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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler

Here's Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler for Wednesday, September 28.
1) Fool me once shame on you; fool me twice, cause I've been listening to Thomas Friedman

First a parable: Once an inquisitive student sought out Rabbi Tom "Hillel" Friedman and asked Rabbi "Hillel," "Please teach me about the Middle East while I stand on one foot." The wise sage stroked his mustache, smiled thinly and said, "It's always Israel's fault. All the rest is commentary. Now go and study." Thomas Friedman's detachment from reason is in full display in his latest column, 2 for 2 or 2 for 1? First he makes some valid observations:
If clashes erupt between Israelis and Palestinians today, there is no President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt to absorb the flames. Now there is a Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, ready to fan them — toward Israel.
But then, a few sentences later writes:
Given these stakes, here is what a farsighted Israeli government would say to itself: “We have so much more to lose than the Palestinians if all this collapses. So let’s go the extra mile. Abbas says he will not come to peace talks without a freeze on settlement-building. We think that is bogus. We gave him a 10-month partial freeze and he did nothing with it. But you know what? There is so much at stake here, let’s test him again. Let’s offer him a six-month total freeze on settlement-building. What is six months in the history of 5,000-year-old people? We already have 300,000 settlers in place. It is a win-win strategy that in no way imperils our security. If the Palestinians still balk, they will be the ones isolated, not us. And, if they come, who knows? Maybe we cut a deal.”
After acknowledging that Israel's situation is worsening independent of anything Israel does, Friedman, of course, blames Israel! Let's recall recent comments by two former national leaders. First Bill Clinton was recently quoted in Foreign Policy:
"[Palestinian leaders] have explicitly said on more than one occasion that if [Netanyahu] put up the deal that was offered to them before -- my deal -- that they would take it," Clinton said, referring to the 2000 Camp David deal that Yasser Arafat rejected.
Then Ehud Olmert contributed Peace Now or Never to the New York Times op-ed page.
The parameters of a peace deal are well known and they have already been put on the table. I put them there in September 2008 when I presented a far-reaching offer to Mr. Abbas. According to my offer, the territorial dispute would be solved by establishing a Palestinian state on territory equivalent in size to the pre-1967 West Bank and Gaza Strip with mutually agreed-upon land swaps that take into account the new realities on the ground. ... These parameters were never formally rejected by Mr. Abbas, and they should be put on the table again today. Both Mr. Abbas and Mr. Netanyahu must then make brave and difficult decisions.
There are two things to note here. Both these accounts can't be true. If Palestinian leaders are telling Clinton that they'd accept "the Clinton parameters" from Netanyahu, then why did Abbas reject Olmert's more generous terms? Either Clinton heard what he wanted to hear or he's lying. Also this already makes it (at least) twice that the Palestinians have rejected the terms that "everyone knows" will bring peace. What makes Friedman think that the third time's the charm? Furthermore what makes Friedman think that if Abbas rejects a deal the Palestinians will be isolated? They weren't isolated in after Camp David in 2000. They weren't isolated in 2008. Friedman can't believe that. What he must believe is that Israel needs to keep upping their offer until the Palestinians say "yes." Friedman assigns no penalty to the Palestinians for rejecting peace (neither do Clinton nor Olmert) and condemns Israel for Palestinian rejection! We've been here before. As Charles Krauthammer has noticed before Israel's being cajoled into buying the same rug, again and again. In 1995 Krauthammer wrote:
So now, in the "interim" negotiations he is being offered (1) control of Kalkilya, Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Tulkarm, the major West Bank cities, (2) broad new administrative powers within the West Bank, (3) the pledge of further and complete Israeli redeployment from the vast uninhabited "state" lands on the West Bank. In return for what? Foreign Minister Shimon Peres has gotten Arafat to promise that, within two months of his taking power in the West Bank, the PLO will strike the clauses in its charter calling for the destruction of Israel. This is the second time Arafat has sold Peres the same rug! First time around, he got Gaza and Jericho. Now, the West Bank. Next time, he'll sell it for Jerusalem.
Eight years later, with President Bush in power he wrote:
Abbas pledged there will be no more incitement of hatred against Israel -- another repetition of another Oslo pledge. The Palestinians then spent the next decade poisoning their children with the worst anti-Semitic propaganda since the Third Reich. What then happened at Aqaba? Israel bought the same rug a second time. In 1993, it bought supposed recognition, a supposed end to violence and a supposed end to incitement by recognizing the PLO, bringing Arafat and his terrorists out of Tunis, planting them in the heart of Palestine, giving them control of all the major Palestinian cities, outfitting his army with Israeli rifles, etc. In 2003 the rug was sold again, this time fetching Israeli acceptance of a Palestinian state with contiguous borders in which Israeli settlements are uprooted. This might be the outline of the final settlement. But these were concessions given away before the negotiations even began.
Friedman is half right when he writes in conclusion:
We really are back at the beginning of this conflict. Until each side reassures the other that both of them really do want two states for two people — not just for one — nothing good is going to happen out there, but something really bad might.
The Palestinians are back at the beginning of the conflict and have not budged since 1993. Israel has ceded territory changed its ideological makeup and has gotten terror and contempt in return. It isn't obstinacy to say "enough" and await a change of heart. It's common sense.

2) Why Thomas Friedman is wrong

Thomas Friedman from B.E Before Egypt A.E. After Egypt
But Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu of Israel is in danger of becoming the Mubarak of the peace process. Israel has never had more leverage vis-à-vis the Palestinians and never had more responsible Palestinian partners
(Responsible as in trying to sound like he's addressing the Arab League, as Friedman described Abbas in today's column?) Thomas Friedman from Postcard from Cairo II
I am more worried today about Israel’s future than I have ever been, because I think that at time of great change in this region – and we have just seen the beginnings of it – Israel today has the most out-of-touch, in-bred, unimaginative and cliché-driven cabinet it has ever had.
Thomas Friedman in Israel Adrift at sea
On Turkey, the Obama team and Mr. Netanyahu’s lawyers worked tirelessly these last two months to resolve the crisis stemming from the killing by Israeli commandos of Turkish civilians in the May 2010 Turkish aid flotilla that recklessly tried to land in Gaza. Turkey was demanding an apology. According to an exhaustive article about the talks by the Israeli columnist Nahum Barnea of the Yediot Aharonot newspaper, the two sides agreed that Israel would apologize only for “operational mistakes” and the Turks would agree to not raise legal claims. Bibi then undercut his own lawyers and rejected the deal, out of national pride and fear that Mr. Lieberman would use it against him. So Turkey threw out the Israeli ambassador.
Regarding the first charge, that Netanyahu is the Mubarak of the peace process read David Pryce-Jones: Mahmoud Abbas should have held elections two years ago, but postponed them from the all too well-founded fear that Hamas, his implacable rivals in Gaza, would win. Throughout the West Bank his own Fatah are loathed and despised for their corruption and arrogance. So Abbas rules by decree, a dictator although on a smaller scale than, say, Assad. The decision to ask the United Nations to endorse a Palestinian state was his and his alone. The Palestinians were not asked for their opinion. A number seem to have backed him, but a silent majority is apprehensive. Abbas cannot really have thought he would succeed in obtaining a state by refusing to make the least concession to Israel. He will never acknowledge a Jewish state, and his assertion that no Jew will be allowed to live in a Palestinian state is racism. So the United Nations delegations gave an ovation to someone without legitimacy, riding roughshod over the concept of consent or representation, and making proposals so one-sided that nothing constructive could come out of them. It will be a matter of luck if this peace process does not end in war. Netanyahu is not the Mubarak of the peace process; Abbas is. (And remember that like Mubarak, Abbas takes care of cronies and kin.) And Friedman wants Netanyahu to make Abbas an offer he can't refuse. Regarding whether Israel should have apologized to Turkey, read Gregg Roman:
Turkey: In trying to deal with the current friction with Turkey, Israel’s government proposed that it express regret for defending itself during the Gaza flotilla – or rather, not for defending itself per se, but for the resulting loss of life. It offered to make donations to a humanitarian fund for the relatives of those killed. The Turkish government responded that it would accept only a full apology, the payment of compensation (an admission of wrongdoing, and based on demands rather than the donors judgment), and an immediate end to the Gaza blockade. The Turkish demand was ironic, coming as it did immediately after a UN commission determined the blockade is legal. So despite trying creative ways to end the conflict, Israeli officials could do nothing. Why? Because, for its own reasons, the Turkish regime doesn’t want to resolve the conflict. All Israel can do is to show its respect for the Turkish people and nation along with willingness to be flexible if the other side is reasonable.
Regardless of what Friedman claims, no apology would appease the Turks. What he means by "unimaginative" is that he disagrees vehemently with Netanyahu. But Netanyahu read the situation and reacted; no he did not use his imagination. But that's a good thing because he's operating in the real world. Friedman should keep his imaginary trends to himself.

3) Why Jackson Diehl is wrong

The other day Jackson Diehl wrote The real threat in Egypt: Delayed democracy:
The generals once promised to turn over power by this month. But, at best, the parliamentary elections will be completed at the end of February. The presidential election, which would finally end military rule, could come in nine months, some analysts predict; others say it could be put off 18 months while delegates dicker over the new constitution. The great problem here is that elections are the most likely means of arresting the downward spiral. Five of the leading six candidates for president are responsible secular centrists; the runaway favorite, so far, is former foreign minister and Arab League general secretary Amr Moussa. Moussa may be a recent convert to liberal democracy, and he is known for striking populist poses against Israel. But he would almost certainly run a better government than the military and give the economy a chance to recover. True, Islamist parties may win a plurality in the parliamentary elections. Estimates of their potential vote range from 10 to 40 percent. But that still means they would hold a minority of seats; and the Islamists themselves are divided into several factions. The strongest of them recognize that they will not be able to force a fundamentalist agenda on Egypt’s secular middle class or its large Christian minority, at least in the short and medium terms.
Eric Trager, though, worries that Egypt's new electoral system is a significant problem:
If this system is enacted, it will significantly hamper newer parties in the next parliamentary elections. The local nature of these party-list elections -- as opposed to the nationwide systems in other democracies -- makes it unlikely that small and still-forming parties will be able to compete effectively. Even in those districts where they might field multiple candidates, they would have trouble surpassing the relatively high thresholds that the largest remainder system implies. At the same time, the party-list structure significantly advantages the Freedom and Justice Party, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) faction that remains Egypt's only political force with significant organizational capabilities (apart from former NDP parliamentarians). Although the MB recently announced that it would run for only 40 percent of the parliamentary seats, it will likely dominate a much larger share of the legislature through its stewardship of the National Democratic Alliance for Egypt -- an electoral bloc that has attracted more than thirty parties hoping to benefit from the MB's political prowess. Most of these smaller parties stand to win only a handful of seats, however, because the Wafd Party, the MB's primary partner in the alliance, is likely to run for an additional 33.5 percent of the seats. These percentages may grow even larger, especially if the new election laws lead more parties to jump on the MB's bandwagon. For example, the Egyptian Bloc -- a coalition of mostly liberal and leftist parties -- has just signaled that it might want to run in tandem with the Democratic Alliance, providing further indication that the presumptive new system heavily favors the Brotherhood.
4) Why Anthony Shadid is wrong

Anthony Shadid writes a generally uncritical profile of Recep Erdogan and his government, In Riddle of Mideast Upheaval, Turkey Offers Itself as an Answer:
One Turkish newspaper, supportive of Mr. Erdogan, called the visits the beginning “of a new era in our region.” An Egyptian columnist praised what he called Mr. Erdogan’s “leadership qualities.” And days later, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu spoke boldly of an axis between Egypt and Turkey, two of the region’s most populous and militarily powerful countries, that would underpin a new order in the region, one in which Israel would stay on the margins until it made peace with its neighbors. “What’s happening in the Middle East is a big opportunity, a golden opportunity,” a senior Turkish official said in Ankara, the capital. He called Turkey “the new kid on the block.”
However as Daniel Pipes observes is Turkey going rogue?
Turkish hostility has renewed Israel's historically warm relations with the Kurds and turned around its cool relations with Greece, Cyprus, and even Armenia. Beyond cooperation locally, this grouping will make life difficult for the Turks in Washington.
Declaring Israel isolated doesn't by itself, marginalize Israel.

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