The Washington Post’s Jewish home fixation

The Washington Post’s Jewish home fixation

The Washington Post reporting on the Arab-Israeli conflict has become increasingly lopsided. The Post, with seemingly greater frequency, omits Palestinian rejection of Israel’s legitimacy and fails to report on internal Palestinian affairs. Instead — and to the detriment of its readers — the paper inordinately focuses on Jewish houses in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria).

Readers of The Post could be forgiven for mistakenly assuming that Jewish home construction in the West Bank is the cause of a conflict and that it predates Israel’s acquisition of those territories in the 1967 Six-Day War. This construction is, after all, seemingly the primary focus of the paper’s Jerusalem bureau and numerous editorials.

The paper offered literally dozens of reports on “settlements” in 2016-2017, many of which appeared in both online and print editions — in contrast to items about internal Palestinian political developments, which rarely appear in both venues. These dispatches often leave the misleading impression that Jewish communities in the West Bank were expanding externally — beyond their existing boundaries — when, in fact, their territory is not expanding. Most of the population growth is the result of natural increase and not from new arrivals.

For example, a Jan. 3 dispatch by Griff Witte (“A new wave in the West Bank”) claimed that the Obama administration was “unable to halt settlement growth” and uncritically passed on claims by anti-Israel groups that the communities were creating an “obstacle to peace” and creating “Palestinian ghettoes.” Israel’s declared 10-month settlement freeze in November 2009 — an effort to “restart talks” with Palestinians — was omitted.

That report failed to note Palestinian rejection of U.S. and Israeli offers for statehood in exchange for peace in 2000 at Camp David, 2001 at Taba and 2008 after the Annapolis Conference. The 2008 offer, by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, was rejected “out of hand,” to quote Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Given that the paper has published various articles with headlines such as “The last gasp of the two-state solution,” a word or two on the P.A.’s responsibility and its refusal to engage in direct bilateral negotiations — as is stipulated by the Oslo process under which the authority was created — seems pertinent.

On Jan. 24, Israel announced the construction of 2,500 new housing units in the West Bank. The overwhelming majority of the units are in blocs that Israel is expected to keep in any future agreement with the P.A. Nonetheless, as Jackson Diehl, The Post’s deputy editorial page editor, warned on Twitter, it would “wrongly be reported as a big deal.” To see how correct Diehl was, he would only need to turn the pages of the paper he writes for.

In contrast, internal Palestinian political developments often go ignored by the paper. For instance, on Jan. 9, P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas marked his 13th year in power. Abbas has only been elected once — to a four-year term in 2005. He has refused to stand for election since. The Post failed to report the anniversary of his rule — just as it has failed to detail P.A. Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah’s March 16, 2016 admission that “torture happens” in the authority’s prisons.

On Feb. 15, Fatah, the movement that dominates the P.A., announced the appointment of Mahmoud al-Aloul as Abbas’ deputy, the first such appointment in Fatah’s nearly 60 years of existence. Al-Aloul, who is also known by his nickname Abu Jihad (“father of jihad”), is an unrepentant terrorist who has both praised and participated in terrorist attacks. Post readers were not informed about al-Aloul’s selection to be the deputy to an ailing 82-year old autocrat who is a significant beneficiary of U.S. aid.

Similarly, in late November to early December 2016, when Fatah held its first conference in seven years, The Post only provided readers with a single report of the event, and that was only available online. Other important internal Palestinian developments, such as reconciliation talks between Fatah and rival Hamas, also receive short shrift. On Jan. 12, when an estimated 10,000 Palestinians protested Hamas rule in Gaza — and a journalist was assaulted by a member of the terror group — the paper only provided readers with an AP report of the event, and this too was only available online.

Those who rely on The Post for a full understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict are ill-served by the disparity between the paper’s excessive coverage of Jewish houses and comparatively sparse coverage of significant developments in Palestinian affairs. If The Post can — as it did in a Sept. 12, 2016 “World Views” column — publish stories about Chinese tourists purportedly being overcharged at an Israeli restaurant, then surely it can inform readers about Abu Jihad’s budding political career.

Sean Durns is a senior research analyst for CAMERA, the 65,000-member, Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.