As the United States tries to restart negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, several U.S. media outlets have begun attacking the Israeli position regarding Judea and Samaria cities like Ariel. Recent reports in the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Christian Science Monitor have suggested that Ariel is not part of the Israeli consensus.
The reports are highly inaccurate, and are based on a misunderstanding of the concept of “consensus,” says Avi Zimmerman, head of American Friends of Ariel.
“It's important to note that the 'consensus' we refer to is not something that's held by each and every person on planet earth,” he said. Rather, it is “something recognized by each and every Israeli government proposal” regarding the borders of a potential Arab state in Judea and Samaria.
“In each and every government proposal, Ariel has always been on the Israeli side,” he noted.
The LA Times statement that some peace plans “called for [Ariel's] evacuation” apparently referred to private peace initiatives. No Israeli prime minister has suggested leaving the city.
Polls Show Public Support
Recent polls show that in addition to enjoying government support, Ariel and other large Israeli towns in Judea and Samaria enjoy the support of the majority of Israeli adults. A poll conducted by Dahaf in September showed that 54% of Israelis oppose a second Judea and Samara construction freeze, compared to 39% who would be willing to freeze construction a second time.
A survey conducted in June for the Judea and Samaria researchers' conference found that while 52% of Israeli adults would support giving the PA at least part of Judea and Samaria in the context of a peace agreement, 73% oppose withdrawal from all but the smallest Jewish towns in the region.
The reports in the New York Times, LA Times, and Washington Post each quoted one resident of Ariel who suggested the city may not remain Israeli. The Christian Science Monitor quoted a resident of Tel Aviv to support its claim that “some Israelis” cannot find Ariel on a map. The woman quoted, Carmelit Gotlieb, claimed that “people don't know where Ariel is like they know where Be'er Sheva, the Golan heights, or Eilat is.”
Boycotting Artists '31 of 14,000'
The U.S. media reports each noted the recent artists' boycott of Ariel, in which dozens of Israeli actors said they would not perform at a cultural center in the city. Zimmerman noted that those who said they would boycott Ariel were a tiny minority compared to those who do plan to perform.
“31 performing artists out of 14,000” in Israel are avoiding the city, he said.
The LA Times also turned to Peace Now, a far-left group known to oppose all Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria, for an Israeli opinion on the city's status. A Peace Now spokeswoman termed the city “a myth.”
Key Factor is Location, Not Size
The LA Times report cast doubt on Ariel's consensus status by noting that the population of the mixed secular-religious city is not growing as quickly as have some other cities, such as the hareidi-religious Beitar Illit and Modiin Illit.
By emphasizing size, the LA Times missed the point, says Zimmerman. Ariel's consensus status is due not to its size – the city is home to roughly 19,000 – or to the facilities it boasts, but to its location. The city is key to Israel's presence in the hills overlooking the central district and Tel Aviv.
“The only way to ensure a secure Israel is to maintain a civilian presence in Samaria. Ariel is the only city that can guarantee that presence,” he said.
Samaria residents recently began a campaign to warn residents of central Israel of the risks they could face if Jews were to be forced out of Samaria. When Israel left Gaza, Hamas quickly took over the area and fired thousands of rockets at nearby Israeli towns, they noted. In Samaria, the situation would be even worse, as terrorists would have a clear view of their targets.
Samaria spokesman David HaIvri noted that prices in Ariel clearly show that there is a high demand for housing in the city, and the relatively low population growth is due to a lack of space. "The only thing temporary in Ariel is it size. This city show all signs of rapid growth," he stated.
HaIvri added, "People who are interested in seeing a true picture should come to visit and will surly realize that talk of moving a city and infrastructure of this size is very unrealistic."
Ariel Mayor Works for Coexistence
The LA Times report did note that Mayor of Ariel Ron Nachman promotes coexistence with PA Arabs, but failed to mention some of Nachman's more dramatic steps toward his goal, such as employing thousands of PA Arabs in Ariel's industrial facilities, and providing nearby PA Arabs with water. The mayor also opened the doors of the Ariel University Center – a school he established – to PA Arabs, although his offer was refused.