NY Times: Biased in favor of Israel? Part 2

NY Times: Biased in favor of Israel? Part 2

I’ve decided to respond to Ted via a new posting rather a comment. He has vociferously contested my first entry on this topic, with three comments. I’m sorry that Ted prefers to remain anonymous; he refused my invitation to engage in an e-mail discussion.

The argument that all settlements beyond the Green Line are illegal is a powerful one, which I tend to agree with. But what people like Ted miss is that it is “an argument” (and there are counter-arguments, even if he and I don’t buy them).

The application of all law, from the issuing of a ticket for jay walking to applying the 4th Geneva Convention, is subject to political decisions and the discretion of the pertinent legal and law enforcement authorities. International law (especially dealing as it does with sovereign states) is, of necessity, even more subject to politics and discretion than local and national laws.

I certainly don’t think it would be wrong for the NY Times to make more references to the 4th Geneva Convention than it does; I wish it made more references to the Geneva Accord/Initiative (and to the Meretz party for that matter), both of which Ted disdains. But to denounce the NY Times for not echoing our exact views is to confuse a general newspaper with a partisan publication.

Re Ted’s crack about Meretz, the Geneva Initiative and the settlement blocs: Meretz is not in love with the settlement blocs (where most West Bank settlers reside within a few kilometers of the old 1967 boundaries), but unlike Ted, Meretz is trying to actually end the conflict rather than prove itself to be absolutely right (or “left”). Aside from their illegality and everything else, for Israel to remove all the settlements and all 400,000+ settlers (counting not only those in the West Bank, but the 150,000 or so who inhabit the newer neighborhoods of Jerusalem built in formerly Jordanian territory) would likely be both politically and physically impossible. It took 50,000 IDF soldiers to remove 8,000 settlers in Gaza, along with their 7,000 rowdy supporters. Do the math: Israel does not have the half million to 1.5 million soldiers required to remove them all, nor would it be able to command the soldiers to do so (if it had such numbers) without risking civil war.

But the Palestinian Authority isn’t even suggesting that neighborhoods like East Talpiot be abandoned. It is rightfully complaining about plans to expand Har Homa or Maaleh Adumim.

The value of the Geneva Initiative is that it provides a model for a mutual agreement that carefully balances the needs and rights of both sides. It is not about one side dictating terms to the other. It offers hope that the two sides can withdraw from their most hardened positions— enough to permit a new reality to take hold. But it’s not a magic bullet and it won’t be easy. It disturbs me but is not surprising that an absolutist, like Ted, would have difficulty with something like Geneva, which is all about compromise.

By | 2007-12-26T12:17:00-05:00 December 26th, 2007|Blog|8 Comments


  1. Anonymous December 26, 2007 at 9:35 pm - Reply

    Dear Ralph,

    I think it is pretty shameful to state that someone who opposes Israel’s annexation of parts of the West Bank is an “absolutist.” Ralph, what do you then call someone who says Israel should not exist?

    You seem to have missed a number of major points and also seem unable to grasp the Palestinian perspective. For Palestinians, accepting a state on 22% of their homeland was the historic compromise. Done, full stop. Israel has 78% already. Palestinians should not be expected to now compromise their compromise and accept tinier and tinier patches of land – bantustans. Palestinians never conceded to 78% with the idea that this would then become the starting point for negotiations. But this is the mind-set that you are supporting.

    You say the Geneva Accords are about “compromise”. That means for you that Palestinians who accepted a tiny state on 22% of their historic homeland compromise more, and those Israelis who wanted 100% of the land “compromise.” How gracious.

    You say that asserting that all Israeli settlements are illegal is an “argument.” Well, not really. As I wrote earlier, it’s an argument between every reputable legal scholar and human rights expert in the world and the likes of Dore Gold. As you know, Gershom Gorenberg revealed that even Israel’s legal counsel in 1967 told the Israeli government that settlements would violate international law. This is one of those cases where there really is no “argument”. Asserting that there is an “argument” is make-believe and effectively enabling your friends’ abusive and self-deceiving behavior, which is what you, Meretz, Bronner and the Times’ are effectively doing.

    Ralph do you think there is an “argument” that waterboarding is not torture? If yes, I would classify you as an enabler of the Bush administration in addition to being an enabler of Israeli settlement construction. Are you going to label me an absolutist again for saying that waterboarding is absolutely torture and should be outlawed despite the fact that the Bush administration “argues” that it is not?

    At some point, people need to say flatout that what is wrong is wrong. Not doing so is a moral failure, as well as a failure in interpretation of law.

    It has become clear as time has passed that people who now support the Geneva Accords and the maintenance of the settlement blocs are either living in the past, and/or are enabling Israel’s land grab and promoting a bantustan state for Palestinians.

    Seven years ago, or perhaps even five years ago, it was more feasible to argue that some of the major settlements could stay in place and Palestinians could still have a viable state (Though Jeff Halper and others argued quite convincingly way back then, that it was not possble). Ralph, go the West Bank now, look around. Look at a map. The settlements, their roads, their accompnaying insfrastructure, are growing by leaps and bounds every year. The settlement blocs of 2000 or even of 2002 are no longer the settlements blocs of 2007. Palestinians need a contiguous state, they need resources, and even if some of the settlements are near the Green Line, there is no reason they should accept Israeli theft of their land. Why don’t you go tell the thousands of Palestinian farmers near the Green Line that it is not so bad that they allow the settlements to remain on their land, that they just need to compromise because you’re not sure Israel can remove the settlers?

    By playing along with the fiction of “the settlement blocs” you are sabotaging any hopes for peace. The “Ariel bloc” reaches 13 miles inside the West Bank and sprawls all over the Northern West Bank, etc., etc..

    Anyone who wants peace has to recognize at this point that by playing along with these games about preserving some settlements they are just feeding those in Israel who are taking more and more from their weak negotiating partner.

    With the passage of time it has become more and more obvious that yours is a failed strategy. In this sense, legality and practicality converge, all the settlements have to go.


  2. Ralph Seliger December 26, 2007 at 10:32 pm - Reply

    It’s good to hear again from our anonymous friend, Ted. He’s right about the sad situation of Palestinian life under occupation and in the shadow of the settlement blocs. What we are arguing about is how best to change this reality. As he illustrates once again, Ted is an unapologetic “absolutist.”

    Since the fall of 2000, I’ve often been close to despair on achieving a reasonable peace, but the only practical strategy that I know of is one that may gain majority support from both Israelis and Palestinians. That’s something like Geneva or the Clinton Parameters. I see no better alternative.

  3. Tom Mitchell December 27, 2007 at 12:37 am - Reply

    Palestinians and leftists seem to have the quaint notion that in a dictated peace or diktat it is the loser who imposes the terms. The Palestinians have lost every war they have mounted against the Zionists/Israel (1936-39, 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973,1982,1987-93) –that is why the Palestinians are settling for only 22 percent. The Palestinian proposal at the beginning of the conflict was that the Jews get 0% of Palestine and this was the PLO’s official position through 1988.

    The only bantustan that the Israeli offer to the PLO at Camp David resembled was Transkei–which in itself was more economically viable and larger than several independent African states. But I don’t expect Ted to actually know this, since he seems only to be a mouthpiece for Palestinian statements.

  4. Anonymous December 27, 2007 at 1:52 am - Reply

    Well, Ralph, it’s not much of a response.

    Amira, yet another absolutist, seems to have the best response to your and Meretz’s positions regarding the settlements, and she predicts what I think will be the likely outcome of continuing with your “best alternative:



  5. Anonymous December 29, 2007 at 10:52 pm - Reply

    Hi Folks,

    I think it’s important to note that among those who also insist that international law and the Geneva Convention are not negotiable, as I do, are Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, B’Tselem, etc.. Sadly it would seem that Ralph (and Meretz-USA by extension?) would also label those groups as “absolutist” as he has labeled me.


  6. Ralph Seliger January 1, 2008 at 4:11 pm - Reply

    Dear Ted,
    One last time: We believe that settlements in occupied territories are not only illegal, but also counterproductive for Israel’s security. We also believe that if both Israel and the Palestinians can come to an agreement to exchange territories (as seems possible) so that the existence of settlements is no longer an obstacle to peace, that would be great. I doubt that Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, B’Tselem, etc. would object to such an agreement.

  7. Anonymous January 1, 2008 at 5:18 pm - Reply

    Hi Ralph,

    Let me reiterate. I did not hear Ethan Bronner ever state at Alwan that the New York Times supports international law. Bonner’s written statement that I posted earlier affirms that The New York Times does not support international law on Israel and Palestine.

    I doubt that any supporters of human rights and international law would support Meretz’s bargaining away of international law, and the legitimization of the settlement blocs and their expansion that Meretz has enabled through its support for the Geneva Initative and similar positions.

    Uri Avnery has outlined a similar critique to the one I made earlier of Meretz’s disastrous positions on Geneva and the settlements blocs(see below). Ralph, claiming to want peace and then taking positions that predictably result in the opposite is not defensible. Perhaps support for Geneva was more defensible when its consequences were not as clear. But in 2008, such a position can no longer be rationalized as anything other than having one’s head in the sand.



    Yossi Beilin, who resigned this week as chairman of the Meretz party, is Mephisto`s opposite: he always wants the good and all too often creates the bad.

    THE `SETTLEMENT BLOCS` provide a glaring example. It was Beilin who invented this term a dozen years ago. It was included in the unofficial understanding that became known as the `Beilin-Abu-Mazen agreement`.

    The intention was good. Beilin believed that if most settlers were concentrated in several limited areas near the Green Line, the settlers as a whole would agree to a withdrawal from the rest of the West Bank.

    The actual result was disastrous. The government and the settlers jumped at the opportunity. The permit of the `Zionist peace movement` was displayed like a Kosher certificate on the wall of a butcher shop selling pork chops. The settlement blocs were enlarged at a frantic pace and became veritable towns, like Ma`aleh Adumim, the Etzion Bloc and Modi`in Illit.

    For dozens of years, the United States had insisted that all the settlements violate international law. But the approval granted to the `settlement blocs` enabled President George W. Bush to change this stance and approve Israeli `population centers` in the occupied territories. Haim Ramon, who in the past had been Beilin`s partner in the group of `eight doves` within the Labor Party, went even further: he initiated the `Separation Wall`, which in practice annexes the `settlement blocs` to Israel.

    But Beilin`s brilliant idea did not in the least diminish the opposition of the settlers to a withdrawal from the rest of the West Bank. On the contrary: they continue to prevent by force the dismantling of the settlement outposts, even a single tiny one. Nothing good came out of this idea. The result was totally bad.

  8. Ralph Seliger January 1, 2008 at 10:25 pm - Reply

    I have had some personal e-mail discussion on the “settlement blocs” with Uri Avnery (who occasionally writes for our publication and has been a guest speaker for Meretz USA). I disagree with some of his facts.

    “Settlement blocs” is not a term invented by Beilin but was rather an observation made by Yossi Alpher; it could still be very useful as a basis for a peace agreement with the Palestinians involving an exchange of territories. Many prominent Palestinians support this idea.

    Where Avnery is correct is in opposing Israel’s construction of new housing or infrastructure within the settlement blocs unless and until an agreement is reached with the Palestinians for these blocs to become part of Israel. The sides must negotiate on what must go and what must stay; the only way that the settlement blocs can become legal is for a duly negotiated peace agreement to say so.

    Again, the argument with Ted is not on what is legal or right, but what might actually facilitate a peace treaty.

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