The Financial Times, ‘annexation’ and moral double standards

An official Financial Times editorial (FT View: World should not be silent on Israeli annexation, June 11) begins thusly:

Nine years ago, Ehud Barak, then Israel’s defence minister, warned that the Jewish state faced a “diplomatic tsunami” if it did not come up with an initiative to move the Arab-Israeli peace process forward.

It’s telling that editors decided to start the peace clock nine years ago, in 2011, as it allowed them to omit Mahmoud Abbbas’s rejection three years earlier of Ehud Olmert’s peace offer – a plan which would have given them a state in nearly all the West Bank, all of Gaza and a capital in east Jerusalem.

Indeed, characteristically, in their 658 word editorial there were only eight words (part of a longer, unrelated sentence) critical of PA leaders, asserting vaguely that Palestinians are “poorly served by their leaders”.

The Financial Times editorial further argued that on “Benjamin Netanyahu’s 11-year watch”, he has “successfully buried mainstream Israeli debate about the concept of land for peace“, a grossly misleading – and confusing – claim.  It’s confusing because it’s less than clear how, in their view, Israel’s prime minister “buried” debate about “land for peace”, a strategy, they argue, “that has all but destroyed Palestinian hopes of a two-state solution”.

But, even just taking the words at face value, editors clearly don’t understand Israeli society.

Though the importance of the two-states debate amongst most of Israelis has indeed ebbed significantly over the years, it has little to do with the government’s decisions – and in fact, the Israeli media remains as free and confrontational as ever.

Though Israelis still long for peace, the reasons why “land for peace” (the two-state solution) has become less relevant in the public square is organic – a natural reaction to Palestinian violence and rejectionism.  Specifically, the second intifada, launched by PA leaders shortly after Ehud Barak offered Yassar Arafat a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital, and which resulted in over 1,100 Israeli deaths, remains, as the dovish Yossi Klein Halevi argued, the “great Israeli trauma of this…generation”.

Factor in Hezbollah’s greatly increased military strength in Southern Lebanon after Israel’s unilateral withdrawal, Hamas’s rise to power and thousands of rockets after the Gaza pullout, endemic Palestinian antisemitism and PA incitement to violence as reasons why most Israelis are more skeptical about the assumption that territorial withdrawal – in and of itself – will necessarily result in peace.

But, not only does the Financial Times fail to mention Palestinian decisions which have drastically dimmed the dreams of Oslo, but they seem to suggest that Jerusalem – and not Ramallah – will be to blame if a new intifada arises in the event the government applies sovereignty to 30% (or, possibly, far less) of the West Bank:

Many Israelis may consider annexation a victory, but the destruction of Palestinian hopes for a just settlement with the Jewish state will store up bigger problems for the future. Young Palestinians hemmed in and under the thumb of occupation are more likely to have their heads turned by the rhetoric of extremism.

Whilst their prediction of a new round of terror in the event of Israeli ‘annexation’ may or may not be accurate, history since the early 90s (and indeed before) has shown that the ‘dovishness’ or ‘hawkishness’ of Israeli governments is not a reliable indicator as to whether Palestinians will choose the path of violence.

Financial Times editors are of course free to criticise ‘annexation’ all they want and, in fact, the question of whether to proceed with that part of the US peace plan has elicited mixed opinions among Israelis.

However, the editorial’s failure to hold Palestinians and their leaders responsible for behavior and decisions that are inimical to peace and co-existence, whilst focusing almost entirely on Israel, represents a pattern of bias and moral double standards that continues to compromise their coverage of the region.

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