In the March 16, 2010 issue of the WSJ Bret Stephens profoundly distorts the relationship between the Palestinians and Israelis. He claims the Palestinians are not willing to live with the Israelis while ignoring the fact that the continued expropriation of Palestinian land for Israeli settlement by successive Israeli governments betrays the obvious: Israel has no interest in a fair and just peace.

Stephens blames the Palestinians for “rebuffing” Prime ministers Barak and Olmert’s peace offers while ignoring some very salient points. For example, in his book The Much Too Promised Land (p. 297), Aaron David Miller, a member of the American team at Camp David, quotes Barak’s chief negotiator Shlomo Ben-Ami as saying that the “prime minister’s idea of the concessions required of Israel for such a sweeping accord ‘fell far short of even modest Palestinian expectations.’” Other participants at those talks have also rejected the kind of one-sided criticism of Palestinians that characterizes Stephens’ inaccurate journalism.

With regard to Ehud Olmert’s offer, it was rejected by Mahmoud Abbas primarily, but not exclusively, because it did not provide for a contiguous Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. As any negotiator knows, no Arab or Muslim government would ever agree to the loss of East Jerusalem.

Mr. Stephens goes on to justify Israel’s invasion of Gaza by blaming Hamas for its “nearly three years” of rocket attacks while ignoring the fact that Hamas had ended its attacks in accordance with the lull arrangement signed with Israel that began June 19, 2008. Admittedly, there were an average of about 4 rocket attacks per month, down from over 200 hundred per month, but even the Israeli based Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at the Israel Intelligence Heritage and Commemoration Center (IICC) acknowledged: “The lull was sporadically violated by rocket and mortar shell fire, carried out by rogue terrorist organizations, in some instance in defiance of Hamas (especially by Fatah and Al-Qaeda supporters). Hamas was careful to maintain the ceasefire (my emphasis).” No Israelis were killed during the lull, which most experts agree was broken by Israel on November 4, 2008. Israel, for its part did not abide by its promises to fully open the borders and allow trucks with needed supplies into Gaza. Secondly, in accusing Hamas of “nonstop rocket and mortar barrages against Israeli civilians” Stephens demonstrates his bias: in a nine-month period, from September 2005 to June 2006, Israel fired approximately 8,000 sophisticated rockets into Gaza. And from 2005 to 2006 Israel killed 1,290 Gazans, including 222 children. In contrast, in the nine years from 2000 through 2008 Palestinian groups fired a total of 8,088 primitive mortar and rocket shells into Israel.

Hamas has repeatedly signaled its willingness to maintain a long term truce and to accept the will of the Palestinian people. To paraphrase Stephens, Israel’s refusal to negotiate with Hamas has more to do with her “fanatical irredentism” than it does with Hamas’s past history.

The real cause of the protracted nature of the Israel-Palestine conflict is the refusal of concerned citizens throughout the world, but primarily in Israel and the U.S., to study this problem with as much honesty and objectivity as possible. Exacerbating this problem is the irresponsible and biased reporting of journalists such as Bret Stephens. If he and his colleagues actually took the time to research the history of Israel/Palestine and to report their findings accurately a great deal of suffering on both sides could be averted. Richard Forer

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