Misrepresenting Basic Facts On Settlements

It’s no secret that the Washington Post’s editorial page has become a kind of graveyard of neoconservatism, but even so this is a pretty profoundly misleading passage in today’s editorial lamenting the Obama administration’s firm stance against Israeli settlements:

Rather than pocketing Mr. Netanyahu’s initial concessions — he gave a speech on Palestinian statehood and suggested parameters for curtailing settlements accepted by previous U.S. administrations — Mr. Obama chose to insist on an absolutist demand for a settlement “freeze.” Palestinian and Arab leaders who had accepted previous compromises immediately hardened their positions; they also balked at delivering the “confidence-building” concessions to Israel that the administration seeks.

Netanyahu did not make a speech on “Palestinian statehood.” He made a speech laying out Israeli demands, in which he also briefly acknowledged a “Palestinian state” — and then placed such stringent conditions upon that state as to divest the term of any meaning.

In any case, previous Israeli governments had already committed to the creation of a Palestinian state. As the American Prospect’s Michelle Goldberg wrote in an analysis of the Bar-Ilan speech, “after taking office Netanyahu essentially revoked this commitment and now stands to reap rewards for re-offering it in diminished form.”


It’s also pretty interesting how, in the Post’s telling, the claim by some Israeli officials that they had arrived at secret, oral understandings on settlement growth with one U.S. administration — the Bush administration — has now magically morphed into “suggested parameters for curtailing settlements accepted by previous U.S. administrations”.

As to President Obama’s “absolutist demand for a settlement ‘freeze,’” President Bush’s 2003 road map is very clear on this point, stating that Israel “freezes all settlement activity, consistent with the Mitchell report.” If Obama looks like he’s being unusually firm on settlements, it’s only because past U.S. administrations have unfortunately been all too willing to bend on the issue, recognizing the settlements as a serious problem, but never really moving seriously against them. Israeli governments, and settlement supporters in the U.S., have grown accustomed to the game in which the president says settlements must stop, and the Israeli prime minister agrees, and then the next day Israel announces 1400 new settlement homes. This has been disastrous not only for the Palestinians, whose daily lives are impacted in countless negative ways by the settlements and the military occupation that sustains them, but also for U.S. credibility and the credibility of Palestinian moderates who we’re ostensibly trying to strengthen.

It’s certainly fair to question whether Obama’s focus on settlements is correct, but it’s also fair to expect one of the leading papers in the country not to misrepresent the basic facts of the situation while doing it.