The AP tells a non-story

Here’s how the AP tells a non-story:

Israel to Build on Contested Land

JERUSALEM (AP) — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had barely left Israel on Monday after her latest peacekeeping mission when Israeli officials announced plans to build 1,400 new homes on land Palestinians claim for a future state…

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert vowed to keep building in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, dismissing Palestinian claims that construction on contested land is the greatest obstacle to peace…

He continues to support construction in disputed areas, over the objections of the Palestinians and the U.S., because it allows him to keep his fragile coalition intact.

The Israeli construction plans threatened to make it even harder for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to overcome his people’s skepticism that diplomacy, not violence, would win them a state.

So we understand that Olmert, in defiance of the US, acts in a manner calculated to damage the possibility of peace, for political reasons.

Although I would be the last to deny that Olmert’s motivation for much of what he does is crassly political, in this instance he is doing nothing that in any way — other than by giving the AP and the Palestinians something to get excited about — should prejudice a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

No less than eleven paragraphs down in the AP story, we finally read what Olmert’s provocative act has been:

The city of Jerusalem said it planned to build 600 new apartments in the Pisgat Ze’ev neighborhood, which lies in the eastern sector of Jerusalem that Palestinians see as their future capital.

The Shas Party, a powerful partner in Olmert’s coalition government, said the prime minister had promised to revive frozen plans to build 800 homes in [Betar] Illit, an ultra-Orthodox settlement in the West Bank.

First of all, note that these are not “new settlements” in any sense. And they are ‘expansion’ only insofar as they are new construction. They do not represent any expansion of boundaries.

Second, everyone knows that if a two-state solution is possible, final borders will have to be drawn on the basis of Jewish and Arab populations. While outlying settlements might be abandoned (one wonders why ‘outlying’ Arab settlements within Israel will not), established Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem like Pisgat Ze’ev will have to be on the Israeli side. And settlements abutting the Green Line like Betar Illit will be kept. So who cares if there is construction there?

Third, since the parameters of a settlement have not been decided upon, why do the press and others automatically accept Abbas’ point of view that any settlement East of the Green Line is illegitimate?

Fourth, “Shas said that Olmert promised” is not exactly the same as “Israeli officials announced”.

And fifth, do we really think that the “greatest obstacle to peace” is some construction inside existing Jewish neighborhoods?

Or rather is it the dramatic way the Palestinians continue to express their ‘skepticism’ that diplomacy is more effective than violence?

Update [1 Apr 1238 PDT]: Our local newspaper, the Fresno Bee, ran this story today. But they only included the first 10 paragraphs of it.

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