By Martin Sherman
If integrity is a necessary quality for reputable journalism, Jeffrey Goldberg’s recent column is a disgrace to his profession – and an insult to Israelis’ intelligence.
|E1 area near Jerusalem. Photo: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post|
The [E1] construction project is of great significance for Israel’s interests. I would like to see the entire neighborhood, encompassing thousands of housing units, completed in order to ensure contiguity between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim. – the late Gideon Ezra, public security minister in Ehud Olmert’s government, March 14, 2006
It is unthinkable that we would talk about Ma’aleh Adumim as part of the State of Israel and leave it as an island or isolated enclave. It is absolutely clear that there will be built-up continuity between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim – Ehud Olmert, then acting prime minister, in a pre-election interview, March 10, 2006
And these are the main changes, not all of them, which we envision and want in the permanent solution: ... First and foremost, united Jerusalem, which will include both Ma’aleh Adumim and Givat Ze’ev – as the capital of Israel, under Israeli sovereignty – Yitzhak Rabin, in his last address to the Knesset seeking ratification of Oslo II, October 5, 1995
I apologize to my readers if the tone of this column is more abrasive that usual. But Jeffrey Goldberg’s column this week (January 14) published by Bloomberg titled “Obama: Israel Doesn’t Know What Its Best Interests Are,” is so infuriatingly impudent, so deceptively disingenuous, so maliciously misleading, so pretentiously pompous that it strains the bounds of civility to almost impossible limits.
I urge you to read Goldberg’s recent rendering of blatantly biased bile, not because of the heights of journalistic standards it attains but for the depths of duplicity and deceit that it plumbs.
In many ways it is a seminal example of how the mainstream media has willfully collaborated in corrupting the discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
An overly harsh accusation? How’s this for Exhibit I?
Goldberg (hereafter referred to as JG) alleges that it was Israel’s announcement that it would “advance plans to establish a settlement in an area of the West Bank known as E1” that ignited the recent spate of Barack Obama’s wrath and despair with regard to Binyamin Netanyahu and his alleged “obstructionism.”
According to JG, “A large settlement in E1, an empty zone between Jerusalem and the Jewish settlement city of Ma’aleh Adumim, would make the goal of politically moderate Palestinians – the creation of a geographically contiguous state – much harder to achieve.”
Leaving aside for the moment the question of what comprises “politically moderate Palestinians,” and who – if anyone – fits the bill, it is more than a little exasperating to read JG’s characterization of the E1 area and its alleged political significance.
Even a cursory glance of the map would reveal that not only is E1, in fact, an “empty zone” between Jerusalem and the 50,000-strong city of Ma’aleh Adumin, but also that it is an area of little more than 11.5 sq.km. and that its impact on a “geographically contiguous state” is marginal.
Yet, JG persists in purposely perpetuating the fabricated fiction of it being a crucial impediment to peace, leaving us to wonder whether he is being willfully misleading or merely woefully misinformed.
Another contrived canard?
Can someone as supposedly well-informed as JG really be unaware that the whole question of geographical contiguity is a well-known canard? After all, even The New York Times published a grudgingly half-hearted apology for invoking the contiguity argument in its criticism of the E1 development (December 16, 2012).
But of course the question of territorial contiguity is entirely contrived.
As I pointed out in a recent column, it could be maintained, either by a highway that traverses E1 from north to south connecting Ramallah to Bethlehem, or by laying down a road bypassing Ma’aleh Adumim from the east, rather than from the west, hardly an insurmountable engineering feat.
Indeed, as Al Jazeera (January 23, 2011) reported, the construction of such alternative routes to serve the Palestinians was one of the topics discussed in the much-vaunted Olmert- Abbas talks in 2008, which, we are now told, were a hair’s-breadth away from success. And contiguity issues related to E1 were not the sticking point.
Of course, any claims by two-staters that the E1 development would preclude “geographical contiguity” are hugely hypocritical.
For even if the Palestinians were completely precluded from access to the area, the territory available to them east of Ma’aleh Adumin up to the Jordan River – about 22.5 km. – would still be almost 50 percent wider than territory that Israel would retain in its heavily populated Coastal Plain if the Obama-prescribed 1967 lines were adopted as its frontiers.
Indeed, the Obama template would reduce Israel to a strip just over 14-km. wide near Netanya, totally dominated topographically by the elevated area to the east, earmarked for the Palestinian state.
Strangely – or perhaps not – this precarious geographical proposal elicits no expression of concern over possible problems for Israel’s “geographical contiguity” – either from Obama or from his court-journalists of JG’s ilk. Hmmm!
Duplicity and double standards
There has not been a single Israeli government that has not considered Ma’aleh Adumin a part of suburban Jerusalem to be connected to the capital and designated to remain under Israeli sovereignty in any permanent settlement.
This has been underscored by Noble Peace laureates Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. Significantly, the introductory excerpt above from Rabin is taken from his last address to the Knesset, in which he presented his vision of the permanent-status arrangement with the Palestinians. The fact that he advocated precisely the same measures as those declared by Netanyahu, did not bring down upon him the ire and insults that the current prime minister is subjected to.
Likewise, Ehud Barak, who was praised by Bill Clinton for taking “brave steps” in his 2000 Camp David initiative, stressed that his proposal included the annexation of Ma’aleh Adumin to Jerusalem (July 25, 2000), as did Ehud Olmert.
In an interview (March 10, 2006) with TheMarker (part of the far-left Haaretz media group), Olmert was asked: “Will you build in E1, despite American opposition?” He replied: “Of course. Indeed, it is unthinkable that we would talk about Ma’aleh Adumim as part of the State of Israel and leave it as an ...isolated enclave. It is absolutely clear that there will be built-up continuity between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim.”
Astonishingly, this statement was made by Olmert while laying out his vision for unilateral withdrawal (aka “convergence”) in the “West Bank,” underscoring that – even within the framework of his willingness to accept far-reaching compromises – development of E1 and annexation of Ma’aleh Adumin were essential to Israel’s interests.
He added: “This is clear to both Palestinians and the Americans. I believe that on this matter there is absolute consensus in Israel. Even Yossi Beilin, with whom I usually disagree with on everything, said that Ma’aleh Adumin must remain in Israel.”
So why has JG presented the issue of E1 as such a red flag that has so enraged the Obama administration. Double standards perhaps?
Carefully choreographed crisis?
It is hard to avoid the conclusion that this episode is merely another carefully choreographed anti-Bibi “crisis” – and a “production” in which JG seems a willingly complicit prop.
It is eerily reminiscent of the contrived brouhaha made over the interim planning approval for additional future housing units in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo, during the 2010 visit of Vice President Joe Biden in Israel.
How else could we explain the statement condemning Netanyahu’s plans by Obama’s National Security Council spokesman, conveyed approvingly – or at least uncritically – by JG: “We believe these actions are counterproductive and make it harder to... achieve a twostate solution.”
After all, the “actions” for which Netanyahu is reproached are indistinguishable from those strongly endorsed by all his predecessors – who supported a two-state approach. But then again, when it comes to bashing Bibi, truth only has a marginal role to play.
Malicious and mendacious
JG persists in propagating and perpetuating malicious and mendacious myths regarding Netanyahu.
He makes the demonstrably false accusation that Netanyahu adopted a partisan role in November’s US presidential elections, claiming that “even this [Obama’s] support [for Israel] didn’t keep Netanyahu from pulling for Republican candidate Mitt Romney in last year’s presidential campaign.”
Although Obama, by the undisguised disdain and distaste he displayed toward Israel’s prime minister, did much to bolster the attractiveness of any Republican rival for Israel, I would challenge anyone – including JG – to produce documented evidence of Netanyahu “pulling for Republican candidate Mitt Romney.” Indeed there is considerable evidence to the contrary.
As I mentioned in last week’s column, at the recent Democratic Convention, prominent speakers such as former congressman Robert Wexler and even Sen. John Kerry (Obama’s nominee for secretary of state) invoked Netanyahu for endorsing Obama’s pro-Israel credentials.
Moreover, in a September 2012 Foreign Policy article, associate editor Uri Friedman wrote: “Netanyahu, for his part, has avoided jumping into the fray.”
He noted that when pressed by both CBS’s Bob Schieffer and Fox’s Chris Wallace on his preference for the outcome of the US elections, Netanyahu remained scrupulously neutral, retorting that he was not “going to get into your field of American politics.”
By contrast, it would be difficult to interpret the anti-Bibi tirade by the Obamaphilic JG – coupled with the conspicuous absence of denial from the White House – as anything but blatant intervention in Israel’s electoral process.
If integrity is a necessary quality for reputable journalism, it is difficult to avoid feeling that JG’s recent column not only insults Israelis’ intelligence, but brings discredit to his profession.
Courage or cowardice?
But JG’s journalistic transgressions are not confined to what he writes. They extend – arguably even more so – to what he does not.
He conveys, without any dissenting comment – thereby implying tacit agreement: “...Netanyahu is so captive to the settler lobby, and so uninterested in making anything more than the slightest conciliatory gesture toward Palestinian moderates [that] the president seems to view the prime minister as a political coward, an essentially unchallenged leader... unwilling to lead or spend political capital to advance the cause of compromise.”
One can only marvel at the fact that people get paid to write such drivel.
On more than one occasion, Netanyahu has gone against the grain of his political base:
• In his (in)famous Bar-Ilan speech, when he (inadvisably, in my view) accepted the idea of establishing a Palestinian state;
• In agreeing (inadvisably, in my view) to an unprecedented 10-month settlement freeze, which elicited no response from the so-called “Palestinian moderates,” other than a demand for its extension when it was about to expire;
• In continuing to endorse (inadvisably, in my view) his commitment to the two-state approach in the current election campaign.
Likewise, Netanyahu has (inadvisably, in my view) stood up to the hard core of his constituency on legislative issues regarding judicial appointments and transparency of foreign-funded NGOs.
He has defied strong settler opposition to the removal of settlements and outposts.
Whether these instances reflect courage to stand up to domestic pressures, or cowardice in capitulating to external ones, is a matter of perspective.
But one thing is certain, none of these substantiate the claim that he is “captive to the settler lobby.”
What JG – and the Obama administration – appear to have difficulty digesting is that Israel is a democracy. Netanyahu was not elected to pursue a policy of unmitigated appeasement of every Palestinian whim – which seems to be the only way the president, and his journalistic entourage, see themselves able “to advance the cause of compromise.”
Accordingly, from JG’s uncritical rendering of the White Houses’ gripes, one might be led to believe for Netanyahu to demonstrate “courage” he would have to abuse the position of power granted him by the voters and embark on a policy he was elected to eschew.
Obama has shown that he has no understanding of Middle East realities – unless he hasn’t, which is even more worrying.
His Mideast policy is in shambles – unless it isn’t, which is even more worrying.
So when he purports that he has a better grasp of Israeli interests than Israelis, we should be wary, very wary.
If Obama – and his JG-like disciples – feel that it would be in Israel’s interest to create a situation in which Ma’aleh Adumin, with its 50,000 Jewish residents, becomes an isolated enclave, cut off and surrounded by Palestinians – they should say so.
If they feel that it is in Israel’s interests to risk the emergence of a mega-Gaza-like entity overlooking its only international airport, abutting its major national highway, and adjacent to its major population centers – they should say so.
If they feel that it is in Israel’s interest to take massive gambles with the security of the nation and the safety of its citizens, on the basis of an agreement with an aging, illegitimate, unrepresentative president, whose authority is unrecognized by significant segments of his people – they should say so.
At least then, the Israeli public will be able to gage whom they should trust to safeguard their interests.
Martin Sherman ( www.martinsherman.net ) is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.