WASHINGTON POST-WATCH: The Post as Prof. Walt’s Sandbox

Stephen M. Walt, of course, is co-author, along with John J. Mearsheimer, of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.” The book was a highly-publicized 2007 reinforcement, in academic prose, of the anti-Jewish conspiracy theory alleging that Zionists control America for Israel’s benefit.

The Israel Lobby was based on an paper by Walt, professor of international affairs at Harvard University, and Mearsheimer, professor of political science at the University of Chicago. Marvin Kalb, director of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, said of the Walt-Mearsheimer study that it “clearly does not meet the academic standards of a Kennedy School research paper.”

Others were even less kind to the book. Walter Russell Mead, the Henry Kissinger Senior Fellow on U.S. Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, called it a “remarkably slipshod handling of evidence” and declared “this is not serious scholarship.” Leslie Gelb, an assistant secretary of state in the Carter administration, director of policy planning at the State Department under President Lyndon Johnson and president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, said “the authors are mostly wrong, as well as dangerously misleading.”

Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson explained how “dangerously misleading” in a Sept. 21, 2007 commentary entitled “Seeds of Anti-Semitism”:

Walt and Mearsheimer are careful to say they are not anti-Semitic or conspiracy-minded. But their main inference — that Israel, the Israel lobby and Jewish neoconservatives called the shots for Bush, Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Stephen Hadley, Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld — is not only rubbish, it is dangerous rubbish. As ‘mainstream’ scholars, Walt and Mearsheimer cannot avoid the historical pedigree of this kind of charge. Every generation has seen accusations that Jews have dual loyalties, promote war and secretly control political structures.

These academics may not follow their claims all the way to anti-Semitism. But this is the way it begins.

Nevertheless, one day shy of two years after Gerson’s column, The Post‘s Sept. 20, 2009 Sunday “Outlook” section made room for a 1,430-word, two-page spread by Walt headlined “Settling for Failure in the Middle East.” Long on superficial anti-Israel allegations, short on pertinent facts, riddled with omissions, the piece does raise one important question: Why did The Post publish it?

Days before U.S. President Barack Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the United Nations, Walt claimed, among other things, that:

1) “It is the Israelis who have to be convinced [to support a two-state solution], and that will take sustained U.S. pressure.”

Such a claim reflects either ignorance or amnesia on Walt’s part and on the part of “Outlook” editors who accepted his commentary. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in his July 17, 2009 Post Op-Ed “How to Achieve a Lasting Peace: Stop Focusing on the Settlements,” affirmed that in talks after the 2007 Annapolis conference, his government had offered to the Palestinians “far-reaching and unprecedented proposals” — that is, even more than the 2000 and 2001 Israeli-U.S. offers of a state on more than 97 percent of the West Bank and Gaza Strip state, with east Jerusalem as its capital, in exchange for peace.
“To this day” he wrote, “I cannot understand why the Palestinian leadership did not accept” the plans, which Olmert noted “would have helped realize the ‘two-state solution’ ….”

2) In claiming the Israelis, not the Palestinian Arabs, have to be convinced to accept a two-state solution, Walt ignores more than the Palestinian leadership’s rejection of Olmert’s recent proposals and of offers by Prime Minister Ehud Barak and U.S. President Bill Clinton at Camp David in 2000 and Taba in 2001:

* The 1993 Israeli-Palestine Liberation Organization Declaration of Principles and subsequent Oslo accords were to lead to final status talks and, most probably, a “two-state solution,” in 1998, but Palestinian violations, including intensified anti-Israel incitement and terrorism sabotaged any final status agreement.

* The 1985 Jordanian-PLO joint peace approach to Israel was, according to Jordan’s King Hussein, subverted by PLO leader Yasser Arafat.

* The 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty included a Palestinian autonomy provision that might have led to statehood — had the PLO not opposed it.

In fact, from Arab rejection of the first “two-state solution” proposed by Great Britain in 1937, and including rejection of and war against the 1947 U.N. partition plan, through the “three no’s” of Khartoum after the 1967 Six-Day War, it has been the Arab side, including Palestinian Arab leadership, that consistently has rejected compromise and peace. Walt omits this fundamental history and Post “Outlook” editors let him.

3) Walt claims Netanyahu “has no interest in a two-state solution, much less ending settlement expansion. He and his government want a ‘greater Israel,’ which means maintaining effective control of the West Bank and Gaza.”

For more than a generation, no mainstream party Israeli political leader has advocated a “greater Israel.” Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s Likud-led coalition ceded all of the Sinai Peninsula, which leading Israeli military and political figures had insisted was strategically vital only a few years earlier, to Egypt in 1979 in return for peace. A Labor-led government under Barak withdrew unilaterally from the southern Lebanon “security zone” in 2000. Ariel Sharon’s Kadima government unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip, also long considered of strategic importance by many in the Israeli military and politics, in 2005 and tried, without success, to turn frontier control over to Palestinian and Egyptian forces with international monitors. Netanyahu insists not that Israel exercise effective control over the West Bank — never mind the Hamas-run Gaza Strip — but that the Palestinian Authority first develop institutions enabling it to do so before risking a “Hamastan” to its east as well as south. If Israel retains every bit of the land inside its security barrier (about seven percent of the West Bank) under any final agreement, Walt’s “greater Israel” will be not quite two percent larger than it is now, ballooning from 22,000 square kilometers to 22,410 square kilometers.

As for settlement expansion, it effectively stopped in the last months of the Olmert government and has not been resumed by the Netanyahu government, except for authorization of a relatively small number of units in existing communities and eastern Jerusalem neighborhoods.

4) Walt terms Netanyahu’s insistence o n a “demilitarized Palestinian state” an “onerous condition.” It was, in fact, a reaffirmation of a key point in the Israeli-Egyptian autonomy proposals and Oslo accords of the ‘90s: any West Bank and Gaza Strip state was to be demilitarized, with security matters handled by a relatively small and lightly armed police force. Rather than “onerous,” Netanyahu’s position is a de facto objection to the fact that, in violation of Oslo, Palestinian Authority areas became overrun with tens of thousands of armed men, including not just police but multiple “security services” and terrorist groups, in some cases armed and trained by Iran and other radical states.

5) Walt says Israeli pledges to halt settlement building, like those in the 2003 diplomatic “road map,” have been “meaningless.” He ignores the fact that the “road map,” a U.S., U.N., European Union and Russian-mediated outline for progress toward President George W. Bush’s 2002 vision of two states, side-by-side, democratic and at peace, was a step-by-step, reciprocal approach. It also required the Palestinian side to begin to eradicate anti-Israeli terrorism, which did not happen.

6) As usual, Walt blames what he sees as Israel’s bad behavior on its U.S. supporters, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the registered pro-Israel lobby, and on congressional supporters of Israel. That Americans are intelligent enough to recognize in Israel the one Western-style democracy in the Middle East, to understand the Palestinian Authority has a long history of violating its “peace process” commitments and to know that one-sided pressure on Israel would not be a diplomatic silver bullet escapes him.

So The Washington Post’s “Outlook” section published yet another one-sided, superficial, historically inaccurate, anti-settlement piece. (An earlier column, “Want to Stop Israeli Settlements? Follow the Dollars,” by Ronit Avni, is substandard for the same reasons.) Does it matter? Yes, because in giving a platform to Walt, The Post allows him both to reiterate an academically shoddy argument and tip-toe up to the danger Gerson warned of.

It matters too because, echoing the tendentious arguments by Avni and others, “Outlook” fails to provide space for authoritative writers who might inform readers that, among other things, the settlements are not illegal, have not blocked previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements such as the Oslo accords, which left them for final status talks, and though expanding in population the Jewish communities have expanded very little in West Bank land area, of which they comprise a small percentage. When it comes to Israeli settlements, “Outlook’s” outlook is misleadingly narrow.

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