Following last month’s anti-climactic events in the United Nations, Ha’aretz journalist Akiva Eldar took it upon himself to serve as defense attorney for Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. While Eldar, like all opinion writers, has the right to voice his views on any subject, he does not have a license to misrepresent facts. Yet, last week (Sept. 26), in an Op-Ed bombastically titled “Netanyahu’s speech of lies,” Eldar charges the prime minister of lying, an accusation that rests in the realm of facts, not opinion. Either Netanyahu was lying or he was not. Either way, Eldar’s allegations warrant a fact-check.
1. The Camp David Summit
In his column, Eldar sarcastically responds to the prime minister’s statement in his speech that he intends to speak the truth. Eldar selects some of these “truths” and attempts to expose them as lies. The first example concerns the Camp David summit in 2000. Eldar is a big proponent of the theory that Camp David failed not because of Palestinian rejectionism, but rather due to some other amorphous reason. Thus he writes:
As a sage providing support for his own truth, Netanyahu claimed that in 2000 Israel “made a sweeping peace offer that met virtually all of the Palestinian demands.” It would be interesting to hear the opinion of then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak on this “truth,” for example on the Palestinian demands regarding the Temple Mount and the Palestinian refugee issue.
Elar’s point is not entirely clear. Barak’s offer was unprecedented in its willingness to meet Palestinian demands. Barak accepted the Clinton Parameters as a basis for negotiation in which the Muslim and Christian quarters would be entirely under Palestinian rule and accepted the division of Jerusalem including the transfer of sovereignty of Arab neighborhoods to the Palestinians. Regarding refugees, Barak proposed to permit some of them to come to Israel under the “family reunification” framework. Barak was also the first prime minister to agree to the exchange of territories and to withdrawal from parts of the Jordan Valley. As for the Temple Mount, Barak demanded maintaining Israeli sovereignty, but was was willing to consider Palestinian “custodianship,” which the Palestinians understood to mean Palestinian sovereignty above ground, and Israeli sovereignty below ground (Al Quds, Aug. 18, 2000, translated by MEMRI).
Was this a “sweeping” offer? It appears to be. Does it meet all of the Palestinian demands? Apparently not. Does it meet almost all of their demands, as Netanyahu said? Definitely yes. Then how did Netanyahu lie? It seems he didn’t.
2. Mahmoud Abbas and Ehud Olmert
In an additional falsehood, Eldar seeks to impugn Netanyahu’s statement about negotiations between Mahmoud Abbas and Ehud Olmert:
Netanyahu also invoked his immediate predecessor, Ehud Olmert, to help substantiate his claims that there is no one to talk to. According to Netanyahu,”Olmert afterwards made an even more sweeping offer, in 2008. President Abbas didn’t even respond to it.” This is one of those cases where a half truth is even worse than a lie.
Netanyahu certainly read Olmert’s op-ed in The New York Times last week, asserting that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas never rejected his offer: “The parameters of a peace deal are well known and they have already been put on the table. I put them there in September 2008 when I presented a far-reaching offer to Mr. Abbas,” Olmert wrote.
In this case, a competent reading of the New York Times Op-Ed is all it takes to uncover Eldar’s falsehood. Indeed, Olmert writes in the New York Times “These parameters [that he offered to the Palestinians] were never formally rejected by Mr. Abbas.” Yet, how does the fact that Abbas never formally rejected Olmert’s offer contradict Netanyahu’s claim that “President Abbas didn’t even respond to it”? If anything, the lack of a formal rejection by Abbas would only seem to confirm the fact, that as Netanyahu said, Abbas did not respond.
And one can look beyond the New York Times Op-Ed for further confirmation from Olmert himself that Abbas never responded to his offer. As noted in aCAMERA analysis last week, the former prime minister gave an interview to the Australian newspaper, recounting:
From the end of 2006 and until the end of 2008 I think I met with Abu Mazen more often than any Israeli leader. I met him more than 35 times. They were intense, serious negotiations.
On the 16the of September, 2008, I presented him [Abbas] with a comprehensive plan. It was based on the following principles.
One, there would be a territorial solution to the conflict on the basis of the 1967 borders with minor modifications on both sides. Israel will claim part of the West Bank where there have been demographic changes over the last 40 years. . . .
And, foour, there were security issues. [Olmert says he showed Abbas a map, which embodied all these plans. Abbas wanted to take the map away. Olmert agreed, so long as they both signed the map. It was, from Olmert’s point of view, a final offer, not a basis for future negotiations. But Abbas could not commit. Instead, he said he would come with experts the next day.]
He [Abbas] promised me the next day his adviser would come. But the next day Saeb Erekat rang my adviser and said we forgot we are going to Amman today, let’s make it next week. I never saw him again (Nov. 28, 2009).
Thus, is Netanyahu’s characterization that “President Abbas didn’t even respond” a lie, a half truth, or the full truth?
3. Recognition of the Jewish State?
In his column, Eldar reiterates a strange claim that he first wrote a day earlier, in which the Palestinian request to the United Nations incorporates recognition of Israel as the Jewish state. Thus, he writes:
We must also reveal the truth about “the refusal of the Palestinians to recognize a Jewish state in any border,” as Netanyahu said to the General Assembly on Friday. His statement was made soon after Abbas submitted to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon an official request to recognize the Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, a state that will live in peace with the State of Israel.
Apparently Netanyahu did not manage to see the application and did not know that it was based on UN Resolution 181, providing for the creation of an Arab state alongside Israel, as well as on the 1988 Palestinian declaration of independence, which recognized UN Security Council Resolution 242 and referred to Israel as a Jewish state.
Like a diligent lawyer, Eldar engages in contorted formulations to press his clients’ case. It would be much simpler to just list what Abbas and other senior Palestinian officials have said:
In August 2011, Ynet reported that Abbas rejected a Quartet demand:
“Don’t order us to recognize a Jewish state,” Abbas said. “We won’t accept it.”
In September 2010, Nabil Shath, a member of the Palestinian negotiating team, said:
The Palestinian National Authority will never recognize that Israel is the national state for Jewish people, as such recognition will directly threaten the Muslim and Christian Palestinians in Israel, and will prevent the Palestinian refugees who left their homes and towns decades ago, from having the right to return.
In April 2009, Abbas stated in a speech in Ramallah:
As for the Jewish state, we say “the State of Israel.” You Israelis are free [to do as you wish], call it as you please, but I will not accept [the definition of Israel as a Jewish state].
And, as reported in Eldar’s own newspaper, in December 2007, Abbas said:
Historically, there are two states – Israel and Palestinian. Israel has Jews and other people, and this we are ready to recognize, but nothing else.
So what exactly is not truthful in Netanyahu’s “truth about ‘the refusal of the Palestinians to recognize a Jewish state in any border,'” as Eldar sarcastically puts it? The Palestinians themselves, Abbas chief among them, emphasize time and again that they are unwilling to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, so why does Eldar go out of his way to portray black as white? If that’s Eldar’s truth, what’s a lie?
There is something ironic about Eldar’s efforts to prove that Netanyahu is lying by way of the journalist’s own inaccuracies. Thanks to Israel’s freedom of expression and the press, there is no shortage of legitimate means by which to criticize the prime minister. Accusing the prime minister of lying when the facts show otherwise is not among them.