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New York Times Editorial Deception

08 October 2003

By Yisrael Ne’eman

For a newspaper often heralded as a bastion of intellectual fecundity, The New York Times is proving itself a major disappointment when confronting the Israeli settlement issue from an economic perspective.  In its Oct. 3rd editorial “The Cost of Israeli Settlements” the paper would have us believe all Israel’s economic woes are caused by Israeli building in Judea, Samaria (West Bank) and the Gaza Strip.

Repeating what was published in Israel’s most left wing daily newspaper Ha’aretz (and not just “liberal” as the editorial determines) the Times claims Israel has spent $10 billion on settlements over the past 36 years.  That comes out to less than $300 million a year.   The $500 million spent yearly for civilian needs for 230,000 residents comes out to less than $2,200 per person, hardly a serious amount when the average Israeli family figures out how much they pay in annual taxes.  And if these residents did not live in the West Bank and Gaza they would live elsewhere and still cost the state money, depending on their area of residence.

The Times mentions the Jerusalem and Tel Aviv suburbs just a couple of miles over the 1949 armistice line (1967 demarcation), never an accepted border by the Arabs or Israel.  Rows of apartment blocks exist in the towns just outside of Jerusalem which greatly reduce infrastructure costs while housing in distant Negev or northern Galilee towns cost the state much more.  True, bedroom communities just over the 1967 line really should not be getting extra benefits usually reserved for distant developments north and south, since these towns have a solid socio-economic basis.

The farther a town or settlement is built from an existing center the more expensive the initial outlay.  Therefore the dozens of outlook villages (mitzpim) in the Galilee are a dead loss, costing millions in infrastructure work before the first family moves in, and all this within “Israel proper”.  Residents in these areas have also had major financial benefits.  Developing the central Negev, especially in terms of agriculture, sky rockets costs as water and electrical lines must be run even further.

No doubt the government and many previous administrations (including Labor) used economic incentive to develop the West Bank, and yes, there are distant settlements established for right wing ideological reasons costing quite a bit of money.  But the vast majority of Jews in Judea and Samaria live very close to the 1967 line and with the removal of personal benefits both in this year and next year’s budget they will cost the state much less than certain Galilean and Negev development.

The Times (and Ha’aretz) would have us believe Israel’s economic crisis was caused by settlements.  The technology stock market failure of March 2000 and 9/11 have nothing to do with Israel.  The editorial claims the settlements are an “obstacle” to peace and more often than not complaints are heard that settlements cause terrorism.  In the Labor led Camp David 2000 and Taba 2001 negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, agreed upon borders were drawn up whereby some 80% of West Bank residents remained in their homes in return for a land swap.  But Yasir Arafat nixed the deal.  Rejecting a two-state solution he preferred violence. 

And let’s not forget Palestinian terrorism goes back to the Nebi Musa riots of 1920, the massacres of 1929, the uprising of 1936-39, the attacks leading up to the 1948 Independence War and then the forays across Israel’s borders from 1949 – 67.  And there were no “settlements”.

Firstly, Israel’s economic problems are a result of poor management of state enterprises, overblown salaries in crucial quasi-state enterprises like the ports, the electric and water companies and the state bureaucracy.  Secondly there was budget waste on partisan interests such as yeshivas, distant settlements and bail-outs for the failing agricultural sector (kibbutzim and moshavim).  And no doubt there were  benefits for Israelis living in the West Bank and Gaza.

The Times seriously misleads its readership.  The issue of peace is a political, diplomatic and security matter, the question being whether the Palestinians want a peaceful two-state solution. 

And so far they don’t.