Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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The New York Times Interprets Israel

by Elliott Abrams
December 18, 2012


Last Sunday the New York Times printed a summary correction of all the errors made in a December 2 article by its  Jerusalem bureau chief, Jodi Rudoren. Her Times story was about Israel’s announcement that it would proceed toward additional construction in Jerusalem and several settlements, including in the area known as E-1 that separates Jerusalem from the  city of Ma’ale Adumim in the West Bank.

Here is the correction, in full:

An article on Dec. 2 about Israel’s decision to move forward with planning and zoning for settlements in an area east of Jerusalem known as E1 described imprecisely the effect of such development on access to the cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem from Jerusalem, and on the West Bank. Development of E1 would limit access to Ramallah and Bethlehem, leaving narrow corridors far from the Old City and downtown Jerusalem; it would not completely cut off those cities from Jerusalem. It would also create a large block of Israeli settlements in the center of the West Bank; it would not divide the West Bank in two. And because of an editing error, the article referred incompletely to the possibility of a contiguous Palestinian state. Critics see E1 as a threat to the meaningful contiguity of such a state because it would leave some Palestinian areas connected by roads with few exits or by circuitous routes; the proposed development would not technically make a contiguous Palestinian state impossible.

By any standard that’s a remarkable correction. Let me rephrase it without the Times‘s defensive use of “imprecisely.” A more honest correction would have said this: “The Times reported, not as opinion but as fact in a news story, that the new construction being planned by Israel would cut Ramallah and Bethlehem off from Jerusalem, divide the West Bank in two, and make a contiguous Palestinian state impossible. None of those assertions was true, so we have to withdraw all of them.”

Now how is it that three such glaring errors are made in one Times story? After all, a simple glance at the map would show for example that from Ma’ale Adumim to the Dead Sea is 15 kilometers, and that the proposed construction would not cut the West Bank in two or make contiguity impossible. It is just plain extraordinary that the Jerusalem bureau chief of the New York Times knows so little about the geography of the Jerusalem area that she could write such things. Here’s my theory: that just about everyone she knows–all her friends–believe these things, indeed know that they are true. Settlements are bad, the right-wing Israeli government is bad, new construction makes peace impossible and cuts the West Bank in half and destroys contiguity and means a Palestinian state is impossible. They just know it, it’s obvious, so why would you have to refer to a map, or talk to people who would tell you it’s all wrong? This was precisely what was feared when Ms. Rudoren was named the Times’s bureau chief: that she would move solely in a certain political and social milieu, the rough Israeli equivalent of the Upper West Side of Manhattan. This embarrassing episode–one story, many errors and corrections–may lead her to be more careful. One has to hope so, and to hope that both she and her editors reflect again on the thinking and the pattern of associations that lead a correspondent to misunderstand the issues so badly.

Post a Comment 15 Comments

  • Posted by A.T. Halmay

    I still scan it but the NY Times has lost all credibility with me.

  • Posted by Rick Richman

    The fundamental falsity of Rudoren’s “news analysis” was reflected in the title: “Dividing the West Bank …” Titles are generally provided by editors, which means that the Times lacked even an editor familiar with the relevant map.

  • Posted by neil b

    Why is it that I knew for a fact that the story was not true but it took the nytimes and all the main stream media 2 weeks to check the sources and facts?

  • Posted by Andrew

    As usual, Elliott Abrams missing the forest to focus on the trees… while you harp on about the NY Times lack of fact checking, your article misses the entire point of the building of settlements making a two-state solution infinitely more impossible.

  • Posted by Dean Smallwood

    The NYT is a waste of paper and ink . The larger problem is that so many people quote it as “authoritative” .

  • Posted by Stan

    Bur reading maps is HARD.
    Drama class was so much easier and fun than geography.

  • Posted by jeb stuart

    I stopped reading the New York Times every day in the 80’s. Now the only time I ever hear about the tabloid one of its reporters has fabricated news to fit the fiction they believe is of higher importance than truth. They tossed conscience out when they bowed down to Chomsky’s altar believing their existential nihilism was vindicated by logical positivism when neither have made the NYT’s editorial staff at all more objective. I’m just surprised they haven’t had an incident like NPR or Helen Thomas.

  • Posted by David Lubin

    This is the wildest “correction” I have ever read. Ever. I don’t think Pravda or Izvestia made such corrections. I may be wrong but I think these publications tried hard to make a good show of looking objective and free press. The New York Times obviously doesn’t. This is beyond shocking.

  • Posted by Bruce

    Those lies are told because the New York Times and this disgraceful jounalist have an agenda, she should be fired with emediate effect for lying or being stupid

  • Posted by Yuval

    Making things even more ridiculous is the fact that a 1967-based solution would leave Israel with a corridor just as narrow between Qalqilya and the sea. I wonder what this bureau chief thinks it does to Israeli contiguity.

  • Posted by Noga

    Excerpts from an analysis done here:


    The map at the bottom of the article shows that ” If indeed israel reteats to the Green Line, as it is demanded from her, the corridor that remains to the Palestinians in the East is the same distance as the corridor that will remain to Israel in the west, as we can see in this map: both corridors are 15 km wide. Let’s not pretend, the topography and the engineering problems are different, but have you heard or read any pundit advancing the notion that the Palestinian state would render the state of Israel territorially unviable?”

    ולסיום, נקודה למחשבה בנוגע לאופן הצגת טענת “הרצף הטריטוריאלי” על ידי הפרשנים הרבים. אם אכן ישראל תיסוג לקו הירוק כפי שדורשים ממנה, המסדרון שיוותר לפלסטינים במזרח שווה ערך ברוחבו למסדרון שיוותר לישראל במערב, כפי שניתן לראות במפה הזו: מדובר ב-15 ק”מ בשני המסדרונות. לא ניתמם – כמובן שהטופוגרפיה היא שונה והאתגרים ההנדסיים הם שונים, אבל האם שמעתם פרשן כלשהו מתייחס לשטח המדינה הפלסטינית במונחים של קטיעת רצף טריטוריאלי ישראלי?

    In the Perspectiva article, the author mentions that :רוס, השליח של הממשל האמריקאי למזה”ת בימיו של ביל קלינטון והמתווך הראשי בין הישראלים לפלסטינים בפסגת קמפ-דייויד בשנת 2000, מסביר:
    שעה ששום מפה לא הוצגה בסבבים הסופיים בקמפ-דייויד, מפה זו משרטטת את הפרמטרים של הצעתו של קלינטון, אותן דחה ערפאת: שליטה פלסטינית על 91% מהגדה המערבית ברצף טריטוריאלי, ונוכחות ביטחונית ישראלית ב-15% מהגבול עם ירדן…

    למרבה הפליאה (של הפרשנים), מפה זו מכלילה את כל גוש אדומים בשטח ישראל, כולל שטח E1, ובכל זאת היא מגדירה את המדינה הפלסטינית העתידית כבעלת רצף טריטוריאלי. למה זה היה בסדר אז, והיום לפתע מדובר במכת מוות לפתרון שתי המדינות?

    (hasty translation)

    Ross, Clinton’s envoy to the Middle East, and the main negotiator between Israelis and Palestinians in Camp David 2000 Summit, explains that while no map was presented during the final talks in CD, this map is drawn according to the parameters set by Clinton’s proposal, that Arafat rejected: Palestinian domination over 91% of the WB in territorial contiguity, Israeli military presence along 15% of the border with Jordan …

    Remarkably enough, this map included Adumim block within Israel proper, including E1, and still it defines the future Palestinian state as territorially viable. Why was it all right then, and now it is suddenly the death knoll to the two state solution?

  • Posted by Tang

    Leaving alone Rudoren’s lack of knowledge of geography, how about her lack of knowledge of relevant international law and recent history in which the West Bank was ceded back to Israel in 1994, making it all Israeli land, with the unstated assumption that Israel would give some of that land to the PLO terrorist organization (the “Palestinians” in Rudoren’s work) in exchange for a permanent peace. Israel gave the PLO some land to begin the peace process, with the expectation that both sides would take a series of steps leading to a final peace agreement and final borders, and the PLO broke every agreement they ever made and moved to full-scale war in 2000, only suspending their operations — but not declaring peace — when GW Bush started paying them off.

    NYT reporters and the incompetent diplomats they use as sources did not begin to call the West Bank “Palestinian” territory until after that war started. It had been, for six years, Israeli territory with final borders to be determined in future negotiations, and no one changed their maps because they expected the “peace process” to produce a final determination of borders within the year. It had previously been contested territory between Jordan and Israel.

  • Posted by Adam

    Posted by Andrew December 19, 2012 at 3:39 am:

    “As usual, Elliott Abrams missing the forest to focus on the trees… while you harp on about the NY Times lack of fact checking, your article misses the entire point of the building of settlements making a two-state solution infinitely more impossible.”

    Andrew, I don’t know what you mean by this. Abrams responded directly to that, stating that it does not make a two-state solution any more impossible. In every proposed peace deal, Israel has been slated to keep E1. I live in Ma’ale Adumim and drive through the corridor often. It takes 3 minutes to traverse by bus—hardly a wide swath of land, and smaller than the area East of the city.

    Amb. Michael Oren has repeatedly said there could easily be a road going through the area for Palestinians, besides the fact that it takes mere minutes to go around the area.

    The proposed building does nothing to alter a final map of the area in the “everyone-already-knows-the-terms” peace deal. No amount of hysterics or hyperbole changes that.

    I disagreed with the building decision because its timing was juvenile, but to make dramatic claims that it mortally wounds or critically harms the viability of a future deal is simply fallacious.

  • Posted by Jeffrey

    Two years ago i visited Dubrovnik in Croatia. The width of Croatia for some length is one fairly narrow road with a very steep hill behind it at the top of which is a long wall forming the border with Bosnia-Herzegovina. That does not cut Croatia in half or make the state unviable. Width is not essential for a state to be contiguous.

  • Posted by Peter

    I liked Stan’s comment.

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