Thursday, March 21, 2013

Mideast Media Sampler 3/21/2013: Understanding -- And Spinning -- Obama's Trip To Israel

by David Gerstman

1) Barack and Bibi

The Algemeiner has transcripts of President Obama's and PM Netanayahu's remarks at their joint press conference yesterday.

Writing in Tablet, Lee Smith covers the three issues that President Obama and PM Netanyau would be discussing: the Palestinians, Syria and Iran. (via memeorandum) However, Smith concludes:
As he has for the last four years, the American commander in chief will surely promise the Israeli prime minister that when it comes to Iran, “Trust me, I’ve got your back.” But everything Bibi has heard over the last five hours will likely tell him that, as time is running out to stop Iran, the United States is nowhere to be found, at least not in the Middle East.
Based on the President's speech, Ken Gardner tweeted:
Krauthammer: Obama has essentially signaled that Israel has a green light to deal with Iran as it wishes. And that's actually good. I agree.
— Ken Gardner (@kesgardner) March 20, 2013
Barry Rubin understood that too, but wonders:

Then Obama made an extraordinary statement: 
“I think that what Bibi alluded to, which is absolutely correct, is each country has to make its own decisions when it comes to the awesome decision to engage in any kind of military action. And Israel is differently situated than the United States, and I would not expect that the prime minister would make a decision about his country’s security and defer that to any other country, any more than the United States would defer our decisions about what was important for our national security.” 
What Obama just said publicly is that if Netanyahu decided that Israel’s defense required an attack on Iran, the president would not expect the prime minister to be deterred by U.S. opposition. Did Obama mean that? It is hard to believe that he did, yet what no Israeli leader is going to miss that seeming “green light.”
In fact, Professor Rubin questioned a number of the President's other statements and wondered if the President understood the implications of what he was saying.

This is slightly different that what Thomas Friedman wrote last year in Israel's Best Friend
“Preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon isn’t just in the interest of Israel, it is profoundly in the security interests of the United States,” the president told The Atlantic. “If Iran gets a nuclear weapon, this would run completely contrary to my policies of nonproliferation. The risks of an Iranian nuclear weapon falling into the hands of terrorist organizations are profound. ... It would also provide Iran the additional capability to sponsor and protect its proxies in carrying out terrorist attacks, because they are less fearful of retaliation. ... If Iran gets a nuclear weapon, I won’t name the countries, but there are probably four or five countries in the Middle East who say, ‘We are going to start a program, and we will have nuclear weapons.’ And at that point, the prospect for miscalculation in a region that has that many tensions and fissures is profound. You essentially then duplicate the challenges of India and Pakistan fivefold or tenfold.” In sum, the president added, “The dangers of an Iran getting nuclear weapons that then leads to a free-for-all in the Middle East is something that I think would be very dangerous for the world.”  
Every Israeli and friend of Israel should be thankful to the president for framing the Iran issue this way. It is important strategically for Israel, because it makes clear that dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat was not Israel’s problem alone. And it is important politically, because this decision about whether to attack Iran is coinciding with the U.S. election. The last thing Israel or American friends of Israel — Jewish and Christian — want is to give their enemies a chance to claim that Israel is using its political clout to embroil America in a war that is not in its interest. 
Friedman's essay is concerning, not just because it has President Obama saying what he figures that Israel's supporters wanted to hear without necessarily understanding the implications of his words (as it seems that he was doing yesterday) but because he cast the threat in terms of non-proliferation, not in terms specifically of the Iranian threat.

Israel Matzav notes a contradiction in two of President Obama's statements.

But if Israelis are enthusiastic about President Obama's visit, Palestinians are decidedly less so.

This might be why PA bans photos, video from Hebron.

The New York Times reports, Some Palestinians Wary of Obama Visit:
There are no American flags lining the streets here, no banners bearing the official “Unbreakable Alliance” logo of President Obama’s visit, as there are seven miles away in Jerusalem. Instead, dozens of posters warn the president not to bring his smartphone when he arrives in the West Bank because there is no 3G service, one of an untold number of complaints Palestinians have about their life under Israeli occupation. 
On most posters, Mr. Obama’s face has been painted over or torn off.
“It’s a waste of time,” Osama Husein, 38, who owns a new coffee shop downtown, said of Mr. Obama’s planned journey here Thursday afternoon, in the middle of his three-day stay in Jerusalem. “Four or five hours here for no reason. It’s just for show, just to take some pictures with some young kids. I don’t see any benefit.” 
There are other signs of Palestinian dissatisfaction with President Obama.
Charming. Palestinians welcome Obama to Israel by running over his portrait with cars, then painting swastikas on it:…
— Yair Rosenberg (@Yair_Rosenberg) March 19, 2013 

Palestinians contemptuously salute President Obama with ballistic terrorism. Two rockets fired from Gaza into southern Israel this morning.
— RICHARD KEMP (@ColRichardKemp) March 21, 2013
EoZ: Terror leaders insist Obama's Nobel Peace Prize be rescinded: Palestinian Arab terror groups whined Wedne...
— ElderOfZiyon (@elderofziyon) March 21, 2013
Also check out the postscript of Barry Rubin's article (if you haven't already read the whole thing!)

2) Spinning the visit

Honest Reporting warns about Five Media Spins to Watch for During Obama Visit. Just about all of them are on display in this Q & A with Jodi Rudoren of the New York Times at The Lede blog.
Of the seven tweets that are embedded in the article five are pro-Palestinian, one is trivial and one is actually curious.

The curious question was about going to the Temple Mount. Here Rudoren botches the answer terribly. Part of her answer is:
The second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, was set off in 2000 by a visit to the site by Ariel Sharon, then the leader of the opposition Likud Party. Lately, more and more Jews have been ascending the Mount, and there have frequently been clashes there.
First of all this is false. Nor does Rudoren mention anywhere in her response that Hamas threatened the President against going to the Temple Mount. It's bad enough that Rudoren hasn't corrected past history, but here she's whitewashing Hamas too. In an answer about whether PM Netanyahu would negotiate with the Palestinians, Rudoren begins her response with:
Mr. Netanyahu has repeatedly stated in the weeks since Israel’s Jan. 22 elections that he is ready to return to negotiations, and he included a promise to do so in one of the agreements that formed his new governing coalition. However, he insists on “no preconditions” – and he considers as a precondition the Palestinians’ demand that the negotiations start on the basis that the future two states would be divided along the pre-1967 borders, with land swaps to balance Israeli settlements.
President Obama could seek to break this stalemate, perhaps by redefining the very notion of a precondition.
So with President Obama it depends on what the meaning of "precondition" is? Regardless, according to Rudoren's reporting, it's the Palestinians who are redefining "precondition."
A Palestinian legislator, Ziad Abu-Amr, said Mr. Abbas would make clear to Mr. Obama that he would return to the negotiating table under either of two conditions. One is a mutual six-month freeze in which Israel halted building in West Bank settlements and Palestinians refrained from using their new observer-state status in the United Nations to pursue claims in the International Criminal Court or other agencies. The other is a broad agreement on borders, dividing the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea along the pre-1967 lines, with some land swaps to accommodate the largest Israeli settlements. 
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he considers the 1967 borders an unacceptable precondition for negotiations. 
So wait a second. If Israel stops settlement construction (and you can be pretty sure that the Palestinians would consider building in many parts of Jerusalem to be settlements) then the Palestinians won't pursue legal action against Israel in international forums. In other words Israel must stop doing something that was never forbidden and in exchange the Palestinian won't continue violating one of the premises of the peace process.
As Omri Ceren wrote a few years ago (and others have written repeatedly):
This passage won’t do much to dispel the suspicion that Palestinians pocket Israeli concessions like the Gaza withdrawal and then set up their old obligations – violence, past agreements, recognition – as the bare minimum they’ll give in exchange for new Israeli concessions. 
People can complain about "settlements" or Netanyahu's intransigence, but this claim - Rudoren doesn't even seem to recognize its significance - is the true obstacle to peace. Israeli concessions are taken as a given; but Palestinian compliance must be rewarded, because, apparently it is optional.

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