Wednesday, April 04, 2012

The Middle East Media Sampler 4/4/2012: Tom Friedman Hearts Terrorist Barghouti

From DG:
1) A Middle East half wit 

Thomas Friedman offers us two opinions in A Middle East Two-fer.

First he whitewashes Marwan Barghouti, approvingly quoting Ha'aretz calling him "the most authentic leader Fatah has produced."

Friedman further quotes "If Israel had wanted an agreement with the Palestinians it would have released him from prison by now.” Really, releasing an unrepentant murderer from jail would prove Israel's interest in peace? Does Friedman has any sense of irony?  Only someone (in this case, Friedman and Ha'aretz) who is deluded would say that peace hinged on rehabilitating a murderer. The reason Barghouti is so popular is because of his record of promoting violence against Israel not to mention his intransigence.

While Barghouti's recent call is for "civil" resistance, there's no way to parse it as Friedman does as "nonviolent resistance." For one thing, Barghouti uses the term "intifada," which evokes the reason he is in jail. After the so-called "Aqsa intifada" started, Barghouti boasted:
"We did not need a war. The issue is completely different. War breaks out according to the decision of the president or the commander of the military. The Intifada however, was not ignited by a person or a group of people, but it evolved from reaching deeply into the feeling of the masses. There were those who were opposed to the conflict. At the same time, I saw within the situation a historic opportunity to ignite the conflict. The strongest conflict is the one that initiated from Jerusalem due to the sensitivity of the city, its uniqueness and its special place in the hearts of the masses who are willing to sacrifice themselves [for her] with not even thinking of the cost."
If one wishes to consider Barghouti's record further, here's the state's indictment against him. After vouching for Barghouti, Friedman expands his argument.
By Palestinians engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience in the West Bank with one hand and carrying a map of a reasonable two-state settlement in the other, they will be adopting the only strategy that will end the Israeli occupation: Making Israelis feel morally insecure but strategically secure. The Iron Law of the peace process is that whoever makes the Israeli silent majority feel morally insecure about occupation but strategically secure in Israel wins. 
After Anwar Sadat flew to Jerusalem, Israelis knew there was no way morally that they could hold onto the Sinai and strategically they did not feel the need to any longer. The first intifada, which focused on stone-throwing, got Palestinians Oslo. The second intifada, which was focused on suicide bombing of restaurants in Tel Aviv, got them the wall around the West Bank; Israelis felt sufficiently strategically insecure and morally secure to lock all Palestinians in a big jail. Today, nothing makes Israelis feel more strategically insecure and morally secure than Hamas’s demented shelling of Israel from Gaza, even after Israel unilaterally withdrew. 
Unabated, disruptive Palestinian civil disobedience in the West Bank, coupled with a map delineating a deal most Israelis would buy, is precisely what would make Israelis feel morally insecure but strategically secure and revive the Israeli peace camp. It is the only Palestinian strategy Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu fears, but it is one that he is sure Palestinians would never adopt. He thinks it’s not in their culture. Will they surprise him?
Left out Friedman's calculations is the fact that the Palestinians - Arafat and Abbas - have already turned down similar deals to the one he advocates here. And of course, if the Palestinians are to get the same deal that they could have gotten eleven years ago, what price do they pay for their rejectionism? Further, what incentive do they have to make a deal, if they know that there will be advocates who will keep pushing Israel to accede to every single Palestinian demand and blame Israel for the failure to make a deal if it doesn't?

Friedman shows how out of touch he is with Israel. "Morally/Strategically Secure/Insecure" is a typical "Friedmanism," superficially clever sounding wordplay that ultimately means nothing.

How did Israelis feel when Israel withdrew from  southern Lebanon and were rewarded with their rocket attacks in the north from Hezbollah? Or when Israel withdrew from Gaza and was rewarded with rocket attack on the south from Hamas? The point is that Israeli withdrawal and concessions have not brought peace but have encouraged Israel's enemies. This isn't ancient history. Israel is less secure for having heeded "experts" like Friedman, risking further insecurity without a reliable partner would be immoral. Israelis understand that, which is why Netanyahu is extremely strong politically right now. The "Israeli silent majority" that Friedman evokes when he has no argument, supports Netanyahu, not Friedman.

The second opinion of Friedman's column is:
One of the most hackneyed clichés about the Middle East today is that the Arab Awakening, because it was not focused on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, only proves that this conflict was not that important. Rather, it is argued, the focus should be on Iran 24/7. The fact is, the Arab Awakening has made an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement more urgent than ever for two reasons. First, it is now clear that Arab autocracies are being replaced with Islamist/populist parties. And, in Egypt, in particular, it is already clear that a key issue in the election will be the peace treaty with Israel. In this context, if Palestinian-Israeli violence erupts in the West Bank, there will be no firewall — the role played by former President Hosni Mubarak — to stop the flames from spreading directly to the Egyptian street.
It's not hackneyed it's true. If support for the Palestinians were of primary importance to Egyptians, Libyans, Tunisians etc.  then Mubarak, Qaddafi and Ali would still be in power. Rather the "Arab spring" has been demanding an improvement in the lives of ordinary Arabs. No longer could the autocrats buy off their populations with verbal support of the Palestinians. The Islamists will make matters worse, but for now they represent change.

But Friedman's "firewall" argument makes no sense. Due to the Islamist hatred of Israel, the Sinai is rapidly becoming a new front in the war against Israel. With signs of Hamas's strength evident in Palestinian Authority ruled areas, does it make sense to cede more control? So Friedman's argument is "since Islamists are now shredding previous agreements with Israel, Israel should be more inclined to make a new agreement with an entity that might well fall to Islamists." The next paragraph sinks further into incoherence:
Moreover, with the rise of Islamists in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Syria, Israelis and Palestinians have a greater incentive than ever to create an alternative model in the West Bank — a Singapore — to show that they, together, can give birth to a Palestinian state where Arab Muslims and Christians, men and women, can thrive in a secular, but religiously respectful, free-market, democratic context, next to a Jewish state. This is the best Palestinian leadership with which Israel could hope to partner.
Forget the myth of Muslim/Christian cooperation that Friedman's peddling here. He doesn't even suggest that the Palestinians would tolerate Jews. Implicit here, Friedman admits that the Palestinians do not tolerate Jews, but claims that somehow they'd co-exist next to a Jewish state. Friedman's silence tells a greater truth than any of the words he wrote in this column.

Israel Matzav and Honest Reporting have more.

2) Staking out the middle ground - for the Brotherhood

In its New Islamists series a few weeks ago, the New York Times introduced us to Khairat el-Shater
With power he could only dream of when he padded around Mr. Mubarak’s prisons in a white track suit, Mr. Shater meets foreign ambassadors, the executives of multinational corporations and Wall Street firms, and a parade of United States senators and other officials to explain the Brotherhood’s vision. To the Brotherhood, he tells them, Islam requires democracy, free markets and tolerance of religious minorities.
A former leftist and a millionaire businessman who is also the Brotherhood’s chief financier, Mr. Shater was known for years as the group’s most important internal advocate for moderation and modernization. 
In prison, he talked radical Islamist inmates into renouncing violence. He helped chart the Brotherhood’s first steps into electoral politics, initially in Egypt’s professional associations of doctors, lawyers, engineers and the like. Then he was at the forefront of its more transformative drive to win seats in the Mubarak-dominated Parliament; the experience did more than anything to moderate the group as it forged coalitions and courted the mainstream. And over the past decade he also oversaw its stepped-up outreach to the West through Web sites in Arabic and English.
Now, in Islamist Group Breaks Pledge to Stay Out of Race in Egypt it tells us that Shater is running for  President of Egypt.
The Brotherhood’s entry into the race also turns the election into a debate over the future of the Islamist political movement that is sure to resonate in the region. Mr. Shater faces Islamist rivals to his left and right — one a more liberal former Brotherhood leader, the other an ultraconservative Salafist. Indeed, the Brotherhood may have entered the race in part because a strong showing by either rival could undercut the group’s authority as the predominant voice of Islam in Egyptian politics.
An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, declined to comment specifically on Mr. Shater, but called the nomination worrisome. “Obviously this is not good news,” the official said. “The Muslim Brotherhood is no friend of Israel’s. They do not wish us well.” The official added: “The big question will be how pragmatic they will be once in power. It could go in either direction.” 
In Washington, the State Department declined to comment. But many American officials who have met with Mr. Shater on visits to Cairo, including top State Department officials and Congressional delegations, have praised his moderation, business savvy and effectiveness.
As you will note, forms of the word "moderate" punctuate these descriptions of Shater. Bret Stephens cuts through the adjectives and gets to Shater's agenda in The Very Model of a Modern Muslim Brother (or access the full article through the link here):
More important, while Mr. Shater believes that different historical circumstances require different organizational tactics, he is adamant that the Brotherhood's goals must remain fixed and unyielding. 
"No one can come and say, 'let's change the overall mission'. . . . No one can say, 'forget about obedience, discipline and structures. . . . No. All of these are constants that represent the fundamental framework for our method; the method of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is not open for developing or change." 
What Mr. Shater is advocating, in other words, is the creation of flexible democratic political structures within the rigid framework of a quasi-totalitarian society. And like all totalitarian visions, it even comes with its own Guardians of Virtue: "The Revolution," he says, "needs to become perpetual," with a core group of "one or two million" to safeguard the revolution from its enemies. In the old Soviet Union, that job was done by the KGB. In Iran today, it's the IRG.
Yesterday, Barry Rubin wryly observed:
It sums [Shater] up as “a conservative but a pragmatist,” which is more than it will probably grant Mitt Romney.
Incredibly today's New York Times, featured an editorial Calling Radicalism by Its Name and it was about ... Mitt Romney!

It's amazing the degree to which elements of our elites will look for understanding among our enemies but dismiss political rivals in the harshest language.
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