The Washington Post’s “State Dept. condemns Israeli settlement plans” (June 29, 2016) by reporters Ruth Eglash and Carol Morello, repeats a previously acknowledged Post error while misleading on Jewish communities in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and the real obstacle to peace. The Post failed to give unsubstantiated U.S. State Department allegations proper journalistic scrutiny.
Eglash and Morello present as fact State Department claims that Israel is “systematically undermining the prospects for a two-state solution” via “settlement activity, which is corrosive to the cause of peace.”
In addition to echoing State Department allegations, The Post article also uncritically quoted claims by the Palestinian Authority that “more and more settlements” have been built “in the past few years.” This is false. As Peace Now, a left-wing anti-settlements organization, inadvertently pointed out 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].”
Indeed, since taking office in 2009, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has built fewer homes in West Bank settlements than previous prime ministers in the last quarter century (“Exclusive: Settlement ‘expansion’ fails to even match natural growth,” Australia Israel and Jewish Affairs Council, July 21, 2016).
The Post contradicts some of its own prior reporting on settlements. In the article, The Post referred to the Jewish community of Gilo as an “East Jerusalem settlement.” However, in a July 16, 2009 correction, the paper noted: “A June 26…article referred to Gilo as a Jewish settlement. It is a Jewish neighborhood built on land captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War and annexed to Israel as part of Jerusalem’s expanded municipal boundaries (“Washington Post Corrects Error about Gilo,” CAMERA, July 6, 2009).”
Settling for missing facts
Other important information was missing in The Post’s report.
Amb. Alan Baker, a former legal adviser and deputy director-general with Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, pointed out that, contra to State Department claims, “nothing in the Oslo Accords prevents planning, zoning and construction activity by either side in the West Bank areas under their control.” Baker participated in the Oslo accord negotiations in the 1990s which established the Palestinian Authority and led to limited Palestinian self-rule in exchange for peace with and recognition of Israel—terms which the authority violated shortly after signing. Now a scholar at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, he noted:
“The State Department should also be aware of the fact that nothing in the Oslo Accords prevents planning, zoning and construction activity by either side in the West Bank areas under their respective control.
Furthermore, in voicing its one-sided allegations, the State Department seems to be willfully and systematically ignoring the well-established and documented legal, historic, indigenous, and political rights of the Jewish People regarding the West Bank areas of Judea and Samaria, as stressed consistently over the years.
The State Department should be aware of the fact that its repeated questioning of the legality of Israel’s settlement activity and Israel’s claims regarding Jerusalem, in fact, prejudge these central negotiating issues and play into the Palestinian and European denials of Israel’s rights (“The Curious State Department Announcement on Israeli Settlements,” Aug. 2, 2016).”
Elliot Abrams, a senior fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations, a New York-based think tank, argued that the State Department’s condemnation wasn’t just ill-informed, but perhaps even ill-intended. In his CFR blog post Pressure Points, Abrams called the idea that settlement “construction is going to make the two-state solution impossible” reflective of “pure ignorance. The position of the United States is, and has been under Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama, that Israel and the Palestinians should engage in land swaps as part of a final status agreement(“The New State Department Assault on Israel,” July 28, 2016).” Yet, Palestinian leaders do not seem interested in reaching an agreement.
What Palestinian leaders consider a ‘settlement’
What is, to use State Department words, “really corrosive to the cause of peace,” is continuing Palestinian rejectionism and incitement—both of which are frequently underreported by many media outlets, including The Post (see, for example “Washington Post Reports on Israeli Victim but Obscures Palestinian Incitement,” June 6, 2016). As a CAMERA Op-Ed in The Times of Israel recently pointed out, Palestinian leaders have refused U.S. and Israeli offers for a “two-state solution” in exchange for peace in 2000 at Camp David, 2001 at Taba, 2008 after the Annapolis Conference. Israeli and U.S. proposals to restart negotiations in 2014 and March 2016 were similarly rejected—without so much as a Palestinian counteroffer (“Abbas Rejects Peace and Palestinian Statehood, U.S. Media Reject Coverage,” April 3, 2016).
Instead of embracing peace, Palestinian leaders have encouraged anti-Jewish violence by paying terrorists and honoring their deeds via official media, monuments, sports tournaments and street signs, among a host of other actions that demonize and dehumanize Jewish people (see, for example “CAMERA Op-Ed in Washington Examiner Notes Palestinian Incitement,” July 7, 2016).
Perhaps the problem then—unmentioned by uncritical Post reporting—is what Palestinian leaders define as a “settlement.”
As CAMERA has noted, both Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, and many officials from Fatah, the movement which dominates the Palestinian Authority (PA), reject the Jewish state’s right to exist within any borders. In one of many examples, PA President Mahmoud Abbas stated b
efore the Palestinian Youth Parliament on April 27, 2009, “I will not accept it [Israel].” Former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon recognized as much, when he said—two days before The Post’s article—that for Palestinians, “The biggest ‘settlement’ is the land of Israel… (“Ya’alon: Palestinians believe all of Israel is a ‘settlement,’ Israel National News).”
A recognition of this reality was missing, both in the State Department’s ill-informed condemnation and Post reporting.