Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Middle East Media Sampler 5/10/2012: With Mideast Experts Like Friedman and Zakaria...

From DG:

1) Obama's other expert tells Netanyahu what to do

Last year in Obama Seeks Reset in Arab World, Mark Landler wrote:
At night in the family residence, an adviser said, Mr. Obama often surfs the blogs of experts on Arab affairs or regional news sites to get a local flavor for events. He has sounded out prominent journalists like Fareed Zakaria of Time magazine and CNN and Thomas L. Friedman, a columnist at The New York Times, regarding their visits to the region. “He is searching for a way to pull back and weave a larger picture,” Mr. Zakaria said.
According to this article, the President appreciates the expertise of Thomas Friedman and Fareed Zakaria.

Right now, Friedman's claim that Binyamin Netanyahu was the "Mubarak of the peace process" (i.e. someone who is heading to his own downfall because he doesn't  understand the forces around him) seems awfully inappropriate, as Netanyahu has just consolidated his power.

Being wrong is no problem for Friedman, nor it appears does it much bother Obama's other expert, Zakaria. In Under Netanyahu Israel is stronger than ever, Zakaria writes:
Netanyahu’s coalition now commands the largest parliamentary majority in Israeli history. He faces no plausible rival as prime minister. When pushed on the Palestinian issue, Netanyahu has often cited the constraints of his coalition to explain why he had not taken bolder steps toward resolution. Perhaps he liked being constrained: He refused to form a national unity government in 1996 (with Shimon Peres) and refused again in 2009 (with Tzipi Livni). But now he has a broad enough base of support — with many moderates — and could move toward a peace settlement without endangering his hold on power.
I don't know what he means by "Netanyahu has often cited the constraints..." Coalition constraints or not, Netanyahu withdrew Israel from most of Hebron in 1997.  And again in 2010, Netanyahu responding to pressure from President Obama instituted a building freeze in Judea and Samaria, but that didn't get Mahmoud Abbas to negotiate seriously with Israel. I don't recall the conditions in 1996, but after the 2009 elections (though maybe not immediately) Netanyahu did indeed invite Livni to form a unity government. It was she who rejected the deal. This paragraph contains two easily verifiable errors.

Of course the particulars aren't really important. How did Mahmoud Abbas respond to Israel's new governing coalition?
Abbas reiterated the demand on Tuesday. "I will not return to the negotiations without freezing settlement activities," he said, enunciating each word to give with added emphasis.
Try as he might to blame Israel in the failure of negotiations, Zakaria can't get around the fact that is Mahmoud Abbas who refuses to make peace; not Israel.

Towards the end Zakaria writes:
In the past, Netanyahu has fiercely embraced the ethic of survival. For decades he has argued that Israel was in imminent danger of extinction, making comparisons to the Nazi threat to Jews in 1938. Long opposed to a Palestinian state, he railed in 1993, when Yitzhak Rabin and Peres signed the Oslo accords, that Peres, then foreign minister, was “worse than [Neville] Chamberlain.” In the book Netanyahu published that year, he argued that dismantling Jewish settlements would produce a “Judenrein” West Bank (“free of Jews,” a phrase the Nazis used). When he reissued his book in 2009, those phrases were still in the text. Since then, perhaps recognizing the demographic dangers to Israel, he has said he now supports a two-state solution, but he has done nothing to move toward it.
What exactly is Zakaria's point here? When Israel withdrew from Gaza, all Jews had to leave. (Even the one farmer who wanted to stay!) So Gaza was Judenrein. What Zakaria demands for there to be peace is for all settlements to be uprooted. No Jew is allowed to stay in areas ruled by the PA. The term is harsh, but it is accurate. (Nor does it bother Zakaria that the Palestinians don't need to tolerate the presence of Jews in their country.)

As noted above, Netanyahu on two occasions has made significant efforts to advance the cause of peace. Zakaria's wrong to suggest that Netanyahu has only recently come around to the idea of a two state solution. Even if he didn't state it explicitly, his actions during his first term as Prime Minister showed his commitment (even if it was reluctant) to the peace process. Finally, the "demographic dangers," as recently observed by Emanuele Ottolenghi, are bogus.

At the end Zakaria writes:
Israel faces real dangers. It sits in a hostile neighborhood, with anti-Semitism rising. Obstacles to Israel-Palestinian peace include the weakness of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and radicalism from the terror group Hamas. But a politician of Netanyahu’s skill can find ways to navigate this terrain. The larger questions are: Does he see an opportunity to become a truly great figure in Israeli history? Can he use his power for a purpose other than his own survival?
History will judge Netanyahu by how Israel fares generally under his watch. The Palestinian issue is one of many facing Israel. Contrary to Zakaria, it is not the overriding issue facing Israel. The greatness (or failure) of Netanyahu will be determined by much more than the narrow and mistaken criteria that Zakaria lays our here.

Then again, being one of President Obama's favorite pundits doesn't mean that you have to be right.

2) The bet on Jenin

In 2008, Ethan Bronner of the New York Times reported on Jenin as A West Bank ruin, reborn as a peace beacon:
Pessimism is a steady companion these days for advocates of Middle East peace. A lame-duck Israeli government is negotiating with a weak Palestinian leadership in the twilight of an unpopular American administration. Few forecast success.
But a quiet revolution is stirring here in this city, once a byword for the extremes of violence between Israelis and Palestinians. In 2002, in response to a wave of suicide bombers from Jenin, Israeli tanks leveled entire neighborhoods.
From that rubble, now newly trained and equipped Palestinian security officials have restored order. Israeli soldiers have pulled back from bases and are in close touch with their Palestinian colleagues. Civilians are planning economic cooperation — an industrial zone to provide thousands of jobs, mostly to Palestinians, and another involving organic produce grown by Palestinians and marketed in Europe by Israelis. Ministers from both governments have been visiting regularly, often joined by top international officials. Israeli Arabs are playing a key role.
Last week the governor of the Jenin region, Qadoura Moussa, died after an altercation with gunmen at his home. A few days ago, the Jerusalem Post reported (h/t Challah Hu Akbar):
Palestinian Authority security forces arrested dozens of Palestinians in Jenin and surrounding villages in the past 48 hours, sources in the city said Sunday. Many of those arrested are Fatah members and officers working for various PA security branches.
…Many residents blamed Fatah gangs for the chaos. They also held senior Palestinian security commanders responsible for maintaining close ties with the gangs.
…Radi Asideh, commander of the PA security forces in the Jenin area, said that his men were conducting a "huge manhunt after outlaws and thuds." He said that scores of suspects have been arrested since the start of the security operation over the weekend. "The criminals will be brought to justice," Asideh said without revealing the number of people who had been arrested.
Now the New York Times has reported (and has an accompanying slide show, A death rattles a West Bank City) Moussa's death, Jenin loses Leader as West Bank Violence returns:
General Assidi traced the resurging lawlessness back about a year, to the murder of the legendary director of the Freedom Theater, an oasis for decades of so-called cultural resistance. The violence picked up over the past seven or eight months, he said, and escalated in an April confrontation in the nearby village of Bir al Basha between police officers and a man wanted for killing his cousin. The wanted man’s brother fired on the police and ended up dead, General Assidi said, and many here believe that the attack on the governor’s home was retaliation.
“Unfortunately, our leadership in Ramallah heard the bell ringing late,” General Assidi said in an interview at his headquarters here, not yet entirely rebuilt after having been destroyed during the intifada. “We informed them that some members of the security establishment have no loyalty, but nobody paid attention to our request.”
On Monday, General Assidi said, nine of his counterparts from across the West Bank met here with the authority’s top security official, part of a crackdown in which the leadership has vowed to question, arrest and try anyone connected with the attack on Mr. Moussa’s house, the Bir al Basha affair and other recent flare-ups. A new governor, Talal Dwaikat, arrived Sunday, walking the streets for an hour to proclaim his commitment to safety.
(The reporter quoted, Prof. Mark Rosenblum in the article and identified him as a "left leaning ... historian." Really he's more than that. He is one of the founders of American for Peace Now. The quote isn't partisan, so the identification isn't important in this case. Still why not give his organizational affiliation?)

According to Khaled Abu Toameh (cited by bloggers, Israel MatzavThis Ongoing War and Elder of Ziyon) the situation is more urgent than the New York Times portrays it.  Abu Toameh writes in How Journalists allowed the Palestinian Authority to fool them:
Radi Asideh, the security commander of the Jenin area, admitted that it was the Palestinian security establishment that was responsible for the anarchy and lawlessness. "There is a defect inside the security establishment and officers were responsible for this," he revealed.
The biggest mistake, Asideh added, was that the Palestinian leadership had turned its back to the defect, allowing the situation to deteriorate at the expense of the people's security.
Palestinians say that anarchy and lawlessness are to be found also in other areas in the West Bank where the Palestinian Authority claims to have imposed law and order. And, they add, in most cases it is the Palestinian Authority's security forces that are responsible for the chaos and corruption.
The Palestinian Authority had every incentive to maintain the law and order. They didn't. They spent lots of time promoting their statehood bid in the UN last year but didn't pay any attention to the  nuts and bolts of actually governing.

In Ready for Statehood Norway's foreign minister, Jonas Gahr Store concluded:
So the answer to my initial question — whether the Palestinians can actually run a state — is yes. By building robust and well-functioning institutions, the Palestinians and the donor community have taken a bottom-up approach to the peace process. The final status issues — borders, security, refugees and Jerusalem — can only be settled through negotiations, which is an example of a top-down approach. In an ideal world, these two approaches should have converged. Regretfully, they haven’t. This is the core of the Israeli-Palestinian impasse.
When U.N. member states consider how to cast their vote on the Palestinian issue, they should bear in mind that no resolution will resolve the final-status issues. Only real, serious negotiations will. But the main obstacle to the realization of Palestinian statehood is the occupation. The Palestinians are otherwise fully capable of running a state.
Given the latest news from Jenin, that last sentence seems quite hollow. It isn't just journalists who have been covering for Palestinian malfeasance.

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