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Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler

Here's Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler for Tuesday, October 4.
1) Who is paying attention?

Last week the New York Times had an editorial, The Palestinians' Bid. One conclusion was foregone.
There is plenty of blame to go around. The main responsibility right now belongs to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel who refuses to make any serious compromises for peace. He appears far more concerned about his own political survival than his country’s increasing isolation or the threat of renewed violence in the West Bank and all around Israel’s borders.
I've noted before that even Thomas Friedman acknowledged that Netanyahu froze building in settlements but that didn't get Mahmoud Abbas to negotiate seriously. The editorial, though, isn't interested in facts, just blame. The editorial does acknowledge that Abbas didn't make a deal with Ehud Olmert in 2008.
Mr. Olmert said his ideas were never formally rejected by Mr. Abbas, who, despite recent assertiveness, suffers from an inability to make decisions. When Mr. Netanyahu took office, Mr. Abbas wanted to pick up where Mr. Olmert left off, but Mr. Netanyahu wanted to start fresh.
First of all Abbas has no trouble making decisions. He doesn't want to negotiate and he allows sympathetic politicians, academics and journalists cover for him. (In Barry Rubin's clever terminology - the MUG complex.) Like Olmert, the New York Times's editors want Netanyahu to offer Abbas a deal that he previously rejected. (Yes, formally or not, it was rejected; Olmert's claim is wishful thinking.) While I don't agree with everything here and don't like the title, the editors of the Washington Post draw a different conclusion in More peace-process posturing from Israelis and Palestinians:
Of the two, the Palestinian stance is more objectionable, and not only because it prevents any process from going forward. By his own account, President Mahmoud Abbas’s hard-line stance on the settlement issue is unfounded: He has said more than once that he adopted it only because he felt obliged to match a similar demand by President Obama. Mr. Obama, however, has dropped that condition; and as the Palestinians know, the matter is purely symbolic — both sides agree that Israel will annex the Jerusalem neighborhoods and West Bank settlements where most of the building is going on. For example, during a previous round of negotiations, Mr. Abbas’s negotiators specifically agreed to Israeli annexation of the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo; yet an announcement of new construction there last week prompted theatrical denunciations by those same Palestinian officials, as well as criticism from the Quartet. Mr. Abbas’s insistence on preconditions allows him to continue his separate campaign for recognition of Palestine by the United Nations: He is about to embark on a global tour in search of votes on the Security Council. His cynical obstructionism ought to be enough to persuade undecided governments, such as Colombia and Portugal, to withhold support — or at least to require that Mr. Abbas fully accept the Quartet’s initiative before they back his.
Unlike the New York Times, The Washington Post is demanding at least lip service from Abbas.

2) Warfare by any other name

At the Volokh Conspiracy, Kenneth Anderson makes the case (from his understanding by no inside knowledge) for justifying the killing of Anwar Al-Awlaki. (h/t Legal Insurrection)
The government has maintained throughout all this that Al-Aulaqi was deemed a lawful target not on account of his expression of opinions, including calls to violence against the United States and its citizens, but instead on account of his operational involvement in AQAP, in ways going to leadership of an associated force terrorist organization and operational and planning involvement. My view of this targeted killing is straightforwardly, congratulations, Mr. President. What has been visible publicly leaves little or no doubt in my mind that Al-Aulaqi was deeply involved in AQAP in operations, and indeed at the highest levels.
(Please note that the REPORTING of the New York Times plays down Awlaki's operational role in Al Qaeda. ) Anderson doesn't buy the idea of "extra-judicial killings." In a related article, Anderson discusses Public Legitimacy for Targeted Killing Using Drones. At the end he writes:
The best place to be, then, for both sides, is roughly in the middle that Bellinger stakes out. (Note that nothing I’ve said here should be attributed to him; these are my views on the negotiation stakes.) Meaning that we have reasons to talk with our allies at length and in detail, in private and public, to try and persuade them to our views, and to persuade them that genuflecting to their advocacy and NGO groups will be worse for them than accepting our space to act, insofar as we can give a plausible interpretation of law. Plausibility is the central touchstone for international law in relations among states, finally; we and they don’t have to agree, only to agree that our several interpretations are within the ballpark of acceptability. It might involve alterations of our practice; it might not. This will never satisfy the non-governmental advocates or the academics, of course. They have no skin in the game and hence can always hold out for the most extreme position with only an indirect cost in credibility. In the case of drones, in which even some of the advocates are belatedly realizing that the weapon is indeed more precise and sparing of civilians, ignoring the NGO advocates as profoundly mistaken has spared a human tragedy in collateral damage over the long run. But the striking thing about the interstate negotiations among allies is that they don’t have to reach a conclusion — an agreement — and probably won’t. An acceptance of the plausibility of each side’s position and an agreement to continue discussion around alternatives that are considered plausible is sufficient.
I like his dismissal of NGO's. They need to insist that injustices persist in order to justify their continued existence and funding. (The Bellinger article is here, via memeorandum) Unfortunately by using NGO's as sources, the media magnifies their importance and influence.

3) No apologies necessary At UN Watch, legal expert Trevor Norwitz explains the Palmer report. (h/t Yaacov Lozowick) Of particular note is this:
Although the Palmer report upheld Israel’s legal position, it did criticize the execution of the flotilla interception. As it notes, Israel did not anticipate that there would be significant violent opposition to an attempt to board the ships. This intelligence failure hampered the proper preparation and execution of the mission. The report echoes criticism that had already been leveled at the operation by Israeli sources, including suggestions that, having encountered heavy resistance to their initial attempt to board the Mavi Marmara from speedboats, the Israelis should have reconsidered their plan to board immediately by helicopter, and that before actually boarding the Israelis should have given a fifth and final warning or fired a shot across the ship’s bow. These seem like sensible suggestions, especially to someone with no experience in planning complex naval operations. However it is hard to square such tempered and modest recommendations with the unequivocal legalistic terms “excessive and unreasonable,” which naturally provided the media with their favorite quotes and sound bites. There is no question that mistakes were made and the operation was not a success, but it is hard to read the report and not feel that the phrase “excessive and unreasonable” is inconsistent with the actual findings made. That characterization is more likely explained by the commissioners’ desire to appear even-handed, and perception of their express policy imperative “to achieve a way forward”. In this same spirit, the Report suggests that Israel make an appropriate statement of regret and offer a payment for the benefit of the deceased and injured, not because of any legal obligation or liability but symbolically “to advance the interests of stability in the Middle East”. The former Israel has done and the latter is a reasonable suggestion that I expect Israel would be willing to comply with if that would put an end to the matter.

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