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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Socccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler

Here's Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler for Wednesday, January 23.
1) Israel Chooses

There's an interesting paragraph describing Yair Lapid in Tepid Vote for Netanyahu in Israel Is Seen as Rebuke in the New York Times:
Perhaps as important, he also avoided antagonizing the right, having not emphasized traditional issues of the left, like the peace process. Like a large majority of the Israeli public, he supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but is skeptical of the Palestinian leadership’s willingness to negotiate seriously; he has called for a return to peace talks but has not made it a priority.
How does this description of "centrist" Lapid differ from Prime Minister Netanyahu who's described as "conservative" and "right-wing?" (As an aside, here's how the New York Times described President Obama's victory in November, in Divided U.S. Gives Obama More Time:
Mr. Obama’s re-election extended his place in history, carrying the tenure of the nation’s first black president into a second term. His path followed a pattern that has been an arc to his political career: faltering when he seemed to be at his strongest — the period before his first debate with Mr. Romney — before he redoubled his efforts to lift himself and his supporters to victory.
President Obama won by a narrower margin than he did his first time. Yet there's no language about him having been "weakened" or "chastened," as in the article about the Israeli election.) The Washington Post carries an AP analysis of the election results that includes this nugget of wisdom:
HOW WILL THIS AFFECT PEACE EFFORTS WITH THE PALESTINIANS? In trying to piece together a majority coalition government, a weakened Netanyahu might be forced to offer concessions to the Palestinians to restart peace negotiations, namely, a freeze in settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. 
At least the New York Times correctly identified Lapid's views as being skeptical of the Palestinians. This assumes that Lapid is something that he's not.

2) They said it
The Israeli election in January will bring to power Israeli rightists who never spoke at your local Israel Bonds dinner.
Thomas Friedman - Give Chuck a Chance - December 26, 2012

Netanyahu may be returned to power in elections this month at the head of an even more right-wing coalition.
Roger Cohen - The Blight of Return - January 17, 2012
3) They didn't say it

Extreme Palestinian President denies Holocaust again 
Washington sends advanced warplanes to most right-wing Egyptian government
Hardline Syrian government kills 60,000

4) Election Fun

Dry Bones
The Israel Election Drinking Game

5) Misreading the Israeli political landscape

Two opinion pieces the other day make similar mistakes about Israel's political landscape. The editors of the Washington Post write in Following the elections in Israel, a reset:
Evidently, Mr. Netanyahu calculates that being seen to stand up to this U.S. president is good politics in Israel — and he may be right. A recent poll showed that half of Israelis believes the prime minister should pursue his policies even if they lead to conflict with the United States. The big story of the campaign has been the surge of far-right parties that reject not only Mr. Obama’s view of Israel but also the two-state solution that has been U.S. policy for more than a decade.
This disturbing trend is partly the result of Mr. Obama’s poor handling of Israel, which he has not visited and where he is widely regarded as supportive of the nation’s defense but unsympathetic to its psyche. If the White House were trying to undercut Mr. Netanyahu, it would be guilty of the same poor judgment the Israeli leader showed in tilting toward Mitt Romney in the U.S. presidential race. No scenario contemplated by political analysts foresees anyone other than Mr. Netanyahu emerging as prime minister from the bargaining that will follow Tuesday’s election.
The question is whether the incumbent will choose, or perhaps be obliged by the electoral math, to include parties from the center and left in his coalition. If he does not, Mr. Netanyahu could find himself isolated both within his own government and internationally: He is one of only two of the top 30 candidates from his own Likud Party to endorse Palestinian statehood.
That last sentence seems dubious. If the Post's editors are looking for explicit declarations, why? In practice even Avigdor Lieberman (the currently deposed head of the Yisrael Beiteinu, the party sharing the list with the Likud) advocates territorial compromise. Palestinian statehood is really up to the Palestinians, not Israel.

Regardless it's typical to express concern for what Israel's political leaders may or may not  have said and ignore the fact that the reciprocal declaration (that Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state) is something not demanded of even the most moderate Palestinian leader.

Regardless of what the "far right" parties advocate, they are careful not to campaign on them. The reason for Naftali Bennett's appeal is not his views on the peace process.

Bernard Avishai and Sam Bahour write in a New York Times op-ed, U.S. Inaction, Mideast Cataclysm:
Second, the status quo is not a path to a one-state solution, but to Bosnian-style ethnic cleansing, which could erupt as quickly as the Gaza fighting did last year and spread to Israeli Arab cities. Right-wing Israelis and Hamas leaders alike are pushing for a cataclysmic fight. Mr. Abbas, whose Fatah party controls the West Bank, has renounced violence, but without signs of a viable diplomatic path he cannot unify his people to support new talks. If his government falls apart, or if the more Palestinian territory is annexed (as right-wing Israeli want), or if the standoff in Gaza leads to an Israeli ground invasion, bloodshed and protests across the Arab world will be inevitable. Such chaos might also provoke missiles from Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shiite militant group based in Lebanon.
This is hysterical. It might well be that Hamas takes over the West Bank, though I would certainly hope not. It's hard to see why that would be the goal or of benefit to "right-wing" Israelis. The ease with which some tar "right-wing" Israelis with Hamas is appalling and underscores how ridiculous this argument is.

For a better understanding of the Israeli election read David Weinberg's, Slick and Threatening.
Israelis don’t see themselves as standing at a historic juncture. They don’t believe that Middle East circumstances are ripe for peace, and they don’t expect their prime minister to be making any dramatic diplomatic moves. That is why Tzipi Livni’s “I can bring the peace” messaging never took hold during the current campaign. As a result, Israelis are not looking for revolutionary change. They are waiting-out the ‘Arab Spring’ and other storms, taking no irresponsible risks, and voting for steady hands at the helm of state. Whether they vote for Netanyahu or not, they don’t feel that Netanyahu is going destroy Israel. They don’t buy the doomsday scenarios drawn by Reminick or Shavit (or by some Diaspora Jewish leaders like Eric Yoffie of the Reform movement or Daniel Sokatch of the New Israel Fund) about Israel being taken over by right-wing religious fanatics, forfeiting its democracy, and losing its global friends. In fact, what Israelis expect is more of the same, and what they want to see is Netanyahu in government with parties of both the Zionist right and left. They expect another complicated coalition government, with built-in checks and balances.
Or Barry Rubin's Understanding Israel's January 22 election:
This brings us into the popular international theme about the alleged meaning of the election: Israel is moving to the right and rejecting a two-state solution. A lot of this is motivated by the agenda of making Israel look as if it is against peace, despite the fact that it is the Palestinian side that makes such a solution impossible.
Yet Netanyahu’s impending victory has nothing to do with any shift on that issue. Rather, it is due to the fact that the prime minister has done a reasonably good job, the economy is okay, terrorism is low, he’s kept out of trouble, and he has shown he can be trusted to preserve security.
6) Good Predictions

A couple of writers made reasonably accurate predictions of the outcome of yesterday's election. One was Gil Hoffman. Last week in The Rightward Shift that never Happened, Hoffman wrote:
So the way the foreign media should be summing up the election so far is that Israel has apparently not gone Right, against all odds.
But the true test of which direction Israel will take is the coalition that Netanyahu is expected to form. Unlike last time when he formed a coalition with one Center-Left party and four parties on the Right, Netanyahu is expected to form a government with two Center-Left parties this time: most likely Yesh Atid and Kadima.
In the New Republic, Ben Birnbaum wrote in Netanyahu's Nightmare: How Israel's Elections Could Surprise Us:
But in 2013, the balance has steadily shifted against Netanyahu and the right. In the final two days of polling (with the exception of one outlying pollster), the right dropped to the mid-sixties, with two polls giving it 63 seats, just two more than the 61 Knesset members needed to form a government. Making matters worse for Netanyahu, in most of the polls that total includes two or three seats from the surging Otzma L’Yisrael (“Strong Israel”), a pro-settler party with views so extreme that Netanyahu could not plausibly include them in his coalition. Likud Beiteinu has suffered the bulk of the losses (the alliance, which Netanyahu's political adviser predicted would win 47 seats, is polling as low as 32, ten less than the two parties have in the outgoing Knesset). It’s not clear why this has happened. It could be that Netanyahu has hemorrhaged votes in the center as he’s tried to woo back right-wing votes lost to HaBayit HaYehudi under the leadership of staffer-turned-rival Naftali Bennett. It could be that some of Avigdor Lieberman's supporters have begun exploring centrist alternatives now that his legal troubles have sidelined him. It could also be that the rhetorical campaign against Netanyahu – joined in recent weeks by his predecessor, his former intelligence chief, President Obama, and the country's president – is finally making a dent. And it may not matter. If the polls are accurate, Netanyahu will still enjoy the same right-wing "blocking majority" he has had for the past four years and will enter coalition negotiations from a position of strength. The conventional wisdom is that he will secure his right-wing base and then try to lure one or two center-left parties as a moderate fig leaf to appease the Israeli public and the international community. 
I would hardly characterize bringing in center-left parties as a "fig leaf."

Also for an amazingly accurate (though not perfect) prediction of the breakdown of seats see Jameel @ the Muquata's prediction. More importantly he explains how he arrived at his numbers, "My prediction based on everything running around the web." In other words the information was out there. But one had to look for it. For too many it was a lot easier simply to bemoan Israel's rightward turn.

7) Making the right choice

The New York Times reports Jihadists’ Surge in North Africa Reveals Grim Side of Arab Spring (h/t In Context):
Coming just four months after an American ambassador was killed by jihadists in Libya, those assaults have contributed to a sense that North Africa — long a dormant backwater for Al Qaeda — is turning into another zone of dangerous instability, much like Syria, site of an increasingly bloody civil war. The mayhem in this vast desert region has many roots, but it is also a sobering reminder that the euphoric toppling of dictators in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt has come at a price.
“It’s one of the darker sides of the Arab uprisings,” said Robert Malley, the Middle East and North Africa director at the International Crisis Group. “Their peaceful nature may have damaged Al Qaeda and its allies ideologically, but logistically, in terms of the new porousness of borders, the expansion of ungoverned areas, the proliferation of weapons, the disorganization of police and security services in all these countries — it’s been a real boon to jihadists.”
Malley's characterization of the increasing Islamist violence as a negative side effect of the "Arab spring" rather than part of the same phenomenon, understates the problem.

In Algerian Hostage Crisis Ends with Military Assault: So How is Al-Qaida Dead? Barry Rubin argues:
How, then, are we to understand al-Qaida’s survival and that fact’s relationship to U.S. policy? There are two key points to be made. First, al-Qaida was not designed to take over state power in countries. It is the Islamist equivalent of an anarchist group, that is, one focused more on destroying existing institutions than on staging a revolution, becoming the government, and fundamentally transforming states. That is, of course, the function of the Muslim Brotherhood, the contemporary equivalent of the Russian Bolsheviks who took over Russia in 1917. There is nothing surprising in al-Qaida popping up, staging some attacks, and then becoming less visible or being repressed. That is the nature of such groups and their strategies. It is thus easy to claim victory over them. The historic role of al-Qaida and the September 11 attacks on America helped set the stage for the domination of Middle East politics by Islamists today. That’s pretty significant. Moreover, al-Qaida operates more by inspiring others to launch attacks rather than directly organizing them, which also makes wiping out the group a rather difficult thing to do.
It's not just logistical help that the Arab spring provides, it's inspirational too.

Another point that the New York Times article makes is:
Although there have been hints of cross-border alliances among the militants, such links appear to be fleeting. And their targets are often those of opportunity, as they appear to have been in Benghazi and at the gas facility in Algeria.
There is an interest in presenting the new rise of Al Qaeda as an isolated phenomenon. That is probably not the case. David Gartenstein-Ross gives an overview of evidence connecting Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Al Qaeda’s Senior Leadership
 I agree with the characterization that the relationship between AQIM and AQSL is murky; but when it is translated into popular discourse, murkiness is often inaccurately understood as “we don’t know if there are ties between the two.” For example, Max Fisher writes at the Washington Post, “It’s tough to know the exact connection between leaders in the Algeria-based AQIM and those in far-away Afghanistan and Pakistan…. It’s entirely possible that AQIM’s links to al-Qaeda already are, are becoming, or will become closer to al-Qaeda than we think.” The clear implication is that there may be some connections between AQIM and AQSL, but that it is impossible to know whether they exist, and if so, to what extent. Likewise, Jason Burke writes in The Guardian, “The ties binding AQIM to the leadership of al-Qaida far away in south-west Asia have always been tenuous. The difficulties in communication, let alone travel, precluded any tight co-operation.”
But the documents captured from Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad do reveal communications between AQIM and AQSL that extend over the span of four years, and include discussion of strategic and operational issues. While it is possible that after bin Laden’s death, when Ayman al Zawahiri became AQSL’s emir, these communications were crippled or otherwise ceased, there’s no reason that this should be our a priori assumption. This entry is designed to add granularity to the discussion of AQIM and AQSL through a look at the Abbottabad documents. It concludes by agreeing that the AQIM/AQSL relationship is murky, but explaining that commentators can do a better job of representing the ambiguities.
But the documents captured from Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad do reveal communications between AQIM and AQSL that extend over the span of four years, and include discussion of strategic and operational issues. While it is possible that after bin Laden’s death, when Ayman al Zawahiri became AQSL’s emir, these communications were crippled or otherwise ceased, there’s no reason that this should be our a priori assumption. This entry is designed to add granularity to the discussion of AQIM and AQSL through a look at the Abbottabad documents. It concludes by agreeing that the AQIM/AQSL relationship is murky, but explaining that commentators can do a better job of representing the ambiguities. 
Gartenstein-Ross agrees that the connections are not clear and possibly not current. But that doesn't mean that they don't exist. Rather than assuming that there is no connection between groups called Al Qaeda, there is a need to determine exactly what those connections are. Finally the New York Times noted:
In Mali, for instance, there are the Tuaregs, a nomadic people ethnically distinct both from Arabs, who make up the nations to the north, and the Africans who inhabit southern Mali and control the national government. They fought for Colonel Qaddafi in Libya, then streamed back across the border after his fall, banding together with Islamist groups to form a far more formidable fighting force. They brought with them heavy weapons and a new determination to overthrow the Malian government, which they had battled off and on for decades in a largely secular struggle for greater autonomy. 
A week ago Walter Russell Mead writing about an earlier New York Times article, concluded NYT Calls US Anti-Terror Strategy in North Africa a Catastrophe:
Since Obama took office the US spent almost $600 million to combat Islamic militancy across North Africa. In countries like Mali and Niger US forces trained local soldiers in counterterrorism skills. Arms and equipment were bought so local governments could protect their territories. This strategy, in theory, would protect North Africa from falling into the hands of Islamist militants—who would impose strict Sharia rule on unwilling locals and use lawless territory to launch attacks on Western targets—without involving a heavy deployment of American troops like in Iraq and Afghanistan.
That was the theory. But as heavily armed Islamist militants battle French forces in the Battle for Mali, it’s clear Obama’s strategy to help weak North African states protect themselves from terrorists has failed catastrophically.
Whether it is the more overtly violent Al Qaeda groups or the more moderate appearing Muslim Brotherhood groups, they have the same goals. It would be good to recognize and realize who the enemy instead of arming them and hoping to bring them to our side. It's an especially good lesson for Syria, where  making the right choices still could make a difference.

8) Defying logic

Thomas Friedman's latest, Breaking all the Rules argues:
On Israel-Palestine, the secretary of state should publicly offer President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority the following: the U.S. would recognize the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank as the independent State of Palestine on the provisional basis of the June 4, 1967, lines, support its full U.N. membership and send an ambassador to Ramallah, on the condition that Palestinians accept the principle of “two states for two peoples” — an Arab state and a Jewish state in line with U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181 — and agree that permanent borders, security and land swaps would be negotiated directly with Israel. The status of the refugees would be negotiated between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, which represents all Palestinians inside and outside of Palestine. Gaza, now a de facto statelet, would be recognized as part of Palestine only when its government recognizes Israel, renounces violence and rejoins the West Bank.
Why do this? Because there will be no Israeli-Palestinian breakthrough unless the silent majorities on both sides know they have a partner — that Palestinians have embraced two states for two peoples and that Israelis have embraced Palestinian statehood. Neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor President Abbas have shown a real commitment to nurture these preconditions for peace, and our secret diplomacy with both only plays into their hands. We need to blow this charade wide open by trying to publicly show Iranians, Israelis and Palestinians that they really do have options that their leaders don’t want them to see. (Israel’s election on Tuesday showed that the peace camp in Israel is still alive and significant.) It may not work. The leaders may still block it or the people may not be interested. But we need to start behaving like a superpower and forcing a moment of truth. Our hands are full now, and we can’t waste four more years with allies (or enemies) who may be fooling us.
First of all this shows Friedman's hypocrisy. As a proponent of the "everyone knows" school of peacemaking, the idea that provisional borders on the June 4, 1967 lines would exclude places such as the Etzion Bloc and Maaleh Adumim. However these are areas which "everyone knows" will be part of Israel in a final settlement. Giving the PLO the right to negotiate refugees when Abbas has made it clear that his only goal is for the right of return to be implemented fully is ridiculous.  
Generally, even as he acknowledges Abbas's refusal to make peace (falsely equating his obstinance with Netanyahu) Friedman is advocating giving Abbas every single precondition he wants. How will that bring an agreement if Abbas knows that if he refuses to negotiate long enough, he will get everything he wants? 
Assuming that any peace can be achieved while Hamas still has control of Gaza would be absurd, if it wasn't for the fact that Friedman truly believes this. Finally, by implicitly acknowledging that his earlier prediction about Israel's election was wrong, he shows how poorly he understands Israel's politics. Yair Lapid is no more likely to pursue peace or compromise on Jerusalem with a recalcitrant Mahmoud Abbas than Binyamin Netanyahu.

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