Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Middle East Media Sampler 5/17/2012: The Maturing Palestinian Political System

From DG:
1) The man who swallowed Gaza is targeted

 AP reports Arafat's moneyman targeted in corruption probe:
Anti-corruption campaigners lauded the case against the shadowy former aide, Mohammed Rashid, as a sign of the maturing of the Palestinian political system, although the probe also appeared to be tinged with political intrigue. 
Rashid, who has in the past denied wrongdoing, made veiled threats on a website to disclose purported secrets about the rise to power of Arafat's successor, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. And Palestinian watchdogs, while praising growing government vigilance about corruption, expressed concern that such investigations are at times being used selectively to settle personal scores.
The tall, dark-haired Rashid left the Palestinian territories after Arafat's death in November 2004, and his current whereabouts were not immediately known. 
Rafik Natche, head of the Palestinian Anti-Corruption Commission, said Rashid holds business interests in Jordan, Egypt, Montenegro, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates, and that the Palestinian Authority has asked all five countries to freeze his assets and extradite him.
Here's what's important in these paragraphs: "although the probe also appeared to be tinged with political intrigue" and "expressed concern that such investigations are at times being used selectively to settle personal scores." Here's what's misdirection: "a sign of the maturing of the Palestinian political system."

Last year's expulsion of Mohammed Dahlan from Fatah shows that the Palestinian political system has not matured. More recently Mahmoud Abbas has been cracking down on critical journalists.

Rashid, for whatever reason, has fallen out of favor. That's why he's being targeted. Or maybe it's as simple as what Willie Sutton reputedly said about banks, Mohammed Rashid is where the money is. As Ronen Bergman and David Ratner wrote in 1997, in The man who swallowed Gaza:
This is how Yasser Arafat's Fund B works: The Al-Bahr Company, for example, belongs to his chef de bureau and economic advisor. The cement monopoly is run by mystery man Muhammad Rashid, who signed the multi- million dollar contract with Dor Energy on behalf of the Authority. In a first interview with an Israeli newspaper, Rashid confirms the existence of a secret bank account in Tel Aviv.
The Hahashmonaim branch of Bank Leumi is where Palestinian Authority chief Yasser Arafat maintains what people in the know in the territories call "A-Sunduk A- Thani," Fund B, the Chairman's second, secret budget. According to an investigation conducted by top brass of the nations contributing to the Authority, only two people have the right to sign vis-a-vis this account: Yasser Arafat and his senior economic advisor, mystery man Muhammad Rashid, known also by the name Khaled Salaam. According to other sources, the Palestinian finance minister, Ahmad Zuhadi Nashashibi, also has access to the account. 
Since it was opened in 1994, Israel has transferred at least NIS 500 million into the secret account in Tel Aviv. An International Monetary Fund (IMF) internal document in Ha'aretz's possession raises the possibility that the sums are even greater. The IMF states definitively that the account in Tel Aviv "is not under the control or supervision of the Palestinian finance ministry."
Whether it was the main constituent organization of the PLO or the dominant party of the Palestinian Authority, Fatah has been hopelessly corrupt. In the former circumstances it garnered its wealth through kidnapping and extortion; in its latter incarnation the corruption has been fueled by foreign aid. Abbas has provided for himself and his family. It's not like we're looking at a new age of Palestinian accountability despite suggestions otherwise from the AP.

2) Media standards

I inadvertantly came across a short piece by Barry Rubin from a few years ago, To the Media: Higher Standard for Israel? Then Higher Standard for Coverage of Israel, in which he responded to the media trope that it is up to the media to hold Israel to a higher standard:
So if you say that you hold Jews and Israel to higher standards remember equally that they have been treated, misexplained, misunderstood and lied about to lower standards. That there are people--often the main supposed witnesses to the things you denounce Israel for--who have a vested interest in making Israel look bad and who are willing to lie, along with reporters and others who have an antagonism to Israel. What are you doing to correct that side of the balance? 
I'm going to hold you to a higher standard in your coverage of Israel and of Jews for the same reason.
Which is appropriate as I just ran across this brutal critique of Middle East reporting by Sultan Knish, How to write about Israel:
Pay a visit to Jerusalem. Mention a place or two that you like to eat, make sure that it is owned by Arabs, accept their tale of being here for thousands of years with complete credulity. If they mention that they are worried about East Jerusalem being taken over by the Palestinian Authority, don't report that. Do report any complaints that they have about the Judaization of Jerusalem. Draw a picture of the neighborhood as a wonderfully multicultural place dating back to when the Jordanians expelled all the Jews—that is now under assault by the returning Jews. Mourn all the tourists and the Jewish families who are getting in the way of your orientalism. Be sure to remind readers that the Muslim name of the city, or as you will write, the Arab name, is Al-Quds, and that it is holy to three great religions. 
Visit with politicians. Israeli Prime Ministers will invariably be unpleasant obstructionist types, if they make jokes, describe it as a transparent effort to curry favor with you. Generals are even worse. Press them about the separation wall, checkpoints, misery and deprivation in the territories. Then get your NGO friends to introduce you to friendly left-wing pols who will commiserate with you about the state of the peace process and the leap of faith that needs to be taken to make peace. Get a quote from them about the next generation and describe them as saddened by their government's unwilling to make peace. 
Palestinian politicians are always willing to make peace, even when they aren't. Work at it and you will get a hypothetical quote about their willingness to one day live in peace with the Jews. Turn that quote into the centerpiece of your article. 
Contrast it with Israeli leaders who still refuse to come to the table. Never ask them any tough questions about the budget, their support for terrorists or why they refuse to negotiate. Instead feed them softball questions, take their talking points and plug them into the template for the same article that your predecessors have been writing since the seventies.
3) Do we need White House plumbers?

 It seems clear that some of the particulars of the recently attempted underwear bombing of an American flight were leaked to the press. Some have suggested that it was sources within the administration. The New York Times reports, F.B.I. Chief Says Leak on Qaeda Plot Is Being Investigated:
At a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the director, Robert S. Mueller III, said that the disclosure of the information about the plot, which was first reported by The Associated Press on May 7, compromised the United States’ operations against Al Qaeda. 
Mr. Mueller said that such a leak threatens operations, “puts at risk the lives of sources, makes it much more difficult to recruit sources, and damages our relationships with our foreign partners.”
The investigation continues an unprecedented focus by the Obama administration on targeting the sources of unauthorized disclosures of classified information to the news media. The administration has prosecuted six such cases, compared with a total of three under all previous presidents.
 No further details are provided about the prosecutions mentioned and it isn't an area I'm familiar with. Though if the Bush administration had proceeded with similar prosecutions at an "unprecedented" level, I'm sure the New York Times would have been a lot more vocal about it.
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