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WSJ: flagrant intellectual dishonesty 29, September 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Opinion.
Tags: , , , , ,

Abu Muqawama has an excellent post skewering Elliott Abrams for what amounts to blatant intellectual dishonesty. Abrams wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. In this he quoted two reports on the Palestinian Authority.

The World Bank reported this month that “If the Palestinian Authority (PA) maintains its current performance in institution-building and delivery of public services, it is well-positioned for the establishment of a state at any point in the near future.” The West Bank’s economy will grow 8% this year, said the bank. Meanwhile, tax revenues are 15% above target and 50% higher than in the same period last year.


Regarding security, cooperation between Israeli and PA forces has never been better. This month the International Crisis Group acknowledged that “In the past few years, the Palestinian Authority (PA) largely has restored order and a sense of personal safety in the West Bank, something unthinkable during the second intifada. Militias no longer roam streets, uniformed security forces are back, Palestinians seem mostly pleased; even Israel — with reason to be skeptical and despite recent attacks on West Bank settlers — is encouraged.”

These quotes from reputable scholarly sources paint a rosy picture. However, these quotes are flagrantly taken out of context and wholly misrepresent the general thrust and conclusions of the reports themselves.

One of the key conclusions of the The World Bank is that

Sustainable economic growth in the West Bank and Gaza, however, remains absent. Significant changes in the policy environment are still required for increased private investment particularly in the productive sectors, enabling the PA to significantly reduce its dependence on donor aid.

The obstacles facing private investment in the West Bank are manifold and myriad, as many important GoI restrictions remain in place: (a) access to the majority of the territory’s land and water (Area C) is severely curtailed; (b) East Jerusalem — a lucrative market — is beyond reach; (c) the ability of investors to enter into Israel and the West Bank is unpredictable; and (d) many raw materials critical to the productive sectors are classified by the GoI as “dual-use” (civilian and military) and their import entails the navigation of complex procedures, generating delays and significantly increasing costs. … Unless action is taken in the near future to address the remaining obstacles to private sector development and sustainable growth, the PA will remain donor dependent and its institutions, no matter how robust, will not be able to underpin a viable state.

As Abu Muqawama notes:

The point of the whole friggin’ World Bank report was that the very real economic gains we have witnessed in the West Bank over the past few years will turn out to be ephemeral if they are not followed by a political settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. That political settlement doesn’t necessarily have to lead to the immediate creation of a Palestinian state, but it has to address the areas of concern highlighted in the above paragraph. And that bit about “access to the majority of the territory’s land and water” being severely curtailed? Any guesses from the readership what the World Bank research staff thinks is doing the curtailing?

As for the Crisis Group Report, Abrams has cherry-picked (again) to an absurd degree, ignoring its central conclusions.

The undeniable success of the reform agenda has been built in part on popular fatigue and despair – the sense that the situation had so deteriorated that Palestinians are prepared to swallow quite a bit for the sake of stability, including deepened security cooperation with their foe. Yet, as the situation normalises over time, they could show less indulgence. Should Israeli-Palestinian negotiations collapse – and, with them, any remaining hope for an agreement – Palestinian security forces might find it difficult to keep up their existing posture. … Without a credible Israeli-Palestinian peace process or their own genuine reconciliation process, Palestinians will be stuck in their long and tenuous attempt to square the circle: to build a state while still under occupation; to deepen cooperation with the occupier in the security realm even as they seek to confront it elsewhere; and to reach an understanding with their historic foe even as they prove unable to reach an understanding among themselves.

This is really, really naughty stuff. Pure and simple, whole-scale, grade-A, Pinocchio-like dishonesty. Read the original post for more withering and well-sourced criticism of Abrams’ article.


1. idit - 29, September 2010

There is a lot of intellectual dishonesty that goes around, why pick this particular one?

davidbroberts - 30, September 2010

That’s not a very compelling argument. There’s a lot of crime around, why arrest me, a thief could easily say.

Why pick this example?

1. Why not?
2. You’ve got to start somewhere.
3. I happened to come across this example. If and when I come across other examples, I’ll write about them. Feel free to volunteer articles etc.
4. This seems like a particularly egregious and clear-cut example to me: nice and simple.

2. Anonymous - 1, October 2010

Mr. Exum,

I’m going to point out some flaws in your argument and in the name of “intellectual honesty” I hope you will acknowledge them or at least seriously think about them.

Yes Mr. Abrams cites a world bank report on economic gains in the West Bank that says that also states that political progress is necessary to keep these gains. However, Mr. Abrams is not claiming that otherwise – he never states that political progress is NOT important – in fact, just the opposite. He, like many others, is claiming that Obama’s misplaced emphasis on settlements is what is stopping political progress. If Obama had put all his emphasis on creating a Palestinian state through negotiations rather than trying to push Israelis to freeze ALL settlement construction before negotiations had even begun – then this current stalemate and useless crises might not have been occuring.

Whether you agree with that analysis or not is irrelevant – you however twist Abram’s argument to make a strawman – that he believes that political progress is not at all important. He is saying that West Bank development and security will do more to further the goal of a Palestinian state than stopping settlement construction will. And in that he is correct.

You imply that it World Bank analysts thought that settlement construction is restricting Palestinian economic development by restricting Palestinian access to large parts of the West Bank and therefore Obama’s emphasis on the freezing of settlements is somehow important to reverse this trend. That however is incorrect. You see, the Bush administration came to an understanding with Sharon that settlement growth would continue only vertically and not horizontally. Meaning – areas that are ALREADY part of settlements could construct units – HOWEVER – these areas would not be expanded and no NEW settlements would be constructed. So freeze or no freeze, the land area of the settlements is not increasing. Whether an area that is already a settlement builds more homes in it means absolutely zilch to the issue of Palestinian access (economic or otherwise) to parts of the West Bank. Even the other parts of the report you quote seem to bolster Abram’s argument – you see, the reasons Palestinian market doesnt have access to East Jerusalem is not because of settlements. Ask any Palestinian who actually lives in the West Bank what their freedom of movement was like before the 2nd intifada. It was the violence 2nd intifada that led to the wall and the curtailing of Palestinian movement into Jerusalem and its increased security that will lead to increased Palestinian movement while a settlement FREEZE does nothing for Palestinian freedom of movement or the economy (considering almost all settlement construction is done by Palestinian laborers the settlement freeze has the ironic implication of actually damaging Palestinian economy in some respects).

The other thing that the world bank mentioned – supplies having a dual military use similarly has nothing to do with settlements and everything to do with security. The part you quoted BOLSTERS Abrams argument.

It is not dishonest on Abram’s part – you just failed to read between the lines.

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