Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Middle East Media Sampler 7/17/2012: Obama's Middle East Failure

1) Why there is no Middle East peace

Over the weekend, the Washington Post ran a lengthy analysis, Where Obama failed on forging peace in the Middle East by former Israel correspondent, Scott Wilson.
The way Obama managed the Israeli-Palestinian issue exhibited many of the hallmarks that have defined his first term. It began with a bid for historic change. But it foundered ultimately on his political and tactical misjudgments, on a lack of trusted relationships and on an outdated view of a conflict that many of his closest advisers imparted to him. And those advisers — veterans of the Middle East peace issue — clashed among themselves over tactics and turf. 
Barry Rubin observes
What’s most lacking in Wilson’s serious effort to get the story, though, is any conceptual sense of why Obama did fail. And this can be largely explained by a curious but constant missing ingredient in mass media coverage. About 95 percent of the article is concerned with Obama’s relationship with Jews and Israel. The Palestinian side of the factor is hardly mentioned. Yet it was this aspect that caused the failure. What makes this stranger in this case is that Wilson is not trying to excuse the Palestinian side for refusing to want to make peace and even for its reluctance to negotiate. 
He doesn’t even mention the refusal of Arab states to help Obama by offering Israel something in 2008; Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ interview with the Post’s own Jackson Diehl, during Abbas’ first visit to Obama-led Washington, making clear his disinterest in diplomatic progress; Abbas’ pie-in-the-face for Obama when the president called for talks in late 2009, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed, and the Palestinians refused; how Abbas sabotaged Obama by making a statehood bid at the UN; and many more such things. 
I’m not seeking here to bash Wilson. He has produced the best account we are going to see in the mass media and yet, ironically, he has added very little — except for some juicy Obama quotes from secret meetings — to what we (and by this is meant you and I) already knew and understood.
Daled Amos sumamrizes Rubin's analysis and adds:
While the media is slowly coming around to realizing Why Palestinian Corruption Matters, it appears they still view any peace process as straightforward and just requiring applying pressure. 
Inevitably, that means applying the screws to Israel, which is viewed as more dependent on the US than the Abbas regime.  
It is not clear if that view is going to change in the near term.
David Bernstein notes ironically:
Another telling detail in the article is an Obama Administration official making the nonsensical and in fact incoherent assertion that Netanyahu is “essentially a Republican.” I’ve always expected that the Obamaites really disliked Netanyahu, and thought they could force him out in favor of a more pliable leader. Instead, Netanyahu’s coalition commands an overwhelming majority in parliament, and is much more likely to be prime minister in 2013 than Obama is to be president.
A number of reactions to the article were linked by memeorandum.

Israel Matzav boils it down to:
... the Arabs saw an opportunity to get something for nothing, and Obama fell right into the trap.
Leo Rennert notes the subtleties that Wilson injects into the article:
In dealing with Netanyahu, Wilson gives no quarter. When Bibi breaks precedent and endorses an independent Palestinian state, Wilson immediately brushes it aside because "it contained so many caveats that Palestinians dismissed it as an empty gesture." 
Ditto when Bibi, under Obama pressure, takes an unprecedented step of imposing a 10-month settlement construction freeze in the West Bank to lure Abbas to the negotiating table, he gets no kudos from Wilson, who faults the Israeli leader for not extending the freeze to East Jerusalem, "prompting Abbas to call the freeze meaningless."
The settlement freeze expires "and with it the direct talks." As if Abbas is always entitled to more and more unilateral sweeteners to come to the negotiating table. Never does Wilson entertain the thought that perhaps both parties should resume talks without pre-conditions on either side.
JoshuaPundit concludes:
After the president's Cairo speech and the president's subsequent actions and rhetoric on Israel, Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinians expected President Obama to be able to 'deliver' the hated Jews without any concessions on their part whatsoever. This is quite understandable, since the Palestinians and indeed the Muslim world has no real understanding about how actual democracy, congress, freedom of the press and public opinion work in America. 
When the Israelis understandably refused to go along with President Obama's agenda and the majority of the American people and Congress showed their support for Israel, the president's ideas on 'delivering' Israel failed. Combined with his feckless policy on Iran, this was clear evidence to the Arab world that his word was meaningless and he was not to be relied on. 
Thanks to President Obama's failed policies, we're now in a position where neither the Arabs or the Israelis trust us. While the focus on this year's election is the economy, it's important that the American people also look at this president's record of failure on foreign policy generally. It is not limited to the Middle East.
Paul Mirengoff at PowerLine has a similar bottom line:
Given Obama’s willfully ignorant understanding of the Middle East, he was destined to make a fool of himself the minute he injected himself into this area of the world. Unfortunately, the same thing is true about many of his other foreign policy initiatives
2) Why Olmert was prosecuted

The New York Times reported Failed Graft Prosecution of Former Israeli Premier Spurs Political Questions.
Under intense public and political pressure, Mr. Olmert, a former right-wing politician who had veered leftward and was involved in intensive negotiations with the Palestinians, announced his resignation that September, more than a year before he was charged. 
After Mr. Olmert was acquitted last week of corruption charges in the two major episodes that led to his downfall, most public criticism was directed against the state attorney, Moshe Lador, who had staked his prestige on prosecuting Mr. Olmert. Mr. Lador has defended his actions, saying that “the state attorney’s office fulfilled its obligation” to the public and denying that it had forced Mr. Olmert out of office. 
But the outcome of the trial has emboldened associates of Mr. Olmert’s, who have asserted that it was a weak case most likely instigated by right-wing political forces in Israel and encouraged by sympathetic American Jews.
I understand Olmert's bitterness, but it isn't the job of the New York Times to support his reckless charges of a right wing conspiracy. He isn't the first Israeli political figure to be investigated and he isn't the first Israeli political figure to be exonerated. (He was also found innocent of corruption in 1997.)

Compare the reporting here, to the reporting on the Attorney General's decision not to prosecute Netanyahu in 2000, No Prosecution For Netanyahu In Graft Inquiry.
In a decision released tonight, Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein said he had rejected a police recommendation that Mr. Netanyahu and his wife, Sarah, face criminal charges of bribery, fraud and theft. 
Mr. Rubinstein said he had closed the case because he did not foresee ''a reasonable chance of conviction.'' 
But, with biting language, Mr. Rubinstein condemned Mr. Netanyahu for ''improper'' conduct and said the ''picture before us'' had given prosecutors ''an ill feeling.'' He acknowledged that the state attorney, Edna Arbel, disagreed with his conclusion, urging indictment on some charges.
As with the recent article about drone warfare, comparing articles about comparable subjects can reveal biases at a newspaper.

It's also interesting to note that Arbel pursued a number of prosecutions of public figures that ended in exoneration for the officials. There may well be a problem in Israel with overzealous prosecutors or an abundance of politicians who engage in questionable but not illegal behavior.

Additionally, due to his poor handling of the 2006 war with Hezbollah, Olmert was very unpopular at the time of his resignation. A popular prime minister may well have been able to ride out the controversy.

In other words there is nothing so unusual about Olmert's case to suggest any sort of conspiracy. Dignifying the charge by emphasizing the weaknesses in the case was reckless.

3) The misleading comparison

Daled Amos found the B'Tselem press release that Scott Shane apparently relied on in his defense of drone warfare.
In Israel’s targeted killings of militants from Hamas and other groups, using a range of weapons from bombs to missile strikes, the collateral death rate was 41 percent, according to an Israeli human rights group.
The press release wasn't about Israel's anti-terrorist efforts generally but about a specific counter attack. It also was from 2004. Even if the source wasn't B'Tselem, it was a poor point of comparison for the Obama administration's policy of drone warfare.

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