Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Middle East Media Sampler 4/25/12: Israeli Settlements Condemned; Fatah-Hamas Unity Is "Internal Matter"

From DG:
1) Settlements > Hamas?

In Israel Retroactively Legalizes 3 West Bank Settlements, new New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren reports:
But while antisettlement advocates saw it as a significant shift in policy that could undermine the prospects for a two-state solution — and the United States and other foreign governments immediately raised concerns about the move — a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu argued that it was simply a matter of resolving technical problems such as improper permits and mistakenly building on the wrong hill. 
“One can be critical of the Israeli settlement policy, that’s everybody’s right, but you can’t tell me that the Israeli government has built new settlements, and you can’t tell me this is legalizing unauthorized outposts,” said the Netanyahu spokesman, Mark Regev. “These decisions are procedural or technical. They don’t change anything whatsoever on the ground.”
To support her reporting, Rudoren gets two statements from two anti-settlement Israeli organizations, one the Palestinian Authority (“Netanyahu has pushed things to a dead end yet again.” ) and  a disapproving statement from the State Department.

Contrast that with Unity Deal Brings Risks for Abbas and Israel, by Ethan Bronner from two months ago.
President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority embraced reconciliation with the Islamist movement Hamas on Monday, agreeing to head a unity government to prepare for elections in the West Bank and Gaza.  
His move was welcomed cautiously by a broad range of Palestinians who are fed up with the brutal split at the heart of their national movement. It promised to upend Israeli-Palestinian relations, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warning Mr. Abbas that he could have peace with Israel or unity with Hamas, but not both.
Bronner only cites the government of Israel as opposing the deal. The State Department dismissed the unity deal as an "internal matter."

Now these unity deals don't ever seem to work out. However, the differing treatment of these two stories illustrates a disturbing dynamic. "Settlements" are automatically designated an obstacle to peace. Any Palestinian objections to existing or potential settlements are taken at face value - by the media, even by the American government - though it isn't at all clear that the Oslo Accords forbid them.

However, a Fatah-Hamas deal demonstrates a blatant rejection of the premise of the peace process - that the PLO would reject terror. No NGO's who have reporters' attention object to this. The State Department yawns.

In the end the Palestinian Authority's objections and actions are what drives the peace process, not the documents they signed with Israel. As long as Palestinian obstructionism continues to be tolerated and rewarded, there will be no peace.


2) The road to Arab democracy?

In The Islamist Road to Democracy Reuel Marc Gerecht argues:
We can easily find truly disturbing commentary and actions by members of the Egyptian Brotherhood, or by the Tunisian Rachid Ghannouchi, the intellectual guru behind the ruling Nahda Party. But we can just as easily find words and deeds that ought to make us consider the possibility that these men are neither Ernest Röhm and his fascist Brownshirts nor even religious versions of secular autocrats. Rather, they are cultural hybrids trying to figure out how to combine the best of the West (material progress and the absence of brutality in daily life) without betraying their faith and pride.v We know that in Iran, under theocracy, once die-hard members of the revolutionary elite have become proponents of evermore liberal democracy. Fundamentalists became fundamentalist critics. The Islamic Republic's controlled elections created a powerful appetite for real ones. 
In Arab lands, militant Muslims who once espoused violent revolution now back representative government. They do so, in part, because they know how powerful the appeal of democracy is among the faithful. They also do so, as Iraq's Shiite clerics have made clear, because they are certain that free Muslims voting can't do worse than the Westernized dictators before them. Democracy is thus a means to keep Muslims more religious whereas theocracy actually secularizes society.
Gerecht even explains Turkey's - which would seem to be a counterexample to his thesis - growing radicalism as a response to previous liberal governments that persecuted its minorities.

Barry Rubin, though, in The Iraq model: as good at it gets writes:
Of the greatest importance is the fact that Islamist elements have been defeated (in the Sunni case) or held at bay (in the Shia case). Things can certainly get worse but some stability seems to have been achieved at this time. 
Another key factor is that Iraq is acting more “normally” as a state by minding its own business. It is not subverting neighbors or trying to take over the Middle East. Iraq also has decent relations with the West. This is a country that is trying to deal with its own problems. And if there is factionalism and corruption, at least it appears to be clear that no force can monopolize power and establish a repressive dictatorship. 
Call it chaotic pluralism as an alternative to Islamist dictatorship. And, yes, that appears to be the best that can be expected in those countries not still dominated by traditionalist monarchies. It is certainly preferable to the “Turkish model.” Yet I don’t expect many people in the West to appreciate that point.
Neither Gerecht nor Rubin is discussing a near term political horizon, but just what is the preferable first step on the long road to democracy.

3) Black gold blues

The Iranian oil industry suffered a cyberattack. In Facing Cyberattack, Iranian Officials Disconnect Some Oil Terminals From Internet, Thomas Erdbrink of the New York Times reports:
Iranian officials said the virus attack, which began in earnest on Sunday afternoon, had not affected oil production or exports, because the industry is still primarily mechanical and does not rely on the Internet. Officials said they were disconnecting the oil terminals and possibly some other installations in an effort to combat the virus. 
“Fortunately our international oil selling division has not been affected,” said a high-level manager at the Oil Ministry who asked not to be mentioned for security reasons. “There is no panic, but this shows we have shortcomings in our security systems.” 
There were some reports that the virus had forced widespread Internet shutdowns. “The ministry has disconnected all oil facilities, operations and even oil rigs from the Internet to prevent this virus from spreading,” said another Oil Ministry official who asked to remain anonymous, because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the attack. “Everybody at the ministry is working overtime to prevent this.” His assertion about the extent of the shutdowns could not be independently verified.
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