WaPo Obsessed with Settlements

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that there are obstacles galore in the path toward a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has shown flexibility and readiness for compromise, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas remains intransigent as ever.

Spitting in the eyes of diplomacy, Abbas continues to glorify terrorist killers and to teach Palestinian children that "Palestine" will swallow all of Israel -- the Jewish state will be gone. And, he adds, "not a single Israeli" will be permitted to set foot on a Palestinian state.

Beyond all this, it's fair to ask who really speaks for the Palestinians? Abbas rules only in the West Bank. Hamas rules Gaza and denounces Abbas and the peace negotiations. Abbas himself brings dubious credentials to the negotiating table. His presidential term expired several years ago.

Yet, most mainstream media turn a blind eye to built-in Palestinian handicaps in reaching for a peace deal and instead point a finger at Israel as supposedly the toughest nut to crack. As witness, a top of the front-page article in the July 30 edition of the Washington Post by William Booth and Anne Gearan that tags Jewish settlements as supposedly by far the greatest obstacle to U.S.-brokered negotiations.

Here's the headline:

"In Mideast talks an old challenge -- JEWISH SETTLEMENTS POSE MAJOR TEST (all caps) -- As dialogue starts, Kerry acknowledges difficulties."

And here's the bogus assertion by Booth and Gearan:

"The growth of the settlements presents a particularly thorny challenge. About 340,000 to 360,000 people live in Jewish settlements in the West Bank. An additional 300,000 Jews live in East Jerusalem, which Palestinians claim as their future capital."

This may accord with Palestinian propaganda. But there are multiple reasons why it doesn't accord with history and reality.

For one thing, settlements didn't present a "thorny challenge" when Israel and Egypt signed the Camp Davis Accords. Israel emptied Sinai of settlements in exchange for a workable peace treaty with Egypt. Nor did settlements present a "thorny challenge" when then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon evacuated all Jewish settlements in Gaza.

The Post article also fails to take into account generous Israeli peace initiatives by then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak in 2000 and by then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2008. The former was rejected by Yasser Arafat; the latter by Abbas. It was Palestinian rejectionism -- not settlements -- that blocked the path to a peace agreement.

Actual Israeli compromises indicate a proven willingness to withdraw from about 95 percent of the West Bank. The most populated settlements are on the remaining 5 percent. Even Booth and Gearan are forced, albeit reluctantly, to point this out -- but as an aside way down in the 14th paragraph of their article.

In sum, notwithstanding the Post headline and the utterly flawed piece by Booth and Gearan, history clearly shows that it's Abbas -- not settlements -- who represents the "thorniest challenge" in the latest round of negotiations.

Factual, evenhanded journalism eludes the Washington Post.

Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers