It seems that whenever the Israeli government announces new settlement construction in the West Bank, even in areas that in all probability will remain part of Israel under any final agreement, the news is typically greeted as a frontal assault on whatever negotiations are being pursued by whoever happens to be the American secretary of state at the time.
On the other hand, no such alarm is sounded in response to Palestinian recalcitrance on issues Israel has declared essential to its security.
This selective indignation permeates the international community’s approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict and is reflected in the way much of the media covers that conflict.
Last month, after the Israeli government published plans for new construction, the State Department promptly repeated its longstanding refrain that the settlements were “illegitimate” and that “It is never helpful to have steps taken that are not conducive to our efforts to move forward on peace.”
True to form, The New York Times titled its report on the development “In Blow to Peace Effort, Israel Publishes Plans for New Housing in Settlements.” The article, by Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren, was just barely more objective than the provocative headline:
The Israeli government on Friday published plans to build 1,400 housing units in Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, a move the chief Palestinian negotiator condemned as a “slap” to Secretary of State John Kerry’s intense push for a Middle East peace deal….
It continues a pattern that began with the peace talks last summer, in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has struggled to please his politically complex coalition government by both engaging in the talks and continuing to expand settlements, something the Palestinians and many world powers contend undermines the prospects for a two-state solution.
Ms. Rudoren added, presumably to make sure everyone got the point, the following quote from an interview with the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat: “Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu sent a message to Mr. Kerry today, and the message reads ‘do not continue your peace efforts’…. They know very well that this destroys the peace process.”
Compare this with what followed last week’s issuance of new, non-negotiable red lines by the Palestinian Authority that negatively impacted almost all of Israel’s core concerns: Israeli military and civilian withdrawal “from all Palestinian territories occupied in 1967” within three to four years; release of all Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails; explicit reference to East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state; resolution of the Palestinian refugee issue based on UN General Assembly Resolution 194 (i.e., the so-called right of return); and refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s spokesman, Nabil Abu Rueineh, said that “without these principles there can be no just and comprehensive peace in the region.”
If there were ever a real body blow to the peace effort, this would be it. Yet the State Department didn’t release a statement. And The New York Times didn’t report the story.
In fact, the last thing the Times reported that even touched on Palestinian rejectionism came two weeks earlier in a story about Mr. Abbas’s interview with the newspaper during which the topics discussed included the continued Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and Israel’s demand that its forces be stationed in the West Bank, beyond the territory it will retain, in order to police the peace.
The Times story, again by Ms. Rudoren, was headlined, rather benignly, “Palestinian Leader Seeks NATO Force in Future State,” highlighting the Palestinians’ preference that NATO troops rather than the Israeli military monitor the peace.
Not only was the defining matter of acceptance of Israel as the Jewish homeland relegated to secondary status, but Mr. Abbas’s emphatic “This is out of the question” in response to the Jewish homeland question was not reflected in the headline. Equally telling, though, was the rather schmoozy, schmaltzy tone of the piece:
Mr. Abbas, 78, was relaxed and confident, if not quite optimistic, during the interview, sprinkling his politics with bits of humor. It took place in an outer sitting room where the Palestinian president has met delegations of left-leaning American Jews and foreign dignitaries and where, he recalled, the former American peace envoy George J. Mitchell said of the Israelis before departing in 2011, “They foiled me.”
He sipped sweet tea and then strong coffee, twice using a small buzzer to summon an aide who brought a single cigarette. He spoke in English, occasionally leaning on two colleagues for translation. (It took a few minutes to decipher whether Mr. Mitchell had said “fooled,” “failed,” or “foiled” – Mr. Abbas joked that all three applied.)
Clearly, there is a presumptive legitimacy ascribed to the Palestinian positions while Israel is seen as trying to push the envelope and take as much away from the Palestinians it can get away with.
Why this is so is nothing short of mystifying, especially when one considers that Mr. Abbas can’t bring himself to recognize even a future truncated Israel as a Jewish state, or that he continues to honor as heroic martyrs Palestinian killers of Jewish men, women and children, or that even if he were inclined to do so it is highly doubtful he could ever carry out any of his commitments or survive a confrontation with Hamas.
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