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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.

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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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  • Danny

    The real problem that must be understood is that the settlements provide Israel with the only leverage it has to push the Palestinians toward agreeing to peace; they hold out the prospect of further permanent losses if peace is not achieved. The campaign against them has undermined the pursuit of peace and is thus responsible for the dimming prospects of an accord ever being reached.

  • Robert Davis

    It takes only fools and antisemites hypocrites to refuse to see what’s behind those accusation directed to Netanyahu : Israel NEEDS the “settlements” not tobe destroyed sothat those who want it destroyed will always accuse Israel not to alloow Israel to defend itself politically whether or not those Israeli owns and villages increase or not. The only way to stop the accusatiuon is not to keep whining as victims do but the other way around, to increase strongly the numbers so Israel’s enemies lose heart and undertand their attacks are USELESS. Settle 1 or 2 million Jewsd in the Jewish provinces and no one will take on Israel any longer. Hopefully stupid Netanyahu reads this.

    • Robert Davis

      PS Of course Israel’s enemies KNOW this and it is the reason why they harass the PM seing he is stupid enough not to do what he should. Seemingly the only one who does not understand or is afraid of doing what is needed is Netanyahu. This is why he has been branded chicken sh.

  • Another salient fact: the biggest “settlements” are not really settlements. For example, Modi’in Illit was not started by a dozen hilltop youths, but by a private entrepreneur who went to local Arabs and bought largely unused land to build cheap housing for avreichim who couldn’t afford Jerusalem and Bnei Brak prices. Because it’s a few hundred meters over the Green Line, it’s considered a West Bank settlement.

    Over the past 20 years there have been zero shenanigans or squabbles with the nearby Arab villages. But anti-settlement activists are happy to make use of Modi’in Illit population statistics since it has just about the highest natural growth rate of any Jewish community in Israel. So in the statistics all those kollel men and yeshiva boys running to Shacharis and learning sedarim are counted as settlers.

  • ESLombard

    The Arab states made themselves virtually Jew free. Israel doesn’t plan to be Arab free, it should insist that it have a 20% Jewish presence in a proposed Palestinian state.

    Rather than kill Arab male troublemakers with their dreams of 70 Virgins, would it not be a greater punishment to aim for their crotches now?

  • Elisheva

    For some reason the American public has accepted that Israel is to blame because of the Settlements. It is a lie that has been repeated so many times that it has a life of its own. VP Biden likes to harp on it and the Reform Jews go for it. In many conversations with Americans I heard the Settlement mantra. Lies are believed if repeated often enough. Another lie is that Islam is a religion of peace. Now we are being lied to about the Iran Deal that was not really a deal at all. Iran signed a different deal than the US and EU agreed to. This is not being discussed.

  • Alan Musnikow

    The article says, “Labor prime ministers Barak and Olmert.”

    I think it is wrong to call Ehud Olmert a “Labor prime minister.” Prime Minister Olmert was in Kadima when he was Prime Minister. Before that he was in Likud.

  • steven L

    Had the Pr. done his homework, he would have known that “settlements” was NEVER the or AN issue. He wasted ALL his goodwill capital.

  • steven L

    The Pr. finally realizes that he cannot impose his biases upon Israel even with the assistance of the liberal Jews and all the other antisemites.
    No amount of mass media PROPAGANDA and blackmail will work. U cannot twist the arm of someone you want to kill.

  • ART

    If any of the idiots in the State Dept, Whitehouse or NYT ever read the Oslo accords the borders and “settlements” were “negotiable”. Then again the pa was supposed to “normalize” relations with Israel (over 20 years I guess that normal is what we see now) as well as amend the plo charter which they never did ( Clinton LIED).

  • Jerold: Back in June President Obama told Israeli TV that a Palestine-Israel peace deal was not going to happen on his watch. He & others appear to hold Bibi responsible. On the other hand, if the president was serious about bringing about an end to the conflict he needed to press Fatah & Hamas to formally, officially recognize the Jewish state. Clearly, Palestinian refusal to take this step is the key obstacle to peace. Abbas keeps saying as do the leaders of Hamas that all of Israel is occupied Palestine. Why the American president has apparently not used his prestige and authority to pressure the Palestinians to renounce that claim is a question that few seem interested in asking.

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