Friday, January 11, 2013

The Middle East Sampler 1/11/13: New York Times Criticizes Arabs!?

From +David Gerstman:

1) Shocker: The New York Times criticizes the Arabs

In an editorial, Financial crisis in the West Bank, the editors of the New York Times assert:
In the recent interview Mr. Fayyad put most of the blame for the authority’s financial distress on Arab donors who are “not fulfilling their pledge of support” made in Arab League resolutions to make up the money Israel is withholding. This should come as little surprise. Arab leaders have often promised political and economic support for the Palestinians and failed to deliver. Arab foreign ministers are expected to meet Sunday in Cairo to discuss Palestinian issues, including the promised aid. They should affirm their commitment to assist the Palestinian Authority and get the funds flowing.
And if the Arab world cared as much about the Palestinian as the New York Times purports to, maybe those foreign ministers would commit to meeting their pledges. But this is a longstanding issue as this article from 2008 shows, I hardly think that a New York Times editorial will change the situation.

While it's a positive development that the New York Times faulted the Arab world (however futilely),  unfortunately, there were five other paragraphs to the editorial.

The Palestinian Authority, which governs parts of the West Bank not under Israeli control, is in financial crisis. Its leaders are finding it increasingly difficult to pay 180,000 government employees, including security forces as well as other civil servants. 
This is not a problem that can be swept under the rug. Whatever the criticisms of the Palestinian Authority, and there are many, Israel has increasingly depended on it to manage and keep the peace in a strategically critical swath of territory. If there is ever to be a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, there has to be a competent government to run a Palestinian state and leaders with whom to make a deal. 
These two paragraphs were an unfortunate beginning. The financial crisis in 2008 was described in much the same manner. The Palestinian Authority (PA) still exists. The bigger problem is simply stating that "there are many problems" with the PA, without detailing them. For example as the New York Times and the Washington Post both reported earlier this week, the PA is reaching out to Hamas again. True, talks like these have been occurring off and on for years now with no results so far. One of the premises of the peace process was that the PLO would reject terrorism. Yet, here is the leader of the PA/PLO in talks with the unrepentant terrorists of Hamas. Is that someone Israel can depend on to "keep the peace?"

Talking with Hamas is just one way that Abbas is showing his extremism. There are others. In addition, as the New York Times (cited above) reported he's beginning the ninth year of a four year term in office. He has used his office to enrich himself and his family. In addition he is becoming increasingly autocratic. In no other circumstance would the New York Times advocate for the continued rule of such a thug.

While a competent Palestinian government would be a boon to Israel, doesn't this whole story show that the current leaders are not exactly paragons of competence? The PA has had nearly 20 years of governing experience and yet it is still dependent on outside donations to function!

Of course, no New York Times editorial about the Middle East would be complete without some explicit criticism of Israel, so the third paragraph does not disapppoint.
There are many causes. After Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, won an upgrade for the status of Palestine as a nonmember observer state at the United Nations General Assembly last fall, Israel retaliated by withholding the $100 million in monthly tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinians. Congress, meanwhile, has been withholding more than $450 million in American aid. Last year, Mr. Fayyad said he hoped to improve the authority’s financial condition by cutting spending and raising taxes on wealthier Palestinians. The tax plan ran into strong protest and the West Bank’s modest economic growth has slowed. 
Going to the UN was a violation of the term of the peace process, which was to be conducted bilaterally. By going to the UN Abbas sought to use international pressure for Israeli concessions so he could just pocket them without compromise. However even without the tax revenues, Israel provides a lot of unpublicized aid to the Palestinians. The editorial would have done well to emphasize Abbas's culpability in the crisis as well as Israel's efforts.

Finally, we skip to the end:
There are many threats to a two-state solution, including an Israeli government that could become even more hard-line after the Jan. 22 election. But, as the World Bank has said, Mr. Fayyad has made progress in building a functioning government. Israel, the Palestinians, Arab states and the international community all have a stake in making sure that is preserved and strengthened. 
However "hard-line" the Israeli government becomes really is irrelevant as long as Abbas continues to violate the letter and spirit of previous agreements. (David Weinberg points out why "hard-line" is a bad description of the Israeli government.)

The main takeaway from the article is that everyone except the Palestinians is culpable for their financial crisis. 

2) Cause and effect

Egypt’s Morsi remakes cabinet, increasing Islamist presence - Washington Post - January 6, 2013
Egypt’s Christians worried by Islamists’ rise - Washington Post - January 7, 2013

3) Sensitive to suffering

Nearly two years ago, Thomas Friedman wrote a column, Postcard from Cairo, Part 2. The column made some news reports because of this paragraph:
Rather than even listening to what the democracy youth in Tahrir Square were saying and then trying to digest what it meant, this Israeli government took two approaches during the last three weeks: Frantically calling the White House and telling the president he must not abandon Pharaoh – to the point where the White House was thoroughly disgusted with its Israeli interlocutors – and using the opportunity to score propaganda points: “Look at us! Look at us! We told you so! We are the only stable country in the region, because we are the only democracy.’’ 
I have no idea if this story is true. If it is true, I think it's more likely that Israel warned the White House that they may not like the alternatives to Mubarak and not as Friedman (or his interlocutors in the administration) presented it. The accuracy of the incident was less important to Friedman than to use it to illustrate that Israel doesn't much care about the fate of its neighbors.

As reported the other day in Hints of Syrian Chemical Push Set Off Global Effort to Stop It:
In the last days of November, Israel’s top military commanders called the Pentagon to discuss troubling intelligence that was showing up on satellite imagery: Syrian troops appeared to be mixing chemicals at two storage sites, probably the deadly nerve gas sarin, and filling dozens of 500-pounds bombs that could be loaded on airplanes. 
Within hours President Obama was notified, and the alarm grew over the weekend, as the munitions were loaded onto vehicles near Syrian air bases. In briefings, administration officials were told that if Syria’s increasingly desperate president, Bashar al-Assad, ordered the weapons to be used, they could be airborne in less than two hours — too fast for the United States to act, in all likelihood. 
In recent weeks Netanyahu has spoken on a number of occasions about the close cooperation on the matter that exists between Israel, the US, and "other countries" on the matter. 
What followed next, officials said, was a remarkable show of international cooperation over a civil war in which the United States, Arab states, Russia and China have almost never agreed on a common course of action. 
follow up article in the Jerusalem Post has Netanyahu claiming to be at the center of international efforts to prevent the use of chemical weapons in Syria:
In mid-December the Prime Minister's office issued a statement following a meeting with Texas senator-elect Ted Cruz, underlining the chemical weapons issue. 
Netanyahu, according to the statement, told Cruz, "We're monitoring very closely the possibility of the use of chemical weapons in Syria. President Obama has spoken forcefully about this. Israel and the United States have close consultations about this issue and it highlights the dangers of these regimes receiving such weapons, and that these weapons can even go from there to terrorist organizations. This is a threat to Israel, a threat to America, a threat to others in this region. We treat it accordingly." 
Towards the end of Friedman's column he summed up his assessment of the "Arab spring":
Well, that’s what happened here. The ferocity and popularity of Mubarak’s ouster should have told Israelis that they need to get to work immediately on building a relationship with the dynamic new popular trend here, not to be trying to cling to a dictator who was totally out of touch with his people. And, as we sit here today, the popular trend is not with the Muslim Brotherhood. Indeed, what makes the uprising here so impressive – and in that sense so dangerous to other autocracies in the region – is precisely the fact that it is not owned by, and was not inspired by, the Muslim Brotherhood. 
It is so much more powerful than that. As I said, it is being propelled by the most basic, universal human emotions – a quest for freedom, dignity and justice. That is what the other Arab autocracies – and Iran – fear. It is not about anything narrow, like the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, America or Palestine. It cannot easily be pigeon-holed and delegitimized. Most of all, it is not about some populist upsurge that craves restarting the war with Israel. It is all about a people who crave the chance to restart their own future, their own lives. 
Note the confidence with which he assured us that the Egyptian revolution wasn't about the Muslim Brotherhood. When he turned out to have been wrong on that count, what did he do? Why he cheered on the coming oppression!

Despite Friedman's nastiness, the truth is that Israel has demonstrated concern for oppressed Arabs. It was Friedman who was and is lacking in compassion.

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