Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Middle East Media Sampler 6/24/2012: New York Times Still Oblivious To Middle East Events

From DG:
1) The Bogeyman

A New York Times editorial tells us What Sheldon Adelson wants:
One man cannot spend enough to ensure the election of an unpopular candidate, as Mr. Gingrich’s collapse showed, but he can buy enough ads to help push a candidate over the top in a close race like this year’s. Given that Mr. Romney was not his first choice, why is Mr. Adelson writing these huge checks? 
The first answer is clearly his disgust for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, supported by President Obama and most Israelis. He considers a Palestinian state “a steppingstone for the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people,” and has called the Palestinian prime minister a terrorist. He is even further to the right than the main pro-Israeli lobbying group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which he broke with in 2007 when it supported economic aid to the Palestinians. 
Mr. Romney is only slightly better, saying the Israelis want a two-state solution but the Palestinians do not, accusing them of wanting to eliminate Israel. The eight-figure checks are not paying for a more enlightened answer.
I don't know that Adelson is "disgusted" with a "two-state solution," though he certainly seems skeptical that it will achieve peace. And while he disagreed with AIPAC regarding aid to the Palestinians in 2007, it isn't at all clear that he broke with the group. Nor is it fair to describe Adelson as "further to the right" than AIPAC, suggesting that AIPAC is itself "to the right." AIPAC represents the center of pro-Israel advocacy, not J-Street, which the New York Times misleadingly labels "moderate."

I would disagree with Adelson's characterization of Fayyad as a "terrorist," but I don't believe Fayyad is as reasonable as the New York Times believes.

But are the views of Adelson and Mitt Romney regarding the Middle East not enlightened?

Consider the recent revelation that the Palestinian Authority maintains a style book.
The PA does not recognize Israel's right to exist. Accordingly, the introduction to the PA Ministry of Information's book stresses that correct Palestinian language must be chosen in order to avoid language that recognizes Israel's existence as "natural". Using the Israeli terminology:
"turns the essence of the Zionist endeavor (i.e., Israeli statehood) from a racist, colonialist endeavor into an endeavor of self-definition and independence for the Jewish People."
Palestinians are encouraged to use terms that indicate that Israel is the result of "a racist, colonialist endeavor," and the book instructs Palestinians never to use the name "Israel" alone but instead to use the term "Israeli colonialism." To use "Israel" by itself is damaging, according to the PA, because to do so "describes Israel as a natural state."
Whether or not a Palestinian state is a "stepping stone" to Israel's destruction, the people running it certainly believe that it is. However, a report last  year in the New York Times downplayed the incitement in the official  Palestinian media. Is the New York Times suggesting that it is "enlightened" to ignore the threats and extremism that is regularly published in the official Palestinian Authority media?

Maybe when the editors of the New York Times look for "enlightenment" in the Middle East, they really mean "obliviousness."

2) What Nathan Thrall wants

An activist working for the International Crisis Group, Nathan Thrall has penned, The Third Intifada is Inevitable for the New York Times.
EARLIER this month, at a private meeting with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and his security advisers, a group of Middle East experts and former intelligence officers warned that a third Palestinian intifada was imminent. The immediate catalyst, they said, could be another mosque vandalized by Jewish settlers, like the one burned on Tuesday, or the construction of new settlement housing. Whatever the fuse, the underlying source of ferment in the West Bank is a consensus that the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, has reached a dead end. 
This meeting was so significant that it wasn't even reported in the New York Times. I have little interest in paying Ha'aretz for the content, but the Xinhua News Agency summarized the report. Here's an interesting bit from the summary:
Netanyahu was presented with statistics showing that the outbreak of the first intifada in 1987 and the second intifada in 2000 were both preceded by mass violence and violence perpetrated by individuals, and that a similar trend is currently visible.
Really, is this what "experts" argued to Netanyahu? I'm not an expert and I know at least one of those assertions is false. We know for certain now that the so-called "Aqsa intifada" was orchestrated by Arafat; it was not some spontaneous outpouring of frustration.
In an interview on PA TV, Suha Arafat explained that Arafat ordered her to leave the PA areas "because he had already decided to carry out an Intifada." 
In a program about Arafat on PA TV, Nabil Shaath, member of Fatah Central Committee explained that "[Arafat] saw that repeating the first Intifada in new forms, would bring the necessary popular, international, and Arab pressure upon Israel." 
After the terror campaign started in 2000, during the years of conflict and since it ended in 2005, different PA leaders have recognized and confirmed Arafat's responsibility for planning and directing the terror campaign.
In fact prior to the intifada Barak made an unprecedented peace offer to Arafat that Arafat rejected!

After painting Abbas as a moderate, committed to peace, Thrall continues:
As the gap between the Palestinian president’s words and actions has grown, so has the distance of his policies from public sentiment, leading to his government’s turn to greater repression: torturing political opponents, blocking Web sites and arresting journalists and bloggers critical of Mr. Abbas. Even Mr. Abbas’s close advisers confide that he is at risk of becoming another Antoine Lahad, the leader of Israel’s proxy force during its occupation of southern Lebanon. The chief steward of Mr. Abbas’s policies, the unelected prime minister, Salam Fayyad, has acknowledged, “I think we are losing the argument, if we have not already lost.” And Mr. Abbas himself has admitted that the peace process is “jammed” and that his government had merely helped create “a good situation” for Israel, which, enjoying years of unprecedented cooperation with Palestinian forces in the West Bank, lacks incentives to agree to any change.
It's good that someone in the New York Times is acknowledging Abbas's growing authoritarian streak, but it isn't being done to protect Israel. It's a matter of protecting himself as reports of his wealth grow, he'd really rather keep talk of how much foreign aid has gone to enriching himself and his family at a minimum.

If the peace process is jammed, it is due to Abbas's own actions. It is Abbas who has refused to negotiate with Netanyahu in anticipation of American pressure. It is Abbas who didn't negotiate in good faith even during a ten month "settlement" freeze two years ago. It is Abbas who attempted the statehood bid at the UN last year that changed nothing.

Thrall argues that it is only violence that advances Palestinian statehood:
The second option is armed confrontation. Although there is widespread apathy among Palestinians, and hundreds of thousands are financially dependent on the Palestinian Authority’s continued existence, a substantial number would welcome the prospect of an escalation, especially many supporters of Hamas, who argue that violence has been the most effective tactic in forcing Israel and the international community to act. 
THEY believe that rocks, Molotov cocktails and mass protests pushed Israel to sign the Oslo Accords in 1993; that deadly strikes against Israeli troops in Lebanon led Israel to withdraw in 2000; that the bloodshed of the second intifada pressured George W. Bush to declare his support for Palestinian statehood and prodded the international community to produce the Arab Peace Initiative, the Geneva Initiative, and the Road Map for Middle East Peace. They are also convinced that arms pressured Ariel Sharon, then Israel’s prime minister, to evacuate settlers and troops from Gaza in 2005. That pullout also had the effect of freezing the peace process, supplying “the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary,” as a Sharon adviser put it, “so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.”
Sure, Thrall wouldn't say that he advocates violence, he's just quoting others who do. But what's missing from this selective history?

By 1993, the intifada was largely over. Maybe Israel fled Lebanon due to the political pressure that resulted from losing too many soldiers, but the withdrawal strengthened Hezbollah and didn't bring peace to Lebanon or Israel. The withdrawal from Gaza came after Sheikh Yassin and Dr. Rantissi were killed and terror from Gaza hard dropped significantly. Of course that withdrawal was followed by the strengthening of Hamas that led to southern Israel being targeted by thousands of rockets.

Thrall leaves out essential facts that would tell a much different story than the one he wants to tell.

If you want an idea where Thrall is coming from, last May he wrote that Israel ought to deal with Hamas or face even more extremists. At the time Elder of Ziyon wrote:
This is, again, a willful blindness on the part of people who are so wed to the idea that peace with Hamas must be possible that logic and facts go out the window just to prove the unprovable. People to whom the "peace process" is a religion cannot lose their faith, so they must spin more and more crazy theories just to shore up their "flat Earth"-style beliefs.

Sorry. The earth is round, Obama was born in Hawaii, 9/11 wasn't an inside job and real peace between Israel and Islamic movements like Hamas is impossible. Hamas and other Islamist movements must be defeated, not embraced. While victory is difficult, as in any war, it isimperative.
So in one year he's gone from calling Hamas "moderate" to arguing that moderation towards Israel won't bring peace. Based on these two op-eds one could conclude that Nathan Thrall advocates for those who promote violence against Israel. Is that the sort of "enlightenment" that the New York Times strives for?

Thrall works for the International Crisis Group, which is appropriate. Those following his advice will likely find themselves in even worse crises than they were before.

3) What Kirkpatrick wants

Over the past few months, the New York Times has featured an ongoing series called "The New Islamists." The chief reporter for this series is David Kirkpatrick. In a recent question and answer forum, this is what Kirkpatrick wrote about the Muslim Brotherhood:
In the long run, it is hard to say for sure. But many in the West have a lot of mistaken impressions about the Brotherhood. It is at its base a religious revival group committed to a bottom-up and gradual approach to moving the culture in a more Islamic direction. Their platform carefully avoids any hint of restrictions on personal behavior or liberties. Rather, it seems to suggest the Brotherhood would try to nudge Egyptian culture in a more conservative direction by public and private example. For instance, the Brotherhood would not restrict the content of films but it might subsidize films that expressed traditional Islamic values. And it would allow Islamic charities and religious groups more freedom to spread their own messages.
Its leaders are not clerics or religious scholars. Almost all have advanced degrees in medicine or the natural sciences. (Mohamed Morsi, the presidential candidate, got his PhD in materials engineering at the University of Southern California.) They are politicians. Under Mubarak, the Brotherhood played a growing role as an elected bloc of the Parliament, and unlike the ruling party its lawmakers acted like real politicians — they sought the views of their constituents, studied the issues and introduced legislation, and over time moved toward the middle. They are committed to democratic elections and the peaceful rotation of political power, which usually means moving to the middle. 
Most of all the Brotherhood has been very clear that it sees turning around Egypt’s economy as its top priority, before any cultural issues. This is simply an accurate reading of the political realities if they expect to compete to be re-elected. But they also see their constituency as the middle to upper middle class, including the owners of small and medium-sized businesses.
This should be taken as Kirkpatrick's statement of purpose. He believes that Westerners fundamentally misunderstand Islamists. Islamists coming to power, according to Kirkpatrick, understand that they will get nowhere if they don't govern effectively and that their interest in promoting (or coercing) religion will be secondary to their interest in good government.

It is important to keep Kirkpatrick's announced bias in mind whenever reading one of his reports. Today he reports from Libya, Libya Democracy Clashes With Fervor for Jihad. In this dispatch there is a conflict between a moderate Islamist and an extreme Islamist.
In an unfolding contest here over the future of the Islamist movement, Mr. Hasadi’s vision of peaceful change appears ascendant. For the West, his success may represent the greatest promise of the Arab Spring, that political participation could neutralize the militant strand of Islam that has called thousands to fight and die in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. 
That hope for democracy, however, is now imperiled by lawlessness in Libya, signs of sectarian war in Syria and military rule in Egypt. In Egypt, especially, the generals’ attempts to thwart an Islamist electoral victory could validate militant arguments about the futility of democratic reform.
Some in the West fear militants will find new staging grounds. In Darnah, which the United States Army says sent more jihadis to fight the United States in Iraq than any other town its size, Mr. Qumu and other militants still command a following, according to local officials and residents. Many blame Islamist militants for a spate of violent crimes, including the bombing of Mr. Hasadi’s empty Mercedes-Benz.
Kirkpatrick does get credit for getting a great quote from one of his respondents:
“We want our politics to be like Israel,” said Mosab Benkamaial, 25, referring to the Jewish state’s melding of religious identity and electoral democracy. Mr. Benkamaial, who was captured by United States troops in Baghdad, now runs Darnah’s most popular restaurant, a kebab grill called Popeye’s.
It is nice to see an Arab who (apparently) thinks that Israel is a model democracy. I get the impression that that would put him at odds with much of reporting staff and editorial board of the New York Times.

Later on, Kirkpatrick fills in more of Hasadi's profile:
Mr. Hasadi, the jihadi turned politician, boasted that he had just asked a woman to become his fourth wife. He recommended that the West try Islamic corporal punishments, like cutting off thieves’ hands, as a deterrent. 
But he is trying to broaden his appeal. Once a schoolteacher, he leads prayers at a local mosque, hosts television and radio programs and courts the local and international news media. He says the Taliban were wrong to restrict the careers of women (they will vote in Libya).
He and Mr. Qumu remain friends, Mr. Hasadi said, and he was working on persuading Mr. Qumu to trust in democracy and lay down his weapons, or at least take down the jihadi flag over his compound.
Polygamy and punitive amputations are not usually associated with Western liberalism. But is Hasadi really changed? Or under the conciliatory veneer presented to a reporter from the New York Times, is there a more aggressive Islamist lurking?

Though Kirkpatrick mentions some of Hasadi's past, last September Barry Rubin provided a lot more.
According to Al Jazeera, the network recommended by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as fair and balanced, Abdul al-Hakim al-Hasadi, also known as Abdelhakim Belhaj, has been named commander of the Tripoli Military Council. He was formerly head of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, an al-Qaeda affiliate. Moderates are understandably nervous. 
In 1999, the group’s spokesman praised Osama bin Laden (remember him?) and said: “The United States no longer relies on its agents to constrict the Islamic tide; it has taken this role upon itself.” One of its former leaders worked to plan the attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, resulting in massive loss of life. In 2003, members were involved in an al-Qaeda terror attack in Morocco.
At any rate, the group was still designated as terrorist by the U.S. government. Here it is on the terrorism list (number 26, in alphabetical order) released by the State Department last May.
Has Hasadi changed?

Kirkpatrick didn't ask him anything about his ties to Al Qaeda. It's hard to know how aggressively Kirkpatrick interviewed Hasadi. The record of the Western media and the New York Times in particular in Libya suggests that Kirkpatrick didn't ask anything that he didn't want to know the answer to.
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