Thursday, March 08, 2012

The Middle East Sampler 3/8/2012: Palestinians Out Of The Limelight

From DG:
1) Why are they sidelined?
You say you lost your faith
But that’s not where it’s at
You had no faith to lose
And you know it 
"Positively 4th Street" by Bob Dylan

The New York Times has a "news" story today, Mideast Din Drowns Out Palestinians, which is gratuitously illustrated with a picture of Israeli soldiers firing their weapons in response to a rock throwing assault. The theme of the report is:
But when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel visited Washington this week, the conversation was dominated by Iran, not peace talks or occupation. In the region, the Arab Spring may have increased popular attention to the Palestinian cause, freeing Egyptians and others to express anti-Israel sentiments. But that has actually made things harder on the Palestine Liberation Organization, which negotiated with Israel. Popular affection has shifted to the Islamists of Hamas. They too have difficulties, however, abandoning their political headquarters in Syria, facing reduced help from Iran and contending with their increased divisions.
The result is a serial splintering of the Palestinian movement, a loss of state sponsors and paralysis for those trying to build a state next to Israel. Just six months ago, there was a moment of optimism when the Palestinian Authority presented its case for recognition to the United Nations, and later when Hamas closed a deal to free hundreds of its prisoners in exchange for the release of an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit. 
But now, as momentum for a peaceful two-state solution fades, and the effort at the United Nations remains stymied, no viable alternatives have emerged and attention has focused on other conflicts.
The premise of the article is that Israel (and the world generally) should be more concerned about the Palestinians than they are. But read the whole article, no culpability is assigned to the Palestinians. The optimism that the article cites here, was the partially the result of the Palestinians abandoning negotiations and seeking to get international support to impose a solution on Israel. It didn't work, but shouldn't the Palestinians' bad faith be acknowledged explicitly?
President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, known for indecisiveness, seems especially torn on how to proceed. He and his lieutenants have been working for weeks on a multipage letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu, laying out all the reasons they believe that Israel has stood in the way of peaceful progress. 
He plans to deliver a copy to American and European leaders as well, explaining why he thinks he must abandon the Israeli peace track and reconsider the Palestinian Authority’s relationship with Israel. And while diplomats are sympathetic with his frustration over Israel’s refusal to stop settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, they suspect that Mr. Abbas, known as Abu Mazen, feels politically unable to compromise with Israel at this time of upheaval. 
“The political price Abu Mazen pays for being in negotiations with Netanyahu is too high right now,” a top Western diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “People in this region believe that you are either protesting or being protested against. He has decided it is better to protest.”
Abbas, is the one who has refused to negotiate. Those who excuse his refusal to negotiate, are not interested in peace. (By the way, where's "East Jerusalem?")  The diplomat who observes that negotiating with Netanyahu carries a high "political price" is acknowledging something. The Palestinian Authority has never prepared its people for peace. Even now, incitement against Israel is prevalent in the official Palestinian media. So it is Abbas himself who raises the price and then complains that the price is too high!

This article had a similarity to one that appeared in September of last year.That analysis was called Obama and Abbas: From Speed Dial to Not Talking:
Among the very first foreign leaders President Obama called after entering the Oval Office on Jan. 21, 2009, was the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. The last time the two men spoke was in February, when Mr. Obama failed, in an awkward, 55-minute phone conversation, to persuade Mr. Abbas not to go to the United Nations to condemn Israel for building Jewish settlements. 
The 25 months between those calls demonstrate how Mr. Obama’s relationship with Mr. Abbas has withered — and along with it, Mr. Obama’s hopes to make Middle East peacemaking one of his signature achievements.
American and Palestinian officials insist that there is no animosity between Mr. Obama and Mr. Abbas, unlike the often tense relationship between the president and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. But Mr. Abbas has lost faith in Mr. Obama, Palestinian officials said, and after four face-to-face meetings and many regular telephone calls, there is now little contact between them.
The article laments the lack of a relationship between President Obama and Abbas, but note the way their alienation is cast: Abbas is disappointed in Obama. Even though the article clearly acknowledges that Abbas refused heed Obama on the statehood bid, the grievance is mostly presented one way. (Later on the article mentions some of the administration's "frustrations" with Abbas, but they seem to be given as afterthoughts.)

Originally the relationship between the two is described:
“The beginning of their relationship was good — auspicious, actually,” said Ziad J. Asali, the president of the American Task Force on Palestine. “But then decisions, mistakes and reality changed the relationship.”
At the beginning of Obama's presidency, Jackson Diehl met with Abbas and observed:
What's interesting about Abbas's hardline position, however, is what it says about the message that Obama's first Middle East steps have sent to Palestinians and Arab governments. From its first days the Bush administration made it clear that the onus for change in the Middle East was on the Palestinians: Until they put an end to terrorism, established a democratic government and accepted the basic parameters for a settlement, the United States was not going to expect major concessions from Israel. 
Obama, in contrast, has repeatedly and publicly stressed the need for a West Bank settlement freeze, with no exceptions. In so doing he has shifted the focus to Israel. He has revived a long-dormant Palestinian fantasy: that the United States will simply force Israel to make critical concessions, whether or not its democratic government agrees, while Arabs passively watch and applaud. "The Americans are the leaders of the world," Abbas told me and Post Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt. "They can use their weight with anyone around the world. Two years ago they used their weight on us. Now they should tell the Israelis, 'You have to comply with the conditions.' "
The "auspicious" beginning of their relationship, was based on the belief that Obama was on the same page as Abbas. But when Abbas discovered that their views diverged somewhat, he became disenchanted by Obama. Diehl more recently pointed out that every effort Obama has made to bring peace has been met with cooperation from Netanyahu and resistance from Abbas.
Though Netanyahu has recently allowed new settlement construction, it mostly has been in neighborhoods that Palestinian leders have already conceded will be part of Israel in a final settlement. This week he told his cabinet that West Bank outposts declared illegal by the Israeli Supreme Court would be uprooted. 
In other words, Netanyahu has been an occasionally difficult but ultimately cooperative partner. He can be accused of moving too slowly and offering too little, but not of failing to heed American initiatives. And Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas? For nine of the ten months of the Israeli settlement moratorium he refused Obama’s appeals to begin negotiations; after two meetings, he returned to his intransigence. Rejecting a personal appeal from Obama, he took his bid for statehood to the United Nations, where he may yet force the United States to use its Security Council veto.
Even as Abbas takes steps that reject the premises of peace with Israel the New York Times - in its news section - excuses his frustration by blaming it on others. When his intransigence helps render his movement irrelevant the New York Times amplifies his childish complaints that he's been marginalized. No matter how hard Abbas and the Palestinians work against peace, the New York Times will be there to defend them.

2) Why Esther?

At CNN, Stephen Prothero asks Does Netanyahu's Bible gift to Obama mean war?
So perhaps the Book of Esther is telling Obama to play the king, to give the Jews a green light to destroy their Iranian enemies, and lay waste to 75,000 Iranians in the process.
This is an unnecessarily vicious interpretation of Netanyahu gift of the Book of Esther to Obama.

The final chapter of the Book of Esther, begins with:
And the king imposed a tax on the land and on the islands.
This is a subtle but unmistakable message of support for the President's domestic agenda. One of the key takeaways from the story of Esther are that taxes are good. That this endorsement comes from Netanyahu, who earned an MBA at MIT's Sloan School of Management, makes this even more significant.

In contrast to those who are looking to find all sorts of nefarious meaning in the Prime Minister's gift, the real meaning of the gift is sign of friendship and support that will serve the President well as he fights for re-election. I cannot think of a more sincere sign of support and friendship.

Happy Purim!

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