Skip to main content

The NYT's Misleading Settlements Coverage

Walter Russell Mead

Thursday’s New York Times story on settlements is clueless and misleading—the kind of article that makes readers think they are getting news, but doesn’t actually tell them the key facts they need to know. Here’s a taste:

Near midnight on Tuesday, the Israeli government approved 3,000 more settler housing units in the occupied West Bank. That roughly doubled the amount of proposed new housing units announced in recent days. Then, on Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has come under heavy pressure from rival politicians on the right to take bolder steps to expand settlements, announced that he would promote the establishment of an entirely new West Bank settlement.

Palestinians reacted with weary opposition, in the long absence of any real hope for the renewal of talks working toward a two-state solution, with a full Palestinian state alongside Israel.

“This is a government of settlers that has abandoned the two-state solution and fully embraced the settler agenda,” said Husam Zomlot, the strategic affairs adviser to Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority.

What people call “settlements” fall in several categories:

  • Construction in East Jerusalem, which Israel has annexed.
  • Construction in the so-called “settlement blocs,” neighborhoods that everybody involved in the negotiations, including the Palestinians, has understood for decades will be part of Israel when and if a two-state agreement is reached

These account for the bulk of Israelis living in the occupied territories, and building there, while provocative from a Palestinian point of view, does not represent a breach of the status quo.

Beyond that are settlements that are more controversial and whose final status is much less clear—but even these are divided into several classes.

Some settlements are inside the barrier (or wall) built to stop Palestinian suicide bombers from infiltrating Israel, and others are beyond it. Beyond the barrier, some settlements are connected to defense installations or other needs—like those in the Jordan valley. Others are “freelance” settlements by Zionists who believe that Jews have a right and a duty to live in any part of the Biblical lands of Israel. Some of these settlements are considered illegal by the Israeli courts—including the settlement at Amona, built on private Palestinian land, that the Israeli Supreme Court has ordered to be demolished and which was forcibly evacuated earlier this week.

When reading that the Israeli government has authorized new construction in “settlements” one has to know which settlements and where to understand what the policy actually is.

As the Jerusalem Post reported, most of these new units will be in large settlements near the 1967 lines that have long been expected to be part of land swaps in final negotiations. The NYT surely knows that, but simply chose not to report it.

The decision to cover an important issue of great interest to its readers is such inadequate, simplistic, and ultimately misleading terms reflects very poorly on the Times‘ editorial judgment. Whatever one’s opinion of the settlements, without the information that the NYT has deep-sixed, it’s actually impossible to know what is going on.

It’s tempting to curl up in a liberal cocoon and to protect your readers from the irritating complexities of actual life (Reuters and other outlets also didn’t tell their readers exactly where the new construction would occur). This isn’t about bias; a newspaper can have a point of view and still do a good job of giving readers important facts. The Times could have an even stronger liberal bias than it does, but if it resisted the cocoon temptation, it would be a better newspaper.

Related Articles

Counterbalance | Ep. 45: The Arc of a Covenant

Walter Russell Mead & Michael Doran

This week's episode features audio from a public event hosted at Hudson Institute...

Continue Reading