The Washington Post, in its April 24 edition, runs a photo of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in its World Digest with the following text:
'"We are serious about it, we know you are serious about it, and we hope the Palestinians respond.' Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, speaking to U.S. envoy George Mitchell about the peace process, a day after ruling out a freeze on Jewish construction in mostly Arab East Jerusalem."
Poison pill number one
The clear impression left with Post readers is that Netanyahu speaks with forked tongue, or if you prefer, out of both sides of his mouth. On the one hand he declares he's serious about the peace process, but on the other hand he rules out a construction freeze in East Jerusalem, as requested by the White House.
Except that the Post mixes up apples and oranges to question Netanyahu's sincerity. What the prime minister was saying to Mitchell is that Israel is serious -- and the White House is serious -- about re-launching negotiations with the Palestinians with no pre-conditions by either side, but with all issues on the table.
Netanyahu's ruling out a freeze on Jewish construction in East Jerusalem simply reflects his often stated position that he wants Jerusalem to remain united under Israeli control -- with no housing discrimination against Jewish and Arab residents. At the same time, however, he repeatedly has stated that Jerusalem will be on the table once the Palestinians agree to resume negotiations.
Just as everyone expects Mahmoud Abbas to insist on an absolute "right of return" for Palestinian refugees if he ever agrees to resume negotiations, Israel will go into such negotiations with insistence on retaining Jerusalem -- East and West. But once talks get under way, all points -- including Jerusalem -- are up for discussion and, with U.S. assistance, subject to haggling and bargaining in search of common ground.
Thus, Netanyahu's refusal to freeze Jewish construction in mostly long-established Jewish neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city at this stage -- while negotiations are still frozen by Abbas -- is totally consonant with Netanyahu's seriousness about getting the talks going. He and the U.S. are in full agreement on this. Only Abbas has refused to let Mitchell carry out his mediation assignment, insiting on getting one-sided Israeli concessions as the price for Palestinian participation in negotiations -- something Abbas never demanded before entering into negotiations with previous Israeli leaders.
Poison pill number two
The Post asserts that Netanyahu has ruled out a freeze of Jewish construction in "mostly Arab East Jerusalem" -- a not-so-subtle claim that Jews have no business residing in East Jerusalem. As it happens, the flap over Israeli construction in East Jerusalem centers almost entirely on adding units in established Jewish neighborhoods. Arabs in the city are not being displaced by growth in Jewish areas. Also, what the Post terms "Arab East Jerusalem" includes the entire Old City, including the age-old Jewish quarter and Judaism's holiest shrine -- Temple Mount and its Western Wall. The Post's mostly-Arab-East Jerusalem formulation poisons the well by questioning any Jewish presence there -- the very heart of Jewish Jerusalem since 3,000 years ago.
What makes this formulation doubly pernicious is that it applies an apartheid standard on who belongs where in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Jews, the Post suggests, have no business living in mostly Arab places, which basically ought to be and remain Judenrein. Yet, the Post applies no such racist yardstick to Arabs living in mostly Jewish areas. There are more than 1 million Arab citizens in "mostly" Jewish Israel. Would the Post ever define them as such -- as Arabs living and working as residents and citizens of "mostly Jewish Israel"? I don't think so. In fact, if some Israeli ultra-nationalist fanatic pops up occasionally suggesting that very solution -- to cede Arab areas of Israel to a future Palestinian state, he's immediately and rightly accused of racism not only by virtually the entire gamut of Israeli society, but also in the columns of the Washington Post.
But when it comes to where Jews can and cannot -- should or should not -- live in the Holy Land, the Post has no qualms about waving the race-tinged semantic banner of "mostly Arab East Jerusalem'' with its poisonous connotation that Jews don't belong there.
Finally, the Post has yet to report that since 1967 when Israeli captured eastern Jerusalem, the percentage of Arab residents in all of Jerusalem has risen steadily, with demographers predicting that they will achieve parity with Jewish residents by mid-century. The notion that Israel is somehow "Judaizing" Jerusalem is totally false in view of well-established demographic trends pointing, if anything, to the "Arabization" of Jerusalem.