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November 8, 2015 3:37 pm

A Phony Blame Game at The New York Times

avatar by Jerold Auerbach

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A stagnant bulldozer. What is the actual state of settlement construction in Israel under Prime Minister Netanyahu? Photo: Wikipedia.

A stagnant bulldozer. What is the actual state of settlement construction in Israel under Prime Minister Netanyahu? Photo: Wikipedia.

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s White House visit may or may not – most likely the latter – resolve his toxic disagreements with President Obama. But even The New York Times finally recognized that the Israeli-Palestinian peace deal sought by the president as his capstone diplomatic achievement is far beyond reach in the foreseeable future. Given his recent capitulation to Iran, that is good news for Israel.

But the blame game is always fun to play. Unnamed “officials” indicated, at least to Times editors, that Obama would urge Netanyahu to “leave open the possibility of a two-state solution in the future.” Predictably, the necessary steps toward that goal require “a halt to the construction of new and expanded housing units for Israelis in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.” Yet the editors worried (November 7) that “new settlements have been pursued so aggressively” by Netanyahu “that the land available for a Palestinian state may already be foreclosed.”

Any notion that Netanyahu has “aggressively” pursued new settlements is absurd. Since 2009, when he once again became prime minister after a 10-year gap filled by Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, settlement population growth has been lower than under his predecessors. According to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, it exceeded 5% annually only under Labor prime minister Barak and Kadima’s Olmert, falling to that level under Sharon, and dropping even further under Netanyahu.

Even Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief Jodi Rudoren, hardly a fervent fan of the prime minister or settlements, recognized that truth eight months ago in a lengthy exploration of “Netanyahu and the Settlements” (March 12). Yet Netanyahu has been relentlessly (if erroneously) flayed by American government advisers Aaron David Miller for “increasing settlement activity” and Martin Indyk for “rampant settlement activity.” And, as Rudoren noted, “most of the growth” has been in settlement blocs near Jerusalem (the Etzion bloc south of the city and Ma’aleh Adumim to the east) that are certain to remain inside Israel after any eventual land swap with the Palestinians.

If history suggests any source of concern over Netanyahu’s settlement policy, it should come from settlers, not their critics. In January 1997, during his first term as prime minister, he approved the opening of a tunnel adjacent to the Western Wall, providing a pretext for Palestinian rioting and violence (sound familiar?) in which 15 Israelis were killed. Under intense American pressure, Netanyahu signed the Hebron Protocol, which divided that ancient biblical city into Palestinian and Jewish zones, with Israeli military redeployment from 80% of the city. Six hundred Jewish residents were confined to a ghetto in two tiny neighborhoods, surrounded by more than 100,000 Palestinians. Since then, the Palestinian population has doubled; the Jewish population now numbers 700. So much for rampant settlement growth.

With settlement population growth under Netanyahu since 2009 dropping below that of his predecessors, so have the construction starts for which he is routinely – and as recently as Sunday – flayed by the Times and other liberal critics. Once again the Central Bureau of Statistics undermines their critique. The lowest number of starts between 1996-2014 was in 2010 – under Netanyahu. The next three lowest were in 2011, 2012, and 2014 – also under Netanyahu. The highest, by far, came under Labor Prime Minister Barak in 2000.

Following their erroneous and belabored admonitions to Netanyahu regarding settlement growth (after all, even settlers – as malevolent as they may seem – have adorable babies), Times editors reserved one sentence for noting, “There is more than one side to this conflict . . . and there is much Mr. Abbas must do as well.” What that might be, aside from vacuous advice that he insist Palestinians “put a stop to their violent assaults on Israelis,” remains unsaid.

For the record, the last new settlement was built more than 20 years ago; since 2005, more settlements (25) have been evacuated than built (0). To be sure, editors are entitled to their opinions — but not to masquerade opinions as facts. Halloween is over.

Jerold S. Auerbach is a frequent contributor to The Algemeiner.

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