Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Mideast Media Sampler 10/19/2011

From DG:
1) Bell Pottinger Rosenthal Collins and Abramson

There's a surprisingly good editorial in the New York Times today, Gilad Shalit's Release:
One has to ask: If Hamas can negotiate with Israel — and not demand preconditions to talks — why won’t the supposedly moderate Palestinian Authority negotiate seriously without preconditions with Israel, which the PA relies on for a significant portion of its budget?
The editorial correctly notes that it is PA President Mahmoud Abbas who refuses to negotiate. Implicitly it shows that Abbas, by continually demanding a freeze to resume negotiations isn't interested in peace. Okay, that isn't what was really in the New York Times editorial. This is.
One has to ask: If Mr. Netanyahu can negotiate with Hamas — which shoots rockets at Israel, refuses to recognize Israel’s existence and, on Tuesday, vowed to take even more hostages — why won’t he negotiate seriously with the Palestinian Authority, which Israel relies on to help keep the peace in the West Bank?
First of all, as noted above, it is Abbas who refuses to negotiate, not Netanyahu; it was Hamas that approached Israel in July about terms that led to the final deal. Also as Israel Matzav notes, obtaining freedom of Gilad Shalit was politically popular even if negotiating with the PA is not. Additionally, negotiating a single point is different from negotiating a full spectrum of issues, which a peace settlement would entail. One last note on this point: given its general lack of outrage about terror against Israel, it's extremely cynical for the Times to note Hamas's extremism only in the course of a rebuke of Netanyahu. Earlier on, of course, the New York Times gave up the game:
Now that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has compromised with Hamas, we fear that to prove his toughness he will be even less willing to make the necessary compromises to restart negotiations. And we fear that the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and his Fatah faction, who were cut out of the swap altogether, will be further weakened.
Note they are honest enough to acknowledge that they are demanding not that Netanyahu negotiate with Abbas but that he give in to Abbas's demands to restart negotiations. While I believe that this deal with strengthen Hamas initially, Hamas needed to boost its own standing with Gazans. If the release isn't followed by better living conditions for Gaza, the gains will be fleeting. More from the editorial:
Mr. Netanyahu twisted himself in an ideological knot to get this deal. Only five months ago, he wanted to cut off tax remittances to the Palestinian Authority and urged the United States to halt aid because Mr. Abbas tried to forge a unity government with Hamas, which controls Gaza.
Netanyahu would have been fully justified in doing so five months and would still be justified - deal with Hamas or not. The PA by coming to an agreement with Hamas showed its disregard for the peace process. Israel Matzav noted that recently released terrorists were welcomed back with honor by Abbas too. These are repeated demonstrations that the PA is not the moderate, terror eschewing organization that will come to agreement with Israel and bring peace and stability to the Middle East.
Mr. Netanyahu’s backers claim that his coalition is so fragile that he can’t make the compromises needed to help revive peace negotiations. But he was strong enough to go against the grief-stricken families of those Israelis killed by the Palestinian prisoners he just freed. “I know that the price is very heavy for you,” he wrote to them. Why can’t he make a similarly impassioned appeal for a settlement freeze for the sake of Israel’s security?
Who are these "backers?" Those who see no likelihood of Netanyahu coming to an agreement with Abbas don't cast it in terms of coalition politics, but in terms of Abbas's refusal to negotiate. This isn't even a straw man argument. It implies that Netanyahu's political standing is tenuous - it isn't. He remains the most popular choice for Prime Minister as he's been for at least a year. Though I have sympathy for the the "grief-stricken families" that the Times cynically exploits here, they do remain very much in the minority. The last sentence assumes that a freeze will result in negotiations and a peace agreement based on nothing more than wishful thinking and multiple experiences showing otherwise! The editorial concludes:
The United States and its partners should keep trying to get negotiations going. Mr. Abbas should see the prisoner swap for what it is — a challenge to his authority and credibility. The best way to bolster his standing is by leading his people in the creation of a Palestinian state, through negotiations. As for Mr. Netanyahu, we saw on Tuesday that the problem is not that he can’t compromise and make tough choices. It’s that he won’t. That won’t make Israel safer. 
If negotiations are desired by the United States and the Quartet they need to pressure Abbas to return to the table. This whole editorial rejects the observable truth that it is Abbas who refuses to negotiate with Israel in order to condemn Netanyahu gratuitously. The editors of the New York Times are interested neither in peace nor in the truth. This whitewash of Abbas is hardly surprising. Over the course of the PA's statehood bid the New York Times has run two hagiographic profiles of Mahmoud Abbas. There was Taking a Stand, and Shedding Arafat’s Shadow:
For decades, the defiant, charismatic and unpredictable Yasir Arafat, always in military uniform, needed no introduction. Seven years after Mr. Arafat’s death, Mr. Abbas, a gray man of sober suits and sensible shoes, may now be slowly emerging from his shadow. In bringing his cause to the United Nations despite intense American pressure, Mr. Abbas has captivated the annual General Assembly gathering, bolstered the flagging devotion of his people and even cornered his rivals in Hamas. The question is whether this moment of unparalleled prestige for the Palestinian leader will produce concrete results or a new and more dangerous set of risks. Here in New York, leaders are lining up to meet with Mr. Abbas, the central protagonist in the session’s chief drama. In the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinians are offering rare praise for a leader who has mostly been seen as Hamlet-like in his indecision, trying too hard to please the Americans and the Israelis.
Then there was Palestinians Roll Out Hero's Welcome for Abbas
Here in Ramallah, thousands greeted Mr. Abbas at his office headquarters, waving flags, shouting oaths of loyalty and holding aloft his photograph. Mr. Abbas, a withdrawn figure who lacks charisma, is enjoying a wave of popularity for standing up to Washington over the membership application and delivering a tough speech at the United Nations on Friday. “We have told the world that there is the Arab Spring, but there is also the Palestinian Spring,” he said on Sunday. “It is a spring of popular and peaceful struggle that will reach its goal.” Some of those in the crowd were skeptical that a peaceful struggle could wrest an independent state from the Israeli occupation.
While there was some skepticism expressed at the end of the second article; on the whole it portrayed Abbas as a principled man of peace. The first was devoid of any negative information. Finally there was Obama and Abbas: From Speed Dial to Not Talking, which takes the position that the reason Abbas isn't negotiating is because Obama let him down.
Among Palestinians, the disappointment is all the more acute because their hopes for Mr. Obama were so high. Judging by Mr. Obama’s background, temperament and worldview, Palestinians expected him to bring a new focus to the peace process and a greater sympathy for the Palestinian cause. It did not go unnoticed that he is friends with a prominent Palestinian-American scholar, Rashid Khalidi. Mr. Obama named a high-profile special envoy to the region, George J. Mitchell Jr. He also spoke empathetically about the suffering of the Palestinian people in Gaza after an Israeli military campaign against Hamas there. And the president’s demand of Israel that it freeze settlement construction cheered the Palestinians, who believed that would remove a stubborn hurdle to a peace deal.“We hoped a lot that in his administration, there would be real progress,” said Nabil Shaath, who leads the foreign affairs department of Fatah, the main party of the Palestinian Authority. “But later on, disappointment set in,” Mr. Shaath said in a telephone interview from Ramallah on the West Bank. “He really could not deliver what he promised in terms of a cessation of settlement activity.”
It would be hard for Abbas to get his own press to describe him in more heroic terms or even buy this kind of publicity. Today's editorial is just one more piece of evidence that when it comes to the Middle East the New York Times has put itself at the disposal of Mahmoud Abbas.

2) A sympathetic op-ed in the New York Times

I don't know when's the last time I read an op-ed or editorial that was sympathetic to Israel and wasn't written by Ambassador Oren. Walter Reich's Saving Shalit, Encouraging Terror, I think, would qualify. True it's critical of Israel's trade. On the other hand it shows an empathy for Israel's positions that is all too lacking in the New York Times.
Clearly, the Israeli leaders and officials who approved the exchange were willing to pay a high price to maintain Israel’s sense of solidarity. They want Israeli parents to feel reassured that the government will do all it can to save their captured sons and daughters. And Israeli soldiers are presumably more ready to go into battle if they know that. Yet, Israel’s leaders should have listened to their heads, painful though it would have been. The consequences of past prisoner releases should have convinced them that the exchange would almost surely prove, in the long run, the more costly choice. In the past three decades, according to one estimate, Israel has released about 7,000 Arab prisoners in exchange for about 16 Israelis and the bodies of 10 more. Another estimate has put the number of Arab prisoners exchanged since 1985 at about 10,000. According to a 2007 report by an Israeli terrorism victims group, 177 Israelis were murdered in the five years before the study by recidivist terrorists who had been freed.
Benjamin Weinthal has related reflections in Shalit’s Release Highlights Israel’s Democracy:
In the final analysis, the painstaking agreement was green-lighted by the only vibrant democratic government in the Middle East, the state of Israel. The effort to win Shalit’s freedom is a tribute to Israel’s democracy and its acute sense of justice. While Syria and Iran’s totalitarian regimes are bludgeoning their populations, Israel’s government seeks to protect its citizens from terror and affirm the core principle of human freedom for its population. But the understandable euphoria over Shalit’s release has overshadowed the horrific suffering of Israeli families who have to internalize that the Palestinian murderers of their family members are free.

 3) Michael Kelly on Gaza 

I recently saw a tweet that reminded me of this column by the late Michael Kelly.
Arafat's entry into Gaza was an object lesson: a purposely uncaring display of brute power. He arrived from the Sinai in a long caravan of Chevrolet Blazers and Mercedes-Benzes and BMWs, 70 or 80 cars packed to the rooflines with men with guns. The caravan roared up the thronged roads and down the mobbed streets, with the overfed, leather-jacketed, sunglassed thugs of Arafat's bodyguard detail all the time screaming and shooting off their Kalashnikovs to make their beloved people scurry out of their beloved leader's way. This was the whole of the Palestinian Authority from the beginning, an ugly little cartoon of Middle East despotism. There was never any pretense of democracy, of rule of law, of a free press, of a working system of taxes or courts or hospitals. There was never any real government. No one ever bothered to build an economy or create jobs or even pick up the trash or pave the streets. There were only security forces -- many, many of these -- and villas by the sea for Arafat's cronies, and millions of dollars in foreign aid that seemed to always turn up missing, and prisons and propaganda. And in the middle of it all: "President" Arafat sitting in a room -- surrounded by waiting sycophants and toadies and respectful ladies and gentlemen of the press -- and complaining.
I discovered that this was a summary of a much longer article that Kelly had written years earlier for the New York Times Magazine, In Gaza Peace meets Pathology.
Faced with conflicting demands from the Israelis, the West and his own people, and also from within himself, Arafat is losing control of a situation he never grasped firmly. Having rejected, as contrary to the spirit of self-rule and his own pride, the requests of foreign nations for an accounting system that clearly shows how money donated to the Palestinian National Authority is spent, he has attracted only a tiny piece of the nearly $1 billion pledged for Palestinian support this year. The authority, consequently, is broke, unable to finance basic functions of government. The P.L.O.-Israel peace process has been repeatedly stalled by events within and without Arafat's control, and each breakdown has further set back the possibility of a larger Palestinian entity under Arafat's leadership. Increasingly, the Israelis and even some West Bank Palestinians are showing a preference for dealing instead with Arafat's old enemy, King Hussein of Jordan. Indeed, many Palestinians suspect that the Israelis made peace with Arafat only to remove him to the isolation of Gaza, while they pursued a separate and more promising peace with Hussein. Meanwhile, in Gaza, support for Arafat and for the peace process has in recent weeks approached the vanishing point.The great sign of disintegration, and the great force for further disintegration, is the killing, which has picked up smartly in recent weeks. The promise of an end to the slaying and counterslaying that had become the central, awful means of political dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis was the essential point and hope of the deal between Arafat and Rabin. To this end, Arafat had promised to disarm Gaza's terror factions -- the Islamic Resistance Movement, popularly known by its Arabic acronym, Hamas, the Islamic Holy War and his own Fatah Hawks -- and to this end also, he had filled Gaza's streets with his own armed men. Within a month of Arafat's arrival in Gaza, however, Hamas and the Islamic Holy War had resumed terrorist operations. In August, Hamas operatives disguised as settlers picked up two Israeli Defense Force soldiers hitchhiking and killed them; members of the same group were, a few days later, involved in a shootout with police in Jerusalem. A few days after that, Hamas gunmen killed one Israeli citizen and wounded another six in two drive-by attacks on the road outside Gush Katif, a Jewish settlement in the southern Gaza Strip. The pace quickened in September, and again in October. Last month -- just as Arafat and Rabin were receiving the Nobel Peace Prize -- Hamas killed 2 and wounded 13 in a Jerusalem street attack; kidnapped, exhibited and killed an Israeli soldier, Nahshon Waxman, and exploded a bomb on a bus in downtown Tel Aviv, killing 22 and wounding 46. All told, 90 Israelis have been murdered by Palestinian terrorists since Arafat and Rabin signed the deal that won the prize.
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