This week, the New Yorker published a contrived and deceptive news piece about Israeli settlements called The Map of Israeli Settlements That Shocked Barack Obama.
The piece deceives its readers on two big points: the amount of land available for a viable Palestinian state; and who’s to blame for the non-existence of that state.
As for the contrived details, the writer, Adam Entous, interviews Frank Lowenstein, a State Department official and Obama’s special envoy on Mideast peace. Lowenstein apparently stumbled upon a map so revealing, so “different” from all other West Bank maps, he was compelled to bring it to the president’s attention.
But the map isn’t different. It’s a standard Oslo era map of the West Bank, which shows the well known land division between Areas A, B and C. The Oslo II Accords of 1995 divided the West Bank in to these three administrative districts: Area A (full civil and security control by the Palestinian Authority); Area B (Palestinian civil, and joint Israeli-Palestinian security control); and Area C (full Israeli civil and security control).
“Not only were Palestinian population centers cut off from one another,” Entous writes of Lowenstein’s disbelief, “but there was virtually no way to squeeze a viable Palestinian state into the areas that remained. Lowenstein’s team did the math. When the settlement zones, the illegal outposts, and the other areas off limits to Palestinian development were consolidated, they covered almost sixty per cent of the West Bank.”
As I read this, I did my own math. I thought to myself, “Isn’t it Area C that’s about 60% of the West Bank?” Math really isn’t my strength. But fortunately the map was published at the top, and for anyone who’s even casually studied the Arab-Israeli conflict, it couldn’t be more common.
Accompanying the map was this caption:
“Obama was surprised to see how ‘systematic’ the Israelis had been at cutting (Palestinian population centers) off from one another.”
There are two deceptions here:
First, Palestinian cities aren’t “cut off from one another,” but are connected by highways, without Israeli checkpoints or soldiers. A Palestinian in the West Bank can drive unencumbered from Ramallah to Bethlehem, or from Jenin to Nablus.
Second, this setup wasn’t just concocted by the Israelis. It was the result of Israeli, American and Palestinian understandings in the Oslo accords, a globally recognized multilateral agreement that intended for these land divisions to be a temporary stage leading to Palestinian statehood. So in a sense, yes, what Obama saw in that map was indeed “systematic.”
But the biggest deception is what Entous omits: in any peace deal, close to all of Area C is expected to go to the Palestinians. In fact, since the end of the Clinton administration, Israel has offered the Palestinians a viable state, including almost all of Area C, three separate times.
Instead of accepting a state at peace with Israel, the Palestinians launched violent intifadas and doubled down on educating future generations for endless struggle against Israel. It is this rejection that these sorts of “news” stories seeks to deflect from. Instead of Hamas rockets and attack tunnels, Fatah’s “stabbing intifada” and continued rejection of negotiations, news consumers can now be refocused on the real culprit: that suffocating Israeli occupation.
With these tired stories of Israeli settlements, cause and effect are reversed. Settlements are portrayed not as a result of Palestinian rejection and violence, but as the cause. Cumulatively, these twisted articles have dangerous consequences. They provide justification for Palestinian rejection and terrorism, perpetuating Palestinian delusions that global pressure on Israel will lead to its eventual demise.
The New Yorker, and the myriad other pundits who seem sure Israeli settlements prevent peace, would do well to read the words of Bethlehem mayor Elias Freij, who in 1991 was a delegate at the Madrid Peace Conference, the prelude to Oslo.
“The Palestinians now realize,” said Freij, “that time is on the side of Israel, which can build settlements and create facts, and that the only way out of this dilemma is face-to-face negotiations.”
No clearer statement has been made about Israeli settlements. It’s the settlements that pressured the Palestinians to come to the table. As cosmetic as that was, it was at least a start in busting the delusion that Israel could be defeated. Regrettably, since Oslo, this pressure has been redirected on to Israel, and peace has never been more distant.