are limited, terrorist activity is located in civilian centers, illegally transforming residents into human shields and often causing them injury and death, human rights activists are targeted, and homosexuality is a criminal offense.
Areikat claims that Palestinian Arabs are “preparing for elections.” The last election in the Palestinian Authority brought on a bloody coup which resulted in a Hamas takeover of Gaza and a separate Fatah-ruled government in the West Bank. This was five years ago. Neither faction has held an election since, though elections have been scheduled — and subsequently delayed — many times. PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ term was set to end in 2009 but he unilaterally extended it and retains power to this day.
As for “building institutions,” the record is similarly lacking. Reuters recently published an interview with PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad:
Given the task of building institutions in readiness for statehood, Fayyad said his job was being imperiled by a lack of resources, with Arab nations failing to hand over promised aid.
“There is an issue of survivability of the Palestinian Authority given the acute financial crisis we are going through,” he said, adding his government needed a “few hundred million dollars” to keep afloat.
Billions of dollars in international aid money flows into the Palestinian Authority but corruption is pervasive. Abbas is reportedly worth $100 million and his two sons are involved in numerous business ventures as well as projects that receive U.S. government financial support.
The Truth about the “Occupation”
Areikat states that “Palestinians today control only 18% of the West Bank (60% is under complete Israeli control and 22% is jointly controlled).” The truth is that over 90 percent of Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank live under the complete daily administration of the Palestinian Authority and all the residents of the Gaza Strip live under the Hamas regime.
When Areikat discusses the PA’s “September 2011 bid for United Nations membership,” he neglects to mention that this bid violated commitments made by Palestinian leaders in the 1993 Oslo accords, the 1995 interim agreement and other agreements which state that all issues “shall be resolved by negotiations.”
Areikat brings up the favorite media bogey man, “the settlements.” The “settlements” — Jewish villages and towns — cover approximately two percent of the West Bank and zero percent of the Gaza Strip. Jewish residence in the West Bank is legal under the League of Nations/United Nations mandate for Palestine (Articles 6 and 80, respectively), under the Geneva Convention, and as implied under UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.
If Jewish residents of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) are an obstacle to peace, it is primarily because Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said, according to Wafa, the official Palestinian news agency, on July 28, 2010 in Cairo, “I would not agree … that there will live among us even a single Israeli on Palestinian land.” Furthermore, when Maen Rashid Areikat himself was asked if any Jew inside the borders of a Palestinian state would have to leave, he answered, “Absolutely.”
Israel is “tightening its control over East Jerusalem, and raising the rhetoric over their unwillingness to share the Holy City,” according to Areikat. The fact is that Jerusalem has thrived under Israeli reunification, offering free access to holy sites and freedom of worship for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. He does not mention that, when Israel reunified Jerusalem, Israeli citizenship was offered to all residents of all religions. Most of the Arabs declined citizenship then, though many are availing themselves of it now. Even self-described “anti-occupation” blog +972 reports:
As an East Jerusalem resident, I am struck by a recent trend: many of my friends and acquaintances who hold Jerusalem identification cards — documents of permanent residency rather than Israeli citizenship — are quietly applying for and obtaining Israeli passports.
It’s not immediately clear why. Current residents of East Jerusalem — numbering over 350,000, or 38% of the city’s total population — already go about their daily lives, shop at Israeli malls, use Israeli services, frequent Israeli restaurants and bars, send their children to study at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and receive Israeli social and health benefits. What does “upgrading their status” from East Jerusalem residents to citizens of Israel add? Why did East Jerusalem residents refuse the Israeli offer of citizenship in 1967, and why are they actively seeking to obtain it now, especially given that citizenship requires them to pledge the controversial oath of allegiance to the Israeli state?
Here are Palestinian Arabs with a choice, and they are choosing Israeli citizenship rather than risking falling under the authority of a Palestinian entity run by Fatah or perhaps Hamas.
Areikat claims that “Israel should see that its prosperity and its security lay not in more defense spending, more wars, more walls or more settlements. Instead it lays in a strong, sovereign and vibrant Palestine living next to it.”
Israel has never initiated a war of aggression against its Arab neighbors, even the 1982 “war of choice” against the PLO in Lebanon came in response to years of cross-border and international terrorism. Because it has invested a large portion of its GDP in defense and because its people have been determined to survive as a Jewish state, Israel has continued to overcome the many military and terrorist attacks it has suffered at the hands of those neighbors.
More than 1200 people in Israel were murdered in attacks carried out by Palestinian terrorists since late September 2000. This was the beginning of what has come to be known as “the second intifada.” Thousands of Israelis have been injured, many of the victims maimed for life. The security barrier — more than 90 percent of which is a fence and not a wall — has been extremely effective in helping to save the lives of Jews, Arabs, or others who live and travel in Israel. Were it not for Palestinian terrorism, there would be no need of the barrier.
Areikat ignores the fact that the Palestinian Arab leadership has repeatedly rejected Israeli peace offers that would have formed a “strong, sovereign and vibrant Palestine.” Israel offered a comprehensive peace plan at Camp David in 2000 that would have created a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza Strip with eastern parts of Jerusalem as a capital in exchange for peace. This was reiterated in 2001 at Taba and again by Ehud Olmert in 2008. All offers were rejected by Palestinian leaders, which again suggests that they are not interested in a two-state solution as much as continuing to fight Israel.
Due diligence by Wall Street Journal editors would have shown that Areikat is a serial offender, having published a similarly dishonest commentary, “Current thinking: U.S. has to change its policy toward Israel,” in The Chicago Tribune last December. Just being a PA mouthpiece shouldn’t exclude one from having to base arguments on facts.