What accounts for Gershom Gorenberg’s recurring role as Israel’s anti-settlement scold on The Washington Post Op-Ed pages? For the fourth time in less than three years (three Op-Eds and a longer “Outlook”) piece, Gorenberg got to ride his hobby horse with “Failure Written in West Bank Stone” (September 30). That is, The Post not only let the writer repeat himself, it did so on the first day of Rosh Hashana. A scheduling oversight, or a Jewish New Year greeting along the lines of “Happy Holy Days, Eh? We’ll Show You!”
In any case, “Failure Written in West Bank Stone” amounts practically to a “cancel our subscriptions, and forget about our ads” moment. Not because in Gorenberg’s opinion that building Jewish villages and towns in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) obstructs Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. He’s entitled to that view and welcome to back it up. Instead, he ignores basic facts, relies on dubious sources, but nevertheless appears with The Post’s implicit endorsement. Such endorsement is understood since the paper — contrary to its announced policy of seeking a wide range of outside Op-Ed voices — does not run opposing pro-settlement commentaries.
Gorenberg relies on Peace Now’s Settlement Watch, and Yesh Din spokesman Dror Etkes — whom he misleadingly describes as a “human rights activist” — to allege that Ma’ale-Adumim, the suburb-settlement a few miles east of downtown Jerusalem, was built on land covertly appropriated for “public use.” Gorenberg either is uninformed or misinforms readers (after apparently having done likewise to compliant Post editors). CAMERA exposed Peace Now’s October 2006 report that charged 86.4 percent of Ma’ale Adumim was built on land owned by Palestinian Arabs. In fact, the figure was 0.54 percent; Peace Now confused categories of land claimed by Arabs — Bedouins — and land actually owned by them. See “Peace Now’s Blunder: Erred on Ma’ale Adumim Land by 15,900 Percent,” March 16, 2007).
Etkes, who could be described accurately as “anti-settlement,” but not as a “human rights activist,” was glaringly wrong in February of 2007, when he insisted that illegal Palestinian Arab construction was being done only by individuals and then just for family, not political purposes.
Nevertheless, Gorenberg rests his anti-Ma’ale Adumim argument almost entirely on Etkes and Peace Now’s Settlement Watch. And he does so without disclosing any relevant cautionary information.
Gorenberg wrote The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlement, 1967-1977, and in this latest Post column refers to himself as “a historian of settlements.” But as his “current events” regarding Ma’ale Adumim are misleading, his basic history is wrong too. Gorenberg claims that the suburb violates international law since “under the 1907 Hague Convention, an occupying power may expropriate land only for the public use of the occupied population. Taking private West Bank land for Israeli use is therefore barred.”
A historian of Arab-Israeli matters and the status of West Bank land knows that Israel is the legitimate military occupational authority, pending final status negotiations according to U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973). But the West Bank is not occupied land belonging to any other sovereign country. Israel gained the territory, occupied by Jordan from 1948 to 1967 as a result of aggression, in a successful war of self-defense. Hence Resolution 242’s call on Israel to withdraw, in the context of peace, militarily from “territories” but not from “all the territories.”
Further, a historian of Arab-Israeli matters and the status of the disputed territories knows that international law enshrines a Jewish right to settle there. The League of Nations’ Mandate originally envisioned Jewish settlement in all of post-Ottoman Palestine, which initially included what become Jordan. When Great Britain, the mandatory power, unilaterally created that Arab state, it “suspended” Jewish settlement there “until practicable.” But the right of “close Jewish settlement”on the remaining mandatory lands (what became Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip) was affirmed. The United Nations Charter adopted the League’s provisions and so reaffirmed that recognition. Jordan’s occupation did not and non-sovereign Palestinian Arab objection does not make Jewish settlement illegal.
Gorenberg says current settlement building — several thousand housing units — fits an Israeli pattern: “diplomatic initiatives accelerate settlement building in occupied territory.” In other words, Israel hasn’t really wanted to reach a negotiated compromise with the Palestinian Arabs and the United States has not pushed it hard enough.
No mention of Arab rejection of peace with Israel before it gained the West Bank, before the first settlement was built. No mention of continued Palestinian terrorism, anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish incitement, or denial of Jewish national rights in any part of what was Mandatory Palestine, not just by Islamic fundamentalist like Hamas but also from the Palestinian Authority. No mention of Israeli territorial concessions and removal of settlements in the Sinai Peninsula or the Gaza Strip. No mention of Israel’s strategic and security vulnerabilities inside the settlement-less pre-1967 truce lines. No mention of booming legal and illegal Arab construction in the West Bank. No, for Gorenberg and, evidently, The Post Op-Ed page, “it’s all about the Jewish settlements, stupid.”
Not quite. Opinion columns, to be worthwhile, must be based on informed opinion, not manipulated data, tendentious and unreliable sources, and suppression of relevant facts. Even if Gorenberg’s piece had met such minimum requirements, the author’s easy access to Post opinion pages and the striking absence of contradictory views is unacceptable and violates paper’s self-proclaimed standards. That’s the case any time, not only on Rosh Hashana.