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February 2, 2020 1:13 pm

The New York Times Dreads Peace

avatar by Jerold Auerbach


The New York Times logo. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

When President Donald Trump’s peace plan was released, assuring Israel of sovereignty along the Jordan River, the security of settlements in Biblical Judea and Samaria, and the entirety of Jerusalem including the Old City under Israeli jurisdiction, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (and Israelis in general) had every reason to exult.

But The New York Times had every reason to lament. Reporter Megan Specia, a story editor based in New York with little evident familiarity with the Middle East, Israel, or Palestinians, reported on the plan and its deficiencies (January 29). Her conclusion, that the proposal “strongly favors Israeli priorities,” is indisputable, as is her perception that it is “a sharp departure from decades of American policy.”

Worst of all, as the Times has repeatedly complained, “is American recognition of Israel’s claim over the Jordan Valley and all Jewish settlements in the West Bank.” After all, she writes in an endlessly reiterated Times cliché, “Most of the world regards the settlements as illegal.” They have “steadily encroached” on land, by implication, that is Palestinian — unidentified by Specia as the Biblical homeland of the Jewish people.

In their familiar duet of complaints about Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu and settlements, Jerusalem Bureau Chief David Halbfinger and his colleague Isabel Kershner sadly concluded that a viable Palestinian state is now “quickly slipping away.” Rather than focus on the decades of Palestinian intransigence that have obstructed that possibility, they predictably (for the Times) blamed President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu for imposing their will on beleaguered Palestinians. President Mahmoud Abbas, they suggested, should “try to weather the storm” in the hope that Trump and Netanyahu will be defeated in forthcoming elections. That is also the Times’ endlessly reiterated hope.

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The Times drumbeat continued. On the Opinion page, Nathan Thrall, widely praised for his plea (in The Only Language They Understand) to force compromise on Israel and the Palestinians, offered his own laceration of the Trump plan. It “gives Israel cover to perpetuate the status quo of occupation and sovereignty,” he complained, thereby “depriving millions of stateless people of basic civil rights and dispossessing them of their land.”

Thrall, clearly not enthralled by Zionism or Israel, refers to an “indigenous Palestinian population” whose rights to the Biblical Land of Israel have been ignored. He does not acknowledge that this “indigenous Palestinian population” did not assertively define itself in national terms until after the Six Day War in 1967, when the Jordanian land on the West Bank where they lived was returned to the Jewish people. He is convinced, without offering a shred of evidence or confronting evidence to the contrary, that Israel “illegally established settlements” in Biblical Judea and Samaria.

Thrall ignores more than a century of internationally recognized Jewish entitlement to that land, beginning with the Balfour Declaration (1917) and reinforced by the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine. He seems unhappy that after World War I the British government promised the Jewish people a national home in “Palestine,” then constituting the land east and west of the Jordan River. Nor does he mention that Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill, ignoring the Mandatory promise, gifted eastern Palestine across the Jordan River to King Abdullah for what became the Kingdom of Trans-Jordan.

Thrall’s complaint about “illegally established settlements” is without legal basis and contradicted by history. Article 80 of the United Nations Charter (1945) preserved the right of the Jewish people to “close settlement” throughout the remaining portion of their homeland west of the Jordan River (now known as the West Bank).

According to UN Resolution 242 following the Six Day War, once “a just and lasting peace in the Middle East” was secured, Israel would be required to withdraw its armed forces from “territories,” not from “the territories” or “all the territories.” As Undersecretary of State Eugene V. Rostow, who was instrumental in drafting the resolution, unequivocally stated: “The Jewish right of settlement is equivalent in every way to the right of the existing [Palestinian] population to live there.”

In his eagerness to inflate the crime of settlement, Thrall erroneously cites “more than 600,000 settlers in occupied territory.” His claim is doubly false: the latest data, according to the Israeli Interior Ministry, cites 450,000 settlers. And Judea and Samaria are not “occupied”; they comprise a fundamental component of the historic Land of Israel that was liberated in the Six Day War.

Thrall embraces Senator Bernie Sanders, whose (unnamed) proposals “would begin to reduce American complicity in Israel’s violation of Palestinian rights.” But what for Thrall (and Sanders) may be heroic assertiveness is more accurately identified as left-wing bias, an appropriate characterization of New York Times coverage of Israel ever since the birth of the Jewish state 75 years ago.

Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of Print to Fit: The New York Times, Zionism and Israel, 1896-2016, cited by Ruth Wisse and Martin Kramer as a Mosaic Best Book in 2019.

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