by Leo Rennert
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently appointed an advisory commission of jurists to explore the legality of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
The panel, headed by former Supreme Court justice Edmund Levy, concluded that the West Bank -- biblical Judea and Samaria -- cannot be construed as "occupied" territory under international conventions, because the world never recognized Jordan's illegal occupation before 1967, when Israel captured the area in the Six-Day War.
Ergo, there are no legal impediments to Jewish settlements, given also a long history of Jewish ties to this land. Consequently, "according to international law, Israelis have the legal right to settle in Judea and Samaria," the jurists concluded. However, they also urged the government to establish clearer guidelines and demarcations for authorized settlements.
Basically, there is little news in any of this. Dispassionate journalistic observers - and their ranks sadly are dwindling - long have labeled the West Bank as "disputed" -- not "occupied" -- territory. Israeli governments - in 2000 and 2008 - have offered to vacate 95 percent of it for creation of a Palestinian state. Yassir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas rejected the offers, aiming to grab all of it, including all of East Jerusalem. In the meantime, Netanyahu is ready to put the entire issue of settlements on the agenda for resumption of peace talks, if only Abbas were willing to negotiate. But Abbas has no appetite for negotiations - or compromise.
Given this context, how does the New York Times report the findings and conclusions of the advisory commission? In short, it goes apoplectic. The Times, having already decreed that Jews have no business in Judea and Samaria, slams the legal brief with a barrage of furious strokes.
Here's Jerusalem correspondent Isabel Kershner's lead in the July 10 edition:
"Flouting international opinion, an Israeli government-appointed commission of jurists said Monday that Israel's presence in the West Bank was not occupation and recommended that the state grant approval for scores of unauthorized Jewish outposts there." ("Validate Settlements, Israeli Panel Suggests) page A4).
Taking her cue from some amorphous sort of "international opinion" is just for starters. In the second paragraph, Kershner sternly warns that "such a move would inevitably stir international outrage and deal a significant blow to prospects for an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement." Funny, but the Times never seems to view Abbas's refusal to negotiate or his glorification of terrorist killers as a "blow to prospects for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal."
Still, Kershner isn't done. In case you haven't gotten her drift, she substitutes her legal prowess to that of the jurists on the advisory panel: "Most of the world views the areas that Israel conquered from Jordan in the 1967 war, and where the Palestinians want to establish a future state, as occupied territory, and all Israeli construction there as a violation of international law," she writes.
For good measure, Kershner also relies on the views of a couple of leftist, self-proclaimed human rights groups that -- surprise, surprise -- agree with her.
After her lengthy trashing of the panel's conclusions -- the article jumps from page A4 to page A7 -- Kershner ends thusly: "In another development, gunmen from Gaza opened fire on Monday evening into southern Israel, hitting a civilian car that was empty at the time, according to the Israeli military. The military published photographs of the car, which contained a baby seat, punctured by bullets. There were no injuries."
A single, lonely paragraph at the very end of her piece about another terrorist attack that somehow does not qualify as a blow to the peace process or to flouting international law and opinion, as far as Kershner and the New York Times are concerned.
A dispute about land, and the Times goes bananas. Not so, however, when Israeli civilians come under terrorist attacks. A telling contrast about the paper's journalistic and moral priorities.
Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers
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