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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler

There was a technical problem yesterday.... And I should be on my way to a wedding when you see this - hopefully there already.

Here's Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler for Monday, September 19.
1) What if they threw a revolution and no one came? Ya Libnan reports (h/t Elder of Ziyon):
Recent college graduate Reem Qadan is exactly the kind of young, energetic West Bank resident the Palestinian Authority hopes will hit the streets this week when it makes its historic case for U.N. membership and statehood recognition. But rather than use her Facebook page to coordinate plans with friends to join the rallies, the 21-year-old is posting critical messages dismissing the United Nations bid as a “tale of collective mismanagement” by Palestinian leaders. Many of her Facebook friends echoed the sentiments and said they planned to skip the rallies.
Mahmoud Abbas's term has expired. He is not very charismatic. What would happen if the anticipated protests don't occur this week? It would mean that the UDI doesn't have the support of the people it is meant to represent. Neil MacFarquhar writes in a highly romanticized reading of history Palestinian turn to U.N. where partition had its roots:
Supporters contend it is high time to shift the negotiations out of the State Department basement into the glare of an international forum, while acknowledging that the maneuver could just as easily retard as speed a solution. With the Arab awakening capturing global attention, they believe it is the right moment to hook the Palestinian quest for ending Israeli occupation to the trend of toppling authoritarian rule throughout the Middle East.
It would mean that all those enlightened Westerners who are supporting Abbas in word and deed, are supporting an effort to install a despot over an unwilling population, in contrast to the mirage of an "Arab spring" where tyrants are being replace by popular revolt. Though what Hamas says is usually worth ignoring, elsewhere the New York Time reports A Nervous Hamas Voices Its Issues With a Palestinian Bid for U.N. Membership (Hamas is "nervous?"):
Ismail Haniya, the Hamas prime minister, said Sunday that his movement would not stand in the way of President Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Fatah party. “We support establishing a Palestinian state on any part of Palestinian land without giving up an inch of Palestine or recognizing Israel,” he told the members of the Palestinian Legislative Council here. On Saturday, the branch of Hamas based in the Syrian capital, Damascus, issued a statement objecting to the United Nations move, expected later this week, because it was “unilateral,” meaning that Hamas had not been included in the decision. The application, it said, was an extension of Fatah’s “path of compromise and insisting on dialogue while distancing itself from resistance and holding strong cards. We affirm our deep conviction that resistance is the main path that must be pursued together with political and public struggle.”
I believe the statement "any part of Palestinian land" contradicts the premise of the UDI, which assumes it covers a complete national unit. But if the citizens don't want it and Fatah's partners don't want it, who exactly wants the UDI? Or is simply Abbas's way of telling the world, "I'm still relevant."

2) Full of sound and fury ...

Those who remember Binyamin Netanyahu's first term as Prime Minister, remember a government lurching from crisis to crisis. It certainly seemed out of control. But this time as Isabel Kershner wrote in July regarding the growing protest movement:
The wave of discontent poses a challenge to Mr. Netanyahu’s governing coalition, which has proved unusually stable in a country used to political crises.
I held off writing about the stability of the Netanyahu government, because I started to believe the news reports about the protests. A Washington Post editorial even declared:
Even by the standards of a famously querulous country, these demonstrations, and the urban tent cities they have spawned, are something new, and not just because of their size. Lacking recognized leaders, fixed goals or allegiance to any political party, the rallies have morphed from low-grade anger over the price of cottage cheese, an Israeli breakfast staple, to a broad manifestation of genuine discontent with the nation’s social contract.
When the protests were against Netanyahu and they were organized on Facebook they were, I guess, cool. But did they achieve anything other than getting a government commission started? IMRA just posted a recent poll from Israel, two weeks after the nationwide million person protest:
Poll: National camp 64-65 seats. Yichimovitch bring Labor 22 vs 18 if Peretz leads
Likud would be largest bloc (or tied with Kadima) and Netanyahu would have the best chance of forming the next government. Interesting that when the Facebook crowd is in agreement with the MSM (against Netanyahu), it gets reported, but when it isn't in agreement (against UDI) the MSM is mostly silent.

3) September 18

On September 18, 2000, a week and a half before the "Aqsa intifada" was started by Arafat, Ha'aretz reported (preserved by IMRA)
Over the past several weeks, the Palestinian Authority has granted extended vacation leaves to dozens of jailed Hamas and Islamic Jihad activists, among them militants who were involved in serious terror attacks against Israel.
Yesterday, IMRA pointed to a Shabak report (full pdf here):
Since May 2011 ISA, with the cooperation of IDF and the police, exposed 13 Hamas military infrastructures in Judea and Samaria; these infrastructures were in various stages of planning for the execution of military activity: recruiting cells, obtaining weapons and planning attacks.
I hope that the Shabak report is not a harbinger.

4) Parallelism; irony and more!

One aspect of reporting from the Middle East that amazes me is the way reporters use it as a way of fulfilling literary aspirations. Ethan Bronner of the New York Times brings us Israel and Turkey, Foes and Much Alike. True it's an analysis, not straight reporting but the whole enterprise has a contrived feel.
ISRAEL and Turkey, key American allies, are clashing. But they disagree over the source of their disagreement. Turkey says it expelled the Israeli ambassador and cut military ties because Israel oppresses Palestinians and refuses to apologize for killing activists aboard a Turkish-based flotilla last year. Israel says Turkey aims for regional leadership so it is forsaking Israel. While both claims have merit, there is a third explanation. The two countries have gone through remarkably similar political shifts in recent decades from aggressively secular societies run by Westernized elites to populist ethno-religious states where standing up to foreigners offers rich political rewards. Two and a half years ago, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey scolded President Shimon Peres of Israel onstage at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland — right after Israel’s war in Gaza — telling him, “When it comes to killing, you know well how to kill.” He stormed offstage to a heroic welcome at home. A year later, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Daniel Ayalon, invited the Turkish ambassador to his office, giving him a low seat at a table without refreshments or a Turkish flag. Before the invited guest entered, Mr. Ayalon said to Israeli television camera operators, “The important thing is that people see that he’s low and we’re high and that there is no flag here.” Mr. Ayalon’s standing only rose in his party, Yisrael Beiteinu, run by the nationalist foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman.
There's a significant problem with the premise here, objective evidence says that Turkey is no longer an America ally. But the parallel construction wouldn't work without that bit of subterfuge. Bronner takes things a little further here:
The founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and the founding prime minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, had much in common. This was not an accident. Ben-Gurion, who studied law in Istanbul, modeled himself on Ataturk, seeking to build an instantly modern society of like-minded and “ideal” citizens with few deviations in language or culture. Both saw religion as a deviation and ethnicity as a problem. Like the Kurds of Eastern Turkey, the Moroccan and Yemeni Jews on the Israeli periphery faced an official — if less brutal — disregard. Sidelining religion and ill treating minorities can be hard to sustain in a democracy, however. The founders’ heirs were dislodged by electoral revolutions — in Israel in 1977 and in Turkey in 2002. Today a religious nationalism plays a central and growing role both in Israel, dominated by the Likud Party of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and in the Turkey of the Justice and Development Party of Mr. Erdogan. The secular elites who set the cultural and political agenda for decades have lost much of their influence.
So the parallel to the AKP's rise is the first Likud victory in 1977? How many elections has Likud lost since 1977. There was one unity government in the 80's. Then Likud lost in 1992, 1999 and 2006. During the past 9 years the AKP has consolidated its power and jailed its opponents and critics. In addition it hasn't just been non-secular in orientation, but Islamist. Religious parties always held some power in Israel, but it's never been the overall cast of the government. (Though it is interesting that implicitly, at least, Bronner's saying that Israel's right is more tolerant of minorities than was the Labor government.) I understand that Bronner's going for the irony that despite parallel development, Turkey and Israel are now hostile, but by contradicting history and current events the analysis is less enlightening than confusing.

4) The great Jewish hope

As part of the administration's effort to recast itself as a friend of Israel (who would be a really good friend if only Netanyahu were not unreasonable and if only people really understood what was going on) New York Magazine (h/t William Daroff) has a cover story The Tzuris: Why Barack Obama is the best thing Israel has going for it. I'm not going to excerpt the whole thing, but here's the premise:
The sources of that problem are many. In a way, history has been cruel to Obama, forcing him to succeed the wrong Bush—the one whose support for Israel, unlike that of his father, was uncritical to the point of blindness. Obama’s team has made its share of errors in the conduct of its diplomacy and in allowing misperceptions to take hold: that its tough-love approach to Israel has been all the former and none of the latter; that its demands on the Palestinians have been either negligible or nonexistent. And many Jewish voters, like those Wall Street financiers (and, to be sure, the overlap between those groups isn’t trivial) who flocked to Obama and were then chagrined when he called them out as “fat cats,” have all too often focused more on the president’s words than his deeds—and come away with the impression that he doesn’t seem to “feel Israel” in his bones. For Obama, such assessments would be funny if they weren’t so frustrating and absurd; and for the Jews who know him best, they are simply mystifying. In the last days of the 2008 campaign, the former federal judge, White House counsel, and Obama mentor Abner Mikva quipped, “When this all is over, people are going to say that Barack Obama is the first Jewish president.” And while that prediction has so far proved to be wildly over-optimistic, there is more truth in it than meets the eye. In attempting to apply tough love to Israel, Obama is trying to make a stalwart ally see that undertaking the painful and risky compromises necessary for peace with the Palestinians is the only way to preserve the Zionist dream—which is to say a future as a state both Jewish and democratic. His role here is not that of the callous assailant but of the caring and sober brother slapping his drunken sibling: The point is not to hurt the guy but to get him to sober up.
Of course it wasn't just supporters of Israel who doubted Obama's friendliness to Israel, according the New York Times the Palestinians did too:
Among Palestinians, the disappointment is all the more acute because their hopes for Mr. Obama were so high. Judging by Mr. Obama’s background, temperament and worldview, Palestinians expected him to bring a new focus to the peace process and a greater sympathy for the Palestinian cause. It did not go unnoticed that he is friends with a prominent Palestinian-American scholar, Rashid Khalidi.
According to Jackson Diehl, in 2009, it was this perception that feeds Mahmoud Abbas's intransigence:
Yet on Wednesday afternoon, as he prepared for the White House meeting in a suite at the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City, Abbas insisted that his only role was to wait. He will wait for Hamas to capitulate to his demand that any Palestinian unity government recognize Israel and swear off violence. And he will wait for the Obama administration to force a recalcitrant Netanyahu to freeze Israeli settlement construction and publicly accept the two-state formula. Until Israel meets his demands, the Palestinian president says, he will refuse to begin negotiations. He won't even agree to help Obama's envoy, George J. Mitchell, persuade Arab states to take small confidence-building measures. "We can't talk to the Arabs until Israel agrees to freeze settlements and recognize the two-state solution," he insisted in an interview. "Until then we can't talk to anyone."
While it's not clear that Obama told Abbas he could count on him. But Obama did prevail upon Netanyahu to freeze settlements and Abbas didn't return to negotiations until the freeze was almost over, making it clear that he didn't intend to negotiate past the expiration of the freeze. In other words Abbas got from Obama what he demanded, didn't negotiate in good faith and paid no diplomatic price for his ingratitude. So if Abbas thought he could get away with defying Obama now, he learned his lesson early that he could do it with impunity.

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At 2:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"His role here is not that of the callous assailant but of the caring and sober brother slapping his drunken sibling: The point is not to hurt the guy but to get him to sober up."--yeah, well what if said sibling isn't drunk but trying to fend off attacks and said "sober brother" is actually tripping out.

Not to mention a condescending, self-regarding prick.

Could be.


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