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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler

Here's Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler for Wednesday, November 23.
1) Looking for reasons

Somewhere there's a Middle East as described by the New York Times where the Palestinian Authority encourages coexistence with Israel. As Isabel Kershner reported in Abbas Condemns Killing of Jewish Family:
The new focus on incitement against Israel, together with Israeli dissatisfaction over the Palestinian response to the brutal attack, seemed to pose a question about the Israeli government’s readiness to deal with Mr. Abbas as a serious peace partner — even though Mr. Abbas and Mr. Fayyad are widely considered moderates who have repeatedly said they would never resort to violence.
Mr. Abbas rejected the claims about incitement in mosques, telling Israel Radio that the Palestinian Authority mosques have adopted a unified text for sermons, written by the minister of religious affairs. He called for a joint Israeli-Palestinian-American working committee to investigate claims that Palestinian Authority school textbooks incited violence.
Mr. Fayyad was the first Palestinian official on Saturday to condemn the deaths in Itamar, saying, “We utterly reject violence, and nothing justifies it.”
Of course contrary to what Kershner reported, the Israeli focus on incitement isn't new but ongoing. In the real world, the regular incitement by the official Palestinian media is documented on an ongoing basis.

Undoubtedly, it is inconvenient to acknowledge this - if true, Israeli hesitation to concede more is rational and cannot be dismissed as ideological posturing - so it is necessary to maintain the fiction of a PA committed to and promoting coexistence.

And in the Middle East of the New York Times Israel has never made a sufficient effort to get Mahmoud Abbas back to negotiations. As explained in Obama and Abbas: From Speed Dial to Not Talking:
Mr. Obama named a high-profile special envoy to the region, George J. Mitchell Jr. He also spoke empathetically about the suffering of the Palestinian people in Gaza after an Israeli military campaign against Hamas there. And the president’s demand of Israel that it freeze settlement construction cheered the Palestinians, who believed that would remove a stubborn hurdle to a peace deal.
"We hoped a lot that in his administration, there would be real progress,” said Nabil Shaath, who leads the foreign affairs department of Fatah, the main party of the Palestinian Authority. “But later on, disappointment set in,” Mr. Shaath said in a telephone interview from Ramallah on the West Bank. “He really could not deliver what he promised in terms of a cessation of settlement activity.”
When Mr. Netanyahu refused to extend a moratorium on construction, Mr. Abbas felt let down. And he blamed Mr. Obama for leading him on. In an interview with Newsweek in April, Mr. Abbas said: “It was Obama who suggested a full settlement freeze. I said O.K., I accept. We both went up the tree. After that, he came down with a ladder and he removed the ladder and said to me, jump.”
According to this telling, the fault is not Abbas's. But Netanyahu's for not extending a building freeze. And Obama's for encouraging Abbas to demand a freeze.

In the real world Netanyahu has regularly tried to meet Obama halfway only to get no reciprocal moderation from Abbas.

So when you have a narrative that needs to be told - that Israeli intransigence is primarily responsible for the lack of progress in the peace process - and no real objective data to support it, what do you do? You make stuff up. Or get others to do it for you.

This brings us to an op-ed today, by Sarah Schulman, Israel and pinkwashing.
This message is being articulated at the highest levels. In May, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Congress that the Middle East was “a region where women are stoned, gays are hanged, Christians are persecuted.”
The growing global gay movement against the Israeli occupation has named these tactics “pinkwashing”: a deliberate strategy to conceal the continuing violations of Palestinians’ human rights behind an image of modernity signified by Israeli gay life. Aeyal Gross, a professor of law at Tel Aviv University, argues that “gay rights have essentially become a public-relations tool,” even though “conservative and especially religious politicians remain fiercely homophobic.”
Pinkwashing not only manipulates the hard-won gains of Israel’s gay community, but it also ignores the existence of Palestinian gay-rights organizations. Homosexuality has been decriminalized in the West Bank since the 1950s, when anti-sodomy laws imposed under British colonial influence were removed from the Jordanian penal code, which Palestinians follow. More important is the emerging Palestinian gay movement with three major organizations: Aswat, Al Qaws and Palestinian Queers for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. These groups are clear that the oppression of Palestinians crosses the boundary of sexuality; as Haneen Maikay, the director of Al Qaws, has said, “When you go through a checkpoint it does not matter what the sexuality of the soldier is.”
Oh gee, sodomy's been decriminalized in the West Bank. And what is its current status in Gaza, where Hamas rules and has been known to kill women for the sin of being seen in public with a man who's not her husband? And what would happen to a gay man living openly in Gaza?

Whether or not one agrees with Israel, Israel is a liberal democracy. As such its citizens are free to choose the lifestyle they want. When there is finally a state of Palestine will its citizens similarly be free to choose? People who ignore the freedoms allowed by Israel and pretend that the refusal of the Palestinians to establish an independent state through negotiation somehow makes Israel illegitimate are motivated not out of concern for Palestinians, or support for individual freedom but out of hatred for Israel.

The New York Times' campaign against Israel continues unabated.

Honest Reporting has more.

2) Unenlightened self-interest

A Washington Post editorial from yesterday, As Egyptians protest anew, the Obama administration again enables the generals:
The United States supplies a large part of the Egyptian military budget, and the Obama administration has defined a democratic transition as a top foreign policy priority. Yet faced with the escalating violence in Cairo, the administration is repeating the mistake it made in January, when it hesitated to push for the removal of President Hosni Mubarak. Rather than using its considerable leverage, the administration is deferring to the military council. White House spokesman Jay Carney weakly called Monday for “restraint” from “all sides”; when asked whether the generals should specify the date for a presidential election, he replied, “I don’t want to dictate specifics to Egypt.” Administration officials have resisted congressional proposals that military aid be explicitly linked to a democratic transition.
As during the Mubarak era, some administration officials appear to believe that U.S. interests, including Egypt’s peace accord with Israel, preclude using aid to pressure the military for political change. It is past time to abandon that wrongheaded doctrine. The United States should make clear that further military aid will depend on the establishment of a firm and expeditious timetable for a democratic transition.
An op-ed in the International Herald Tribune, Egypt's doomed election:
As protesters fill Tahrir Square once again and violence spreads throughout Cairo, the military government’s legitimacy is becoming even more tenuous. The announcement Tuesday of a “National Salvation Government” may stem the violence for now, but the coming vote will not lead to a stable democracy.
The election is likely to fail, not because of vote-stealing or violence, but because the rules cobbled together by Egypt’s military leaders virtually guarantee that the Parliament elected will not reflect the votes of the Egyptian people.
While advising civil society groups and political parties on election issues earlier this year in Cairo, I found that the voices of Egyptians who were at the forefront of the revolution were stifled during the secretive election-planning process.
A news story in the New York Times, The Old Order Stifles the Birth of a New Egypt:
Egypt’s version of an autocrat’s legacy was on display Tuesday, as a military accustomed to decades of privilege refused to surrender real power, for now, and a political class cowed by years of authoritarianism — the Muslim Brotherhood being the most prominent example — seemed opportunistic, defensive or unimaginative.
To many in the square, politicians were either putting their parochial interests first or proving unable to deliver a vision that could stem the worst crisis facing Egypt since Mr. Mubarak was toppled on Feb. 11. The anger was so great that a Brotherhood politician was driven from a square by a crowd that, as in January, feels determined but leaderless.
“What we’re still dealing with is the system of Mubarak,” said Mustafa Tobgi, a 56-year-old government employee. “They’re all graduates of Mubarak’s school.”
The mainstream media's consensus appears to be that no good can come of continued control by Egypt's military; the only way forward is to listen to the people and allow a vote.

But is it? Barry Rubin dissents:
The junta’s position is a combination of greed and its self-image as guardian of Egypt’s national interest. Officers enrich themselves by large-scale business enterprises.
At the same time, they are no doubt aware of the likelihood that an Islamist regime would eventually purge the army and arrest officers—as is happening in Turkey, the explicit model for the Muslim Brotherhood’s strategy—and replace them with its ideological followers. They also might take into account that the Brotherhood is likely to get Egypt into a losing war with Israel and take steps that would cost the military hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid.
Now this clash in itself has added still another dimension. It is said that if you wound an elephant you have to kill it as otherwise the enraged leviathan will trample you. The Brotherhood now sees the military as an enemy and if it comes to power would have all the more incentive to crush that rival.
Professor Rubin then lists other countries faced with similar dilemmas. The choices aren't good. But unless someone is absolutely convinced of the benevolent and benign intentions of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian army, motivated by its own unenlightened self-interest, presents the only obstacle to preventing a disastrous Islamist future for Egypt.

3) Define 'against'

An article in Bloomberg News, Arab world's former 'Club of Tyrants' turns against Syria comments:
The Arab Spring uprisings have unnerved and threatened regimes throughout the region, shaking up status quo institutions such as the Arab League. The league’s suspension of a founding member, Syria, was the boldest action by the 21- nation club since its condemnation of Muammar Qaddafi’s crackdown paved the way for the United Nations resolution in March authorizing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization bombing campaign.
“It’s a measure of the extent to which things have gone wrong,” Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center, said in an interview. “These guys were friends. I think they are extremely disappointed, and at some point there was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
Images of government attacks on unarmed protesters and of torture-scarred bodies in cities like Homs, Syria’s third largest, are being viewed in homes across the region. Whether motivated by outrage, by concern for self preservation or by both, Arab kings and prime ministers aren’t turning a blind eye, as had been the case in the past.
But The Weekly Standard noted that the Israeli paper, Ma'ariv, reported that "the UNESCO committee on human rights had accepted Syria as a member." (via Daily Alert)

Arnold Roth e-mailed UNESCO's director of media relations and received this response (via e-mail):
"Syria was elected to the NGO Committee and the Committee on Conventions and Recommendations last 11 November. The Members of these Committees are elected by UNESCO’s Executive Board consisting of 58 Member States. The Director-General and the Secretariat of the Organization are not involved in the decisions taken by the Member States. These committees have a certain number of seats reserved for each region. The Arab States collectively decided to give Syria a seat on the two committees mentioned above. Their recommendation was adopted by a consensus of the entire Executive Board. The United Nations and other UN agencies use the same approach to choose their committee members when there is an agreement about candidates within regional groups. The Committees themselves cannot expel or suspend members: only the Executive Board can “undo” one of its decisions if Member States decide so. The Director-General and Secretariat are bound by the decisions of the Member States and are not supposed to comment on them. Yet given the developments in Syria, the Director-General does not see how this country can contribute to the work of the Committees. I hope this clarifies the situation for you."
So even as Syria was massacring thousands of its citizens, the Arab League, which has since suspended Syria from its ranks, still thought enough of Assad to appoint him a UNESCO committee - one on human rights, no less. That would suggest that the suspension was largely done for the sake of appearances. It appears unclear that the Arab League has turned convincingly against Syria.

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