Isabel Kershner Misleads on Israel’s ‘Far-Reaching Proposal’

The following piece originally appeared on the FAIR Blog:

New York Times reporter Isabel Kershner (7/15/10) writes a news analysis of why “peace talks” between Israel and the Palestinians are at a virtual standstill, despite the “upbeat atmosphere” in Washington following Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama’s recent meeting.

When she attempts to contextualize the “peace talks,” Kershner throws in this misleading history:

Mr. Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ehud Olmert made a far-reaching proposal in late 2008 to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas. It included an Israeli withdrawal from 93.5 percent of the West Bank, with land swaps and a safe route for Palestinian travel between Gaza and the West Bank making up the other 6.5 percent of the land area that Israel won in 1967.

The notion that Mahmoud Abbas rejected a generous offer in 2008 is a commonly heard media trope: Jackson Diehl (Washington Post, 5/29/09) called the proposal a “a generous outline for Palestinian statehood,” and the Post‘s editorial board described it as a “far-reaching peace offer” (11/5/09).

But the proposal was only “generous” or “far-reaching” from the official Israeli perspective. The Olmert plan (Newsweek, 6/13/09) would have had Israel annex illegal settlement blocs as well as reject the Palestinian “right of return,” a position firmly grounded in international law. The “far-reaching” proposal actually would have required Palestinians to give away rights guaranteed to them, and would create a series of Palestinian islands surrounded by Israeli settlements.

Kershner also omits important context about Olmert’s term as Prime Minister that would make it understandable as to why Palestinians did not act immediately on the proposal (Mondoweiss, 7/17/2009):

-While Olmert held final-status negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas (between the Annapolis Conference in November 2007 and the end of his term), there was a 43% increase in construction-starts in settlements.

-During Olmert’s term as prime minister, 4,560 new housing units were constructed in settlements and 1,523 new tenders were issued for new housing units.

-Almost 1,500 new housing units were constructed east of the separation barrier (not in settlement blocs).

-Some 560 new structures were built in illegal outposts during Olmert’s term.

-None of the illegal outposts in the West Bank were removed during Olmert’s term.

In addition, Olmert’s offer kept the majority of Israeli settlements and infrastructure in the West Bank, and would have resulted in permanent apartheid in the West Bank.

Kershner’s reading of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations is really nothing new. Looking back at the failed Camp David talks in 2000, the U.S. press repeatedly referred to the Israeli offer in similarly glowing terms, even though that proposal, too, would have made impossible a contiguous Palestinian state and had no basis in international law (Extra!, 07-08/02,

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