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January 18, 2012 1:22 pm

Los Angeles Times Editorial Team Needs To Be Sharper

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avatar by Tamar Sternthal

Phyllis Bennis. Photo: http://thenewliberator.wordpress.com.

Once again proving its willingness to accept extremist commentary divorced from reality, the Los Angeles Times published a Jan. 6, 2011 online “Blowback” column by anti-Israel activist Phyllis Bennis (“Obama’s real Israel problem — and it isn’t Bibi“).

The Times identifies Bennis as “director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies,” which, with its generic, academic-sounding name, wouldn’t mean much to most Americans. Yet, editors fail to inform readers that Bennis also serves as a U.S. campaign steering committee member of End the Occupation, which promotes the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) campaign targeting the Jewish state. (Failure to disclose Bennis’ relevant activities is reminiscent of the paper’s repeated concealment of the American indictment of Hamas leader Mahmoud Abu Marzook on racketeering and money-laundering charges, while giving him space to lecture readers about “legal right[s] under international law” and “moral issues.”)

Responding to an earlier Op-Ed by Aaron David Miller, which had singularly placed blame on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his rocky relationship with President Obama (and you can read critical letters here), Bennis argues:

The problem isn’t Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or his Likud Party, or even Israel’s current extreme right-wing government. Israel’s fundamental policy toward the Palestinians is the problem, and that policy has hardly changed, despite the seemingly diverse sequence of left, right and center parties that have been in power.

Just look at the occupation of the territories seized in 1967 — the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. Settlement building, along with all the land and water theft that goes with it, began just weeks after the Six-Day War. And a right-wing government wasn’t in power; it was Mapai, the left-wing precursor to today’s Labor Party. The right wing wouldn’t come to power until almost three decades after Israel’s founding, when Menachem Begin led the Likud coalition to victory in 1977.

Settlement construction and expansion started right after the war and continued under all the leftist (in the Israeli context) governments. By the time Likud came to power 10 years after the 1967 war, there were already more than 50,000 Israeli settlers living in Jews-only settlements in the occupied territories, most of them in occupied East Jerusalem, with smaller numbers in the West Bank and Gaza. Settlement expansion advanced under Labor, Likud and Kadima-led governments. Now there are more than 600,000 settlers living illegally in Palestinian territory, divided between the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Bennis of course can’t bring herself to point out that in 2005 Israel had, in fact, withdrawn every last citizen from the Gaza Strip, and had at the same time uprooted four small settlements in the northern West Bank. The unprecedented unilateral step, which led to a quadrupling of the number of rocket attacks (also ignored by Bennis) originating from the Gaza Strip, clearly undermines Bennis’ absurd claim that Israel’s unchanging policy towards the Palestinians is restricted to land “theft.”

Moreover, she ignores that while Israeli policy has included settlement-building, it has also included ongoing negotiations — under both Labor and Likud governments — for increasing Palestinian sovereignty, with a Palestinian state as an end goal. Those negotiations resulted, in part, in the Oslo Accords, under which Israel turned over control of all the large Palestinian population centers, leaving more than 95 percent of Palestinians living under direct control of the newly-formed Palestinian Authority. Indeed, under the bilateral Oslo Accords, Palestinians lived under a Palestinian government for the very first time ever in history. Bennis, however, keeps this aspect of “Israel’s fundamental policy towards the Palestinians” from her readers.

Subsequent manifestations of Israeli policy vis-a-vis the Palestinians that Bennis ignores involve the unprecedented Camp David offer (under a Labor government) in which the Palestinians would have received about 98 percent of the West Bank, Prime Minister Olmert’s expansive proposal (rejected by the Palestinians) in which the Israeli leader reportedly “accepted the principle” of the “right of return,” and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s unprecedented 10-month freeze of settlement construction, which was at the very least a change from previous policies.

Bennis is conspicuously silent about the unchanging Palestinian policy of rejectionism since 1967 — from the notorious “3 No’s” at the Arab Summit in Khartoum (no to peace, no to negotiations, and no to recognizing Israel) to President Mahmoud Abbas’ ongoing present day refusal to negotiate with Netanyahu, and everything in between.

There is much more to be said about the falsehoods in Bennis’ screed — her distortion of what international law has to say about the so-called Palestinian “right of return,” her tired charges about water “theft,” her discredited canards about Israeli Arabs and land ownership, and so on. Indeed, her wild accusations are really not so different than those voiced by many before her in the Los Angeles Times, most recently, Saree Makdisi. So, who exactly has the Israel problem?

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