Monday, May 23, 2011

Mideast Media Sampler 05/23/2011

From an email from DG:
1) What's the matter Thomas, horse got your tongue?

Yesterday, Thomas Friedman had a 2/3 good column about the Syrian uprising called They shoot horses don't they?

Towards the end he writes:

Because Syria is such a keystone nation, there is a tendency among its neighbors to hope that the Assad regime could be weakened — and therefore moderated — but not broken. Few dare trust the Syrian people to build a stable social order out of the ashes of the Assad dictatorship. Those fears may be appropriate, but none of us get a vote. Only the Syrians do, and they are voting with their feet and with their lives for the opportunity to live as citizens, with equal rights and obligations, not pawns of a mafia regime. 
As the previous paragraph shows, he is writing about a number of nations, including Israel. The implication being (and something he's written before) that Israel doesn't really care about Syrian democracy because it prefers stability instead.

Honestly, I have no idea what the Israeli government's view of the revolution in Syria is. Retired General Amos Yadlin (former head of Israel's military intelligence and one of the pilots who destroyed the Iraqi reactor) and Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute wrote recently about the Devil we don't know:

The straw man of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood: In a post-Asad world, the ruler of Syria -- "the devil we don't know" -- is likely to be Sunni and, in comparison to Asad, more secular and politically moderate. Whatever his political inclinations, chances are unlikely that a Sunni leader would maintain Asad's close ties with Shiite Iran and Hizballah. Still, even if one assumes, for argument's sake, that the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood would dominate a new regime, such a government would still likely be less problematic than Asad's. The Brotherhood is a relatively weak movement in Syria -- many of its members have been killed or locked away in Asad's prisons, and the remainder is abroad. Furthermore, Syria has a secular majority, and a Muslim Brotherhood government would be constrained by that reality. Even in a worse-case scenario of a powerful and effective Sunni fundamentalist regime in Damascus, one should not forget the influence of a strong deterrent, such as Israel has displayed since 2006 toward Hizballah, itself a well-armed, radical Islamist movement.
That is one of four arguments they marshal in favor of not fearing regime change in Syria. I don't know if Gen. Yadlin's view represents the Israeli government's, but I think it suggests that, contrary to Friedman, there probably is a contingent currently in power in Israel who agrees with this analysis.

Also I'm curious as to why Friedman is now on assignment. Last week Fatah and Hamas agreed that Salam Fayyad would not lead the merged government. Friedman, had, on a few occasions informed us that Israel needed "Fayyadism" for there to be peace. Now, Fayyad has been sidelined and it doesn't even occasion a comment from him. (Most likely, Friedman wasn't sold on "Fayyadism" either. It sounded good so he used it the term. It served his purpose. It was a fad for him, not a serious analysis.)

The other question I have is why he didn't stick around for Netanyahu's visit to the United States. Usually American/Israeli relations are an area he enjoys commenting on.

2) "Hard Choices"

The New York Times's coverage of the President's AIPAC speech was titled Obama Presses Israel to Make ‘Hard Choices’

President Obama struck back at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel in a speech to a pro-Israel lobbying group on Sunday, defending his stance that talks over aPalestinian state should be focused on Israel’s pre-1967 borders, along with negotiated land swaps, and challenging Israel to “make the hard choices” necessary to bring about a stable peace. 
The theme sounds like the President's appeal to American Jewish leaders to do "self reflection." As Ha'aretz reported two years ago:

At the meeting, Obama told the leaders that he wants to help Israel overcome its demographic problem by reaching an agreement on a two-state solution, but that in order to do so, Israel would need "to engage in serious self-reflection." 
Or a couple of months ago President Obama asked Israelis to do soul searching about their interest in peace. (h/t Israel Matzav)

President Obama reportedly urged Jewish communal leaders to speak to their friends and colleagues in Israel and to “search your souls” over Israel's seriousness about making peace.
Last week Barry Rubin summed up the results of Israeli "hard choices," "self-reflection" and "soul searching" during the past 17 1/2 years:

Israel has conducted extensive experiments with this concept, experiments that have cost about the same number of Israeli lives as September 11 took American lives. Since the population of the United States is approximately 40 times that of Israel you can calculate the impact of those costs.After all, Israel already acted “to securely cede” (the split infinitive is Friedman’s) the Sinai to Egypt, with the result that this peace treaty is about to be abrogated. It tried to “securely cede” the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority, getting rockets and mortars and cross-border attacks in return. It also sought “to securely cede” southern Lebanon and got rockets and cross-border attacks. To see what would happen it acted “to securely cede” much of the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority and then received in return incitement to violence, terrorist attacks, and intransigence. 
As far as the Palestinian reaction to President Obama's speech, the AP sums it up:

Most difficult for Palestinians is Obama’s call to recognize Israel as the Jewish homeland, essentially requiring the Palestinians to accept that most refugees will be denied the “right of return” to what is now Israel.
Or as the title puts it Palestinians have problems with Obama’s Mideast speech, too _ especially over ‘Jewish state’

Of course the sentence could be rewritten:

"... essentially allowing Israel to be overwhelmed by refugees so that it is no longer a Jewish state."
Simply put then, Palestinians object to the existence of Israel. No Palestinian leader ever got ahead promoting coexistence in Arabic.

Joel Greenberg in the Washington Post wrote Netanyahu aides play down differences with Obama

After a bruising confrontation with President Obama over his call for a peace deal based on Israel’s 1967 boundaries, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his aides are playing down the dispute, calling reports of a crisis overblown. Their comments came as Obama gave a reassuring speech to the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC on Sunday, and Israeli commentators noted that the boundaries in question have long been considered the baseline for any future agreement with the Palestinians.
I do love the gerunds to shape the narrative here: "bruising" and "reassuring." But how reassuring was the President's speech if all he showed were the same blind spots over again?

In his speech to AIPAC today, Obama said that no country should have to negotiate with a group sworn to its destruction and then turned around and said that Israel still has to negotiate with the PA. He wants to have it both ways. But of course, the onus of the effort is all on Israel. He is not demanding that Mahmoud Abbas cut his ties with terrorist groups. He is not even suggesting that American support of the PA will change now that it is in league with an open terrorist group. No, it is Israel that must make the bold sacrifices for peace—not the Palestinians.

3) The importance of a phrase

There has been much discussion about the significance of President Obama's mention of the 1967 lines. Saeb Erekat yesterday demonstrated how he interpreted the statement. (h/t MP, EG) Ha'aretz reports:

Speaking to the Kuwaiti news agency KUNA on Sunday, Erekat said that an Israeli acceptance of Obama's guidelines was essential if stalled negotiations were to resume, saying that as far as the Palestinians were concerned peace talks "actually aim at realizing this [Obamas'] objective, the establishment of the independent Palestinian state with these borders, along with swap of territories."  
"Now, Erekat said, "we would like to hear from Netanyahu about his stance regarding this principle, declared by President Obama." 
The President's words have once again become a precondition for negotiations. Just like President Obama's unprecedented insistence on a settlement freeze became a condition for Abbas's participation in negotiations (and an excuse for him to walk out) now the 1967 borders are being used an excuse not to negotiate.
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