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NYT got it wrong: PM opposed bill in order to expand settlements

Netanyahu is not hiding his commitment to expanding settlements – he is making it loud and clear. The New York Times didn’t seem to hear.

Given relatively sparse international coverage of the Knesset vote yesterday rejecting a bill that would have legalized West Bank settlements facing legal challenges (specifically, the Ulpana Hill of Beit El), it was particularly disappointing to see the New York Times offer one of the few editorials on the topic – and get it so completely wrong.  This line from the first paragraph exemplifies the problem:

There may be some glimmer of hope in Mr. Netanyahu’s decision to support an Israeli Supreme Court order to close an illegal neighborhood, known as Ulpana, in the West Bank settlement of Beit El.

After a mild paragraph duly observing that Netanyahu still supports settlements, the article insists on viewing the developments as a sign that Netanyahu might yet try to rein them in once he has finished “mollifying” the hard-liners:

Mr. Netanyahu should promptly implement the court decision on Ulpana. For the sake of peace, he should go a lot further and declare a cessation in all settlement activity and invite the Palestinians for serious talks.

In my experience, it is unusual for the Times to have missed the major story altogether, but this is simply the case. Whether or not one is for or against settlements, it is a flat-out factual mistake to read the vote as a question of whether Netanyahu is discouraging settlement construction or encouraging peace.

I wrote about this earlier, but let me make it extremely clear: Netanyahu’s commitment to rejecting the bill was not a statement against settlements. The vote was not about narrowing construction. And personally, I do not believe it was about implementing Supreme Court rulings either.

The events of the last few days – the committee debates, the Knesset vote on Wednesday and Netanyahu’s compromise plan – were about one thing only: Settlement expansion.

The bill was about whether to expand settlements using the grab-and-build policy of rogue settlers. Netanyahu’s compromise plan was about developing “responsible adult” state approval for all future settlement expansion, under the guise of a new mechanism to prevent future legal challenges – a new ministerial committee to be  headed by the right wing of a right-wing government (Netanyahu, instead of Ehud Barak). The prime minister’s plan now includes flat-out bribes in the form of 851 new settlement units, a figure that ballooned from the original talk of 300, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the numbers/sweeteners continue to climb in the coming days.

The entire debate over the “Settlement Arrangement” bill served one purpose: to provide a platform for Mr. Netanyahu to declare far and wide his total commitment to settlement expansion, day after day, and prove it with ever-increasing concessions to the settlers (which are not really concessions, because he’s on their side). After all, he has the perfect excuse: he must appease the far right.

This analysis is no wild-eyed radical-left reading of the situation. It’s just a matter of listening to the prime minister himself (from the video embedded in this article, my translation):

I am obliged to protect democracy, and I am obliged to protect the settlements. And I say to you now that there is no contradiction between the two. The law that was rejected in the Knesset would have harmed the settlements. By contrast, the framework I have I decided upon, expanding the settlement, relocating the buildings, legal defense of settlements against a precedent – this plan strengthens settlements….At the same time, Beit El will be expanded, the 30 families will remain and 300 families will join them…Those who think they can use the legal system to harm settlements are mistaken. In fact, the exact opposite is happening – instead of decreasing Beit El, the expansion Beit El. Instead of harming settlements, strengthening them.

It isn’t hard to hear precisely to what the prime minister is saying in plain Hebrew. I wish the New York Times had listened before grossly misrepresenting the developments as a “glimmer of hope” for anyone seeking peace.

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    1. Sam

      One wonders, however, whether the NYT ‘made a mistake’ or ran the story as it did on purpose, to sway public opinion in favor of Netanyahu/Israel. This is not the Waterbury Gazette, after all, but the friggin’ NYT and this is just too grievous to be a mistake…

      Reply to Comment
    2. XYZ

      Their demand that “he freeze settlements and invite the Palestinians to talks” was done already and the Palestinians rejected it until the last moment and then walked out. They should address their demands to Abbas.

      Reply to Comment
    3. max

      Netanyahu was elected based on his public support for the settlements. He faced a legal challenge for a specific breach of the law, and – within the law – corrected the wrongdoing.
      To claim that the bill was forwarded in order to provide Netanyahu with an opportunity to build more is akin to saying that Argentina started to Falkland / Malvinas war in order to resurrect Britain’s self image – ridiculous.
      So what’s the fuss about? That he’s following a political goal you (and I) disagree with?

      Reply to Comment
    4. sh

      As I understood it, passing the law in question would have caused a slew of similar claims to the courts also within the Green Line; and that would have opened cans of worms that have been rotting uncontemplated for 65 years, with unforeseeable consequences. This way Bibi has shown Palestinians living in the West Bank and Jerusalem that each time they win a claim like this, they are increasing settlement construction there tenfold. I read recently that you don’t need to hunt animals with a rifle. There is a kind of knot one can use in a trap, using just a piece of string. It trips the animal and each movement it makes as it tries to break free tightens the knot further.

      Reply to Comment
    5. “In my experience, it is unusual for the Times to have missed the major story altogether, but this is simply the case.”
      I don’t accept the underlying premise of this sentence. As if the people at NYT somehow missed the point. They’re not idiots. This assumption portrays them as such.
      A more plausible explanation is that NYT is playing along with Bibi’s plan to obfuscate the point.
      On the one hand Bibi is showing the world (with the help of the NYT article) how the Israeli government acquiesces to the Supreme court ruling. While on the other hand completely voiding it of any operative value – and doing the exact opposite.
      This is not a misinterpretation. This is a direct obfuscation.

      Reply to Comment
    6. J Roden

      I opposed Netanyahu until I read this commentary and comments. If the silly left is so upset then I am forced to reevaluate my original opposition to Netanyahu. The friend of my enemy is my enemy as well.

      I love it when the left has the tables reversed on them. You don’t like it, do you? Tough. May you all have many many similar disappointments. You have all made my day. THANKS.

      Reply to Comment
    7. max

      Arnon “While on the other hand completely voiding it of any operative value” – you seem to have a wrong impression of the role of the supreme court: it doesn’t deal with political- but legal matters. The court didn’t say “you shall leave the 2-states option open as 972 defines it” or “Jews aren’t allowed to settle in the WB” but “you shall not confiscate private property for private needs”

      Reply to Comment
    8. Max,
      That’s exactly my point. Bibi did not want to break the legal cover the supreme court gives his government. NYT played along.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Kolumn9

      Yeah, I read the article too. It was the strangest thing. Is it possible that the editorial was put out before it came to light that Israel is approving settlement construction in Kiryat Arba?

      Alternatively is it possible that the NYTimes sees any demonstration of Bibi not being completely beholden to the most extreme setters as a ‘glimmer of hope’?

      Also perhaps the quote ‘Never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity. Don’t assign to stupidity what might be due to ignorance…’ applies? Could they just be stupid or ignorant?

      Reply to Comment
    10. Julian Graham

      Maybe they were too busy covering the Syria massacres to worry about housing issues in Palestine.

      Or maybe they just dont care. Only left wing students and disgruntled Arabs seem to get flustered. Otherwise never had a conversation in real life with anyone about I/P issue.

      Reply to Comment