Monday, December 10, 2012

Setting the Record Straight: Distortions of Commission and Omission

Alan H. Stein, Ph.D.

The degree of misinformation and misunderstanding relating to the issues of the Arab-Israeli conflict is astounding. Patently false information is pervasive yet is often taken as common knowledge and falsely transmitted in conversations, over the Internet, in the traditional media and even by governments.

The dissemination of misinformation ramped up even further than usual recently in the aftermath of the vote at the United Nations giving "non-member state status" to the Palestinian Authority, an entity that in some ways resembles a state but falls far short of meeting the standard criteria. Misinformation also followed the announcement by Israel about planning for building in its capital and in a suburb and about preliminary planning for building between them in what's known as the "E1 corridor."

One article published had the headline "Israeli settlement plan would split West Bank." Many news reports said the same thing while using different terminology, falsely asserting it would make a contiguous Palestinian Arab state impossible.

Some of the same articles included maps which conclusively illustrated the absurdity of the assertions.

The E1 corridor connects the suburb of Ma'ale Adumim with Jerusalem. It's a tiny area, roughly 4.6 square miles, jutting a tiny bit into the area known for thousands of years as Judea and Samaria, until recently when Jordan began calling it the West Bank. In no way would keeping E1 in Israeli hands split the West Bank.

In actuality, not keeping E1 in Israeli hands would split Israel. Ma'ale Adumim, less than 10 miles from Jerusalem, has a population of approximately 40,000 people. There's absolutely no way Ma'ale Adumim would not remain part of Israel in any conceivable peace agreement; everyone knowledgable accepts that. If E1 wasn't retained by Israel, then Ma'ale Adumim would be split from the rest of Israel, which would no longer be contiguous.

The portions of the West Bank given to the Palestinian Arabs would still be contiguous, but there's also no way a Palestinian Arab state in both the West Bank and Gaza can be contiguous, at least not without splitting Israel in two.

It must be noted that while contiguity is certainly a nice attribute, it's hardly necessary for the viability of a state. Our United States is split into no fewer than three areas, with Hawaii separated from the mainland by thousands of miles of ocean and Alaska separated by one of the largest countries in the world. If there is an Arab-Israeli peace, it will be far easier to travel between Ramallah and Gaza than it is to travel between New York and Anchorage.

The media is also guilty of contributing to false impressions by failing to include documented facts relating to items they do report.

As one example, the interim agreement signed by Israel and the PLO in 1995 included the provision "Neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations."

The action by Mahmoud Abbas of going to the United Nations to gain status as a "non-member state" was a blatant violation of that provision, something one would never know from the general media.

This is not just a technicality, since it relates greatly to the question of the trust necessary for the "partners" to negotiate in good faith.

Related to that are the repeated references to a Palestinian Arab state based on the "1967 borders." These references ignore the fact that there were no borders in 1967, but merely armistice lines. More important, negotiations based on  those lines are a violation of the armistice agreements.

The armistice agreement between Israel and Jordan contained the provision: "It is also recognised that no provision of this Agreement shall in any way prejudice the rights, claims and positions of either Party hereto in the ultimate peaceful settlement of the Palestine question, the provisions of this Agreement being dictated exclusively by military considerations."

Similar provisions were contained in all the armistice agreements, ironically at the insistence of the Arabs!

One may reasonably ask how one can trust negotiations when they are based on a violation of previous agreements?

Newspapers and other media have a responsibility to be accurate, to point out when officials are saying things that aren't true and also to include highly relevant information. When it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict, they are failing on all three counts.

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