Israeli Ambassador Falsely Claims Palestinian U.N. Bid Wasn’t About Settlements

Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren gave a defense of Israeli policies in the Washington Post this morning. Oren’s op-ed came off as extraordinarily defensive, the upshot of the piece being that “Israel, in fact, is significantly less isolated than at many times in its history.” Nonetheless, Oren offered a sort of even-if-we-were-isolated defense of Israel: “Isolation, of course, is not automatically symptomatic of bad policies.”

One such “bad polic(y),” as considered by the U.S. government and international law, is the settlement project whereby Israelis move into Palestinian territories with the full backing of (and sometimes financial subsidies from) the state. On the same day when Israel announced (for the first time since 1997) the construction of an entirely new settlement outside Jerusalem, Oren wrote in defense of the broader project by noting that the settlement issue was not at the heart of the wider Arab-Israeli conflict or the Israeli-Palestinian one:

The settlements are not the core of the conflict… As [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas wrote in the New York Times in May, the Palestinian attempt to declare a state without making peace with Israel was about “internationalization of the conflict…to pursue claims against Israel in the United Nations, not about settlements.

The link in the Abbas quote comes from Oren’s article (as printed on the Washington Post website) and goes to Abbas’ May op-ed in the New York Times. You’d think that since either Oren or Washington Post editors must’ve sought out the link and placed it in the article, someone would have bothered to read the Palestinian leader’s original piece. In it, they would have seen Abbas explicitly state that one of the reasons he would press forward with the Palestinian bid for U.N. recognition was the failure of Israel (or American pressure on Israel) to halt settlement expansion:

We go to the United Nations now to secure the right to live free in the remaining 22 percent of our historic homeland because we have been negotiating with the State of Israel for 20 years without coming any closer to realizing a state of our own. We cannot wait indefinitely while Israel continues to send more settlers to the occupied West Bank and denies Palestinians access to most of our land and holy places, particularly in Jerusalem. Neither political pressure nor promises of rewards by the United States have stopped Israel’s settlement program.

Oren is more than entitled to his opinions about the relative isolation of Israel or the international importance of its ongoing settlement project, but he’s not entitled to present falsehoods about a piece of writing in the public record. And it’s becoming something of a pattern: He’s played fast and loose with the facts before in the pages of the Washington Post.

When I interviewed Washington Post opinion page editor Fred Hiatt last year (for a separate article), he told me that the news pages and the opinion pages adhere to the same standards for errors. “When we make mistakes, we aim to correct them as quickly as possible. That applies to everyone,” he wrote in an e-mail. (Hiatt did not respond to an inquiry for this article by press time.) If that’s the case, the Post should apologize to Abbas for allowing this blatant misrepresentation of his explicitly-stated views, and append an official correction to Oren’s op-ed.