Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Middle East Media Sampler 4/17/12: Maybe Obama Isn't As Smart As The Media Said!?

From DG:
1) Diehl him out?

When the editors of the Washington Post endorsed President Obama four years ago, they wrote:
But Mr. Obama, as anyone who reads his books can tell, also has a sophisticated understanding of the world and America's place in it.
Now one of those editors, Jackson Diehl, seems to believe differently. In Events do not wait as Obama plays a delay defense:

And so it goes. Civil war may rage in Syria, with thousands of deaths and a potentially major effect on U.S. strategic interests. But Obama is determined to do nothing that would take away his stump speech boast that the “tide of war is receding.” In the negotiations with Iran that began Saturday, the administration is focused on a time-buying deal that will stop the most dangerous Iranian nuclear activities and further deter Israeli military action — while leaving the underlying problem to be solved later. 
Obama’s delay defense can be dated to Feb. 29, when the State Department announced a bargain to trade 240,000 tons of food for a pledge by North Korea to freeze its missile and nuclear weapons programs. Diplomats talked up the dubious possibility that Pyongyang was ready to make peace with the outside world. But the more pragmatic objective was obvious: a few months of peace and quiet.
Over the course of President Obama's term in office the Washington Post has offered regular and harsh criticisms of his foreign policy. Still, Diehl has put together a comprehensive and damning case against the President's foreign policy here. In October, I fully expect the Post's editors - despite their criticisms - to endorse President Obama for a second term. But will Diehl sign on?

2) Not disbanding

Yesterday I mentioned Mahmoud Abbas's angry letter to PM Netanyahul.
In the letter, some of which is markedly bitter in tone and questions Netanyahu’s commitment to a two-state solution, Abbas comes close to threatening to dismantle the PA in frustration at the diplomatic deadlock, as he had reportedly contemplated doing, but he refrains from such a threat.
The idea of dismantling the PA is not Abbas's though, it belongs to Yossi Beilin. Abdel Karim Saleh writes:
Former Israeli minister and negotiator Yossi Beilin -- along with with a number of Israelis, including former army chief of staff Amnon Shahak and Zahav Gal'on, leader of the left-wing Meretz Party -- met this week in Ramallah with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and gave him some advice as how to deal with the Israeli government and the peace process. 
The meeting in Ramallah came one day after Beilin called on Abbas to dismantle the Palestinian Authority so that Israel will be forced to manage the day-to-day affairs of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip -- basically meaning the abrogation of the Oslo Accords, which the two men played a major role in creating two decades ago. 
Beilin and his friends are, in fact, inciting Abbas against the Israeli government: they are encouraging him to resist American and European pressure and stay away from the peace talks with Israel.
Israel Matzav explained why Abbas would never take the advice of Beilin and disband the PA - to do so would mean sacrificing foreign aid flowing into his coffers.

David Weinberg discusses the contents of Abbas's letter.
The bottom line is that the current PA leadership (never mind the Hamas leadership) has no intention of truly entering realistic peace talks that involve compromise with Israel, or ever signing a piece of paper that recognizes the legitimacy of a Jewish state and therefore end the conflict for all time. 
Instead, Abbas and Fayyad know how to threaten: That unless Israel bows to their demands, the PA “will seek the full and complete implementation of international law” to criminalize and penalize Israel’s presence “as an occupying power in all of the occupied Palestinian territory.” To seek to further isolate Israel internationally. 
In truth, this is what the Palestinian national movement has always been about: the delegitimization of the Jewish state. I would say that the Fayyad letter constitutes another missed Palestinian opportunity to gain their own state, but clearly and unfortunately, that is not what today’s Palestinian leaders are after.  
Elliott Abrams is unimpressed by the letter and observes:
Abbas is in a very difficult corner, to be sure. While the "Arab Spring" is blossoming around him, he cannot hold elections (though his own term and the parliament's both ran out years ago) because Hamas won't allow them in Gaza, and Fatah can't be sure of winning them in the West Bank. He can't win a statehood resolution at the United Nations. He can't negotiate with Israel without demanding a construction freeze in settlements and Jerusalem (and he demands this again in his letter) because President Obama forced him into that position by calling it a precondition for talks. 
Abbas can improve life in the West Bank, but seems to fear that would only benefit Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. And, to be fair to Abbas, if 'merely' ensuring that West Bank Palestinians live a better and freer life, with more jobs and fewer Israeli raids, has not been his central objective neither has it been that of the U.S. government.  
3) Spilling over

Sonor Cagaptay asks Will Syria's Sectarian Divisions Spill Over Into Turkey?
Recently, I visited Antakya, where Turkey has built camps to accommodate refugees fleeing Assad's crackdown. There, I witnessed a pro-Assad demonstration attended by Turkish Arab Alawites, who chanted anti-AKP and pro-Assad slogans. Alawite merchants in town proudly sell and display Assad paraphernalia. At the same time, Antakya's Sunni Arab community is busy organizing assistance to the anti-Assad uprising, using smuggling routes to take supplies into Syria. 
Given all this, it seems a real possibility that the prospect of domestic sectarian unrest could tie Turkey's hands in devising a policy toward Syria. That said, it's a problem Ankara could still avoid. The key would be for Turkey to alleviate any concerns that its approach to Syria is meant to serve narrow sectarian interests. For starters, the government should cease its own rhetoric that plays into sectarianism, and expressly reach out to the CHP and to the Turkish Alevis, informing them of the humanitarian nature of its Syria policy. Ankara should also consider reaching out to Syrian Alawites by making clear that prominent Alawite members of the Syrian regime who defect would be able to take refuge in Turkey.
4) Own methodology

In Statistics and Moral SenseSohrab Ahmari critiques Justin Martin's tendentious report on Israel (h/t Martin Kramer)
Allowing Mr. Martin to skewer the Jewish state using faulty statistics undermines CJR’s role as professional watchdog. But the harm done extends beyond journalistic standards. The ultimate impact of pieces like Mr. Martin’s is a softening of the reading public’s moral intuitions and sensitivities. By placing Israel on the same plane as the likes of Iran and Syria, Mr. Martin minimized the threats faced by journalists working under genuine authoritarianisms—not to mention the broader human rights catastrophes underway in these societies. 
In Iran, where I was born and spent the first half of my life, journalists and writers are persecuted on a nearly industrial scale; dozens of outlets are shuttered every year. Just last month, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported, Nazanin Khosravani, a reformist writer, began serving a six-year sentence in Tehran’s nightmarish Evin prison for the crime of “propagating against the system”—a charge unheard of in Israel. But why should Western audiences care about these very real injustices when seemingly authoritative “statistics” show the West—including Israel and the U.S.—to be equally authoritarian? Mr. Martin thus challenged the common moral sense of his readers, distorting conclusions they would otherwise draw from straightforward reporting on the realities of practicing journalism in free and unfree societies. Will he earn a dart from CJR anytime soon?
Martin reply begins:
Some issues in journalism fire up audiences more than others. In the United States, for example, few issues enrage, politically galvanize, or push Americans into civil society more than reportage on major problems or missteps at their children’s schools. Globally, it is reporting on the Middle East, particularly Israel/Palestine matters, that draws ire, fulsome praise, or ad hominem molotovs.
But, as they say, you're entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts, or, as in this case, methodology. Later Martin effectively concedes Ahmari's main point. His article was sloppy and irresponsible. That's what makes him anti-Israel and ought to disqualify him for a regular column in CJR.
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