Two important statements this week shed a light on the nature of the Palestinian conflict with Israel. Both were barely noted by the media.
On Saturday, the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper reported that Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas gave US mediator George Mitchell a letter detailing a number of concessions that he would make towards Israel in a final peace treaty. These included a willingness to accept permanent Israeli sovereignty over the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem’s Old City and over the Western Wall. The Al- Hayat report received enthusiastic and expansive coverage in the Israeli media and in media outlets throughout the world.
What was barely noted was that just hours after the report hit the
airwaves, Abbas’s chief negotiator Saeb Erekat categorically denied the
story. In an interview with Israel Radio, Saeb Erekat said the story was
Abbas has been the recipient of adulatory press coverage in Israel over
the past several days. Last week, he thrilled the Hebrew-language media
when he invited Israeli reporters to a sumptuous feast at his Ramallah
And then the Al-Hayat story came out.
Lost in the excitement was Abbas’s eulogy for arch terrorist Muhammad
Daoud Oudeh, who died over the weekend. Oudeh was the mastermind of the
PLO’s massacre of 11 Israeli athletes during the 1972 Munich Olympics.
Abbas himself served as the operation’s paymaster.
As Palestinian Media Watch reported, in a condolence telegram quoted in
the Abbas-controlled Al-Hayat al-Jadida newspaper, Abbas touted Oudeh as
“a wonderful brother, companion, tough and stubborn, relentless
fighter,” and described him as “one of the prominent leaders of the
So while the local and international media pounced on the Al-Hayat story
as proof that the Palestinians are serious about peace, they failed to
mention that their hope was based on a story that the Palestinians
themselves deny. So, too, in their rush to embrace Abbas, they failed to
mention his glorification of an unrepentant mass murderer who commanded
the terror squad that massacred Israel’s Olympic athletes.
THESE STATEMENTS by Palestinian officials the media routinely
characterize as moderates demonstrate how deeply distorted and largely
irrelevant the discourse on the Middle East has become. As the
“moderate” Palestinians insist they are uninterested in peaceful
coexistence and territorial compromise with Israel, news coverage in
Israel and throughout the Western world is dominated by other issues.
Specifically, discussion of prospects for peace between Israel and the
Palestinians is dominated by an endless discussion of Israel’s Jewish
communities in Judea and Samaria and Jewish neighborhoods in eastern,
southern and northern Jerusalem.
The most egregious recent example of this distortion was a 5,000 word
article in Tuesday’s New York Times regarding US charitable
contributions to these Jewish communities. Titled, “Tax Exempt Funds Aid
Settlements in the West Bank,” the report was co-authored by five Times
reporters. It was the product of weeks of research. And notably, the
Times chose to publish it on its front page above the fold on the very
day that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu visited the White House.
The Times’ article is a textbook case of the media’s ideologically
motivated aggression against Middle East reality. Any way you look at
it, it is a premeditated affront to the very notion that the role of a
newspaper is to report facts rather manufacture news aimed at shaping
perceptions and skewing debate.
The article goes to great lengths to discredit the American citizens who
make charitable, tax deductible donations to organizations that provide
lawful support to Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria and Jewish
neighborhoods in southern, northern and eastern Jerusalem. It paints a
sinister picture of such contributions and contributors and accuses them
of actively undermining US foreign policy.
The contributors, we are told in the opening lines of the report, are
the Left’s bogeyman – Evangelical Christians and religious Jews. They
are unacceptable actors in the Middle East because they both believe
that Jewish control of Judea and Samaria is a precursor to the coming of
Reacting to the Times report, on Wednesday Honest Reporting noted that
the article appears to be the product of active collusion between the
Times and the radical, anti-Zionist, tax exempt Gush Shalom
organization. As Honest Reporting relays, in July 2009, Gush Shalom sent
out a communiqué to its supporters calling for the initiation of a
campaign that “includes a combination of legal action and public
advocacy aimed at denying federal tax exempt (501c3) status to US
charities supporting settlement activity.”
The Times’ article bears all the markings of a political campaign.
First, despite the valiant efforts of five Times reporters, the article
exposes no illegal activity. At best, its investigation of more than 40
organizations that contribute funds to the hated Jewish communities in
Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria indicated that less than a handful of them
are guilty of poor accounting practices.
Assuming that Honest Reporting’s eminently reasonable conclusion that
the Times report is the product of collaboration between the newspaper
and radical anti-Zionist groups is accurate, the report is shockingly
hypocritical. By publishing it, the Times is engaging in the precise
behavior it argues the organizations it investigated should be punished
for purportedly engaging in. To wit, in the service of radical,
tax-deductible organizations, the Times seeks to undermine US foreign
policy. For the past four decades, it has been the foreign policy of the
United States to maintain a strategic alliance with Israel. The goal of
ostensibly Times-aligned groups like Gush Shalom is to undermine that
alliance by discrediting and criminalizing those who wish to strengthen
and maintain it.
The Times’ article uses dark language and innuendo to create the
impression that there is something treacherous and evil about
contributions to Jewish communities and neighborhoods in Judea, Samaria
and Jerusalem. For instance, the article argues, “The donations to the
settler movement stand out [from other charitable contributions that
promote US foreign policy goals] because of the centrality of the
settlement issue in the current talks and the fact that Washington has
consistently refused to allow Israel to spend American government aid in
the settlements. Tax breaks for the donations remain largely
unchallenged, and unexamined by the American government.”
What the Times fails to acknowledge is that the reason these donations
are “largely unchallenged, and unexamined” is because it is the
constitutional right of American citizens to contribute to charities
that promote policy goals even when those goals – like those of Gush
Shalom – are antithetical to US policy as determined by the US
The Times alleges that these communities are illegal. Its authority for
this allegation is none other than Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.
Erekat opined to the paper, “Settlements violate international law.”
The truth is that Israeli communities beyond the 1949 armistice lines
are legal. But even if one were to accept the argument that they are
unlawful, one would be accepting an argument based on the language of
the Fourth Geneva Convention from 1949 that prevents occupying powers
from transferring their population to the areas under occupation.
There is no possible reading of the convention that would prohibit the
voluntary movement of Israelis to Judea, Samaria and post- 1967
neighborhoods in Jerusalem. Likewise, there is no possible reading of
the convention that would prohibit the provision of financial support to
Israelis who voluntarily move to the areas in question. Yet it is
precisely this indisputably lawful, voluntary movement of Jews to these
areas – which the Times acknowledges is often done against the wishes of
Israel’s governments – that the Times’ article attacks.
In short, the Times’ contention that there is something legally
problematic about these donations is preposterous both as it relates to
US law and as it relates to international law.
From a journalistic perspective, worse than the Times’ decision to
engage in precisely the behavior it seeks to criminalize when carried
out by its political nemeses on the Christian and Jewish Right, and
worse even than the article’s false characterization of law, is the
article’s clear attempt to obfuscate the main problem with land issues
in Judea and Samaria, in the interest of manufacturing a false but
ideologically sympathetic picture of the situation on the ground.
The Times only gets around to alluding to – and obfuscating – the real
problem with land issues in the 58th paragraph of the article. The Times
reports, “Islamic judicial panels have threatened death to Palestinians
who sell property in the occupied territories to Jews.”
Actually, while this may be true, it is not the problem. The problem is
that the second law promulgated by the PA – just weeks after it was
established in 1994 – criminalized all Arab land sales to Jews as a
Since 1994 scores of Arabs have been killed in both judicial and
extrajudicial executions for selling land to Jews.
This open move to hide the fact that since 1994 the PA has dispatched
death squads to murder both Palestinians and Israeli Arabs suspected of
selling land to Jews is a shocking miscarriage of journalistic
standards. Whereas the Times required five reporters to work for weeks
to come up with exactly nothing illegal in the operations of US
charitable groups that support Jewish communities the Times wishes to
destroy, the Times would have needed to invest no resources whatsoever
to discover that the PA kills any Arab who sells land to Jews. The PA
has made no effort to hide this policy. It is in the public sphere for
anyone willing to look at reality.
AND THAT is of course the real issue here. The entire Times
“investigation” of American charitable groups that support Jewish
communities and neighborhoods in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem is a
blatant attempt by a major newspaper to hide the real issues prolonging
the Palestinian conflict with Israel. Those issues – exposed by Abbas’s
praise for a terrorist mass murderer, Erekat’s denial that Abbas has any
interest in compromising with Israel, as well as by the PA’s policy of
killing all Arabs who sell land to Jews – do not serve the Times’
purpose of blaming the absence of peace on Israel generally and on the
Israeli Right and its supporters in the US in particular.
And so it is that 17 years after the start of the so-called peace
process between Israel and the PLO, and 10 years after the PLO destroyed
that process by launching a terror war against Israel, and four and a
half years after the Palestinians elected Hamas to lead them, we are
still stuck in a distorted, irrelevant discourse about the Middle East.
We are stuck in a rut because politically and ideologically motivated
media organs operate hand in globe with radical groups seeking to
undermine Israel’s national sovereignty and end its alliance with the
US. Together they manufacture news that bears no relation to reality or
the true challenges facing those who seek peace in the Middle East. But
obviously for The New York Times, that is what makes it fit to print.